Russians in war zone do not like questions
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)