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5 years of war: separating facts from fiction 

Feature    Consequences of rocket fire launched by Russian hybrid forces in Skhidny Raion, Mariupol on January 24, 2015. 29 people were killed, 92 injured
5 years of war: separating facts from fiction 
Article by: Tetiana Yakubovych, Oleksiy Vynohradov
Translated by: Christine Chraibi
“It was Kyiv, and not Moscow that attacked Donbas!”, “There are no Russian soldiers in Donbas!”, “We are independent states!” Here are the facts – this is how “DNR” and “LNR” authorities like to describe the events of the last five years. Moreover, Russian hybrid forces do their utmost to ensure that children and young adults perceive the “DNR” and “LNR” as their legitimate homeland and the militants as their heroes.

Kyiv attacked Donbas

Demonstration in support of unity of Ukraine, Donetsk, April 17, 2014

“Ukrainian soldiers are killing people in Donbas” – this is one of ORDLO’s favorite propaganda lines that has been consistently spread and broadcast for the past five years. The “DNR/LNR” information policy is aimed at driving home the idea that the war was initiated by Ukraine.

THE HARD FACTS: In the aftermath of the Euromaidan movement and the 2014 Revolution of Dignity, and Russia’s occupation of Crimea in February-March 2014, the people of Donetsk and Luhansk came out into the streets, organizing massive rallies in support of unity in Ukraine; other groups gathered around towns and cities, calling on Putin to send in the troops. The media recorded hundreds of testimonies from Donetsk residents that these aggressive groups were not locals, spoke with a strong Russian accent and were not at all familiar with the city. The last pro-Ukrainian demonstrations ended in bloodshed as protests escalated into violence, especially on March 13, when a pro-Ukrainian protester was stabbed to death in Donetsk and many activists were seriously injured. By the end of spring 2014, most pro-Ukrainian organizations had been disbanded or had gone into hiding.

On April 17, during the twelfth Direct Line with Vladimir Putin program, Putin denied claims by the Ukrainian government, the European Union and the United States that Russian Special Forces were fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine.

From April to June 2014, Russian hybrid forces seized administrative buildings in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, stormed Ukrainian military units, police stations and border stations, and attacked Donetsk airport. In response, Kyiv launched the anti-terrorist operation (ATO).

“We are not there!”

“Only locals are fighting over there – miners, tractor drivers, etc! The “DNR/LNR” deny all claims about Russia’s participation in the Donbas war.

THE HARD FACTS: Both Ukrainian and international organizations have found lots of evidence and gathered many testimonies concerning Russia’s colossal influence in the Donbas war.

Over the past five years, numerous investigations have proven that Ukrainian troops are being shelled from exact positions in the Russian Federation, that there is a constant flow of “volunteers”, weapons and equipment (including the most advanced weapons) from Russia through uncontrolled border areas, and that regular Russian units are being deployed to these Ukrainian territories.

Recently, a Russian commander admitted in an interview that it was difficult to find military hardware and weapons in Donbas, and that he was grateful to the “comrades in Moscow” for their ongoing support.

Glorifying “DNR/LNR” leaders

Public commemoration of so-called “heroes” in occupied Donetsk, 2017

“Memorial Day for Hero Mozgovoi”, “Birthday of Givi – Defender of Donbas” – articles and photos glorifying these dead fighters are regularly published by “DNR/LNR” media. Children are taught to honor them. After Zakharchenko’s death, the city council inundated the streets with posters of Zakharchenko, while the Russia-controlled media was ordered to produce films and documentaries about the self-proclaimed leader of the “Donetsk People’s Republic”.

THE HARD FACTS: Aleksandr Zakharchenko was killed on August 31, 2018 when a bomb exploded in Separ café that he was visiting. The new “DNR” leader Denis Pushilin called Zakharchenko “a high-ranking citizen of Ukraine and other countries”. Ukrainian experts believe that Zakharchenko was killed either by Russians who wanted to replace him or by Russia-controlled separatists as part of an internal power struggle.

This assassination was not the first to strike “DNR/LNR” leaders. For example, several militant army commanders were killed in occupied Luhansk Oblast in 2015 – Aleksandr Bednov, aka “Batman”, commander of the Pryvyd Brigade Aleksei Mozgovoi, and leader of the Stakhanov Cossacks Pavel Dremov. “LNR” authorities attributed all the murders to Ukrainian saboteurs. However, Ukrainian experts believe that these killings are the result of an internal feud between “LNR” leader Igor Plotnitsky and several military groups in occupied Luhansk. As a matter of fact, Plotnitsky was ousted by a coup on November 24, 2017, but managed to stay alive. Two other “LNR founders”, Valery Bolotov and Gennady Tsypkalov died in mysterious circumstances. Bolotov died after drinking a cup of coffee somewhere in Moscow; Tsypkalov was found hanging in his cell.

Similar events took place in occupied Donetsk. Russian citizen and commander of the Sparta battalion, Arsen Pavlov, aka “Motorola”, was killed on October 16, 2016 by an IED explosion in his apartment elevator; Mykhailo Tolstykh, aka “Givi” was liquidated on February 8, 2017 in his office in Makiyivka.

Billboard of Arsen “Motorola” Pavlov on the streets of occupied Donetsk
Billboard of Mikhail “Givi” Tolstykh

In general, almost everyone who took part in the so-called “Russian spring” movement in Donbas has fled to Russia, disappeared or been killed. They are remembered only in monuments or on postal stamps.

“I was born in the DNR!”

“We are a republic!”, “We are an independent state!” – such phrases are heard in almost every public statement pronounced by “DNR/LNR” officials. In commemoration of the anniversary of the so-called “referendum”, Donetsk authorities recently put up a huge billboard with the photo of a young girl and the inscription “I was born in the DNR!”

Billboard in occupied Donetsk. “I was born in the DNR!”

THE HARD FACTS. The “DNR/LNR” departments of information policy have been ordered to hammer home the idea of the “DNR/LNR” as legitimate states on TV programs and in schools. Particular attention is directed towards younger generations. “Patriotic education” is part of the curriculum, from kindergartens to higher educational institutions.

Translated by: Christine Chraibi
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