Жизнь во время войны на Донбассе / Wartime Life in East Ukraine

older woman living in wartime Donbas

Audio content: Several women describe their decision to remain living in villages that have been under heavy fire during the fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Visual content: Images of wartime destruction in some Ukrainian villages and small towns.

Excerpted clips are posted below. You can view the entire report in high-quality video at TV Rain. (A subscription or one-time payment is required, but your money goes toward a good cause — supporting one of the last independent TV news organizations in Russia.)

The war in Eastern Ukraine has been in the news again, sadly, as the conflict that began in April 2014 flared up again in early February 2017, soon after President Trump’s inauguration. The Ukrainian government based in Kiev continues to battle the pro-Russian separatist regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, which have been functioning as self-declared autonomous governments under the names “Donetsk People’s Republic” (Донецкая народная республика) and “Lugansk People’s Republic” (Луганская народная республика). (The entire region is often called “Donbas,” an abbreviation of “Донецкая бассейн,” i.e. the basin of the Donets River.) Russia, despite official denials, is supporting the breakaway regions with both troops and supplies. Hostilities first began in the wake of the late-2013 “Maidan” revolution in Kiev, which deposed the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in favor of a pro-European-Union government. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in spring 2014 is another part of this same geopolitical conflict, which arises from Russia’s desire to maintain its sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. Since Ukraine used to actually be part of the USSR, it seems that Putin is not willing to let the country drift out of Russia’s sphere of influence entirely without putting up a fight. The Kremlin’s goal in eastern Ukraine is probably not to fully annex the pro-Russian regions, as happened with Crimea; instead, Russia, via the internationally-brokered negotiation process in Minsk, Belarus, is urging Kiev to grant a large degree of autonomy to the eastern territories — which could then function as a sort of Russian foothold within Ukraine. The “Minsk Agreements” have produced temporary ceasefires and incomplete political resolutions but have failed to stop the violence permanently. The latest surge in violence was centered on the town of Avdiievka, which is not far from some of the villages featured in today’s videos. Besides the rise in violence, the eastern Ukraine conflict also entered the news recently when Russia controversially declared it would recognize passports from the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. The Ukrainian conflict also factors into concerns over the Trump administration’s ties to Russia. Specifically, it has been reported that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen brought a peace plan to the White House that would have the US and Ukraine essentially recognize the Russian annexation of Crimea (by granting Russia a long-term “lease”) in exchange for peace in the eastern regions. The plan was given to Cohen by a Ukrainian parliament member who has now been accused of treason.

The videos featured in this post are excerpted from an early 2016 report by TV Rain. TV Rain sent the reporter Viktoriia Ivleva into some Ukraine-controlled territories very close to the border with the breakaway republics. Ivleva brought humanitarian supplies as well as video cameras. Although the footage is over a year old, it gives us insight into what life probably looks like for residents of the same region today. Ivleva talks to some tough yet traumatized people who, through a mixture of courage, stubbornness and a lack of better options, have stayed in their village homes despite the war. During active periods in the fighting, artillery fire severely damaged most of their homes and forced many of them to live in their basements. The communities presented in the video are Sjeverne (Северное, Ясиноватский район), Opytne (Опытное, Артёмновский район) and Krasnohorivka (Красногоровка, Донецкая область).

For more on this topic see my earlier posts on the Maidan and on life in Crimea after annexation.

Заметки о языке: The most notable linguistic feature of these videos is the distinctive pronunciation of the letter “г” as something closer to the letter “х,” a typical feature of the southwest Russian or eastern Ukrainian dialect of Russian.

 

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Excerpt 1

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Крымчане готовы терпеть перебои с электричеством / Crimeans Will Put Up with Power Outages

Audio content: Residents of Crimea commenting on the energy dispute with Ukraine, plus a particularly defiant statement from the leader of Crimea.
Visual content: Images from the streets of Crimea including New Year’s decorations, images of fallen electrical towers, maps of the current power supply routes.

Video from Первый канал
1 January 2016

Residents of Crimea and Sevastopol have been struggling with an uneven power supply since late November. The troubles started when activists opposed to Russia’s annexation of Crimea blew up one of the main transmission towers that carried the power cables from Ukraine south into Crimea. The connection was partially restored in early December, then once again disrupted later that month when the electrical poles were vandalized. Russia did what it could to support the newly annexed territory, sending generators and bringing in a power line from the east, across the narrow Kerch Strait (Керченский пролив) that separates southern Russia from Crimea. The news segment claims that these measures have reduced power outages to a few hours a day at the most.

The latest twist in this saga arises from the fact that the power contract between Ukraine and Crimea ran out at the end of 2015. Ukraine offered to sign a new contract (and presumably restore the downed transmission towers), but only on one condition, one that it must have assumed Russia would reject: the contract was to include a statement that power was being supplied to Crimea as a Ukrainian territory. The Russian government then asked the main Russian polling agency, ВЦИОМ, to survey Crimean residents on this topic. Poll results indicated that 93.12% of respondents preferred to reject any contract that contained the controversial provision, and 94% were ready to tolerate occasional disruptions in the power supply in the event that no contract could be concluded with Ukraine. (Some independent news agencies questioned the specific methods of this poll, but pro-Russian sentiment is strong in Crimea.)

Reports from Первый канал / Channel One generally present the Russian government’s preferred interpretation of and attitude toward current events. Thus in this clip we see

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Хозяйка киевского магазина о Евромайдане / A Kievan store owner reacts to the “Euromaidan”

хозяйка киевского магазина

Audio content: A Kievan shopkeeper describes how her store was burned down and wishes for an end to the violence associated with the Euromaidan.
Visual content: Images of the aftermath of the Euromaidan violence, a woman, later a masked member of the “Berkut” special police

Video from Дождь
19 февраля 2014

This post dips into my archives to present some compelling content from the early days of the unrest in Ukraine. The woman interviewed here is the owner of a store in central Kiev that was burned down during the clashes between pro-Russian and pro-European factions in early 2014. Although the ensuing civil war became centered in eastern Ukraine, the events all began in November 2013 on the “Independence Square / Майдан Незалежности” in central Kiev. There protestors demonstrated against the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich’s decision to suspend preparations for a closer association with the European Union. Special government security forces known as the “Berkut” were sent to restore order, leading to violent clashes and the loss of about 100 lives. One particularly bloody clash occurred on February 18 when the police unsuccessfully tried to dislodge the protesters from their positions. This video was filmed a day after that battle and just a few days before President Yanukovich fled the country, setting the stage for the ongoing conflict between the pro-European leadership in Kiev and the pro-Russian population in the eastern provinces of Lugansk and Donetsk. Russia also took advantage of the unrest to annex Crimea about a month after this interview was filmed. The second part of the video features a member of the “Berkut” security force.


 

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Ведущая: Как живёт мирное население в условиях войны, гражданской войны? Киев ведь мирный город, вообще-то. Вот как, например: знакомьтесь с Ларисой Гейтман-Гедунец [?], хозяйка магазина на улице Грушевского в Киеве—то есть, она была хозяйкой этого магазина—его сожгли. Послушайте, что она рассказывает.

Anchor: How does the peaceful population live amid the conditions of war, civil war? After all, Kiev is a peaceful city, in general. This is how, for example: meet Larisa Geitman-Gedunets, the owner of a store on Grushevsky Street in Kiev. That is, she was the owner of that store—it was burnt down. Listen to what she says.

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