Rus­sians in war zone do not like ques­tions

Kyiv Post - - Front Page - BY STE­FAN HUIJBOOM

DONETSK, Ukraine – His Adi­das sneak­ers be­trayed him. His cam­ou­flage clothes differed from the usual dark green ones that Krem­lin-backed fighters wear in sep­a­ratist-held ter­ri­tory.

His name is Yuriy, a Rus­sian claim­ing to be a vol­un­teer. He has just ar­rived in Donetsk, the sep­a­ratist-con­trolled pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal, on a bus from Ros­tov-on-Don in Rus­sia.

He reacts an­grily to ques­tions about why he is in Ukraine fight­ing.

“That is none of your busi­ness!” he yelled.

“One ticket to Tel­manove,” he strictly de­manded from the ticket lady.

The Ukrainian city Tel­manove is close to the front line. He wanted to pay in Rus­sian rubles, but an­other sep­a­ratist fighter picked up the charge.

The bus driv­ing Yuriy and other Krem­lin-backed fighters to

Tel­manove is one of a kind. It is a tour bus that also in­cludes civil­ians.

When asked what he would do in Tel­manove, Yuriy snapped: “Again, that is none of your busi­ness!”

Be­cause of his yelling, other Krem­lin­backed fighters in­ter­vened.

“Can’t you just see he doesn’t want to say?” asked a sep­a­ratist-fighter, his arm cov­ered in a ban­dage. He would not iden­tify him­self.

As the bus de­parted to Tel­manove, more pro-Rus­sian sep­a­ratists gath­ered to wish some of their com­rades good luck. Oth­ers were there to pre­vent the press from talk­ing to the sol­diers.

Even­tu­ally one Krem­lin-backed fighter said it was not a good idea to speak to them.

“They’re not from around here. It must be a shock if all of a sud­den they get asked so many ques­tions,” he said, in­tro­duc­ing him­self as Ro­man. He didn’t give his last name be­cause he was not au­tho­rized to speak to the press.

As the bus to Tel­manove de­parted, a group of Krem­lin-backed fighters de­cided to in­tim­i­date the Kyiv Post cor­re­spon­dent.

“If you claim to be a jour­nal­ist, then why are all Euro­peans ly­ing about the sit­u­a­tion here?” asked one of the fighters, a big and over­weight man in his early 40s.

He in­tro­duced him­self only as Arseniy. He didn’t an­swer the ques­tion about whether he is a Rus­sian from Rus­sia. “That is ir­rel­e­vant for now,” he said. Arseniy took the jour­nal­ist to a nearby check­point. Some 10 other armed Krem­lin-backed sep­a­ratists were present there, some check­ing cars and some eat­ing hot soup.

“We have found a provo­ca­teur,” Arseniy laughed as three men marched with their ri­fles to­wards the Kyiv Post cor­re­spon­dent.

“We all know that the me­dia say that the Rus­sian army is in our ter­rito- ry. But al­ways there has been a de­nial from our side. None of the in­ter­na­tional me­dia be­lieve that. So we con­sider them provo­ca­teurs,” Arseniy ex­plained.

Ques­tion­ing peo­ple in the sep­a­ratist-con­trolled Don­bas is seen as a provo­ca­tion that can get jour­nal­ists de­tained. Arseniy called his bosses. “We have caught an­other provoca- teur!” he kept shout­ing in his old Nokia phone.

Even­tu­ally, a big, black Jeep Grand Chero­kee drove up to the check­point car­ry­ing a few armed men. They brought the Kyiv Post cor­re­spon­dent to the sep­a­ratist-con­trolled se­cret ser­vice build­ing in cen­tral Donetsk, where Ukrainian pris­on­ers of war are held.

The armed man driv­ing the jeep in­tro­duced him­self as Mak­sim, a young guy in his early 20s.

“Let me ex­plain one thing. Rus­sians are in Donetsk, but they are vol­un­teers!” he yelled.

In­side the sep­a­ratist-seized se­cu­rity ser­vice build­ing, many cam­ou­flaged, armed men are present. It is be­lieved that dozens of pris­on­ers are held here.

Ac­cord­ing to one of the points in the bro­kered Minsk peace agree­ment, all hostages and pris­on­ers of war held in il­le­gal cap­tiv­ity were sup­posed to have been re­leased long ago.

It took six hours to con­vince the Krem­lin-backed fighters that ask­ing ques­tions is part of a jour­nal­ist’s job, even touchy ques­tions about the abun­dant ev­i­dence of Rus­sia in­volve­ment in the war.

Rus­sian cit­i­zen Arseniy Pavlov, bet­tern known as “Mo­torola,” stands in­side the de­stroyed Donetsk air­port on Feb. 26. Pavlov leads the Sparta Bat­tal­ion against Ukrainian forces in the yearold war. (AFP)

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