A protester stands near the flag of Donetsk People’s Republic at the Mariupol City Council building.
Gaining entry into the towering regional administration here — seized nearly two months ago by local pro-Russian separatists and converted into their barricaded, trash-strewn headquarters — was fairly difficult.
Grubby, leather-skinned men with blunt weaponry would stop prospective visitors cold, sometimes denying entry even after being presented with official press credentials.
But last Friday, a day after a heavily armed, largely foreign fighting unit called the Vostok Battalion seized the premises and chased out many of its typically ragged inhabitants, few of the men at the door seemed to put up a fight.
Flashing press passes granted by the “People’s Republic of Donetsk,” reporters shuffled through easily.
Almost too easily.
That’s probably because a day earlier, something of an elaborate show had kicked off, partly aimed at casting this diplomatic no-man’s-land in a more disciplined and orderly — if not exactly wholesome — light.
For weeks, the hulking administration building, its façade obscured by junkyard barricades of tires, wood planks and barbed wire, was home to the disenfranchised, largely blue-collar masses that’d driven the protest movement here.
Inside the Soviet-era monolith, the corridors were scattered with broken furniture and festooned with anti-Kyiv slogans and crude denouncements of both Ukrainian and Western leaders.
The repulsive stench of sweat and trash wafted throughout.
It was the separatists’ answer to the sprawling barricades and tent encampments of Maidan, the nerve center of the months-long anti-government protests in Kyiv.
But those days were apparently over.
On Thursday, the Vostok Battalion fighters appeared — masked and heavy weapons drawn — and cleared most of them out of the building within hours, a move leaders said was aimed at rooting out looters and other ruffians that had plagued their ranks.
View from the 11th floor of the Donetsk rebel HQ — post-barricades.
That evening, rebel authorities invited journalists inside, offering what they said was proof of their former comrades’ misdeeds: reportedly, water bottles, cigarettes and small snacks, all looted from a local supermarket as the battle for the airport raged on nearby.
“It was apparent that there needed to be a firm crackdown,” said Alexander, a security guard for the rebel leadership, told GlobalPost during a visit to the building the following day.
No longer, he added, would it be acceptable for protesters to roam around in masks with baseball bats.
The building, Alexander went on, would now serve strictly as a government headquarters, not a hang out spot for unwashed protesters. Continue reading