The Ukrainian media offer countless versions of who actually started the war in the Donbas. They blame Putin, separatists that are not subordinate to anyone, oligarchs or the Party of Regions. To this day, there is no consensus as to whether the turmoil in the Donbas is an occupation, an anti-terrorist operation or a civil war. I come from Donetsk and I was in the heart of the turmoil when it started this spring, so I would like to offer some clarification.
In contrast to most regular citizens, who saw the riots from outside, I knew the process from inside. From the very first days, I clearly understood that there was a guided, controlled rebellion, in which everyone skilfully played the roles designated to them. Initially, it was controlled by the local authorities, or more accurately, the representatives of various Donetsk-based oligarchic clans. It was only later, in mid-April that Russian saboteurs appeared in the Donbas, taking leading roles and drawing international attention to themselves.
Would a war have flared up if the Russian subversive groups had not come to the Donbas? I am convinced that it would not have. Igor Girkin aka Strelkov (a Russian citizen and organizer of the DNR insurgency – Ed.) said in an interview that the war would not have begun without his participation. Would Russian saboteurs have come to the Donbas if the groundwork had not been laid by collaborators from the local authorities and provocateurs? Once again, no. Today, we already know that Putin did not prepare a Crimea-like scenario for the Donbas, and small subversive groups would never have managed to do in Eastern Ukraine what the little green men did in Crimea.
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In this conflict, internal and external enemies of Ukraine worked in tandem, so it would be a mistake to lay all the blame for the bloodshed on just one person, as is sometimes done today. Putin would not have come into Ukraine if the fifth column did not help him locally. The separatists, too, would not succeed without help from the Kremlin. Everyone who absolves one of the parties of responsibility and says that “this is an internal conflict, there are no Russian armies in the Donbas” or conversely, that “this is a Russian occupation, and locals do not support it”, is wrong.
Local authorities initiated the anti-Ukrainian putsch in Donetsk. For me, as a local politician, this was no secret, but people behind the organisation of the riots were quite successful in leading journalists and society by the nose. Just in case the Maidan was victorious, Plan B was already developed by the henchmen of Donetsk oligarchs in January, at the time when Kyiv saw its the first fatalities, and it was becoming clear that Yanukovych may be toppled. In mid-month, the future “DNR ministers”, under the leadership of the local authorities, began to meticulously prepare detachments of titushkas in Donetsk Oblast, that were used against the Donetsk EuroMaidan, and sent to Kyiv. This work was supervised by the Secretary of the Donetsk City Council, Serhiy Bohachov, and the well-known Party of Regions member and director of various municipal enterprises, Oleksiy Hranovskiy, who later became a “DNR minister”. While their thugs were pounding civilians in the centre of Donetsk, Hranovskiy and Bohachov were wandering nearby and talking quietly.
The point of their Plan B was to provoke mass unrest in the Donbas and force the new government in Kyiv to concede and share power with the Donetsk clans, at least in the oblasts which they considered to be their own. I don’t know what agreements they reached with the Kremlin at that time, but Putin was apparently supposed to play the role of a monster in this show and force Kyiv into negotiations with the Donetsk clans. Judging by the way events developed, it is more than likely that this was the case until April. But Kyiv did not give in, the situation was deadlocked and Moscow sent saboteurs to the Donbas to help their allies. Until Russians entered Slovyansk, the destructive process was supervised by local clans. Without them, there simply would not have been any riots. As an organiser of numerous anti-government protests in Donetsk in 2012–2013, I can confirm that local authorities can easily break up any meeting, and any massive event can only take place after a green light from them. When we were gathering people for Rise, Ukraine rally in Donetsk, Horlivka’s authorities blocked the road to it with cars, pretending that there was a car accident, so no one could drive out of Horlivka for an hour. When we wanted to conduct an AutoMaidan and go to Yanukovych’s home, once again, all the roads were blocked by cars filled with titushkas. When we sent people by bus to Kyiv, the road police stopped them on the road, while titushkas punctured the bus wheels. In March, Donetsk officials suddenly turned a blind eye to all the mass riots. Their organizers could do anything: lease transport from carriers supervised by the authorities, gather and bring in people for meetings and park in places where parking is not permitted. This was all done by people who had previously gathered people for anti-Maidan manifestations. The police and SBU did not interfere.
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The chaos was completely managed, because Donetsk was not paralysed by a mass of people unlike Kyiv last winter. Only 2-3,000 people, who had virtually no weapons, participated in the storming of buildings. Local authorities pretended that they were dealing with a powerful public protest, which was impossible to overcome.
At the head of this “protest” were provocateurs that were well-known throughout the city. At that time, no one in Ukraine was aware who all these people were, but we in Donetsk knew them very well. And it was obvious who organised the uprising, and why. For example, I still remember the current “DNR minister”, Oleksandr Khryakov, from school. I was still writing dictations when he was already giving money for participation in meetings against Viktor Yushchenko in 2005 and defended the then arrested Borys Kolesnikov, a notorious Party of Regions member. Throughout the last decade, Khryakov lived on hand-outs from Kolesnikov, was involved in political provocations and carried out orders. Before the 2012 election, using the Party of Regions funds, he tried to organise a raider attack of our UDAR branch, of which I was the leader. This attempt failed.
Pasha Gubarev is also well-known in our political circles. For many years, he organised different actions, including children’s parties and political campaign shows. In 2006, he worked for Mykola Levchenko (a Ukrainophobic former MP, member of the Party of Regions – Ed.), then Serhiy Beshuli (a former politician, now forgotten by all), his wife drafted some city improvement projects for the city council and received grants for their implementation. All that time, Gubarev was an errand boy for the Party of Regions, had good relations with the local authorities and posed no threat to anyone. He did not manage the uprising in the spring of 2014, as some supposed. He was simply tasked with organization of the large-scale and expensive performance, something he did brilliantly.
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I can speak of every “minister” in this show but that would be too much honor. They are all people hand-fed by the local nouveau riche. This is why I find it funny, when Donetsk Mayor Oleksandr Lukyanchenko now appears on Rinat Akhmetov’s TV channel and presents himself as the victim of circumstances. I remember well when on March 1, he, together with the city council, called for an illegal referendum. He did not see me – I stood and observed his gala performance.
It dismays me to see how Rinat Akhmetov is once more taking the role of a patron and benefactor. He is supposedly helping people on the territory, where, with his own hands, he previously did everything to light the fire of war. By the way, his business in the zone controlled by separatists is operating without any disruptions. Needless to say, no one intends to take anything away from Akhmetov. No one nationalised his mines, wages are paid there and mining continues.
And there is nothing unusual in the fact that we once again hear talks of the Donbas as an inalienable part of Ukraine, but one with a special status in a federalized country. The rhetoric of Russia and its friends from the local fifth column have returned to that, from which they started in spring.
For Ukraine, acceptance of such conditions is tantamount to capitulation. This is precisely why the government is not making concessions to the Kremlin and gangs. Without doubt, Putin would find it very convenient if Ukraine had its own Chechnya and the entire country paid dues to Donetsk clans. But such an option will be a catastrophe for us and an end to our statehood.
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Russian version of federalisation is nothing like federalism in Germany or Switzerland. For them, it’s a way to impose slavery on us. But the Ukrainian nation has fought too long for its freedom and ultimately gained it at too high a price. It is not going to give it up just like that.