“I decided to breach the obligation of non-disclosure …” 25/08/2014 19:49
By Nicholas Mokrousov
Translated by Alexei Kuznetsoff
Edited by S. Naylor
A freelance reporter for Znak.com, Kurgan resident, Nicholas Mokrousov, spent several weeks in the South-East of Ukraine. He worked at the headquarters of the DPR (Donetsk People’s Republic), talked with the leaders of the breakaway republic and ordinary Militia members, and followed the life of the besieged city of Donetsk. Arrested on charges of spying for the enemy, he miraculously returned alive from the basement of the DPR counter-Intelligence building. Back in Russia, Nicholas wrote down his impressions, changing some names and omitting some details (his name is also a pseudonym). Znak.com prints his story, which appears—not as standard-issue war propaganda—but as a reality. Who is right and who is wrong—remains unclear. There is a place for cowardice, generosity, loyalty and betrayal; but most of all in this war—for suffering, fear and pain.
Explanation: because of the ongoing fratricidal war in Ukraine and the parade of prisoners in Donetsk, I have decided to break the agreement of non-disclosure I signed in the basement of the DPR Army Counter-intelligence on 07.23.2014 and to write about what I witnessed there.
It just so happened that at the time when the Ukrainian crisis flared up, I was stuck in the “couch potato” position on the correctness of Maidan, and incorrectness of Russia meddling in the affairs of the neighbouring state, the fraternal state, with the same people on both sides of the border. Yes, by the caprice of history this nation was divided, but until recently I was convinced that this monolith cannot be broken and that no one should interfere with the choices our brothers make—as folk wisdom says “getting used to it is half way to loving it”.
However, in late June it so happened that I myself wanted to go to the South-East of Ukraine. Not because I was filled with the idea of Novorossia, but because the need to escape, no matter where, eclipsed my mind. Very soon I remembered about the link sent by gentlemen from the National-Bolshevik Party, about the collection of donations for humanitarian assistance, and gathering of volunteers to be sent to the South-East. I immediately replied, received an affirmative answer, with a proposed trip and phone numbers to reach the coordinators.
On the basis of this information, I had to get to Rostov-on-Don ASAP, and from there drive to the border town of Shakhty and call a “coordinator”. I told my family that I was leaving for Moscow, but in fact took tickets to Rostov; a couple of days later, I was already in Shakhty.
After my phone call I finally encountered those who came for me—that was when I felt the first shock. There were four people, with the complete appearance of the kind of company one tries to avoid at all costs when wandering around town late in the evening—by ordering a taxi or, better, by staying home. Together we went to a man named Maksim, nicknamed “Shukher” [“alarm” in criminal underworld lingo]. A native of Kramatorsk, he moved his wife and daughter to Russia after the retreat of Strelok, and began helping the Militia, conducting groups of volunteers across the border. Perhaps of the entire company, he made the best impression.
When we talked to our guide, it became clear that, due to the lack of safe corridors, a car was not to be expected within the next two days. It was decided to wait in a safe house, which in turn served as a residence of the company that had come for me. My tongue does not dare to call the condition of the abode in which we found ourselves liveable, even though I am accustomed to a life of modest requirements. There were two rooms on the fourth floor of the small family residence on Industrial Street, with floor mats fused to floors with gunk and filth, crumbling mouldy concrete in the bathroom and quite large maggots swarming in the pots. And a mountain of rotten canned food, past expiration date, that someone has generously sent as “humanitarian aid” to volunteers. The last remnants of romantic dreams of adventure melted away in my imagination.
The rest of the evening was spent with me serving as involuntary audience for Cossack songs, clinking of glasses and some choice swearing. But the swearing and cursing was not the worst thing that I had to hear. A Cossack—fighter in the so-called ‘Wolf Hundred’, named “Pinocchio,” as he introduced himself—began telling his story about the sweepstakes organized in their unit; a competition of sorts—for chopping off the heads of Ukrainian POWs. The winner was to receive a BMW X6. “…I have two weeks—one head is cut off, the second not quite off yet, it was dark. When you cut a Ukie’s head off, at first he whimpers in pure Russian “mother”, “mommy” he pleads, and only then starts to gurgle and wheeze. Note, not “Mamo” in Ukrainian but in Russian: “Mamochka… ”
All the stories were accompanied by copious libations, laughter, and very “colourful” details. For example, I learned that after the defeat of a Ukrainian division, enterprising Cossacks collected all the weapons from the dead Ukrainians and “hid them, covered, in one place.” “When it gets quieter, we’ll come back to raise some cash,” said the Cossack.
After these and other stories from these “volunteers” my further presence was impossible, and in the morning, after threats against me (for the disclosure of this information), I preferred to stay with “Shukher”, where I spent the remaining time in the most interesting company of political consultants—Eurasians travelling to Donetsk. I was not to fight, but to help one of the local politicians (whose name I was asked not to mention).
After a couple of days behind us came the “bus”—so-called cars that ferry volunteers. It was decided to go across the border bypassing Donetsk (the eponymous Russian town on the border with Ukraine). At ten o’clock in the morning from across the border a minibus was to come for us—a foreign model van, air-conditioned; doing regular trips around the South-East to Russia and back. We agreed to meet near the very apartment, where meanwhile, more people arrived—a battle group of Cossacks, it seems, from somewhere in the Volga region. There were five of them, led, of course, by ” Big Daddy”—chieftain—a very impressive man with his son. He had quite a cheerful temperament—fatherly, solicitous of his fighters; the time spent mentoring children in his town, according to his story, was definitely visible in his experienced attitude.
If you do not take into account “Pinocchio” and similar characters, the very large number of people travelling to the Donbass are not there for profit, or in search of adventure, but at the behest of their heart. People, almost without exception, with whom I had to communicate in Shakhty and on the way to Donetsk, all made a very good impression individually by their sincerity and dedication that we, the residents of towns and cities, had somehow squandered. It is significant that temporary apartments in Shakhty have accumulated a fleet of vehicles, from various regions. Kursk region was represented, and Moscow, of course, Rostov, and even a brand new jeep of the 86th Region (Khanti-Mansiisk Autonomous region, central Russia). All this transport stood at the porch of the hostel, which, it turns out, was given by the owner for the needs of the volunteers.
On the way to Russian Donetsk, every now and then we encountered overfilled refugee buses, half of the passengers—half men of military age. We all silently understood what was happening, except our chieftain, who every now and then exploded with angry tirades against those men that did not want to protect their homes and who “run to Russia like weak women, and we have to fight in their stead…” In addition to civilian yellow buses, just at the border crossing, a convoy of military trucks without numbers passed us in the opposite direction, with platforms designed to carry armoured vehicles already empty, followed by the fuel truck. Similar military trucks without license plates could be seen travelling from Rostov towards Shakhty two days earlier. But, then, on their platforms were three Gvozdika artillery installations, and two large trucks covered in camouflage, hauling large-calibre guns. Then and now their drivers were dressed in civilian clothes only; and unlike those on the Rostov highway, they were not accompanied by military traffic-police cars with license plates from Moscow… We saw the military police again at the Ukrainian-Russian border checkpoint “North”. Interestingly enough, these same military traffic-police did not stop vans with heavily armed people crossing from the Ukrainian side. My first thought was: how many unaccounted-for automatic weapons move across the border every day in the direction of Russia? And how many more “Pinocchios” will return to the “hardware” to “raise cash”? (And where will these weapons be fired in Russia?)
We crossed the border without too much difficulty, except that the driver suggested that we pull the Russian sim cards out of our phones—so as not to be intercepted and to arrive in one piece. A feeling of a different, military, reality did not leave us along the way, from the first checkpoint. A particularly strong impression was made by Lugansk. The picture I saw there may be familiar to any fan of disaster and post-apocalyptic movies… A large and empty city, at that time only battered in the suburbs. During a half-hour ride through its streets, we encountered—at most—a dozen cars travelling or standing on the sidelines, and a dozen passers-by. And that is in a city of almost half a million people. It was dark when—having passed the last major roadblock with an armour-plated Ural, topped with a heavy machine gun—we got to Makeevka; where, to our surprise, we had a whole floor of a hotel rented for us.
The next day someone came early in the morning and “bought out” the Cossacks—before their real “buyer”, who, in fact, had paid for the Makeevka hotel. The restless souls of the Cossacks chose another chief. And we, the five remaining civilians, had to listen to a long monologue of the abandoned commander about “business the Russian way.”
In the afternoon I got to Donetsk, where, except for its emptiness, nothing reminded one of combat close by; a big, beautiful, clean city with fountains and roses on the streets. Decoration inherited from the time of the 2012 football European Championship has not yet faded. On the first day, passing checkpoints and battle sites, I found myself in the hotel where a debate club was meeting; where, surrounded by professors, philosophers, economists and students I almost lost the sense of war on our doorstep. Even before the meetings of the club I met with a guy belonging to the local political leadership. In fact it was he who brought me to that event. I well remember his words about the nature of this “Russian Spring”: “In 1991 there was a revolution of lawyers and financiers, but now we are here—a revolution of the historians!” All ideologues of New Russia have an educational background in history.
After a brief conversation, Eugene (the man’s name) led me to Pavel Gubarev, who made an impression of being a very simple “man of the people.” He shook my hand and asked where I was from and how my trip was going. Nothing beyond small talk—Gubarev was too engrossed in conversation with a group of supporters.
The next day I started working at the headquarters of the political leadership of the Army of the DPR, which occupied the office of the “Union of Industrialists of Donbass”, more popularly known as the “Taruta Palace”. Taruta was the mayor appointed by Kiev shortly before the declaration of independence from Ukraine by Donetsk. That is where we lived as well. I worked as a correspondent and in the research department. Normally, the work was about putting finishing touches on press releases and monitoring public opinion.
From a professional point of view, the work was interesting, but I felt it was not for that that I had come there. The sensation of the war eroded in the first week, due, among other reasons, to ongoing activities by the DPR. There were even real balls—meetings of local residents with the Militia, rallies; concerts, with performances by local musical groups and speeches by local government representatives (living by that time outside of Donetsk). Such events had the most beneficial effect on people. They reduced anxiety, and intensified belief in victory. However, each successive rally still became less well attended than the previous one.
Generally speaking, the people who voted for independence were divided into two unequal parts. First, those in the majority, thought that the declaration of independence was only a necessary step, to be followed by the immediate recognition of the republics and accession to Russia following the example of the Crimea. This also partly explains the outflow of people to the side of the Russian Federation with the beginning of the ATO (in fact the independence of the republics is not recognized even by Russia). The second group (and the more intellectual part of the population) are supporters of the independence of Novorossia from both Ukraine and Russia. They advocate the nationalization of mines and enterprises, which, even while on the territory of the DPR, continue to work for [oligarch] Rinat Akhmetov. These people have a better understanding of the idea behind Novorossia, and perhaps that is why some of them are still in Donetsk.
The residents of city, despite the fanfares of Militia victories, were still leaving; mostly for Russia or Crimea. Anxiety was growing. Talking to people, I often heard: “Something good is unlikely to happen. Those who were better off—directors and managers—already left a month ago. Smaller fry fled two weeks ago; there was no work in the city.”
There was a meeting organized by the “Initiative Group of the People of Donetsk” in one of the halls of the Union building. It was called simply: “A Rally Against the DPR.” We, together with the analytical department, were sent there. Attendance at the event, given the conditions, was not particularly large. People taking responsibility, in a semi-underground status, had organized the meeting with the vice-mayor of Donetsk, Konstantin Savinov, and the DPR representatives, one of whom was Pavel Gubarev. His speech took a very long time. Pavel, who in my opinion, is genuinely interested in minimizing casualties, addressed the audience with a call to anyone who still had the opportunity, to leave the city as soon as possible, or, if this was not possible, to stay closer to the centre. The fighting is soon to move to the outskirts; the city will be bombarded, he explained.
His declaration elicited a wave of outrage in the audience. People began to ask questions, to demand an end to violence and to request that anti-aircraft guns not be placed on the roofs of high-rise buildings in order to not to put civilians at risk. Gubarev pleaded ignorance about the fact of placing anti-aircraft guns on high-rise buildings; explaining that the violence can be stopped only when the Ukrainian side is interested in doing so.
After him came the turn of the vice-mayor, Savinov. Describing the humanitarian corridors, he also asked everyone to leave Donetsk and proposed a DPR cease fire. A few minutes later, Savinov, his assistant, and some of those who asked too many questions, were detained at the exit by DPR soldiers and taken away in an unknown direction. The Militia was not embarrassed that the detention was witnessed by foreign journalists and a representative of the UN Human Rights Commission. The remaining residents made a plea for a UN peacekeeping contingent to be brought into the conflict zone. The organizers managed to hastily retreat, as the pursuing party collapsed with the breakdown of a Militia vehicle.
When we returned to the headquarters, there was information about the landing of a Polish heavy-armoured brigade in the port of Odessa, and on the evening of the same day, the main theme of all the world’s media was the downed Malaysian Airlines Boeing. The feeling then of being on the brink was perhaps the clearest at any point since my arrival.
The next day the town was bombarded. The first mortar attack hit the area of the “Precision Machinery” factory and residential neighborhood adjacent to it. The factory had already been abandoned by this time. A shell landed on one of the shops, a fire started, and smoke was visible from any part of Donetsk. In the residential neighborhood, by a miracle, the only damage was flattened fences, torn power lines and an exploded gas-pipe. When our crew arrived at the scene, we found the people in a state of panic and confusion. Residents left without electricity spilled out into the street, cursing the war, “the Junta” and Poroshenko. They began to collect things… Somewhere in the distance could be heard the incessant volleys of artillery. It was not clear exactly what were the targets of the Ukrainian artillery. But looking at the damage to private houses, it became obvious that the war had came to this city; and the Ukrainian artillery fires regardless of whether there is any particular military target or not. After all, neither “Precision Machinery” nor the village housed any military targets and the Militia was not present…
(On the same day in the area of the train station, after having destroyed the roadblock, a group of two Ukrainian tanks and four armoured personnel carriers entered town. After a short battle, the column just as easily retreated back to the positions they came from. At the station, four Militiamen and one civilian were killed).
Back at the headquarters it was explained to me that such attacks were conducted by the Ukrainian Army to produce mass panic—and, as a consequence, to reduce the loyalty of the people to the DPR. To counter this, it was thus necessary to create positive background information; in particular, to write more about victories, which work was offered to me and a group of correspondents. I liked the idea. Suspecting nothing, I went to the supervisor, asking him whence to get information and to receive reports. His response surprised me. The curator looked at me, puzzled, and explained that access to the data of the actual results of operations would not be available to us or anyone else, and that we would have to write about winning “from thin air”. Following in his footsteps, one of the department heads came in and happily announced: “Tonight there was an enemy column destroyed—150 people wounded. Come on, launch the news. But do not write about the wounded, just about a column of armored vehicles. The Ukies will not deny it. But they will say that they have no losses…” Not finding the strength to write this, I resigned from the correspondent department and moved to the department of analytics, where I had been helping previously.
Compared to the first day, the feedback from the public was the strikingly different. The conversations of the people, even with supporters, started to become less and less optimistic. The delivery of medical supplies became disrupted. Insulin, cardiac drugs, sedatives and pain-relief medication disappeared from pharmacies. In some pharmacies, upon seeing people in Novrossia uniform walk in, pharmacists could barely restrain their anger. When asked about a drug’s availability, the tight-lipped reply was “Ask yourself. You do not allow trucks into the city, and we do not know what to answer to our people.”
Despite rumors about lack of products, everything was ok back then, except for higher prices and the closure of premium grocery stores. People started to whisper “If only there was no war, they do not need the DPR.” “This is not a war of the DPR with the Ukraine, but of Russia with the USA, we are just unlucky to be living here,” people were saying. “We, pensioners, received two thousand hryvnia, sharing a thousand for ourselves and a thousand to the neighbors. People lost jobs, the factories are closed, and now the neighbors do not have any money. Poroshenko stopped payments to all who stayed; the DPR pays nothing. Are we, old people, now to die of hunger?” people were saying.
Perhaps the most common theme in residents’ conversations became lawlessness perpetrated by armed men with DPR stripes. In particular, the so-called “spin”, when men in uniform—under the flimsiest pretext (or more often than not)—would just throw owners out of their cars. If they resisted this expropriation “for the good of the revolution” they were taken away in an unknown direction. Every day, people’s discontent grew. There were social problems with a delay or non-payment of benefits and pensions; disregard of the law by some representatives of the DPR; deficiency of the laws passed by the Republican government.
Meanwhile, more shops in the city stayed closed than would open. Every night the sounds of explosions were getting closer to the city, now large-caliber guns and Grads could be heard.
All the information that I received from the people and conveyed to the authorities, the questions that I was asking at headquarters, and the pictures that I took, finally condemned me. In the last week of July, I was escorted out of the building by four machine-gunners, with plastic handcuffs on my fingers (a very original way of tying, but at the same time, quite effective) and an improvised bag on my head, made of towels and scotch tape. I was detained on suspicion of propaganda against the DPR and spying for the Ukrainian side. I cannot say I was severely beaten, nothing like that—except a verbal threat to cut off my finger. But I was not taking it seriously. My immediate supervisor on analytics, called “Kishinev” (name altered), ordered my tormentors to leave my feet and face intact. “Even if he is working for the other side, for a good reward we will be able to use him,” he said. At this point the most disgusting realization was—not that I was beaten—but that the person I was very sincerely trying to help thought I was a traitor… Though, in time of war, such a reaction is understandable, but still…
I was taken to a nearby building of the Security Service of Ukraine, which at the time was occupied by military counter-intelligence of the DPR. I was already resigned to the fact that I would not get out of there alive. But the interrogation, to my surprise, was not so rough, although it was conducted under conditions of a certain discomfort caused by handcuffs and a bag on my head. In general, it was a purely peaceful and even quite interesting conversation. First and foremost they were pouncing on my records, which I had written down every day according to the results of monitoring. The first question was, why were they mostly negative. I explained everything. Scanning the contents of my tablet, by this time broken, they did not find anything compromising for the DPR, or of strategic importance for Ukrainian Intelligence; it was decided to untie me and remove the bag. Once I saw the light of day again, I apologized for my disheveled appearance—this brought a smile to the chief. I was praised for my sense of humor, and immediately recognized to be a true “Russian man.” The man who was questioning me, though he introduced himself, asked that his name not appear anywhere. Let me just say that he had a direct relationship to the Ukrainian Berkut.
He spoke to me of many things that remained behind the scenes of the events of February. Realizing where I was, I admitted that I personally had supported Maidan. Surprisingly, he said that many people in Berkut also supported the words that rang from the scene of Maidan… “If they would have spoken to us, found the words that we could have heard, we would have defended them ourselves with our shields. Because the things they were accusing Yanukovych of, we knew and understood those things better than they did,” he said. “But they chose not to address us, instead we were burned and shot at. And from that moment on, we did not feel anything for them except anger. We ate the rotten meat brought to us, and waited only for an order. But Yanukovych (here my companion used a strong word name of former Ukrainian leader) never gave this order.”
“How do you feel about the fact that Putin has sheltered him in Russia?” I asked. “My personal opinion is that Yanuk had to go to the court and be judged for what he did. After all, I, as a commander, received 2,500 hryvnia per month. How much is it in your Rubles? Vladimir Vladimirovich is a smart guy. And we are all very much supportive of him, but with Yanukovych, in my opinion, he has done wrong…”
We conversed till evening, and there was a question about my future fate. As my crime against the DPR was not found, they decided to let me go. Signing a statement of non-disclosure addressed to Igor Strelkov, I waited for confirmation.
It would have been better if they had released me earlier. Somewhere around nine in the evening, three guys were brought into the basement of counter-intelligence. I heard they were around sixteen years old. All dressed in civilian clothes, beaten and intimidated. Following them was the guard, holding a yellow transparent plastic bag, inside of which armbands of the Right Sector were visible.
– “Who are they?” asked one of the counter-intelligence men.
– “Pravoseki [Right Sector—extreme right paramilitary group blamed for many war crimes],” said the guard, holding out a package with the arm bands.
– “Well, bring this ‘meat’ up to me.”
The guys were taken away up the stairs, and after five minutes through three floors that separated us, I heard terrible screams that lasted about half an hour without stopping.
– “What is that?” I asked.
– “They are doing ‘dental work’,” said the guard, laughing.
– “Teeth pulled,” added a second, quietly.
I was sent to sit in the next room, and there the screams became softer. I do not know how and why one would need to come to the territory controlled by militias, having in one’s luggage such ribbons. No explanation other than “in search of a long and painful death.” But the guys did not look like suicidal masochists. When the screams subsided, someone walked down the corridor, and from the conversations I gathered that one guy they were torturing, “immortal” in their parlance, would not admit that he was “pravosek.” Later, I heard someone was dragged into the basement, where once again I heard kicks and muffled screams. The permeating smell of excrement did not stop those sitting in the hallway from laughing.
Soon the Chief showed up. He went down to the basement, and then the cries subsided. Then he came up to me and said that I was free. A Militiaman, introducing himself as “Musician”, escorted me to the entrance. We shook hands and he apologized “if anything was wrong.” I did not have any anger or fear, but on the way out my hand reached for the cross, which was handed to me on the eve of these events, during a religious procession. And I, who was always skeptical about any religion, I kissed it. Not for myself, but for those unfortunates that had stayed behind.
The Way Back
I could not go back to the headquarters and there was a question of where to stay. Walking around town before curfew, I realized that all buildings, seemingly lifeless, were, in fact, filled with armed men, and it was unlikely they would be happy to see a stranger without documents. Besides, I remembered the words of the staff officers about the dislike ordinary Militiamen harbour for the press and its representatives. Returning to the basement was also not desirable. I could get accused of conducting a reconnaissance of positions and sent to the company of alcoholics, drug addicts and others caught throughout the city, for “occupational therapy”—digging trenches… After thinking about it, I went to the state administration. There I got lucky, for although this was a restricted security building, after the story of what happened to me, the commander of the security called “Daddy” (in the world, Sergey) allowed me to enter. He asked for the dining room to be opened, where I was heartily fed, and then sent me to the fourth floor, in the hands of “Petrovna,” an enchanting woman, as worthy as “Daddy” himself of a separate mention. They were wonderful, honest, rare people. Climbing up to the place, I found an office, converted almost to a real hotel room—with air conditioning, wardrobes and improvised beds, made from office desks. Given three meals a day, the conditions were luxurious. Besides, I had this “room” all to myself.
It was a pity that it was becoming more and more dangerous to stay here, and even if I had learned to live with the everyday bombardment, the feeling of being under possible surveillance as a spy was really uncomfortable. The flames were fanned by an incidental encounter, which occurred the next day. Climbing the stairs, I came face to face with the person who had questioned me in the basement of the SBU. We shook hands, smiled and even exchanged a few pleasantries, but I had a feeling that he was there for my soul.
On the same day, I got on the phone with a man from Moscow, with whom we had traveled from Shakhty, and told him what had happened. His advice was short: get out, and the sooner the better. Having access to the government of the DPR, he arranged for me to meet with one of the most important officials, who in turn immediately took me to a department dedicated to the evacuation of refugees. I was put in a queue and marked to be the first to leave. However, “safe corridors” did not exist in those days, the Ukrainian Army having surrounded Donetsk. Roads and settlements, which not so long ago we all went through on the way to Makeyevka, were now in the hands of the Ukrainian Army or had become places of fierce fighting. How long all this would last was not clear. But there was an opportunity to talk with ordinary soldiers, contacts with whom I had been deprived of, when doing office staff work.
The Civil War
By this time it had finally became clear to me that the war occurring in Ukraine had long ceased to be a geopolitical ‘clash’ and was, in fact, is, a real full-scale civil war—for both sides of the conflict. The idea of independence, the desire to create their own Novorossia free from Ukrainian defects, or the desire to join the Russian Federation had been replaced with the banal thirst for blood, the need for revenge. I looked into the eyes of these people, and felt uncomfortable with the scale of the tragedy that the propagandists had brought upon this formerly peaceful land, upon each house, each family.
Here are a few examples. Dmitry, Militia: “I myself am from Mariupol. In our family we had four people: myself, my father, mother and older brother. When it started, I immediately went for the DPR. My mother was also in for Russia, but my father and older brother did not support us. My father and mother just argued, but my brother and I stopped talking. When the fighting began, I enrolled in the Militia, which was in Kramatorsk. When Ukrainians started to bombard our village, a shell hit our house. My mother and father were immediately killed… This will not be forgiven, I am now the only one left alive… My brother is alive, but he is no longer a brother to me, he called me the next day and said that he no longer considers me his brother. He said our mother and father were killed because of me; that if it were not for the DPR, everybody would have remained alive. I am all alone now. My brother volunteered for the other side, and now he is fighting somewhere against me.”
Another example: “…I have a friend with whom I was studying together, we went to the Army together. We both served in the Airborne Brigade. This brigade was now fighting against us. My friend, when all this mess started, went for the Ukrainian side. But we are still together, even on different sides, and still call each other up constantly. He would not sleep at night, staying close to the headquarters tent on duty, to eavesdrop on where and when the Ukies would be attacking with Grads. Once he heard, he would immediately call me and tell me to leave such and such an area; a few times my life was truly saved. I will never forgive myself that I failed to persuade him to surrender when their brigade got surrounded. He would surely have been alive now. We released them from the cauldron, but a week later, when our side already was leaving Kramatorsk, he was at the checkpoint… A direct hit from a tank.”
Sergey, called “Baikal”: “I was in a cauldron twice, the second time near Kramatorsk. There were four of us, two were killed, and the third—before my very eyes. I was shell-shocked after an explosion; somehow I reached a village, it was on the Ukies’ side, and the penalty for harboring “separatists” was death by firing squad. A family took care of me nevertheless, I stayed with them for ten days, resting. They not only hid me: they contacted my sister (she is from Nikolaev) to come after me. The whole village was informing, reporting on each other, everyone is afraid, but I was saved.”
I heard a lot of things. For example, the sensational story about the use of phosphorus, as it was told to me by one of the volunteers (unfortunately, I do not remember his name). The use of phosphorus was not Russian propaganda, but it was not quite as they say on Russian TV: “Yes, white phosphorus was used,” said my companion, “only there were no civilians left. Artillery first flattened the village, since we had our checkpoint there. It was like in a meat-grinder: children, women, the elderly, many of ours… And then all the houses burned down; only cellars remained. We dug tunnels between them and waited—when the Ukies moved in, we burnt them all, an entire formation. Second bunch—the same story. Artillery, mortars, nothing worked on us. Then the Ukies decided to solve the problem with all that phosphorus. But civilians, alive, were no longer there…”
From conversations with the Militia I learned other unseemly things which, however, appear to be inherent in any conflict. So, I was told about arms supplies from Russia: “The commanders… as long as we are fighting, there they make money. Consider this, here comes a heavy truck from the border filled with ‘iron’—the kind the Militia needs. The commander and his friends take one or two boxes, the rest—they load it on a bus, and back to you guys… Guys have old Kalashnikovs that are terrible even to shoot, rusty SKSs, at most two extra magazines. If not for theft, we would have long ago been in Kiev.”
I told them about my interrogation in the basement of the SBU and the way the “pravoseki” were caught and interrogated. “The fact that you came out alive—it means your mother must have prayed for you,” said one of my interlocutors. “And the fact that those guys had insignias, not surprising. They could have been set up, this happens; sometimes they get saved from there, but sometimes…” A little later, another interviewee told the commander: when a “pravosek” is caught here there is a prize on his head, and there are cases where suspicious individuals with similar “belongings” are brought in, not so rare. And under torture everybody admits to anything…
In the evening of July 26, my phone rang. The voice in the receiver tells me that the corridor has opened and if I’m ready to go, then the next morning I have to be at the McDonald’s in the market area. I go there. There are more than a hundred refugees. The bulk of those were women and children—families of the Militia. The opposite of what I had noticed when arriving in Donetsk—no men. Perhaps it was due to the fact that the commander-in-chief had issued a decree banning men of military age from leaving. A few guys from the Militia were there, one of whom, judging by the plaster cast, was wounded, and the other three men, as it turned out, were citizens of Russia. Half an hour later four minibuses arrived, among them was one on which, together with the “Shukher” and the Cossacks of Russia, I went out.
With luggage loaded, wheelchairs etc., everybody in place, and accompanied by three Militia cars, we started to go. At the first stop, I met the guys from the Militia. Agreeing to stick together, we chatted along the way about the time I had spent in the South-East. One of my companions, Ivan, asked how I got to Donetsk. Hearing the name “Shukher” surprised him.
– “Shukher? He’s a rat!”
– “Come on, he’s the only normal person out of all those who were in Shakhty. Accommodated, fed, delivered. What do you have against him?”
– “He was working both sides. And you just got lucky. He betrayed the Militia, for every two groups that went normally, he would give up one group to the Ukies. However, he is no more. For such things there is a firing squad; he knew what he was doing and what he signed up for…”
I’ll probably never know whetherf it was true or not.
Our conversation was interrupted by the hum of jet aircraft. Someone said that it was an Su-25. We were asked to move away from the buses. The plane went in the direction of Lugansk; two muted shots sounded in the distance a few moments later. The sound of engines was heard briefly and then disappeared again.
We boarded the bus again and, winding, went towards Izvarino checkpoint. All the way we could trace the tracks that tanks had left going in the opposite direction.
We got to the checkpoint, which a week earlier had been seized from the Ukrainians. It was spattered with traces of recent battle. The first thing that caught my eye was a big Soviet flag mounted by the Militia in place of the Ukrainian flag. Its appearance, along with the fluttering banner of the DPR, the LPR and Novorossia, in my opinion, was totally inappropriate. Though embodying the hopes and aspirations of the people, the flag had nothing to do with the territory left behind our backs. And understanding the fragility of finding the flag in this place I experienced a severe sense of loss of what was once a united, great country where nobody was dividing citizens into “Ukies”, “Colorados”, “Muscovites” or “Novorossians”. And, like never before, with a particular kind of pain, I remembered the lines written by Anastasia Dmitruk: “We shall never be brothers.” For brotherhood shall never be where brothers’ blood was shed.
Original article: here
Main photo – RIA Novosti / Mikhail Voskresenskiy