My Recent Return to Donetsk, How is it There, Really?

I recently returned to Donetsk, Donbass, after spending an intense 2-month period working in Crimea.  I was primarliy in the DPR to do a distribution of humanitarian aid to children’s homes, which was done, to huge success.

I’ll soon be returning to Crimea for another period of reportage, but it was a real pleasure to spend some time in Donetsk, walk around the city I’ve spent so much time in, covered so many events from.
What to say about life in Donetsk, honestly? Well, there can’t be any fairytales about a ‘booming’ DPR, apart from that shelling still goes on on the perimeters, with almost daily damage, regular casualties, and sometimes fatalities. However, the city lives, most shops are now open, people are on the streets. There’s no real confusing it with normal life, there’s a certain tension, which could hardly be any other given an ongoing war situation. But, as I say, life goes on – 

Despite the circumstances, the people of Donetsk are as friendly as ever. I ran into these bright young things on the city’s main Artema St, with them just back from the World Festival of Youth and Students, in Sochi. 

And the city itself is not without brighter things in life, when I was there, a show ‘Fashion without Borders’, showcasing the work of local designers –

So, as I say, you couldn’t really say that it was ‘business as usual’, but in a lot of ways, Donetsk looks like any other – people are in cafes, cars are on the roads, people on the  streets, and so on. However, true to say, a fair amount of shops still shuttered, no working banks, apart from local, and curfew. But, there’s no real military presence, the days I was there, no audible shelling from the centre, and in general, people just trying to get on with their lives, hoping for something to resolve this already protracted, egregious, unnecessary situation…

Donbass, Referendums, and a Truly Horrible Situation

A few words about the complications of filming in Donbass, early 2014. I made hundreds, really hundreds of videos from there, which were seen all over the world, on the news, and more, of people saying they didn’t want Ukraine, wanted a referendum, wanted the Donetsk, Lugansk People’s Republic, and more.

Had a referendum, voted for the DPR, LPR. No one in the west listened, actually they supported Ukraine against them.
Then, in July of 2014, Ukrainian forces took a lot of these towns and cities – Mariupol, Slavyansk, Kramatorsk, and set about a campaign of ‘cleansing’ of separatists. People were beaten, people disappeared.
I removed all the videos I’d made which may have put people still there in a position of danger. But, my videos had already been put everywhere, I wrote to people asking them to remove them. And of course, not only my videos – there were many, many videos made at this time, and most still online.

A video which one month tells the world the truth, the next month can put their life in danger. A really horrible situation.

Here, Slavyansk, April 2014: 

(18+) Catalonia Referendum, and the Donbass Referendum Double-Standard

Catalonia has declared a ‘yes’ vote for independence, with just over 90% of the total of 2,262,424 votes in favour of seceding from Spain. 

With Catalonia now close to declaring independence, we now wait to see if the world will accept. However, this isn’t the only referendum on self-determination in recent times to gain over a 90% vote in favour. On May 11th, 2014, a referendum was held across Donbass, to break away from a Ukraine which had in February 2014, installed an unelected, far-right government, and in April 2014, sent in military force to Donbass to crush those who protested. 

Actually, this, just one video from Mariupol, May 9th 2014, when Ukrainian forces went into Mariupol, and opened fire on those celebrating Victory Day.

More about that later, for now, a look at the referendum itself, in which tens of thousands of people queued for hours to cast their vote, voting 90%, as in Catalonia, to be part of the Donetsk People’s Republic. I’ve had to blur the videos, because no one listened to these people, and Ukrainian forces captured the city soon after.

This voter tells me: ‘We want to live apart from Ukraine’

This man tells me ‘People want freedom, it’s a cry of the soul’

These people declare ‘We are against the Kiev government!’

This man tells me he ‘hates the Ukrainian flag’ – 

What happened after? The west simply dismissed the referendum. Ukrainian forces seized Mariupol, and other towns and cities in Donbass. And those they didn’t seize, they’ve been shelling for over 3 years, with mass loss of life. Here, Lugansk, August 2014, after Ukrainian shelling:

Here, Donetsk, January 2015 after Ukrainian shelling:

Sadly, there are many, many of these videos. Thousands killed in Donbass, and it goes on to this day. Meanwhile, Europe hasn’t just stayed quiet on this, but actively supported it. 

Here’s wishing Catalonia all the very best with their independence result. We all know, that whatever happens, what happened in Donbass will never happen there. So why did it happen in Donbass?

Helping Donbass Children’s Homes

As you all know, I won’t be reporting on Donbass so much in the coming period. I’ll be completely honest with you here, and say that falling views, and resonance of reportage, led me to the view that my reporting wasn’t, at this moment in time, making a real difference there, wasn’t helping people there.

And, in Donbass, I always considered that my role as a journalist, that by reporting the truth from there, people knowing that, that making a difference, it helped people.

However, for now, clearly, there are other, better ways to help people. I’ll be in Donbass soon, and not only continuing to help children’s homes there. but expanding the help to include several children’s homes (including here, Lutugino).

I’m not collecting money for this, but someone – Sean Taylor – has been insisent in sending funds, specifying for children’s homes – and I’ll soon be handing all that over, in full. 

I’ve actually not collected money for any of this help, it’s all been donated by people – clothes, toys, educational items for children – from all over Russia. I’m going to keep things on a ‘non-money’ basis, because that comes with its own set of particulars.

However, I’m keen to expand the collection of clothes, toys, educational items for children’s homes in Donbass, and even have premises near Donbass, in Russia, in which to store them.

If you can be a part of this, let me know – gwplondon@gmail.com

Thanks again!

Graham

18+ Donbass War: When Ukrainian Shelling Hit Lugansk, August 2014

This is a Donbass video I’m no longer able to show on YouTube, but which needs to be shown.

In August of 2014, Ukrainian forces had almost surrounded the city of Lugansk – held at that time, still held by the Lugansk People’s Republic forces. The Ukrainian military’s closest stronghold to the city was Lugansk airport, some 10km from city limits, and from there, they rained shelling down on the city of Lugansk throughout July, and August of 2014.

This shelling, which hit all over the city of Lugansk, caused mass civilian loss of life. Here is an 18+ video, from August 13th, 2014.

Why did they choose to do this? Ukrainian forces knew perfectly well they couldn’t take Lugansk by force. Or, they were unwilling to try. Their intention was to terrorise the people of Lugansk into surrendering. That didn’t happen, but the legacy of their campaign is some horrific stories. Go to Lugansk’s southern cemetery, you’ll find this gravestone:

This was a family of 3, the Knishes. On the 14th of July, they were all packed, and ready to leave Lugansk, to escape the daily shelling of the city by Ukrainian forces. In a cruel twist of fate, shelling hit them just as they were about to leave.

And there’s thousands of other tragic stories of the results of Ukrainian shelling of Lugansk, 2014. I was there, witnessed it with my own eyes. The memories, losses, pain, anger, is there to this day in Lugansk.

As a military operation by Ukraine, it was a complete failure. Fired up by the actions of Ukraine’s forces against their city, Lugansk People’s Republic forces drove Ukrainian forces from Lugansk aiport, and other positions nearby, at the start of September, 2014.

More on that to come, in this series, of facts, from the ground, explaining to you what really happened in Donbass.

Moving on From Donbass, And Staying with Donbass

I’ve been open about the fact, that the angle of my reportage for the next period is away from Donbass, and I won’t return to report there until after the World Cup 2018.

For the last few years, most of my work has been from Donbass up to the point where I feel that I’ve done as much as can, for the time being. I’d always planned to do projects connected to Russia in the run up to the World Cup 2018, and it’ll be that way. 
 
As for Donbass, there are excellent journalists reporting from there, in English – Patrick Lancaster of course, there’s Janus, and more – and I’ll do as much as possible to promote their work, and support Donbass in a humanitarian capacity. 
 
On my return to Donbass to report, I don’t plan to return to reportage from the frontlines – if there’s still war there, and of course I hope there won’t be. I’ve done that really a lot of times, had more close shaves than could ever really say. It’s time to call it a day on that, luck only lasts for so long. 
 
And I’ll look forward to my return to my Donbass, reporting from there later in 2018. There’s lots to come before that!

 

YouTube and my 18+ 2-Week ‘Technical Break’

Sorry to say I won’t be able to bring you any video reportage for the next 2 weeks. YouTube have penalised me twice in two weeks – for old videos from the Donbass war.

The videos were indeed 18+ but that’s war, sadly, and they’d been on my channel for a long time, marked as 18+. So, why now?
 
Well, I don’t know, but if I get one more strike against my channel, YouTube will terminate my account, deleting the near 5000 videos there. And, it’s YouTube, they do that.
 
I’ve also got a 2 week ban from posting video material. Of course, I could post it elsewhere, but it never has the same impact, good reportage gets lost. Better to focus all attention, energy, on doing even better reportage after the return!
 
I’ve now removed all 18+ material from my YouTube account, so there should be no further problems after this 2-week period, the first of its kind in near 4 years.
 
As for the 18+ videos, I’ve saved them all, and will think what best to do with them.