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NYT Writer Andrew Kramer Invents His Own Reality of Donbass

The New York Times' Moscow correspondent traveled to separatist-controlled Donbass, but saw only what he wanted to see

Andrew Kramer is the Moscow correspondent for the New York Times, who occasionally contributes to other publications, notably the Kyiv Post.

Since the conflict began, he’s written a series of articles from the DPR and LPR. All of those articles have been relentlessly one-sided, negative accounts of life in the DPR and LPR.

He managed to come to a Donetsk which had held a large scale public celebration of DPR Flag Day at the end of October, with regular public events such as this children’s dance display in the centre, and find nothing whatsoever to say about that. Instead, Kramer managed to find the bleak, hopeless city hedepicted in his piece of November 10th, entitled ‘A Bleak Future in Eastern Ukraine’s Frozen Zone’.

To be clear about this, a few things are uncertain – if Kramer really was actually in Donbass at that time, he didn’t tweet anything of his presence there, neither myself nor other journalists I know in a fairly small circle in Donetsk saw him, or knew of his being there. Or if any of the people he quotes at length in his article are either real, or said what he says they said. Kramer is one of a school of journalists who believes that characters in his pieces need to neither be photographed, or present any evidence that they actually said what they said. 

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So we have –

DONETSK, Ukraine — The 28-year-old accountant with a bob of chestnut hair would dash from work to meet her wide circle of friends at bars, restaurants and dinner parties. “It’s not how you spend your time, but who you spend it with,” Irina Filatova, the accountant, said of her humming social life.

That now seems a long time ago, before Ms. Filatova and about three million other people in eastern Ukraine were plunged into the strange vortex of former Soviet politics known as a frozen zone.

Governed by Russian-backed separatists, the provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk have no patron, neither the Western-leaning government in Kiev nor Moscow. Instead, they exist in a state of limbo that for Ms. Filatova, her friends and many others, has proved both spiritually and economically debilitating. 

And as hard as life has become for Ms. Filatova, others are afflicted far more by Ukraine’s civil war and its aftermath, the subject of a New York Times virtual reality film about children, resilience and survival. Many live in the charred ruins of houses hit by rockets and artillery. Others are homeless, with the sharp winter winds of the steppes beginning to bite.’

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This is an entirely different Donetsk from the one I recall at that time. It was a city in which new bars, restaurants, shops, were opening by the week, a lively circus, and theatre scene, regular festivals and events. (Photo a screenshot of theatre events on at the start of November in one of the city’s several theatres).

No question that there were harder hit areas of Donetsk, and some living in the conditions which Kramer describes ‘charred ruins of houses hit by rockets and artillery’. However, Kramer doesn’t add that those charred ruins were caused by Ukrainian shelling of residential areas of Donbass. He’s one of those journalists, or of course actually propagandists, who when Ukrainian forces shell Donbass, falls back into the old ‘both sides exchange blame for shelling‘ routine.

He, or rather ‘Ms. Filatova’ goes on –

The changes came fast for Ms. Filatova. Startled by the rebels’ takeover of the regional government, her flock of friends and fellow young professionals scattered like birds. Very few, if any, have returned. Some determined souls, like her, stayed.

Things went from bad to worse. The rebel zone rapidly sank into a chaotic and lawless state that had no place for the tax auditing company where she had worked.

‘Startled by the rebels’ takeover, making no mention of the crowds out in Donetsk at the many demonstrations to protest Euromaidan, culminating in the – peaceful – taking of government buildings by activists backed by large numbers of the local population, as I filmed in April of 2014.

And the ‘very few’ returning coming at a time when actually Donetsk was gaining, or re-gaining population all the time, with streets, public transport showing ever more signs of more and more people in the city formerly of 1 million, reduced to (by my own estimates having spent extensive time in the city, spoken to numerous sources) less than half that in war times, returning to an around 3/4 that, and growing, by late 2015.

As for ‘lawless‘ – perhaps you could have said that with more justification about Donetsk at certain times during 2014, yet 2015 Donetsk saw an organised police force, the banning of previous sights such as armed men in public establishments, even traffic police on the roads (as in above video, from early December 2015).

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‘Ms. Filatova’ goes on, demonstrating an incredible ability to entirely match the author’s own views (even a cursory reading of Kramer’s own body of work shows a consistent anti-Russian / Soviet thread) –

‘“It is an amazing injustice, to be honest,” Ms. Filatova said of the Kremlin’s policy of creating frozen zones.

“You sit here and think, ‘Why me?’ ” she said. “ ‘Why my family? Why did my life at one moment turn out completely differently?’ And it’s not just me. Hundreds of thousands of people just fell through the looking glass.”’

Able to mix comment on perceived Kremlin policies with literary references – quite a woman! What a shame there are absolutely no photos or recorded record of anything she said.

Kramer continues ‘In government offices here, portraits of Stalin, looking avuncular and kind, gaze down at visitors.’ This, simply an entire fabrication – I’ve been in many government offices in my time in Donetsk, again backed up by no photos at all (perhaps because it’s an entire fabrication). A spurious linking of the Donetsk People’s Republic ‘MGB’ police force to the KGB (making no mention of their closer link to Russian equivalent the ‘MB’).

The article continues, finding a clearly eccentric to give an odd quote about life in Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk (‘there is disappointment” in Donetsk, which separated from Ukraine, compared with the city of Dnipropetrovsk, which did not.’), throwing that in without any context at all on the cities, or concession that life in a city which has been extensively shelled is indeed worse than one which hasn’t, before unsurprisingly giving the star of the piece ‘Ms. Filatova’ the last word on the matter.

More observant readers may by now already be recalling the case of former journalist Stephen Glass (right) – who infamously invented quotes, people, entire events, before being exposed.

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Flip to Kiev, and January, and Kramer starts his article about a Kiev establishment run by ‘ATO’ (Kiev’s ‘Anti-Terror Operation’) veterans – Ukrainian War Veterans Trade Heat of Battle for Pizza Ovens – with an astounding assertion – ‘Out in the fields of eastern Ukraine, they fought the Russians. ‘ This, something even Ukraine’s Chief of Staff has admitted isn’t the case ‘Chief of Staff of Ukraine admitted that in the east there are no Russian army units. But Western politicians prefer to ignore this statement.’

Kramer goes on to turn a pizza piece into a real puff piece, giving the establishment run by men responsible for the shelling, and killing, of thousands of civilians in Donbass, a generous topping of favourable quotes, and extra serving of fawning –

“It’s hard, it’s hot, but I’m with my brothers,” said Leonid Ostaltsev, the bearded, tattooed founder of Pizza Veterano
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In the month since it opened, Pizza Veterano, a restaurant where all the tablecloths are camouflage print, has become an improbable hit

it seems to be thriving, packed with patrons most of the day. But to Mr. Ostaltsev and his employees, money is not the important thing. They want to offer a place full of hopes in a city and country without many of them lately.

“We are Ukrainians,” Mr. Ostaltsev, a machine-gunner in the army, said of the bacon overkill on most toppings. “The more the better.”

Every Sunday, Pizza Veterano holds free classes in cooking pizza for the children of veterans. It also encourages patrons, the paying variety, to donate pizzas to military hospitals. During the first month, customers ordered $3,500 worth of pizzas for military hospitals, a princely sum in Ukraine these days.”

So there we have it – Kramer in Donetsk versus Kramer in Kiev. In Donetsk Kramer seeks to depict Mad Max meets The Road with a twist of Orwell. But Kiev, well that’s Ukraine so of course, everything is pure Disney for this pro-Ukraine propagandist.

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