Photo: Alexander KHUDOTEPLY/AFP/Getty Images
Donetsk Letter

"Busloads of People Are Coming From Across the Border of Russia, Armed With Bats"

By Photo: Alexander KHUDOTEPLY/AFP/Getty Images

This is a letter from Donetsk, in southeastern Ukraine, which you have probably been told is the pro-Russian part of the country.

My name is Irina, and I speak Russian, just like most people here. I am a philologist by profession; I graduated from a local university. I have worked as a schoolteacher with small kids. Right now I work in IT. I never joined the protests at the Maidan and I don't support any existing political party. I'm passionately interested in languages, movies, dresses, shoes and makeup. I cannot say that I am ordinarily a very political person. Before our Ukrainian revolution started, I was devoting my energies to learning how to blend eyeshadow. I'd love to brush up on my Spanish and start learning Italian. In summer my boyfriend and I were thinking of traveling somewhere nice.

Donetsk, where I live, was the political base of Viktor Yanukovych, the former president of my country. Donetsk gave (political) life to Yanukovych. Donetsk will (politically) smash him. This opinion has been common in Kiev since the beginning of the Ukrainian revolution. Today it has become a reality. There are zero Yanukovych supporters in Donetsk these days. People are angry because they have been massively fooled by him and his regime.

People are also mildly confused, which is a good sign, because it means that they are thinking. I believe that people here in Donetsk are about to restart their value system and recharge their senses. This process needs time. Because taking responsibility for your freedom means doing somethinglearning, working (often for yourself, not some oligarch), controlling the government instead of choosing another power-hungry “czar.” And I am sure that soon they will understand and accept this freedom with gratitude.

The revolution gives us this chance, but the counter-revolution has come, and come from abroad, from Russia. Russia has invaded the Crimean peninsula, as I am sure you know. Ukrainian sailors and soldiers in Crimea are under siege on their bases or blockaded in their ships, being treated as if they have no right to know the truth and to feel righteous anger. These brave men tell us, the 45 million people who support them, that they will stay loyal to their oaths of service to Ukraine. I pray that they stay alive and no one has to die.

But Crimea is not the only place where we see Russians. Here in southeastern Ukraine they come as what we like to call “tourists.“ This means busloads of people are coming from across the border of Russia, armed with bats and other unpleasant things, who come to beat Ukrainians who support their new government. They came to Kharkiv and beat the students there, and now they have come here.

I never imagined waking up in the morning, looking out the window and seeing armed people wearing masks outside, or knowing that they are somewhere near. It's absolutely beyond my peaceful and non-violent reality.

On March 6th, about ten thousand people took part in demonstrations for peace and for the unity of Ukraine at Lenin Square in Donetsk. No one was surprised to see around 1,500 hired mercenaries and pro-Russian activists at the same time in the same place. The two groups of demonstrators were separated from each other by three lines of police. The police did everything they could to avoid physical violence between the two groups of demonstrators. They could not prevent the pro-Russian protesters from throwing eggs and flour 'grenades' at pro-Ukrainian demonstrators.

When the demonstration came to an end, some especially aggressive pro-Russian protestors started a fight with pro-Ukrainian ones. Shakhtar Ultras, that is, the supporters of the local football club, made an attempt to protect peaceful demonstrators, which led to an even bigger fight. Police stepped in but it was obviously impossible to avoid spilling blood.

What’s happening in Kharkiv and Donetsk now reflects someone’s strong intention to provoke and impose an illusion of a local civil conflict. The pro-Ukrainian side in Donetsk is very strong and entirely aware of the future they would lose if they join Russia. The pro-Russian side is mostly represented by aggressive thugs, "tourists" from Russia and older people who watch Russian television and do not use the Internet. Their time for dealing with the natural confusion of the moment is now being brutally stolen by this violent distraction. 

Donetsk is the industrial heartland of Ukraine, the center of coal mining and steel industry. People in Donetsk are strong and hard-working. They are high energy people whose political will can also become very strong, as soon as they realize that someone like Yanukovych is not profitable for them. People in Donetsk need time for this realization to fully take hold. There is little chance of this happening under conditions of "fraternal" invasion from Russia. That is no doubt the point.  

I like Ukraine. Our country is exceptionally rich in so many things, and there are so many exceptionally smart and creative people here. This is where I want to live and work. Like all of you who are reading my letter I also like to be in touch with rest of the world, to travel. The only thing I wish for (apart from peace and justice for my country) is to travel more, because visa restrictions are very unfair and a little humiliating.

Thank you for reading my letter from Donetsk, in south-eastern Ukraine, which you have probably been told is the pro-Russian part of the country.

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