Kiev's Atrocities Give Donbass Rebels All the Legitimacy They Need

By subjecting Donbass civilians to shelling Kiev renounces its claim to being their legitimate government

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This is an excerpt from an article that originally appeared at Vera Graziadei


A few months ago Donetsk was a vibrant, thriving and ambitious city. Hosting the European football championship in 2012 coincided with the peak of its hopes for world recognition. Today it stands partially destroyed, sad, hopeless and fearful for its future. 

The European metropolis of one million people now has around 80% of its previous population – mainly working classes; wealthier people, who could afford it, left the city in order to escape the war. Donetsk has become a centre of the Ukrainian conflict, after the Kiev government announced an ‘anti-terrorist operation’ (ATO) against ‘pro-Russian separatists’ in mid-April 2014.

Social life in public places is now almost non-existent – aside from one or two entertainment establishments, such as the Opera House. Most theatres, cinemas, cafes, bars and clubs are closed and many shops and businesses boarded up their windows.

The curfew, which was announced in summer, is still not cancelled, and even though there are rumours that one night club is functioning – the streets are empty at night. By day, there are no traffic jams in Donetsk anymore and ‘camouflaged armed men walk where shoppers and businessmen once strolled’.

But not everywhere is quiet, depending on where you are –  an occasional cannonade could be heard or even continuous explosions.

Each shelling and shooting incident is still seen in the city as an unfortunate accident or state of emergency. 

People have resigned themselves to the fact that there are several ‘armed conflict zones’, for example, near the airport or near Karlovka/Maryinka, where adjacent still-populated civilian quarters are bearing the brunt. Even though it is morally totally unacceptable, amongst Donetsk residents it is now if not fully accepted, then at least expected.

However, now and again, shells and bombs fall on central civilian areas, that are nowhere near the usual fighting zones, e.g. for no apparent reason central Gladkovka area of Donetsk was shelled, when the Local History Museum was destroyed.

More than 4,300 people have been killed in Donetsk and Lugansk since April and according to the UN an average of 13 have died every day since a formal ceasefire was agreed in Minsk.

All deaths are terrible, but some are particularly gruesome, such as the death of a 12-year old boy in Donetsk on 27th November, who was blown apart by a shell and was only identified by his textbooks, as all that was left of him was a pile of meat.

These incidents shake not only Donetsk civilians, but also the rest of the sympathising world, to its core. 

As a journalist from Odessa reported from within the Kiev’s forces‘ frontline, the Ukrainian artillery aims at Donetsk randomly or as a Ukrainian soldier summarised: “Shooting in the direction of separatists, but then… who knows how the cards will fall.”

Both governments of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics are far from ideal – they are mainly military men, not that experienced in political and economic matters.

They make many mistakes, e.g. the most recent propaganda campaign to encourage the population to demand pensions from Kiev does nothing but undermines their own authority.

If they have announced themselves a government, then they should assume all the governmental responsibilities, including provision of state benefits (which should have been planned following the May referendum).

However, majority of Donetsk and Lugansk civilians are very well aware who is shelling them and who is trying to create a humanitarian catastrophe on their land.

The amoral and aggressive position of Kiev towards them gives a trust boost to the LNR and DNR authorities, and Donbass governments should make every attempt to not betray this trust.

In other words, Kiev is achieving opposite of what they would like – they are strengthening the support for the LNR and DNR, who even despite their inexperience, hold a much higher moral ground in the eyes of the majority of the remaining Donbass citizens.

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