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What Are Participants of Ukraine Civil War Fighting For?

Each side has its truth. The larger truth is that's an absurd and fratricidal war


Halyna Mokrushyna is a Ukrainian Canadian scholar.

This article originally appeared at CounterPunch


Ukrainians have their own truth – they are fighting a war against imperialist Russia, against “Rascists” (a play on words – Russia plus fascists). A patriotic drive sweeps across the country: people collect money to buy equipment and uniform for their sons, husbands, brothers who are going to the east to fight in war.

Ordinary Ukrainians, whose earnings have been cut in half by inflation and a nearly fifty per cent depreciation of the national currency, are sending text messages to urge donations to support the Ukrainian army.

The high command of the Ukrainian army sends the sons of the Ukrainian nation to the meat grinder in Donbas [the region of southeast Ukraine where the war is raging] unprepared, underequipped and ignorant about the current situation on the battlefield. Those who present themselves to the recruitment centers are told they must buy their own ammunition.

Agents of the Russian secret police, the FSB, are said to be blending into the crowds of relatives and friends of new recruits, giving out free alcohol in the conscription lineups, trying to make the new recruits drunk and unfit for military service.

Agents of the FSB are everywhere, even in the National Bank of Ukraine. According to the head of the Security Service of Ukraine, Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, around 200 FSB agents are working on destabilizing the foreign exchange market of Ukraine, sending the national Ukrainian currency, the hryvnia, into a tailspin.

Insurgents in Donbas have also their own truth. They are fighting against a fascist junta in Kyiv. They are repeating over and over again to Ukrainians: do not send your sons to our territory. They will be killed. And they were killed, including in the surrealistic, Armageddon-style futuristic decors of the Donetsk airport.

When I watch videos of interviews of these Ukrainian soldiers captured by Donbas insurgency, I feel such a deep sorrow. As Bezler, one of the leaders of the insurgency, said, these simple guys–kolkhozniki (peasants) and workers–are taken from their ploughs and their machine tools and driven like cattle to fight against “Russian terrorists”.

In the spring of last year, Ukrainian soldiers and Donbas rebels were sitting at the same table–eating the same food, drinking the same vodka and singing the same songs. These are the words of one of the officers of the Ukrainian army, who was born in Donetsk.

He pronounced them during Skype talks with a leader of the insurgency, Alexei Mozghovoi, that were broadcast on the Internet. These local talks were initiated by the Ukrainian side in the hope of finding a peaceful solution to this absurd, fratricide war. There are other signs of Ukrainians reaching out to rebellious Donbas.

This war is absurd. When one watches videos of the ruins in Donetsk and interviews with local people, they are all saying: “We do not want this war. Stop it!”

The Ukrainian President recently stated that he will restore the ‘Ukrainianness’ in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. What ‘Ukrainianness’ does he mean? A European one, to which western Ukraine believes to have belonged all throughout its history? Judging by his speeches, this is what Poroshenko means.

In the law on special status of certain districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, adopted by the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) on September 16, are spelled out answers to the demands of Donbas.

  • Self government: people elect officials on all levels of municipal and regional administration, and local officials “participate in the appointment of prosecutor general and judges”.
  • Regional economic autonomy and the right to conduct “a trans-border” cooperation with “certain” regions and cities in Russia.
  • The right to use Russian and other minority languages in public and private life.
  • Ukrainian state support of socio-economic development of the region.
  • Finally, the law also stated somewhat vaguely that the state guarantees that persons who “participated in the event [rebellion] on the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk regions” will not be prosecuted.

This law is imperfect, imprecise and far from complete. “Certain districts”, temporary status for three years… But the principles stated in this law is what Ukraine needs if it wants to survive.

I received a letter from my close friend in Kyiv. She says that now Ukrainians care much less about material aspects of life. Fundamental values, such as human life, love, and support came to the forefront. They watch on TV burials of Ukrainian soldiers, young and old, without tears. They have become used to the bad news and inured to it.

This civil war is tragic and absurd. The Euromaidan movement in western Ukraine and the “Russian spring” response to it in eastern Ukraine, then the Donetsk rebellion, were said to be about the same thing: government free of corruption, a socially-oriented state and a life with dignity. 

Insurgents in Donetsk have stated on many occasions that they do not want to fight against fellow Ukrainians. They are defending their land from people who intervened from the west. They did not start this war. Kyiv started it, masquerading it as an “anti-terrorist” operation. Kyiv must stop it before Donbas is lost to Ukraine forever. All the tools are there. The only thing lacking is an independent political will of the Ukrainian leadership.

What we see, instead, is an increasing militarization of Ukrainian official political discourse and the government budget. Millions more are needed to buy weaponry, while Ukraine is on the brink of economic default. The Ukrainian police now has the right to apply without warning physical force and firearms to those who are deemed “terrorists” or “separatists” by the law.

The Ukrainian government is waging a real war under the disguise of an “anti-terrorist operation”. The Ukrainian army is continuing its indiscriminate shellings of cities and towns in Donbas. New deaths of civilians, new destroyed houses: Horlivla, Stakhanov, Slavianosebsk. If this is a war with Russia, why not declare it officially?

A “bloody pastor”, Turcnynov, the secretary of the Council of National Security and Defense of Ukraine, came to Donetsk to take personal command of Ukrainian warrior “cyborgs” heroically defending a Donetsk airport reduced by Ukraine to rubble and in the hands of insurgency. I doubt Mr. Turchynov will be at the front line, or will lead the charge taking Ukrainian soldiers to victory.

Donetsk insurgents have declared themselves to be grandsons of Soviet soldiers who fought and won the Second World War. That is, they will fight to the finish to repel any presence of fascism from their homeland. The Ukrainian leadership should heed these words.


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