While many tales of atrocities have come to surface over the past few months, most have been defined by two attributes: the perpetrator’s Russian origin, and the body of evidence coming from the testimony of victims and witnesses.
Some first hand interviews have offset the latter, shining light on the motivations and actions from both sides of the trigger, these have still mostly come from foreign invaders and not locals. One Sovietized insurgent from Armenia detailed his destructive foray into Ukraine, confirming that 80% of militants occupying Donetsk are foreigner like himself. Another Russian mercenary issued his disinterest in Luhansk’s destruction to the New York Times, ‘not giving a damn about any of this.’
Volodymyr Parasyuk, a revolutionary hero to many in Ukraine, provided first hand details of a captive’s confession; one that offers more than just casual indifference as a reason for violence. As the account goes, the National Guard’s Dnipro Battalion captured a Ukrainian paratrooper who had turned-coat and defected to the militants in the Donetsk Republic terrorist organization – informing them of military positions, weapon intel, checkpoint locations, and made possible Grad rocket attacks on Ukrainian positions.
The prisoner, Dmytro, was of the belief that Russian President Vladimir Putin was going to save them, and that they already had Russian assistance.
He also told Parasyuk how the Donetsk Republic’s men treated the local population: “They get all liquored up in the evening, they go down the streets, and they shoot at innocent civilians. Whoever kills more wins the bet.”
He also admitted that the group had raped young girls, “and anyone who refused got a rifle to the head and was offered a choice: obey or get a bullet to the head.”
While it may be hard to gauge how much of the above is true – either said in duress or as twisted bravado – the scars of war undoubtedly yield likened brutality the world over. What sets Dmytro apart, however, is that he is not a foreign plunderer but a local collaborator; and not one with blasé detachment but frenzied indifference to his own people. If insurgent forces are described as “anti-Kyiv,” then why is equal belligerence meted out to local innocents?
It is true that the Russian backed ‘militias’ have been described as disorganized, chronically dysfunctional, and often drunk, just as the above testimony illustrated.
UN monitors have especially noted the steady rise in wanton violence by Russian-backed groups in Ukraine. “A climate of lawlessness prevails in the east with an increase in criminality, killings, abductions and detentions by the armed groups,” said UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic. More than a simply gradient increase, Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch bluntly said that these groups are “out of control” and “abusing people at will.”
Another top UN human rights office official described the situation as a “reign of fear, if not a reign of terror,” in the areas controlled by these terrorist groups.
Amnesty International deputy director Denis Krivosheev describes, in clarifying that the bulk of abductions have been carried out by Russian-backed groups, that victims are “often subjected to stomach-turning beatings and torture.”
Russian-backed militias have also been known to employ terrorist tactics (MH17 aside), with Human Rights Watch noting that they use “beatings and kidnappings to send the message that anyone who doesn’t support them had better shut up or leave.”
But perhaps Oliver Carroll described the regional situation and local phenomenon best in Foreign Policy, calling it bluntly “a bit of the old ultraviolence,” a reference to Stanley Kubrick’s classic A Clockwork Orange – because that’s what the situation on the ground, unleashed from the east, is increasingly appearing to be.[hr] Translation assistance courtesy of William Risch