Port city read­ies for Rus­sians

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Ukrainian mil­i­tary spokesman in Kyiv showed re­porters leaflets he said were be­ing handed out in Novoa­zovsk of­fer­ing money for in­for­ma­tion on Ukrainian troop move­ments and in­struct­ing lo­cals on how to pre­pare for the ar­rival of “peace­keep­ing troops of the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion.” There was no con­fir­ma­tion of who had printed up the leaflets.

Ukrainian mil­i­tary spokesman An­driy Ly­senko said the army was ready to de­fend Mariupol, having or­ga­nized round-the-clock pa­trols and re­in­forced en­trances to the city. Hun­dreds of Ukrainian army troops were at posts around the city, ac­cord­ing to Mariupol’s mayor, Yuriy Khotlubey.

Mariupol’s res­i­dents were pre­par­ing in their own way. Many had stocked up on bread and other pro­vi­sions. There were long lines of cars ex­it­ing the city through check­points. Sup­plies of some medicines ran low. More than 800 base­ments and shel­ters had been des­ig­nated for use in case of shelling, the mayor said.

The city gave free train tick­ets to refugees from other parts of the war-torn coun­try so they could flee yet again — to safer ar­eas.

On Satur­day, pro­test­ers held hands and chanted “Putin’s head!” at a check­point on the east­ern edge of Mariupol.

Other cit­i­zens chose to pre­serve their rou­tines. Res­i­dents strolled in parks with their dogs and chil­dren on a cool end- of-sum­mer day. Out­door con­certs, pic­nics and two weddings — the mayor noted — went on as sched­uled. Oc­ca­sional con­voys of cars ca­reened down the streets, their oc­cu­pants honk­ing and wav­ing blue-and-yel­low Ukrainian flags. But the threat just up the road loomed large. “We are liv­ing in this town as peace­ful cit­i­zens, but we know the tanks are com­ing,” said Vladimir Marchenko, a sailor. “We don’t want to be­come part of an­other coun­try.”

The res­i­dents, a mix of eth­nic Rus­sians, Ukraini­ans and Greeks, have al­ready en­dured con­sid­er­able tur­moil this year. Af­ter the coun­try de­scended into civil con­flict fol­low­ing mass protests against the coun­try’s pro-Rus­sian pres­i­dent ear­lier this year, pro-Rus­sian sep­a­ratists es­tab­lished a strong pres­ence in the city. They wielded enor­mous in­flu­ence in the city from April 13 to May 9, a ten­ure capped by a fire­fight that killed nine at the po­lice head­quar­ters.

NATO of­fi­cials and Ukraine’s gov­ern­ment say Rus­sia has been send­ing mil­i­tary equip­ment and hun­dreds of sol­diers into Ukraine to help the sep­a­ratists. Rus­sian of­fi­cials have de­nied the charge — say­ing some Rus­sians vol­un­teered to as­sist the rebels, and some wan­dered into Ukraine by mis­take.

Some res­i­dents of Mariupol say they would wel­come Rus­sian sol­diers if their tanks rolled into Mariupol.

“If the Rus­sians would come here there would be no war. No one would be killed. It would be like Crimea,” said Natalia Obolon­skaya, a nurse. “I would feel bet­ter with the Rus­sian army than the Ukraini­ans.”

Oth­ers who re­mem­bered life be­fore Ukraine be­came in­de­pen­dent in 1991, in the wan­ing days of the Soviet Union, feel dif­fer­ently.

Lud­mila Elag­ina, a re­tired en­gi­neer, vol­un­teered to help dig trenches in the city this week be­cause she fears the re­turn of a re­pres­sive regime. She still weeps when she re­calls los­ing her grand­par­ents, who were farm­ers re­lo­cated to Siberia dur­ing Rus­sia’s process of col­lec­tiviza­tion of agri­cul­ture.

“When we lived un­der the U.S.S.R. we felt we were be­ing con­trolled,” she said. “We were told what to wear. We were told what to say. In­de­pen­dence was like a sec­ond life, the birth of some­thing new. My wings spread and I started to re­mem­ber poems I re­cited to my mother as a child. Now, I have poems of ter­ror.”

The pres­sures of liv­ing in a po­lit­i­cally di­vided city have taken their toll, and the anx­i­ety has wors­ened in the last week, ac­cord­ing to Ulyana Tokareva, the direc­tor of the city’s so­cial ser­vices cen­tre.

“Their two main ques­tions are, ‘What is hap­pen­ing and what do I do next?’ Peo­ple are pan­ick­ing right now,” she said.

“The panic is hap­pen­ing be­cause peo­ple don’t know who to trust.”

At a mod­est brick build­ing on Satur­day, groups of families who had fled the fight­ing in the re­bel­con­trolled cities of Donetsk and Luhansk ar­rived, tot­ing their pos­ses­sions, to pick up free train tick­ets out of the city.

Lud­mila Kosych, 55, who ran a small food store, fled with her fam­ily from the Donetsk re­gion on Aug. 20 af­ter they wit­nessed con­tin­ued hor­ror: mis­sile fire, dead chil­dren, an av­er­age of 10 fu­ner­als a day.

They thought they had reached a safe place in Mariupol. Now she said she was wrong.

“Imag­ine if a bomb is fly­ing over there,” she said, ges­tur­ing to a nearby col­umn of trees. “It ex­plodes and by any piece of it you could be killed. You don’t know where it’s com­ing from, the Ukraini­ans or the rebels. It’s hu­man, an­i­mal fear.”

— Wash­ing­ton Post

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