Kramatorsk, in eastern Ukraine,city self-defence forces, May 2, 2014
Self-defense forces in the anti-Kiev stronghold ofSlavyanskare Ukrainians, not Russians, who distrust the new regime and the Western powers that support it, New York Times reporters have discovered. The forces also said they are not being paid to fight.
Two New York Times reporters have spent a week in the city ofSlavyanskin easternUkraine, talking to members of the self-defense forces. The journalists visited self-defense checkpoints and observed the forces as they battled Ukrainian troops amid a military assault on the city on Friday.
The resistance fighters of the 12th Company, part of the People’s Self-Defense of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, deny claims made by Kiev and its Western sponsors that Russia or private tycoons are paying them to fight.
“This is not a job,” one of the activists, Dmitry told the NYT reporters. “It is a service.”
Armed with dated weapons, the self-defense activists said they would have bought new weapons if they had financial support. The NYT journalists reported seeing weapons from the 1980s and 1990s in checkpoints and warehouses.
The activists explained that they purchased some of their weaponry from corrupt Ukrainian soldiers, while taking others from seized police buildings or confiscating them from captured Ukrainian armored vehicles.
“Much of their stock was identical to the weapons seen in the hands of Ukrainian soldiers and Interior Ministry Special Forces troops at government positions outside the city,” the NYT reporters said in anarticle published on Saturday.
“These included 9-millimeter Makarov pistols, Kalashnikov assault rifles, and a few Dragunov sniper rifles, RPK light machine guns and portable antitank rockets, including some with production stamps from the 1980s and early 1990s.”
The head ofSlavyanskself-defense, Yury, also chuckled at claims made byKievauthorities and the West that Russians are fighting side by side with them.
“We have no Muscovites here,” Yury told the journalists. “I have experience enough.”
Many of the Company’s 119 members, who range in age from their 20s to their 50s, have served in the Soviet or Ukrainian infantry, airborne, special forces, or air-defense units, the reporters said. Yury, in his mid 50s, noted that his experience includes four years as a Soviet small-unit commander inKandahar,Afghanistanin the 1980s.
“There was no clear Russian link in the 12th Company’s arsenal,” the reporters said.
While visiting checkpoints for more than a week, the NYT reporters said they saw much support for the self-defense forces from local residents, who primary provided the activists with food.
“To the guys in Kiev, we are separatists and terrorists,” Yury said. “But to the people here, we are defenders and protectors.”
The people of eastern Ukraine, who show “passionate distrust” of the coup-appointed authorities, felt threatened afterKiev proposed to strip the Russian language – which most of the region's population speaks – of its official status in February.
“That was the turning point,” said Maksim, one of theSlavyansk activists.
For Ukrainians in the east, many of whom have close ties with Russiaand families across the border, the move was a “cultural assault.”
“All spoke of disgust with the interim authorities in Kiev,” the NYT reporters noted in their article.
The eastern Ukrainians have made up their minds, Yury told the journalists, adding that they are demanding a referendum and will go to war in the case of a refusal. He added that people in the region are puzzled by the West's support of the coup inKievand blatant disregard for eastern Ukrainians' opinions and rights.
“Why did America support those acts, but is in opposition to ours?” Maksim, a young former paratrooper asked. “These are the contradictions of the West.”