Protests against Zelenskyy’s peace plan for Donbas continue as 12,000 march in Kyiv

Participants of the march. Photo: Max Levyn, Lb.ua 

War in the Donbas

On 14 October, the Day of the Defender in Ukraine, protests against Zelenskyy’s peace plans for Donbas continued. The last major protests, sparked by Zelenskyy’s admission on October 1 that Ukraine accepts the “Steinmeier formula,” by which Ukraine enacts permanent legislature for the now-occupied regions of Donbas after elections recognized by the OSCE as democratic are held there, had gathered the largest crowd since Euromaidan in Kyiv on 6 October. On 14 October, anti-Steinmeier protests termed “No to capitulation” were held in Kyiv but with the difference that they were organized not by the broad civic coalition “Movement against capitulation” but veteran organizations, nationalistic parties, and an NGO linked to Petro Poroshenko’s European Solidarity party.

According to the police, up to 12,000 people took part in the “No to Capitulation” march led by the Veteran Brotherhood movement, the European Solidarity-linked NGO “Sprava Hromad,” Democratic Axe political party, Azov regiment, and hardcore nationalist parties Right Sector and National Corps. The Movement of Resistance to Capitulation, which had organized the nationwide protests on 6 October, had distanced itself from the organizers, in a conversation with Euromaidan Press told that they did not want to be associated with far-right headliners and political parties, but had made a statement calling upon their supporters to join the local Day of the Defender events in their cities under the slogan “No to capitulation,” to demonstrate their unity, avoid using party symbols or pursuing party interests, and counteract any manifestations of extremism and xenophobia.

It appears that the latter exhortation was not heeded by the rightwing parties – a correspondent of the leftwing Politychna Krytyka media project noted the antisemitic exclamations of the Neo-Nazi participants of the march, among which were not only Ukrainians but members of the German Neo-Nazi Der III. Weg.

Nevertheless, it is safe to say that although some organizers of this march were tainted by their far-right proximity, the overwhelming majority of its participants – civilians and veterans alike – were not.

Among the demands of the participants were to stop the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces across the contact line in Donbas which is undergoing at two locations at present but had to be postponed because of an unstable ceasefire, providing a “special status” for the occupied territories of Donbas, and amnesty to pro-Russian militants fighting there. The withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from their positions is seen as especially dangerous – the activist group Vidsich stressed this point by building a wall near the President’s Office, each brick of which carried the name of a Ukrainian settlement which can be left without the protection of Ukrainian forces if the plans for a total disengagement go forward.

The problem is that all these things, including the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from the contact line, are part of the 2015 variant of the Minsk Protocol, a non-binding agreement called to end the war in Donbas. As correspondents of Hromadske TV revealed, most participants of the march who considered these things Ukraine’s capitulation, were either unaware that they were part of the Protocol or hoped they would not be implemented. For years of Poroshenko’s presidency, Ukraine had insisted that the security part of the Minsk Protocol be implemented first and pursued a pro-Ukrainian reading of the agreement – that there would be no permanent special status and that amnesty would not be granted to those having committed war crimes.

So, it is safe to say that the participants of the protests are opposing a pro-Russian reading of the Minsk Protocol. Or, perhaps, the Minsk Protocol itself, which some experts maintain is a ticking time bomb for Ukraine’s sovereignty which allows Russia to achieve its goals in its war against Ukraine, and which Ukraine was forced to accept.

Nevertheless, Steinmeier’s formula continues to epitomize the capitulation of Ukraine to Russia in the Donbas war. Several oblast and city councils have adopted appeals against it addressed to the president and parliament, namely the Ivano-Frankivsk, Ternopil, Khmelnytskyi, Lviv, Cherkasy, Chernivtsi, Kherson, Rivne oblast councils, as well as the Nizhyn, Kropyvnytskyi, and Sumy city councils.

The “No to Capitulation” protest, was not the only one against Steinmeier’s formula on 14 October – the far-right Svoboda party held its traditional march dedicated to the founding of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). This year, however, it was also dedicated to opposing Steinmeier’s formula and Ukraine’s “capitulation.”

Another protest on the day called for the freedom of Vitaliy Markiv, a Ukrainian serviceman found guilty by an Italian court of killing an Italian journalist in Donbas and sentenced to 24 years in prison. Markiv’s defense calls the trial politically motivated and plans to launch an appeal. Posters calling to free Markiv were also carried in the “No to Capitulation” march.

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