|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
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
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)
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
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"
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,
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.
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