Excellent News!! – No Ukraine at the World Cup 2018!

Despite the fact that I spent over 3 years in Donbass, much of it reporting on Ukrainian forces shelling civilian areas of Donbass, with mass loss of life, I still try to stay objective about Ukraine.

In 2012, when I worked at What’s On magazine in Kiev, I would write articles defending Ukraine from what was unjustified western attack. Here, for example, as in early 2012 I address the western campaign to trash Ukraine ahead of Euro 2012.

Of course, it’s a different world now, a different Ukraine. But even after covering events like this, where Ukraine had shelled civilians in Donbass –

And many, sadly, similar instances, I remind myself that these are people who claim to represent Ukraine, but are not Ukraine. Ukraine in the prism of those ‘ambassadors’ exists in a monstrified, maniacal form of its earlier self. A country of which a small minority overthrew a democratic government in early 2014, then set about attacking anyone who didn’t accept their actions. Whether that be shelling civilians of Donbass, who rejected their version of Ukraine, or doing as much mischief in Crimea as they are able to. 

But, from Crimea, where I write this, I’ve met many decent, nice Ukrainians, this year –

However, sadly, they are not the ones running the show in Ukraine at the moment. And whether they even represent the majority of Ukrainians anymore, is a moot point, with many in Ukraine having full-scale swallowed their own propaganda, that ‘everything is Russia’s fault‘, they must ‘hate Russia‘, ‘Putin is to blame‘ for all their own problems, and so on. Don’t just take my word for it, look at these Ukrainian fans, at Euro 2016 – 

They are whipped up, agitated into this baying, mob-mentality state in no small part by Ukraine’s bonkers president Poroshenko. Poroshenko came to power off the back of the Maidan coup which ultimately amounted to a few thousand ultra-national Ukrainians in Kiev, forcing then president Yanukovych to flee for his life. So he knows full well that the erstwhile latent but potentially ever-ready to rock radicals must be appeased, kept at bay.

Poroshenko does this by telling them just what they want to hear. It’s all ‘Slava Ukraina‘, a nationalist chant strongly associated with WW2 Ukrainian Nazism, endless glorifying of WW2 Ukrainian Nazi Stepan Bandera, and considerably more in this canon.

Of course, Poroshenko’s favourite refrain, and one which plays particularly well to a home crowd struggling with a country beset with problems only becoming worse, is that Russia is the root of all Ukraine’s problems. Poroshenko’s Twitter is awash with the kind of apropos of nothing abuse, vitriol directed at Russia of the kind one may more commonly associate with a one of the football fans in the above video – this just a sampling –

And of course, Poroshenko loves nothing more than combining his hatred of Russia with his love of creating a public spectacle. So, we have his brandishing a bit of a bus he claimed Russia was responsible for the destruction of, at the start of 2015 at the Davos Economic Forum, in Switzerland –

Waving Russian passports, as ‘proof of Russian involvement in war in Ukraine’, at the Munich Security Conference, also 2015 –

And the list really does go on, and on, and of course, western media loves it all, always happy to let Poroshenko turn any event into the ‘Poroshenko vs Russia’ show. Last night, before the match, Poroshenko tweeted his support for the Ukrainian team, as they faced Croatia in the final match of qualifying, Group I, for World Cup 2018. If Ukraine had won, they were in the play-offs, and in with a chance of making it to Russia.

And this, would have been all Poroshenko’s christmases (which he wants tomove the date of, by the way – the existing January 7th date ‘too Russian’), coming at once. The opportunities and possibilities presented by Ukrainian qualification for the World Cup 2018, would have been simply mind-blowing. Boycott? Ok, that’s one. Or what about go to Russia, and take every opportunity with the eyes of the world on Russia, to create scandal, drag politics into sport, cause scenes, conflict, agitation, provocation, make the football a sideshow to the Poroshenko show, with him using the World Cup as a platform to boost his bid for the 2019 Ukrainian presidential elections. Pause for a moment, just imagine the opportunity afforded by a World Cup to do what one will, at one’s will, in the full knowledge a sympathetic global media will be cheering you on….

But, it wasn’t to be. 2 decent, but defendable goals by Andrej Kramarić, and Ukraine won’t play any part of 2018’s World Cup, apart from the inevitable trolling and attempts to capitalise on the attention, now reflected, anyway. But, that will meet with limited success. Sore losers. Ghosts at the feast. They had a winnable match against a Croatia side on a slump, with a new coach, in their own backyard, and they turned a performance so limp as to suggest some of the players themselves didn’t much fancy being a part of the Poroshenko spectacle of Ukraine at the 2018 World Cup.

Ukraine blew it. For all the good Ukrainians who support their national team, it’s bad news. For all the other Ukrainians who couldn’t wait to go to Russia, and delight in causing as many problems as they can with the ‘get out of jail card’ of knowing what an image a Russian police officer arresting a Ukrainian would present, no matter what they’d done, it’s worse news. For Poroshenko, it’s a major blow, suddenly the world stage Russia 2018 presents has no place for him to go and, figuratively of course, piss all over it.

For fans of football, it’s truly excellent news. It means we can look forward to a World Cup 2018 of sport, of high-octane clashes between the world’s best players, at some of the world’s best stadiums, devoid of all the drama that would have cast black clouds over proceedings. There will be other issues, and scandals, of course there will. But, none to hold a candle to what Ukraine was going to unleash.

It’s a reminder that in sport, there is an innate fairness. Invariably, the best team wins. Ukraine’s footballers were taken apart on their own turf last night. The trojan horse that Ukraine’s footballers would have brought to Russia 2018 didn’t get over the last hurdle. A victory for Croatia in Kiev, a victory for football fans all over the world. A rare instance where Ukraine must actually admit their own failings have nothing to do with a Russia on which they will look on in 2018, but with few looking back at them.

On a purely footballing level, as a football fan, from me – it’s a like!! 

Pro-Ukraine Troll Blasts Ukrainian Authorities after God-Daughter is Killed

In February of 2015, Twitter user @Natalyp72 wrote an abusive message, directed, to the city of Lugansk, Donbass, which in 2014 had endured a hellish campaign of shelling by the Ukrainian military in 2014, with mass loss of life.

She wished those who had voted out of Ukraine (after the terrorist coup of Euromaidan installed a far-right government in Ukraine, in early 2014), to be, in strong terms ‘cursed‘.

Last Friday, September 15th, fire broke out at the Victoria children’s camp, in Odessa. The fire engulfed one of the three-story wooden dorms, three girls perished, burned alive.

Firefighters complained that putting out the first was made very difficult by there being no emergency water sources on the territory of the children’s facility (praised by Ukrainian president Poroshenko in May as being ‘excellent’), and the pressure from the fire hydrant was weak, the fire reservoir had insufficient water, and was blocked. Firefighters could only find water supply over a kilometre from the campus, taking over two hours to extinguish the flames. Too late for the 3 young girls, aged 8,9 and 12, with a further two children injured in the dorm, which housed 42.

Mikhail Vovka, from the Federal State Dispatch Service for Odessa region, told reporters on Saturday, that the management of the camp had terminated their contract with a fire safety monitoring company. Therefore, when the fire started, no alarm had sounded.

In 2016, a modern fire alarm was purchased, installed and put into operation in the camp, but then it was deliberately brought to a non-operational state,” Vovka said, as reported by the Odessa Life portal.

Angry crowds of relatives, and more have protested outside Odessa City Hall, demanding answers (pictured). The tragic blaze has seen an investigation opened, mass sackings of senior staff there, several officials in local government dismissed, arrests even, of camp staff. There has also been anger at Ukrainian president Poroshenko, who hasn’t even bothered to visit Odessa, and has barely spoken of the tragedy. (Perhaps the lack of possibility to blame Russia influencing his inaction).

In the blaze, Twitter user @Natalyp72 ‘s god-daughter, Nastya, 9, persished. Natalyp72 (Natalya) tweeted in fury ‘Those scumbags forgot about the children there! They were trapped, and burned alive!

Condolences to Natalya on her loss. I went to her Twitter account, only to see she’d blocked me, despite our never having interacted. She seems to have removed her tweet of abuse directed at Lugansk, from 2015, but a number of similar, often fairly extreme pro-Ukraine tweets.

Sadly for Natalya, she’s found out, that in this Ukraine of 2017, not even children in a children’s camp described as ‘exemplary’ by the president of Ukraine, are safe.

Neo-Nazi Ukrainian Politician Calls for NATO Bases in Donbass

Andriy Parubiy1Ahead of Ukraine president Poroshenko’s visit to Washington, in which security issues will be discussed, senior Ukrainian politician, chairman of the Ukrainian parliament, Andriy Parubiy (pictured) has written on Twitter, calling for NATO bases there ‘once Ukraine regain control’ of the DPR and LPR, in the republics, as a ‘guarantee for the safety of Ukrainian citizens’.

It’s the most overt statement of intention made yet, on an official level, of how far Ukraine wants to go with NATO.

Andriy Parubiy, by the way, is the co-founder of the Ukrainian neo-Nazi Svoboda party, as I have written here –

https://thetruthspeaker.co/2015/10/20/the-uk-gets-set-to-welcome-ukrainian-neo-nazi-andriy-parubiy/

Avdeevka Shelling: Who Did It? The Real Story

Avdeevka is a town of around 35,000, pre-war population, held by Ukrainian forces, some 5km northwest of the city of Donetsk (city limits), held by DPR.

Yesterday, Ukrainian, and pro-Ukrainian media started making a massive storm about it having been shelled ‘by separatist forces’, with 4 civilians killed. Just some sources here –

http://korrespondent.net/ukraine/3850468-polytsyia-pokazala-foto-obstreliannoi-avdeevky

http://fakty.ictv.ua/ru/ukraine/20170513-avdiyivka-nakryta-vognem-bojovykiv-bagato-zagyblyh/

http://gordonua.com/news/war/v-avdeevke-v-rezultate-obstrela-boevikov-pogibli-chetyre-mestnyh-zhitelya-zhebrivskiy-188032.html

On the evening of Eurovision, it generated mass attention, with Ukraine’s president Poroshenko loudly then announcing that he was cancelling his visit to the song contest final in Kiev, due to the shelling – which made international news –

https://www.ukrinform.net/rubric-politics/2227433-president-poroshenko-not-to-attend-esc-grand-final-due-to-shelling-of-avdiivka.html

https://sputniknews.com/europe/201705141053593390-poroshenko-skips-eurovision/

http://gordonua.com/news/politics/poroshenko-evrovidenie-omrachilo-uzhasnoe-ubiystvo-mirnyh-zhiteley-avdeevki-no-eto-cena-kotoruyu-platyat-ukraincy-za-rossiyskuyu-agressiyu-188091.html

https://www.rbc.ua/rus/news/poroshenko-otmenil-poseshchenie-finala-evrovideniya-1494702759.html

The Donetsk People’s Republic responded today:

“It is another provocation ordered by the commander of the Donetsk operations and tactical group with involvement of the 72nd separate mechanized brigade, the Right Sector (a far right group banned in Russia), Ukraine’s National Guard along with foreign media outlets in the run-up to the Minsk talks,” the Donetsk news agency quoted the spokesperson as saying.

The DPR explained how the provocation was staged.

“The 72nd brigade opens fire on the DPR position, whereas the Right Sector is shelling Avdeyevka and foreign media are recording,” he said.

Meanwhile, well-known blogger Colonel Cassad analysed the photos of the shelling, concluding that it had actually come from the Ukraine-held settlement of Vodyane, around 5km from Avdeevka –

Now of course, shelling damage can be analysed in different ways, to suit different needs. So, a wider context must also be assessed. Who did this shelling suit?

The DPR had just enjoyed perhaps one of the most successful, high-profile weeks of their 3-year existence, with both a mass Victory Day celebration, and a huge Republic Day festival.  So, to believe it’s the Donetsk People’s Republic, you have to believe that, off the back of this, they’ve decided to shell a civilian area of Avdeevka, full well knowing how much they would be hammered in the media for that.

There have been no recent DPR attempts to capture the town of Adveevka, nor any sign that that’s the case. So why would they, as Ukraine wants us to believe, arbitrarily decide to shell the settlement, with the predictable, and of course tragic, loss of life – 4 deaths reported?

Meanwhile, on the Ukraine side, it’s a different story. Poroshenko can take the moral high ground by not attending Eurovision, due to his loudly-announced ‘grief’. Not attending a Eurovision it was pretty clear something embarrassing was going to happen at, and it duly did, with Ukrainian prankster Vitaliy Sedyuk mounting the stage to bear his bottom. 

There’s also the bonus for Ukraine of, in a week when all events in the DPR had passed off successfully, without a hitch, another opportunity to attack the ‘evil separatists’, Putin, and so on. 

And, be sure, Ukraine’s PR-machine – which has seen Poroshenko turn up to UN Meetings, World Economic Forums, and more, bearing items of wreckage he claims were the result of ‘separatist, Russian-backed shelling‘, etc – will only just be starting on this.

So, if you ask the question, who gains from the shelling of Avdeevka, there’s only one answer, Ukraine. As to who did it, well, it’s not too much of a leap to come to that conclusion.

Poroshenko Arrives into London

What must be pretty much the last thing you want if you’re Theresa May? You’ve just announced a snap General Election, you’ve got literally a million things to do. And, there it is – a pre-arranged visit by Ukraine’s often inebriated, always crazy, president, Poroshenko. And you just know he’s not going to say ‘Theresa, you must be up to your neck at the moment another time?’ Petr’s got his invite, he’s coming!

What to expect? Will it be waving Russian passports around, waving bits of a bus around? Accusing Putin of killing the pharaoh (Poroshenko recently claimed Putin used the London terrorist attacks of March 22nd to murder someone on the sly in Kiev, no less).

Well, let’s see. Poroshenko arrives into London tomorrow. 

Saakashvili – Lost at Sea in Odessa

Graham Phillips

As he stood by Odessa’s port on Monday, readying to deliver a resignation speech, as governor of Odessa, which would launch a broadside against Ukraine, Mikheil Saakashvili looked considerably older than his 48 years. He looked a very long way indeed from the once dashing figure, electrifying the global political scene with pledges to bring Georgia into the sphere of modern Europe.

In fact, he bore more than a passing resemblance to Michael Henchard, the main character saakashvili-odessa-1in Thomas Hardy’s ‘Mayor of Casterbridge‘, worn down by successive failures, as he issues a weary ‘I am to suffer, I perceive’.

Saakashvili prides himself on being an educated man, speaking five languages – but it’s unknown if he’s a fan of the work of titan of English literature, Thomas Hardy. If he were, he’dve recognised his 18 month tenure as the governor of Odessa beset by the kind of foreboding background Hardy used to set the mood for tragedy to come. In October of 2015, coming on for six months of his reign, a civilian passenger boat capsized in Odessa, with the loss of at least 12 lives, the worst maritime disaster of its kind in post-Soviet Ukraine. Saakashvili rushed back from his trip to the western Ukrainian city of Lvov to be there, but there were already comments at that time that it would be better if he hadn’t bothered. 

Almost exactly a year later, in October of 2016, Odessa was lashed by extreme storms, leaving at least three dead, again, the worst of its kind in post-Soviet Ukraine. Meanwhile, Saakashvili’s own time at the helm of Odessa lurched from crisis to disaster to catastrophe, before on Monday he walked the gangplank.

saakashvili-tieThere may be not be an image quite as iconic as Saakashvili eating his tie upon realising he’d misjudged his South Ossettia military action of 2008, but his ill-fated time in Odessa leaves a legacy of embarrassments, memes, unfulfilled pledges, and the feeling that almost everything he touched there turned to failure.

His appointment on May 30th 2015, came somewhat out of the blue. Saakashvili had been an enthusiastic cheerdleader for Euromaidan, but in the aftermath of that, had actually moved to the USA, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. February of 2015 saw him called to Ukraine, initially sitting on a fairly inconsequential advisory panel for a couple of months at the start of the year, in April he turned down the chance to become First Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine, stating his unwillingness to rescind his Georgian passport to take up Ukrainian. But then May, suddenly everything had changed. The former close ally of George W. Bush jr was hurriedly rolled out a Ukrainian passport on May 29th, appointed porohenko-saakashviligovernor of Odessa.

Tbilisi native Saakashvili was the first non-Ukrainian by birth to be named to head of what is in effect a provincial government. The post was made vacant largely because previous incumbent, Igor Palytsia, was an ally of oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, with whom Poroshenko had had a very public falling out, before effecting a purge of those loyal to him.

According to Poroshenko, his old friend (from university days) Saakashvili “has proven with deeds, not words that he can not only give birth to creative ideas, but also put them into practice.” He added Georgia’s ex-president had changed his country “in the direction of transparency, effectiveness, anti-corruption, appeal for foreign investors, fair justice, protection of citizen’s rights, democracy,” something Poroshenko “would like to see very much” in Odessa.

And so it was, the man who made a venomous hatred for Russia one of his calling cards, saakashvili-putinfrequently calling Russians ‘barbarians’, and personal vendetta against Putin ‘I hate Putin’, was appointed governor of a city in which pro-Russia demonstrations would easily outnumber pro-Ukrainian, before the brutal events of May 2nd 2014, the burning of Trade Union House with mass loss of life on side of pro-Russian protesters, and subsequent campaign of repression against them.

Saakashvili’s appointment saw him posting an ‘I heart Odessa’ status on his Facebook, and indeed the US were so happy with the appointment they promptly offered to foot the bill for the salaries of Saakashvili and his team. In the city which was once considered the fourth city of the Russian empire, Saakashvili started out by making the obligatory big noises about plans to make Odessa the most powerful port in the Black Sea, and so forth.

Yet, the man known as ‘Misha”s professed love was never reciprocated by locals – he met with a decidedly choppy response from Odessites, from the start, with the mishiko-go-homeblack sea residents, famous for their laconic sense of humour, taking to hanging ties on landmarks around the city. July of 2015 saw anti-Maidan activists marching a goat through the city with placards declaring ‘Saakashvili Go Home’, and acvitists stating:’ Activists continued their protest campaign a few days later, this time launching a giant red balloon featuring his image and the phrase ‘Mishiko Go Home!’, complete with a large red necktie dangling from his mouth. Then in August of 2015, an actual statue of Saakashvili, taking the role of dog to Obama’s master, appeared on the city’s iconic Primorsky Boulevard.

saakashvili

Meanwhile, on the more serious side, reports emerged of Saakashvili, along with being wanted by his own country’s prosecutors for embezzlement, abuse of power and politically-motivated attacks, also wanted for murder in Georgia.  Things only got worse with the appointment of his team, a self-consciously ‘star-studded’ line-up looking more akin to the judging panel on a tv talent show than those capable of managing a port-and-resort city of 1 million which had derived much of its former prosperity from hundreds of thousands of yearly Russian visitors.

The appointment of Maria Gaidar as deputy governor, a glamorous, young Russian opposition maria-gaidar-odessafigure, was one Saakashvili likely thought would be a hit. He even stated she was ready to rescind her Russian citizenship, and apply for Ukrainian. However she fell at the first hurdle, when refusing to say that Ukraine was at war with Russia in interview, attracting the ire of Ukraine’s media, and Euromaidan supporters who had trumpeted Saakashvili’s appointment as a triumph. Ukrainian parliament member and former deputy governor of Dnepropetrovsk Borys Filatov, famous for his “we will hang the scum” line regarding Crimeans seeking independence from Ukraine, responded harshly to Gaidar’s stance

They simply don’t give a **** about our country. They are making money here. Or are fulfilling their sick ambitions. Or are training themselves ‘on cats.’ Choose the option for their motivation yourself,” Filatov posted on Facebook.

Then there was Saakashvili’s obsession with Yulia Marushevska- activist and aspiring actress best known for her part in Euromaidan promotional video ‘I am a Ukrainian‘ in Saakashvili OdessaFebruary of 2014. She spent most of her time after that appearing on chat shows speaking about that, until Saakashvili seemingly spotted her political potential, making her third in command in his team. It’s unclear what she did in her months in this job, but in any case, in October of 2015, Saakashvili promoted her to Customs Chief for Odessa, in charge of the biggest port insert.

Saakashvili’s other appointment to deputy,  Afghan war hero Vladimir Zhmak, also had no experience in civil service, something an enthusiastic Saakashvili saw as a plus, posting on his Facebook that their lack of experience was a good thing because my goal is to bring new, fresh, uncorrupted, competent people.”

Yulia Marushevska Odessa 1What happened? Gaidar’s tenure was an unmitigated disaster, alienating even those who had supported Saakashvili, with her backing out of taking Ukrainian citizenship, resigning in a hail of protest in May of 2016.  Zhmak signed off in July of 2016 with a cheerful ‘Goodbye Odessa’ message on his Facebook. Marushevska has proved incompetent spilling into inept in her role as customs chief, embroiled in endless internecine conflict, with Odessa’s port practices stuck in the past, and revenues actually decreasing by 30 percent, while in Ukraine as a whole, revenues were reported as up 21 percent. Marushevska is now reported to be considering her own position. 

What were Saakashvili’s other big ideas for reform? Fire everyone, call them all ‘useless’, employ new and untested people. Unfortunately for Saakashvili, his new people turned out to be just as, if not more ‘useless’ than their predecessors, and he failed in making any headway in his ‘war against corruption’. 

saakashvili-odessa-busInitial, PR-winning stunts, such as his taking public transport to ‘touch base with locals’, petered out. By October of 2015, locals who’d opened precious wine in honour of his appointment were beating a path to his door to berate him. And after his candidate for mayor, Alexander Borovyk, was defeated, by Gennadiy Trukhanov (who Saakashvili had frequently, publicly slated), in October of 2015, Saakashvili largely withdrew from the Odessa scene.

Meanwhile things had quickly unravelled for Saakashvili with other government figures. In December of 2015, at a government meeting, he got into a heated argument with interior minister Arsen Avakov, that ended with Avakov throwing a glass of water at Saakashvili, who retorted that Avakov was a “thief” who would go to prison. Avakov later described Saakashvili as a “bonkers populist”

Even a western media inclined to be more than benevolent to Saakashvili had long changed their tune on him, by the time of his resignation. Polish press were writing in February of 2016, that ‘His work so far has failed to bring any spectacular successes in any of the priority areas of activity.’ This article in Foreign Policy, from October 2016, painted a prophetic pictured of a man defeated. The Ukrainian press were stronger still, a Ukrainian saakashvili-odessa-2journalist writing in October of 2015 that Saakashvili was ‘dull’ and ‘stank’. 

The writing was on the line in May of this year, when Saakashvili gave an interview to Shaun Walker of the Guardian, calling Ukraine’s government a ‘bunch of mediocre people’, with ‘no vision for reform’, and openly criticising his former ally, Poroshenko. The article predictably made waves, causing Saakashvili to issue a statement that Walker, his ‘longtime friend’, had ‘clearly perverted’ their conversation. Walker, however, stuck by his article, with dictaphone recording to back it up.

Much of what Saakashvili said in his resignation, blasting the Kiev government, singling out President Petro Poroshenko, saying he had been complicit in obstructing various reforms, had clearly well fomented when he spoke with Walker in May. But the vitriol had only increased with the passing of months, as he blasted: ‘“What difference for Ukrainians does it make who will treat them like dirt: Poroshenko or Yanukovych; what difference who will steal from them?”’

Having made some effort to speak Ukrainian during his tenure, Saakashvili reverted to the Russian he knows better for his signing-off salvo –

Saakashvili’s taking on the role in Odessa was largely motivated by his desire to escalate his personal (somewhat one-sided) battle with Putin. He leaves the post, with harsher words about the man who employed him, Poroshenko. He leaves with almost all of his much-vaunted reforms, and project, having ignominiously failed. As Walker wrote ‘The sad demise of Saakashvili and his bold new vision‘. He wrote that in 2008. Time moves on, but Saakashvili’s ‘bold new visions’ always seem to end the same way.

And so it is, like Michael Henchard, after another failure, Saakashvili sets off again.

Slavyansk – Donbass – 2 Years after Ukrainian Forces Took It Back

Graham Phillips

Ukraine’s president Poroshenko is in Donbass just now, 2 years after Ukrainian forces recaptured Slavyansk, Kramatorsk, and further territory in the area. It’s, thus far, business as usual for the man now more than 2 years Ukraine’s president despite approval ratings actually lower than his predecessor at the time of the Euromaidan overthrow – around 17%.

So, we have Poroshenko decked out in camouflage, making a series of
Poroshenko SlavyanskStrangelove-esque statements, giving out medals, posing for flinty photos in forementioned fatigues, making an announcement on changing the insignia on Ukrainian military uniforms to honour Ukraine’s Insurgent Army, who fought with the Nazis in WWII.

Business as usual then, the standard greetings, congratulations on ‘liberation’, further plaudits to Ukrainians for standing up in ‘defence of freedom, democracy and territorial integrity’. Here it gets a bit tendentious, because what actually kicked off the situation in Slavyansk was Euromaidan in Kiev – a mob taking to the streets, backed on by a baying crowd pumped up by partisan media coverage, a western blind eye to any acts of violence perpetrated, and generous foreign funding. 

LuganskApril2014On April 12th, as had happened in Kiev – but the western media approved of it thereanti-Kiev activists took over administrative buildings in the city. At that time I was in Lugansk (pictured), having accepted a week’s work for RT (Russia Today). Why RT? My position in not supporting Euromaidan meant Russian media was the only door open to me, which allowed me to report things as I saw them. Now, having not worked with RT for almost 2 years, can say I neither watch nor even like the channel, but back then, they gave me the opportunity in Donbass.

So, I was there with them in Lugansk, when things started going off in Slavyansk, and I demanded to go there. Initially, to be honest, the producer at RT that day hadn’t even heard of Slavyansk, so was against it. But, I persisted, went, stayed there reporting for the next month-and-a-half until my capture on May 20th by Ukrainian forces at Mariupol, and deportation – although in the first instance, it must be said, Kiev made me deport myself telling me to ‘get on a plane tomorrow if you ever want to come back to Ukraine‘.

In my time in Slavyansk, I recall the vast majority of the population supporting the DPR, many local men joining the ‘people’s militia’ – it’s actually more natural to call them ‘opolchenie‘, the Russian word, as there’s no direct translation which captures that word. I’d love to show you videos of this, however due to the hunt for ‘separatists’ which took place after Ukraine retook the city, I had to remove most of my (hundreds of) videos. You can see one here, in which I’ve blurred the faces, a crowd of locals chanting for ‘referendum’ in the city centre, mid-April.

However, there’s no question that things got a bit messy, and there were a few who exploited the opportunity, in the chaos, to do as they will. The fallout between the ‘people’s mayor’ Vyacheslav Ponomarev and military commander, Igor Strelkov turned very ugly, and as the weeks passed it became clear to residents there would be no repeat of what had happened in Crimea a couple of months before (referendum, Russia immediately taking over).

Screenshot (46)The referendum held in Slavyansk, on May 11th 2014, saw western media sneering at a ‘farce’, focusing on a ridiculous, clearly Kiev-planted story of 100,000 pre-marked ballot papers ‘intercepted’, rather than paying attention to the mass turnout of people from the city, with queues of hundreds of metres, plenty of normal ballot papers to see.

And Ukrainian military actions had in any case begun in April, I saw the first body there on May 3rd, a man shot by Ukrainian soldiers after a dispute, was present at many locationshospitals, to confirm figures, and funerals. By the time I was deported, in later May, already up to 30 civilians had been killed as a result of Ukrainian military action. How many were killed overall, before Ukrainian forces took the city of some 115,000 back, in early July 2014? At least another 30, by any estimation – sources here, here, here, here – other than the forgiving official version, which puts the total figure killed at below 20. 

So when Poroshenko writes today, of Ukrainian forces taking the city with ‘minimal human losses‘ and ‘saving the lives of people‘, that’s clearly untrue. By the time the Ukrainians retook the city, their military campaign, against a vastly outnumbered opolchenie, had seen a place which once attracted tourists to its beaches, reduced to destitution, subsisting most of the time without water, power, extensively damaged by Ukrainian shelling.

Here’, a children’s hospital shelled – 30th May 2014 –

Orphanage – 1st June 2014 –

Smoke rising from city – 6th June 2014 –

Queue for water – 8th June –

Building goes up in flames after shelling hit – 8th June –

Wrecked apartment block – 12th June –

Many inbetween, but here 30th June, as in the days before they retook the city, Ukraine’s shelling campaign intensified –

Of course, Poroshenko today wrote about it, again, as a victory ‘against Russia’. Nonsense. There were volunteer fighters from Russia, it’s entirely possible there was some hardware which had come over the border, but most of the fighters were local men who had dug up weapons from Soviet times, hunting rifles. True opolchenie, most of the military vehicles captured Ukrainian army AFV’s and on. You can see some of both here, in this video of Victory Day, 2014 –

So, when the opolchenie retreated, and Ukrainian forces swept in in a carefully co-ordinated campaign on July 6th, which involved much filmed handing out of bread and vegetables, there was indeed a beleaguered turnout of townsfolk to meet them, some there for the handout, others genuinely happy that Ukraine had taken back control.

But did it reflect the will of most in Slavyansk? From my time there, I’d say that Strelkov Slavyanskcertainly wasn’t the case. In the beginning, a clear majority of people in the city supported the would-be breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic, of which Slavyansk was a part, perhaps 80-90%. As time went on, this went down, due to the conduct of Ponomarev, and Strelkov – the latter (pictured), having decided it was a war situation, meaning war regime, meaning shooting people for looting and other such acts. But, still, support for the DPR remained high, perhaps 60-70% when Ukraine took over.

Actually, this man here I interviewed in a surreal Slavyansk in later July 2014, with Ukraine’s takeover having quickly morphed into organised hunts for ‘separatists’, seeing disappearances, said that while he’d not supported the DPR – in fact everyone suddenly ‘hadn’t supported the DPR, had been out of town’ – around 70% had.

This woman I interviewed at the same time, mid-July 2014, was, pretty radically, pro-Ukrainian, and there always were some like her. However, it was a minority.

So, what’s Slavyansk like now? Well, a city divided, united by something – no one’s happy. Few jobs, little money, a city entirely re-branded to enforce Ukrainianism on everyone – Ukrainian flags and banners everywhere, organised pro-Ukrainian meetings, parades, pressure to speak the Ukrainian language (in a city which spoke almost entirely Russian before). I have friends there who keep me abreast, and more, even filmed a report from there recently –

How much DPR support is there now? Well, it’s hard to be sure exactly. Round-ups and repression have had an impact. Many had to leave town, others disappeared. Others, pro-Ukrainians, have been settled there from other areas of Ukraine. Yet many remain, pro-DPR, of course unable to express this (for the above video, many pro-DPR simply refused to speak). Relentless Ukrainian On 27 April 2016, (right) UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Orlando Bloom visits with pupils of School #13 in Slovyansk, as part of a visit to conflict-hit eastern Ukraine. He was in the country to raise awareness of the global education crisis facing children in emergencies. UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Orlando Bloom visits School #13 in Slovyansk as part of a visit to conflict-hit eastern Ukraine to raise awareness of the global education crisis facing children in emergencies. School #13 was one of the first hit by shelling in the conflict that broke out more than 2 years ago. It is one of the 57 schools that UNICEF has helped to repair and refurbish in the region. UNICEF provided new school furniture, lego for classrooms, games and trained the school psychologist to help children cope with their experiences. Across the conflict area, approximately 580,000 children are in urgent need of aid and more than 230,000 children have been forced from their homes. Around one in five schools and kindergartens in the region have been damaged or destroyed and around 300,000 children are in immediate need of assistance to continue their education. The trip came as new findings show that nearly a quarter of the world's school-aged children - 462 million - now live in countries affected by crisis. The Education Cannot Wait Proposal, written by the Overseas Development Institute and commissioned by a range of partners including UNICEF, reveals that nearly than one in six – or 75 million – children from pre-primary to upper-secondary age (3-18) living in nations affected by crises is classed as being in desperate need of educational support. However, on average, only two per cent of global humanitarian appeals is dedicated to education. At the very first World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in less than three weeks’ time, a groundbreaking new fund - Education Cannot Wait - will be launched to give access to learning to every child in need in emergencies. It aims to raispropaganda – and the Ukrainian media is so propagandistic a journalist called Anatoliy Shariy has made a career catching them out – has had its effect. Some changed sides, turned on neighbours, informed on neighbours.

There’s been limited repairing of damage caused by shelling. Occasional stage-managed operations such as the visit of Orlando Bloom (pictured above) barely paper over the cracks.

There’s an uncertainty about what comes next. When Poroshenko and the PR bandwagon rolled out today, they left a scarred city behind them, the pain of war still deeply rended in buildings and populace. The overwhelming appetite is, understandably, for there to be no war, and many who support the DPR are even willing to tolerate Ukrainian occupancy if it means no war. But, beyond the demagogic, tubthumping tweets of Poroshenko, 2 years on from the Ukrainian takeover, lies a city in a bleak state with few reasons to be cheerful.