UNHCR Confirms That The Fighting in Eastern Ukraine Has Already  Resulted  In A Major Refugee Crisis

The civil war in parts of Eastern Ukraine started some time after protestors in Eastern counties of that country a region with an overwhelmingly Russian-speaking population occupied public buildings in large and mid-sized Eastern Ukrainian cities. They were copying the practive we could observe in Kiev during the anti-government Maidan protests. Such occupations in Kiev had been championed largely by right-wingers of Pravy Sektor and followers of Tyahnybok's Svoboda Party during the Maidan protests. The latter were among those cheered at the time by Western mainstream media and the press in Western Ukraine as heroes. Though they initially constituting only about one third of the protesting crowd, they were the most militant faction and proved decisive in toppling the Yanukovich government when they brought about a bloody escalation of the protests.(1) 

In Kiev as well as, later in cities like Donetsk, government personnel was harrassed during the occupations of public buildings, and in Kiev, even parliament had been occupied and members of parliament had been harrassed and exposed to danger of life by the protestors of the militant right in parliament.

It goes without saying that the elected Yanukovich government represented the oligarchs and Yanukovich was at least as good at engaging in business that made him rich as his predecessor, Ms. Timoshenko, his successor, Mr. Yatsenuk, or - for that matter - people like Mr. Romney, Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Cheney, and probably, to some extent, Mr. Tony Blair. In other words, not a sympathetic bunch of people. In the US, it has become as clear as elsewhere that formally correct democratic elections don't guarantee that the elected public officials will carry out the will and defend the interests of those who elected them. In the US, recent research by middle-of-the-road social scientists confirms what we all knew: the President and the entire government is listening attentively to the wishes of big business while the same leaders remain largely deaf when they should hear the voice of the broad majority of the population. It was and is not very different in Ukraine, in Russia, and the rest of Europe. In Eastern Europe, 'oligarchy' is their term for what others call plutocracy in the US. 

The change of government was brought about in dubious fashion. The toppling of the elected president, comparable to a process that would require impeachment in the US, was brought about unconstitutionally. To oust the elected Ukrainian president would have required a vote of 75 percent of all members of parliament, against his staying in office. During the roll call, a majority of 75 percent was not attained, even though members of parliament were harrassed, as noted already. And in all likelihood, votes were also bought. The new oligarch is power is a tycoon with lots of cash in his pockets.

The protestors in the East  were largely supporters of the elected president just ousted unconstitutionally. They considered what has happened as a mere coup d'état and took to the streets, and then went on to copy exactly the methods that were so successfully used by the adversaries of the ousted president in Kiev: occupations of buildings, as mentioned in the press. They were soon taking over control by making impossible the local functioning of government wherever officials remained loyal to the new central government. Many public officials switched sides and supported the protestors. Others could no longer enter their office.

Apart from the fact that the protesting Easterners reacted to the ousting of the president they had voted into office, these protestors and many others in the East, who stayed peacefully at home, resent the fact that the neo-fascist Svoboda party (whose chairman, Tyahnybok, has been filmed giving the Nazi salute) is heavily presented in the new, unconstitutional government in Kiev. I quote from an article of a liberal Western journalist, Zoltán Grossman, who apparently sees Russia and Ukraine's Easterners as "our" enemies but thinks that some of the people "we" (i.e. the West, that is to say, the Obama administration) supported in Kiev, are not necessarily "our friends" even if they are "the enenies of our enemies."(2) Apart from the fact that the talk about "our enemies" is highly questionable and fits into the prevalent war-mongering discourses we are exposed to, Grossman provides also some useful information. Regarding the formation of the new government in Kiev, we are told that "Svoboda parliamentarian Oleksandr Sych has been named to the post of Vice Premier for Economic Affairs, and Svoboda has taken control of the ministries of education, agriculture, and the environment. Svoboda co-founder Andriy Parubiy was named Secretary of the Security and National Defense Committee, a significant post with control over police and military forces."(3) Svoboda is a party that is a member of the club of European neo-Nazi and extreme right-wing parties, to which the French Front National adheres as a key member. Svoboda also has close ties to the German neo-Nazi NPD, a party with apparent nostalgic feelings for a predecessor, the NSDAP. 

Another extremely right-wing party called Pravy Sektor [Right Sector] is also represented in the new government, according to the liberal journalist Zoltan Grossman: "Pravy Sektor is even to the right of Svoboda, but that has not stopped its leader Dmytro Yarosh from being named as Paruby's Deputy Secretary of National Security."(4) 

The new situation was perceived as unacceptable in the East. And exactly this is why people, haunted by memories of the Nazi assault in 1941 that is deeply present in the family history of many Eastern Ukrainians, decided to resort to militant forms of protest, to the occupations of public buildings and to demonstrations that were meant to force those in Kiev to change their course and seek a compromise acceptable both to West Ukrainian citizens and citizens in Eastern Ukraine. 

In response, the parliament in Kiev voted for a new law that abolished Russian as a second official language. It was a provocation that breathed the spirit of right-wing West Ukrainian nationalism. As Zoltán Grossman reports, another scandalizing step taken by the Western Ukrainian rightists that provoked the Easterners was to tear down war memorials in Western Ukraine erected in honor of the country's liberation from Nazi rule. During the Maidan protests, quite a few protestors had brandished large photos of Bandera, the leader of the Ukrainian fascist army that fought, initially, side by the side with the Nazis, against the Soviet Union, then an American ally. Between 1945 and 1947, Bandera was a hero of the Western Ukrainian independence movement that waged a partisan war against the Soviet Union with CIA support. In contrast, many Eastern Ukrainians had fought against the Nazi invaders in the army or as partisans during WWII, something that is not forgotten in cities like Donetsk.

When the new government in Kiev remained obstinate in their refusal to listen to Eastern protestors, the Easterners then named new provisional authorities in their cities, replacing town mayors and other regional officials loyal to the Kiev government.

When Kiev sent in the newly created militia (which was composed largely of nationalist Western Ukrainians and right-wingers), the protestors set up roadblocks outside the 'liberated' cities and shot at the advancing militia. They declared their area a new, resurfaced Donetsk Republic (in memory of a Donetsk Republic that had briefly existed during the Russian civil war). The Kiev government declared them to be terrorists, and still refused to talk to them, ruling out any compromise or peaceful solution other than peace attained after the East's unconditional surrender.

Obviously, the official Ukrainian army was initially not considered as completely trustworthy by the Kiev authorities which is why they created a militia that was to recruit militant right-wingers. Then they got advice from the US, advisers, and - as a German military secret service leak revealed - more support by foreign Blackwater-type special forces. The Russian government reciprocated, sending in (though unofficially) numerous volunteers recruited in Russia, as Western journalists revealed.

The Ukrainian army and militia suffered several set-backs initially in the civil war. But by now, it seems, they have the upper hand. 

A German newspaper, Suddeutsche Zeitung, recently reported reported that water and electricity have been cut off in the beleaguered big cities of the country's East.(5) It is a strategy we saw the Israeli army rely on in Gaza, too. It may be considered a war crime.

On June 27, 2014 the same German newspaper already referred to also reported that refugees flee the combat zone. "More and more people are fleeing from the 'Donetsk People's Republic': Many of them still voted for the separatists during the referendum [for independence]," the paper said, after talks with refugees and locals in places like Isjum where Eastern Ukrainian refugees from Slavinsk and other places arrived.(6) The journalist dispatched by Suddeutsche Zeitung said that she noticed an increasing radicalization among Ukrainian speakers in Eastern cities like Charkov, Swatogorsk and Isjum (under control of the UKrainian army) who used to get along fine with Russian speaking Ukrainians. Refugees arriving are called names: "Traitor." "Enemies of the people," "Unpatriotic."(7) These are the words the journalist heard. "According to the most recent poll, about 80 percent of the people who are now fleeing from  the Donbass [the heavily Russian populated Donetzk basin mining region] to Charkov have voted in favor of the referendum -  and thus for the separatist."(8) "We don't like to call these people refugees. [...] Now they are calling for help. But before that, they let the war enter into their [...] and our Ukrainian house" - this is how the journalist sums up the opinion among Ukrainian speakers, quoting an unnamed source and adding that,  "[d]ay by day, there are more arrivals" of refugees.(9)

This report does not mention refugees arriving in Russia. But it does not ridicule or comment in disbelief  reports by Russian sources that referred to such refugees, as was frequently the case in other Western media.(10)

The Sueddeutsche journalist who reports on the negative feelings towards the Russian-speaking refugees among Ukrainian-speakers, and who notes that newly arriving refugees are checked for traces of gun-smoke (in order to know whether they fired a weapon recently) and for tattoos typically brandished by members of militias, also writes that Russian media "stoked feelings of hatred" among Russian-speakers (for the "fascists" in Kiev).

Since this report in Suddeutsche Zeitung, things have continued to evolve dramatically.
A Malaysian airliner was downed. The circumstances remain in the dark. Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported that the fligh control center in Kiev ordered the airliner to fly a few thousanf feet  lower than the 35,000 feet foreseen by the approved flight plan. Russian officials say they have radar and other documents that show that the Malaysian airliner suddenly left its nornal straight route across Ukrainian airspace when he  had nearly reached safe Russian airspace, and headed southwest, straight into the zone of combat, to a site where just recently, at least one Ukrainian military aircraft had been downed by the East Ukrainians. The Russians also noted that a UKrainian jetfighter trailed the Malaysian airliner, approachihg in its shadow, just 3 or 5 miles behind it, which amont to seconds, at a speed of 700 miles per hour. 

As the Ukrainian army and militia closes in on Lugansk and on Donetsk (the latter normally a city with more than one million inhabitants), the refugee crisis worsens. 

According to a report by the British news agency REUTERS, filed on August 5, 2014, the UN agency in charge of refugees in Geneva (UNHCR) just confirmed that about 730,000 people have fled from the zone of combat in Eastern Ukraine to Russia.(11)

This figure does not include people from Ukraine arriving in Russia who aren't refugees.

The United Nations spokesperson confirmed Russian official estimates, saying that their figures are reliable.

Until recently, Western media scoffed at Russian complaints that a large number of refugees were driven from Ukraine and are coming to Russia because of the attacks by the Ukrainian militia and army.

Reports by most Western journalists normally maintained that almost all refugees have stayed in Ukraine, fleeing from the Eastern zone of combat to places further West.

Such movement of refugees has also been confirmed by UNHCR. According to the UNHCR spokesperson, some 177,000 have been displaced internally since the fighting started.(12)

- Olga Swanson

(1) Some news reports say that the bloody escalation in the last phase of the Maidan protests was largely due to snipers who shot at both demonstrators and the so-called security forces from a hotel to which the protest movement controlled access. Evidence made public by an Ukrainian doctor who sympathized with the anti-government protestors and who gave first aid to both wounded protestors and wounded police officers seems to support that hypothesis. Some protestors were hit in the back, fired on from their own camp. Recorded conversation of so-called security officers has one officer asking others, Who is shooting over there, at the protestors?, indicating that the so-called security units had no sharp-shooters in the location from which the protestors were under fire. The so-called security forces were in fact encountering protestors frontally, under order to shoot at those who had arrived on the square both armed and carrying shields which they hoped would protect them. These people were firing at the police. 

(2) Zoltán Grossman, "Ukraine: The Enemy of Your Enemy is Not Always Your Friend," in: Roots Action. org, March 11, 2014. 

(3) Z. Grossman, ibidem. 

(4) Z. Grossman, ibidem.

(5) N.N., "Bevoelkerung ohne Strom und Wasser/In ostukrainischen Staedten bricht Versorgung zusammen," in: Suddeutsche Zeitung, Vol. 70, No.179, Aug.6, 2014, p.1

(6) Cathrin Kahlweit, "Wo stehst du? / Immer mehr Menschen fliehen aus der 'Volksrepublik Donezk'.  Viele von ihnen haben beim Referendum noch fuer die Separatisten gestimmt," in:  Suddeutsche Zeitung, Vol. 70, No. 145, June 27, 2014, p. 3.

(7) C. Kahlweit, ibidem.

(8) C. Kahlweit, ibidem.

(9) C. Kahlweit, ibidem.

(10)  On Aug. 6, 2014, however, Suddeutsche Zeitung ignored the UNHRC report that was giving a very high estimate of the number of Ukrainian refugees already in Russia by reporting that "allegedly some 285,000 people  have fled during this year [...] to Russia because of the violence in Ukraine." (N.N., "Bevoelkerung ohne Strom und Wasser/In ostukrainischen Staedten bricht Versorgung zusammen," in: Suddeutsche Zeitung, Vol. 70, No.179, Aug.6, 2014, p.1) - In this way, the paper continued its strategy of downplaying the refugee crisis that affects Russia, too. In the same way, the paper prefers to speak of violence instead of war, and regularly blames ones of the two sides engaged in combat. The journalists of this newspaper, just as those of most other mainstream media in the West, know that it was the "anti-terrorism" campaign of the Kiev government, thus their determination to solve the problem they face in the Eastern part of the country militarily, that ignited the civil war. But they are steadfast in their attempt to tell the readers that this military offensive is justified, and that those who insist on a peacefully attained compromise solution or alternately on separation of the Donetsk region (a separation which some 80 percent of the region's population approved) are the ones that must be blamed because they rely on their weapons in order to resist the attacks by the Kiev military. The right of the state to claim a " monopoly to use violence" is sancrosanct in the Ukraine case; a referendum of the population of a region to separate from that state counts for nothing. The mainstream press defended the opposite position when Kosovars wanted separation from Yugoslavia. In that case, the violence of the state that attempted to make separation impossible provided an official reason for  "humanitarian intervention," in other words, a NATO war on Yugoslavia. 

(11) [Reuters staff], "About 730,000 have left Ukraine for Russia this year: UNHCR," in: www.reuters.com , Aug, 5, 2014.

(12) [Reuters staff], ibidem.


go back to Art in Society # 14, Contents