Rebels in Ukraine also have a human voice - tears from Luhansk and Donetsk
The world calls us rebels, terrorists, separatists - who are we?
Right now, the world media is focused on the awful crash of the Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 in Ukraine that caused the death of 298 innocent people on board flight MH17 last week.
I am a freelance reporter for eTN and also an attorney in Ukraine. I would like to introduce readers to ordinary citizens, many of them are actually called rebels, terrorists or separatists. They actually are just regular people like you and me who lived a peaceful life in my beautiful home region of the Ukraine. They are my friends, they are my colleagues, they are family people, people who love to party and have fun, go to the movies, enjoy food and company.
Some don't really care about politics. They don't mind living in a country ruled by Ukraine, or ruled by Russia. BUT they are scared. They are scared, because the government they never had a fair chance to vote for in far away Kiev has a lot interest in the wealth of our region, but has absolutely no interest in us, the people.
This right-wing government has the support of the entire Western world. We love the west. We would be honored to be part of the European Union - we also love Russia.
Many of my friends speak about concentration camps for us after our own government in Kiev started bombing our neighborhoods, our schools and killed our families like cockroaches.
Ironically most of us still have good friends in all parts of our Ukraine - just the government is trying to tell us who we should like or hate.
I am from Luhansk in the Russian part of Eastern Ukraine. Actually now some call it Luhansk People’s Republic.
The situation in Eastern Ukraine, especially in Luhansk, is not easy. On Friday, July 18, in my home town, there were broken windows, destroyed homes, shell fragments, blood, and body parts on the pavement. About 64 civilians have been killed and more than 215 injured. Forty-six big apartment buildings have been destroyed, plus 195 homes. In addition, 3 schools, 12 kindergartens, the Central bus station, 5 factories, and 18 shops are all closed. In total, 60% of all stores and food markets are closed.
I would like to relate to eTN readers how some of my friends, regular residents of Luhansk, feel and how they describe life in a city under siege.
Olga, 56 years old
I live in my apartment by myself. We have the basement where everybody in my building hides when the sirens sound. Unfortunately this basement is not built like a bomb shelter, so even this place could be dangerous to stay in, but we don’t have another choice. There are no stairs to the shelter. We have to jump in, and climb out. I live on the 4th floor of my 5 story apartment building. By the time I make it down 5 floors to the basement I already see a line of elders and kids, and there is no more room. I got used to taking a chance and moving to the center of my apartment away from windows and doors. I wait through the siren alerts to end as I am pressed against the corridor wall praying it will be over soon. It has been like this since the beginning.
Now the apartment building is almost empty. All my neighbors have taken off and escaped. I have no place to go. I feel like a child of war.
These are photos showing how our own government, the Government of Ukraine is treating our families, our community, us citizens.
Anna, 32 years old
My husband went to our country vacation home to move some of our stuff. When he was trying to go back to get me to the bridge connecting Luhansk to the countryside, the bridge was blown out, and we got separated. I am now in our city apartment hiding from the bombs every day with my food supply getting shorter by the day. With a lot of bribery, I managed to purchase a train ticket out from Luhansk. This is almost impossible these days to achieve.
My city is under attack. There are no busses, no taxis, and I had to get to the train station. I ran through explosions, gun fire, and shelling through my neighborhood. I saw dead neighbors on the street, body parts, and blood everywhere. I just ran and ran and made it to the train station. I am now with my husband in a safer place. I will never forget what I went through and saw.
Yevgeniy, 36 years old
I work for the government of Ukraine, and I am the only one employed in the family. I have dependents: my older mother, wife, and 2-year-old son who has specific medical needs. This is why my wife cannot work. We live in the most terrible neighborhood of Luhansk. Our neighborhood was bombed from the first days of the conflict. This part of Luhansk is the Metallist village and is almost completely destroyed. This place is hell, and it’s dangerous. I took my family, quit my job, and went to Crimea. Crimea was part of the Ukraine, but is now Russia, and I am here applying for asylum.
There is personal drama behind each family and every single person who is surviving in Eastern Ukraine. Our own government, the Ukrainian army, is killing us. Is it because we speak Russian? I don't know.
People often ask why rebels do crazy things. People worldwide hate rebels. The Ukrainian government officially named them terrorists.
First of all, rebels have a common goal. They want to clear our part of the country from having a government we did not elect and are in power against our constitution with the help of others, named the West and the western part of the Ukraine.
This government in Kiev does not have our best interest in its agenda. They put in place an administration that is supported by the US, but is a right-wing nationalist government, and are not tolerant to any other group. Ninety percent of everyone here in Luhansk speaks Russian. Should we have to fear being put in a concentration camp for this?
Some of the rebels are shady characters, including criminals freed from jail, and often are uneducated people. But most of the so-called rebels are regular people, like fathers and husbands who want to protect their family and their land.
Some of the so-called rebels want complete independence from the rest of Ukraine, while others want to be part of Russia. Many only want to have a voice in the government in Kiev and the security of being able to speak Russian. An independent Republic under Ukrainian leadership may very well be a solution.
The Russian-speaking region of the Ukraine constitutes not only the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk but also Odessa, Kharkiv, and until recently, Crimea.
However, the common complaint is - and this is what unites them – that they want to be separate from a right-wing government in the Ukraine based in our country's capital Kiev, that they did not elect and does not have their interest in mind.
Sergey, 29 years old, separatist
I am an economist, and it is not a secret that our region is the most productive and active from an economical point of view when compared to other regions of Ukraine. Why has Western Ukraine put their hand on our lands that never was theirs to begin with? Why are they now teaching us how to be patriots? Our people never wanted their lands, never paid attention to what they were doing in the Western Ukraine. We simply accepted their goal of forming an independent country after the USSR dissolved.
Yulia, 21 years old, separatist
Just two months before, I was just a regular girl. I enjoyed fashion and cosmetics, and dating boys. I loved my life. Then one day everything changed. Our town was bombed. I’ve seen dead people killed in broad daylight in our streets, heard kids crying and people yelling for help. I saw destroyed houses, divided families, and lost hope. I came to the separatist camp and said I want to help you. Now I have changed my high heel shoes to combat boots, am equipped with a Kalashnikov (automatic gun), and I’m ready to stop anyone who will attack my town.
Andrey, 42 years old, separatist
We never elected this Ukrainian government, and this is not a government with our interest in mind. To them, we should all be in concentration camps or shot. My family survived artillery explosions, and I am afraid for the future of my kids. I don’t want them to grow up in Ukraine, so I will do everything I can do to build an independent republic.
Igor, 36 years old, separatist
There are talks about separatists who don’t let people collect the dead bodies from the crash site of the Malaysian Boeing. We are terrified this happened and feel for the innocent victims and their families.
However, opening up the region under our control could mean we may lose what we have been fighting for. We are still alive, we still have families and kids, and we do not really want to be killed by the Ukrainian army or someone else they may convince to come in and shoot us.
We asked Ukraine for help, but they delayed so the world could get angrier with us (us - the terrorists). Everyone wants to kill us. Kiev wants to see us dead, so they can take over our region again and shoot everyone. Not being careful now could be a very bad surprise for all of us.
These are only few examples of the diversity of reasons that has brought people to the separatist side. I think that we need to look deeper into their souls to understand why it happened. Separatists are not professional warriors.
They are not professionals that can deal with a plane crash or secure 298 bodies. They are common people with different skills and often a weak chain of command. They are only inspired by their own minds and to do better for their families and themselves.
The people in this area are peaceful and want no conflict. Unfortunately, luck was not on their side, and they became “children of war.”