Report from eastern Ukraine: “We have been weaned from fear”


As of: January 9th, 2022 5:17 p.m.

Tomorrow’s US-Russia talks will focus on Eastern Ukraine. There the people live with the danger of a Russian invasion. Many are therefore friable – but there is no fear of war.

By Demian von Osten, ARD-Studio Moscow, currently Kramatorsk

When the Kramatorsk local journalist Oleksij Ladyka looked at the official card for shelters from attacks, he was somewhat shocked: “You can see strange things on the card,” says Ladyka, who works for the newspaper “Kramatorsk Post”.

For example, there is a shelter in the area of ​​a bread factory – “but it has long since ceased to exist. It is in ruins.” And many shelters on the map were filled with water, so they were unusable. In addition, there are no such rooms in many parts of the city.

Kramatorsk is a city of 150,000 inhabitants and is only about 50 kilometers from the front line – a typical industrial city in Donbass: factories push columns of smoke into the dreary January sky, wet snow is dirty in the streets.

150,000 people live in Kramatorsk – a typical industrial town in Donbass.

Image: ARD Studio Moscow

Volunteer associations that don’t exist

The city has a military base, soldiers occasionally run through the streets, individual military vehicles can be seen. But there is no sign of fear of war here. And the city does not seem prepared for a possible new attack, says local journalist Ladyka. “I had read that we should have voluntary associations for the defense of the city. But then I realized that these associations did not exist.”

Russia says there are no plans to invade Ukraine. But while there is great fear in the West, the Ukrainians themselves seem to be calm. Why?

Journalist: The 2014 war continues

Ladyka recalls that there has long been a Russian invasion of Ukraine: What is meant is the annexation of Crimea, which was carried out through a referendum forced under armed force, and the war in eastern Ukraine, organized by leaders from Moscow and with military support from Russia .

“Putin attacked us in 2014, eight years ago,” says Ladyka. “And this war continues to this day. We are killed, attacked and our houses destroyed. “

Researched that Kramatorsk was ill-prepared for a possible attack: local journalist Oleksiy Ladyka.

Image: ARD Studio Moscow

Almost every week dead at the front

On the front line, 50 kilometers further, they feel this more strongly than in Kramatorsk. People die almost every week, and observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) register explosions every day. Armed rebels, supported by Russia, repeatedly refuse the observers access to places close to the front such as Solote or Molodischne.

According to the Ukrainian government, the war has cost 14,000 lives since 2014. Several of them were friends of Eduard Kulinitisch. The former soldier still has 70 phone numbers in his cell phone of friends who lost their lives in the war. He doesn’t want to delete it, doesn’t want to forget it.

Experienced terrible things as a prisoner

When Kramatorsk was occupied by armed rebels in 2014, he still helped out as a volunteer. He was captured by armed rebels. “I’ve been through so much in captivity that I can never forgive anyone,” says Kulinitsch.

On the way to interrogation, we had to pass fighters or anyone who simply beat us up. Or they could knock your teeth out. And when you’ve read your interrogation protocol, signed it, and it said: shoot. I had a horror night! I was sure we would be shot the following morning.

But Kulinitisch was lucky: Because the son of a rebel commandant was in Ukrainian captivity, he and his comrades were released during a prisoner exchange.

Ukraine should become a member of NATO, says Kulinitisch. In surveys, a narrow majority of the population shares this opinion. There are people in Kramatorsk who would give up their properties so that NATO could build a missile base there. “A friend has 700 square meters of land: ‘If that’s enough, I can give it away,’ he says.

NATO membership as a constitutional goal

Ukraine has set NATO membership as a goal in the constitution – but Russia is attacking it and is demanding security guarantees, including the exclusion of further NATO eastward expansion to Ukraine. But in Ukraine, many see NATO membership as the only way to protect themselves permanently from “Russian aggression”, as they call it here.

In 2014, Kramatorsk itself was occupied by armed rebels. Many residents have bad memories of the time. It was only after more than two months of fighting that Ukrainian units took control again.

Living permanently with the threat could be why people here are less immediately afraid of a new Russian invasion. “We have already stopped being afraid,” says Kulinitsch. “We have been weaned from fear.”

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