In an effort to intimidate and demobilize defenders of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, Russian military personnel and local thugs have carried out a wave of murders, kidnappings and assaults on journalists, politicians, United Nations observers and working people. The terror methods have led to growing opposition to pro-annexationist forces and reinforced support for Ukrainian sovereignty.
The small pro-Moscow bands are “missing one element that proved vital to the success of the Kiev protests in toppling Ukraine’s pro-Russian president: people,” observed the April 24 Wall Street Journal, referring to the mass mobilizations that overthrew Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February. “The trade union at one of the largest metal plants in the region said its members supported Ukrainian unity,” the Journal noted.
Miners and the Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine — the country’s largest union — have been organizing pro-Ukrainian self-defense units and have been at the center of protest actions.
“Ukraine will not lose Donbass,” Nikolay Volinko, leader of the Independent Trade Union of Miners of Donbass, told Ilya Azar from the Moscow Echo April 23. “The resistance is increasing.”
The provocations and takeover of government buildings are “happening with the help of the local authorities and local law enforcement agencies and because of the indecisiveness of the central government,” said Volinko.
“Has anyone attacked you because you speak Russian?” Volinko asked interviewer Azar. “Not really, I would say I have more chance to be attacked speaking Ukrainian,” Azar answered.
Pro-Moscow forces escalate attacksRussian government-backed forces in Donetsk took over City Hall, the Donetsk regional administrative building and other government facilities, proclaimed an “independent” Donetsk People’s Republic and called for Russian military intervention.
Volodymyr Rybak, a pro-Ukrainian city council member in Horlivka, a city in the Donetsk region, was kidnapped April 17, tortured and murdered after he attempted to restore the Ukrainian flag to the Horlivka City Hall building.
Rybak’s body was recovered by pro-Moscow forces from a nearby river along with the murdered corpse of Kiev student Yuriy Popravka. Initially Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, a soap factory boss and the self-proclaimed mayor of Slovyansk, the paramilitary headquarters of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, claimed they were the bodies of two pro-Russian “activists,” with “their bellies ripped open and signs of torture.” The lie was carried by Russian government-controlled media, but before long the truth came out and the story was dropped.
A growing number of journalists have been kidnapped, taken to buildings seized in Slovyansk, and tortured, including Simon Ostrovsky from the U.S.-based Vice News and Irma Krat, editor-in-chief of Hidden Truth TV and the leader of a women’s self-defense unit on the Maidan in Kiev.
Vasily Sergiyenko, a journalist in Korsun-Shevchenkivskiy and active member of Automaidan, a movement of car drivers against Yanukovych, was abducted from his home April 4, taken to a nearby forest, stabbed and beaten, and buried after his head had been severed.
Ponomaryov’s forces also kidnapped seven U.N. military inspectors with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and paraded them before the press April 27. They also grabbed three members of Ukraine’s federal security service, known as the SBU, in Horlivka when they tried to make an arrest in the murder of councilman Rybak.
On April 28 gunmen shot Gennady Kernes, mayor of Kharkiv, a former supporter of Yanukovych who had been backing reconciliation with the new government in Kiev. He is still alive in an induced coma.
After a pro-Ukraine rally of 2,000 gathered in Donetsk April 28, dozens of thugs armed with bats, metal rods, knives and smoke bombs appeared and attacked. More than 10 protesters were taken to the hospital. Local cops stood aside and some handed over their riot shields to the thugs, who returned them to police after the assault. Five supporters of the city’s Shakhtar (Miner) Donetsk soccer team who were defending the rally were taken hostage for a day.
Russian commandos move inThirty armed commandos drove in minivans from Slovyansk to Konstyantynivka April 28 and, with no opposition from local cops, took over the police station. The next day they seized the regional administration building in Luhansk, a provincial capital of 465,000. Again, local cops stood aside.
The credit for a number of these operations has been taken by a Russian military intelligence operative who goes by the name Igor Strelkov. He was first identified by the Ukrainian SBU in mid-April as an operative code-named “Shooter,” who was taped directing pro-Moscow provocations.
Strelkov introduced himself to the press April 27 as the commander of the Slovyansk militia. “The platoon that came to Slovyansk with me was formed in Crimea, I won’t pretend to conceal that,” he said. Many have previous combat experience, he said, in Chechnya, Central Asia and a few in Syria.
The SBU reported that Strelkov flew from Russia to Crimea Feb. 26, the day pro-Moscow paramilitary troops seized the parliament building there.
“Those who brandish weapons now think they have all the power,” one woman told the Journal, “and they appoint their own mayor.”
What will happen to anyone who stands against you? Elizaveta Antonova, a reporter from Gazeta.ru, asked Slovyansk “mayor” Ponomaryov April 24. “The liquidation will occur,” he replied.
“What do you plan to do with people who consider themselves part of Ukraine?” she asked. “Let them stay,” he said, “but let them keep a low profile and behave themselves quietly.”
Call for workers’ self-defenseThe miner-led Donbass Self Defense Battalion issued an appeal April 28 to Ukrainian Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov: “We call on you to involve Ukrainian patriots extensively to resolve this situation, help establish volunteer formations, coordinate our activities with those of the National Guard, and immediately give us arms.”
In the eastern cities of Krivii Rih, Odessa, Dnepropetrovsk and others local volunteer units have helped prevent pro-Moscow bands from taking over government buildings or carrying out other provocations.
“Despite everything there is already a guerrilla struggle,” Volinko told the Moscow Echo. “While the central government is sitting on the fence people are resisting.”
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