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#Chechens Loyal to #Russia Join #Separatists in Eastern #Ukraine

Separatists from the Chechen Separatists from the Chechen “Death” battalion stand in a line during a training exercise in the territory controlled by the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, eastern Ukraine, on Dec. 8, 2014.  Maxim Shemetov / Reuters.


Chanting “Allahu Akbar” (God is great), dozens of armed men in camouflage uniforms from Russia’s republic of Chechnya train in snow in a camp in the rebel-held east Ukraine.

They say their “Death” unit fighting Ukrainian forces has 300 people, mostly former state security troops in the mainly Muslim region where Moscow waged two wars against Islamic insurgents and which is now run by a Kremlin-backed strongman.

Seasoned Chechen fighters, whose combat experience often dates back to the 1994-96 and 1999-2000 wars, fight on both sides in east Ukraine, adding to the complexity of a conflict in which the West says Russian troops are involved.

“This is volunteer battalion Death,” a deputy commander of the group who only gave his nickname “Stinger” said at a former tourist camp the unit turned into their base outside of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk in east Ukraine.

“There are about three hundred of us in the Donetsk region. We have battlefield experience ranging from 10 to 20 years starting from 1995,” said the man in his 40s, a pistol fixed to his thigh.

He had a little Chechen flag in green, white and red stitched to his cap and spoke Russian with a strong Caucasus accent. Several cars with Chechen registration plates were parked in the camp.

Russia sides with the rebels in east Ukraine but denies sending serving troops to reinforce them. Some fighters on the ground admit to being former Russian servicemen, or “on leave.” Moscow has said any Russians fighting there are volunteers.

In Chechnya, two brutal wars quashed the separatist insurgents but unrest is still simmering.

Gunmen attacked a police post and captured a building in the regional capital of Grozny last week and at least 20 people, including 10 police and 10 suspected militants, were killed in gunbattles that ensued.

Violence erupted just hours before President Vladimir Putin was due to give a major speech in Moscow, a symbolic challenge to the man credited for the Russian army victory in the second Chechen war.

Reestablishing Moscow’s control over Chechnya and then introducing an uneasy peace under Ramzan Kadyrov, whom critics and rights campaigners accuse of heavy-handed tactics and massive rights violations, is seen by Putin’s supporters as a key achievement.

In Ukraine, Stinger’s men are sworn enemies with another group of Chechens who fight on the opposite side of the conflict and support the Kiev government troops.

Some of them have Western passports after fleeing Russia following the two wars. They say Moscow is theirs and Kiev’s joint enemy and that Chechnya is occupied by Russia.

Stinger, however, said Chechnya was being destroyed in the wars of the 1990s and became peaceful again only when some local leaders allied with the Kremlin.

Some of those in the Death unit said they had initially fought against Russia in Chechnya but later switched sides and were amnestied by a former Kremlin-allied head of the region, Ramzan’s father, Akhmed Kadyrov.

“Now we are [former] soldiers and officers of the Russian army, of Russian special forces, mostly veterans of war campaigns,” Stinger said.

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The Moscow Times.

#Ukraine: Discontent With #Poroshenko Growing In East

Prisoners of Russia’s war against Ukraine Ukrainian prisoners from the volunteer Donbas Battalion are guarded by members of the Kremlin-supported Donetsk People’s Republic as they walk on a street of the eastern Ukrainian city of Ilovaisk, controlled by the Kremlin-backed insurgents, on Dec. 4.Prisoners of Russia’s war against Ukraine Ukrainian prisoners from the volunteer Donbas Battalion are guarded by members of the Kremlin-supported Donetsk People’s Republic as they walk on a street of the eastern Ukrainian city of Ilovaisk, controlled by the Kremlin-backed insurgents, on Dec. 4. The Ukrainian prisoners of war are returning to prison from their daily worked duties to repair war damages. Some 400 Ukrainians are believed to be still held hostage by the separatists as Ukraine and Russia are renewing talk against of a cease-fire in the war that has claimed more than 5,000 lives since Russia instigated the fighting in April, a month after invading and annexing Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. The economies of both nations are expected to face recession next year as the economic costs of the war continue to mount. © AFP

Oleg Sukhov, Kyiv Post+.

LISICHANSK, Ukraine  – Frustration with the Kyiv central government is getting almost palpable in some places in eastern Ukraine. Nowhere is this discontent felt more than in cities where a military campaign with no clear objectives, combined with lack of reforms and outreach by the central government, have brought on an eerie anxiety.

Vitaly Shvedov, former head of the anti-terrorist operation’s headquarters in Lisichansk, an industrial city in Luhansk Oblast, is angry with the aimlessness of the central authorities and says the war in the east should stop being called an “anti-terrorist operation” by the government.

“The anti-terrorist operation ended when the first artillery shell was fired. You can’t cure a disease if you don’t diagnose it correctly,” Shvedov said. “But now people think the war is somewhere on another planet.”

The war in Ukraine’s two eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk — once home to nearly 15 percent of Ukraine’s population — has been going on since March, when administrative buildings were taken over by teams of Kremlin-backed separatists. As the Russian-led forces continued to advance, Ukraine pushed back and eventually went on the offensive.

A Ukrainian serviceman fires a cannon close to the destroyed Donetsk airport, which remains the epicenter of fierce fighting, in the eastern provincial capital of Donetsk on Dec. 2A Ukrainian serviceman fires a cannon close to the destroyed Donetsk airport, which remains the epicenter of fierce fighting, in the eastern provincial capital of Donetsk on Dec. 2. © AFP

That attack was halted by the end of August, when Russia moved its regular troops to the Donbas and intensified arms supplies, leading to the massacre in Illovaisk that killed hundreds of Ukrainian troops and prompted the Sept. 5 cease-fire in Minsk that Russia has violated repeatedly.

“The offensive did not stop on its own. It was stopped administratively,” Shvedov said.
Shvedov said that Poroshenko could have continued the offensive, especially if martial law and total mobilization had been introduced.

“When Lisichansk was freed (by the Ukrainian army in July), Luhansk was almost empty, there were just 200 insurgents there,” he said, arguing that separatists’ resources were meager. Instead, the provincial capital of Luhansk has now been under separatist control for months.

Shvedov says Poroshenko bowed to Western pressure to halt the offensive because America and the European Union want a lengthy conflict that would waste Russia’s resources. Shvedov believes Ukraine should go on the offensive again.

Currently there are no more than 10,000 Russian troops in eastern Ukraine, and the Kremlin is unlikely to move “tens of thousands” of troops there and does not have resources for such a large-scale war, Shvedov said.

He said information that Russia had to staff some of its units in Donbas with cadets is proof of the poor state of its military.

However, Oleksandr Rozmaznin, acting head of the personnel department of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, said that there are 32,400 fighters in Donbas now altogether, including up to 10,000 from the Russian army, according to estimates by the general staff. “The rest are mercenaries and members of the so-called illegal paramilitary groups,” he said at a briefing on Dec. 4.
Vladislav Seleznyov, a spokesman for the government anti-terrorist operation’s headquarters, disagreed with Shvedov.

“To fulfill military tasks, one must have necessary human and other resources,” he said. “When Russian regular troops entered Ukraine (in August), the ratio that would allow Ukraine to free occupied territories was disrupted.”

Seleznyov said it would be incorrect to talk about a Ukrainian offensive now because the country is strictly adhering to the Sept. 5 Minsk cease-fire agreement.
Shevdov also accused Poroshenko of compromising too eagerly with the Kremlin.

He sees this as a result of a pact that Poroshenko has with the country’s former top officials from the Party of Regions once led by ousted President Viktor Yanukovych.
“Poroshenko allows them to keep their capital and positions and they, in exchange, resolve the Russian problem,” he says.

Shvedov tried to provide some counter-balance to that policy by running in the Oct. 26 parliamentary election in the Lisichansk constituency. He lost to Serhiy Dunayev, an incumbent who belonged to the Party of Regions.

Local media had reported that Dunayev, a former mayor, in an address to the Lisichansk city council, called for “help from Russian brothers” and said that it was only temporary that the Ukrainian government controls the oblast.

Vitaly ShvedovVitaly Shvedov.

Moreover, he was accused of co-organizing a convention of local mayors in the region, which was presided over by the then head of Luhansk People’s Republic Valeriy Bolotov.

Shvedov said that Dunayev’s victory in the district was allegedly fraudulent, and sent a complaint to Poroshenko about violations, only to see it forwarded to the prosecutor general’s office. No investigation has yet been opened and that’s another one of Shvedov’s frustrations.

“There will be no order without publicized punishment,” he said. The Central Elections Commission and the Prosecutor General’s Office did not respond to requests for comment.

Shvedov also said that Lisichansk’s city council had recognized the Luhansk People’s Republic but none of its members had been punished. He said infiltration of pro-Russian officials is massive in the local government, and needs to be addressed.

A possible way out of this situation is martial law and direct rule in the area, with military governors appointed instead of mayors, Shvedov argued. “War requires centralization of government,” he added.

Kyiv Post.

#Ukraine: #Rebel leader admits that #residential areas used as cover

Alexander Khodakovskiy, commander of the Vostok battalion, a rebel unit, speaks in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014.Alexander Khodakovskiy, commander of the Vostok battalion, a rebel unit, speaks in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Balint Szlanko)

Balint Szlanko, The Associated Press.

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — A top separatist commander in eastern Ukraine admitted Thursday that rebels have mounted rocket attacks against government troops from within residential areas but says the practice is being halted.

Vostok Battalion commander Alexander Khodakovsky said fighters using residential neighborhoods as for cover for shelling attacks will now face arrest, but he denied that the practice was commonplace.

“If there are one-off instances, believe me when I say that we will tackle this very strongly,” Khodakovsky said.

A large number of homes in the eastern city of Donetsk, a main rebel stronghold, have been hit by rockets believed to be fired by government troops responding to attacks by pro-Russian rebels. Separatists have accused government forces of attacking civilians indiscriminately.

A video surfaced online this week showing rebels firing an intense barrage from a Grad multiple rocket launcher parked next to several high-rise apartment buildings. Ukrainian officials cited the amateur footage as evidence that separatists were using civilians as human shields.

Outgoing rocket fire is heard daily in the center of Donetsk, a city that once held 1 million people before hundreds of thousands fled the fighting. Those attacks were especially intense Wednesday.

A cease-fire took effect in September but it has not halted daily fighting in some key areas. The U.N. says more than 4,300 people have been killed in eastern Ukraine since the conflict began in mid-April. Ukraine has accused Russia of supplying the rebels, a charge Russia denies.

Ukrainian security officials said Monday that a truce had been forged in the bitter fight for Donetsk airport, which remains under partial government control. Explosions can still heard from that area, however.

Khodakovsky accused the government of failing to keep its side of the bargain by constantly resupplying the airport troops.

“For all combat operations to end, the garrison there should abandon the positions that they hold,” he said.

Separately, international monitors said Ukrainian troops and separatists in the neighboring Luhansk region had agreed to a new cease-fire beginning Friday along the line of contact.

In a phone call on Thursday, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko that the U.S. and Europe would continue to provide money to help Ukraine stabilize its economy, Biden’s office said.

It also said they discussed “the fact that Russia and its proxies continue to block delivery of humanitarian aid from entering the conflict-affected regions of eastern Ukraine, and that Russia’s actions in Ukraine have created a lawless environment where separatists are robbing pensioners and other citizens of their social benefits payments.”

(Peter Leonard in Kiev, Ukraine, and Josh Lederman in Washington contributed to this report).

The Associated Press.

Fleeing #war and crumbling #economy, Ukrainians flock to #Europe

  • Ukrainians leaving to find jobs and to avoid conscription.
  • Biggest group of non-EU citizens given residency permits in 2013.
  • Gangs in Poland, Baltics selling illegal documents.
  • Many migrants spend years apart from their children.

Children hold candles in the cellar in Donetsk on Dec. 2.Children hold candles in the cellar in Donetsk on Dec. 2. © AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER KHUDOTEPLY

Liisa Tuhkanen and Guy Faulconbridge, Reuters.

LONDON — Andriy left his home town in western Ukraine earlier this year on a journey that brought him through the hands of shady traders in Poland to one of the world’s booming markets for illegal immigrantsLondon.

Fleeing the strife of war with Russian-backed fighters and a shattered economy, Andriy is following a path similar to one taken by thousands of his fellow Ukrainians who have travelled either eastwards to Russia or westwards to the European Union.

“I don’t want to fight in any war,” said Andriy, who spoke on the condition neither his surname nor home town would be published because of fear that he could be deported.

The nineteen-year-old, speaking in Russian because his English is limited, added: “I don’t want to die – I want to live. I just want a normal life.”

More than 4,300 combatants and civilians have been killed in eastern Ukraine since pro-Russian rebels seized border regions in April. Nearly a million people have fled the area, with a surge in the past two months.

Most have fled to other areas of Ukraine but some have gone further afield, with thousands seeking a new life in Russia and, increasingly, Europe.

According to several legal and illegal migrants who spoke to Reuters, many are coming via gangs in Poland, the Baltics and Ukraine that offer fake or doctored EU documents for several thousand dollars, plus the option of transport to Western Europe where spot document checks are extremely rare.

The nature of illegal immigration means it yields little data but legal flows show Ukrainians were the biggest single group of non-EU citizens granted residency permits by EU members in 2013.

According to Eurostat, 236,700 Ukrainians were granted residency permits by EU states last year, and 171,800 of those permits were granted in Poland, one of the main routes for Ukrainians to travel to Western Europe.

The flows abroad are modest compared to the exodus during the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union or the Jewish emigration that helped populate New York’s Brighton Beach, but stories such as Andriy’s give a sense of the turmoil sowed by the crisis.

For accompanying graphics click here:


Some men are driven to leave by the fear of being called up into the poorly equipped Ukrainian army that is fighting the Russian-backed rebels.

For many other migrants, finding acceptably paid work is the overriding reason to travel.

Their voices are silent in European discourse, but illegal migrants such as Andriy are cast by some politicians as the enemies of hardworking European voters.

The migrants thrive in a taxless underworld that is flush with demand and cash: Andriy has no intention of returning to Ukraine because demand for his decorating and repair services is high in London’s booming property market.

The cash he can earn in Britain – often more than several hundred pounds a week – far outstrips what he could earn in Ukraine’s near-bankrupt $135 billion economy.

For some Ukrainians the turmoil stoked by the Russian-backed insurgents is the final straw in a wider disenchantment with the day-to-day reality of corrupt elites, economic collapse and violence that has followed the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Popular destinations for Ukrainians include Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal. Britain’s attractiveness is dampened by more stringent border controls than other EU countries.

Reuters has seen one of the doctored documents used as identification by migrants, who said Poland was the door to freedom for many.

“Lots of people go illegally,” said a Ukrainian woman living legally in Poland, who did not want to be identified. “Lots of people go through Poland… it’s where Europe starts.”


With the correct documents, a Ukrainian living in the European Union could legally seek work, pay tax, open a bank account and travel home.

Without the correct documents, migrants in Europe are forced to work around the law.

As a result many spend years apart from their children who benefit from their earnings but not their presence.

“Migrants come for a better life but there are some heartbreaking situations: Mothers who have left their children in Ukraine and communicate by Skype,” said Andy Hunder, director of the Ukrainian Institute in London.

“They feed their children but to feed them they must leave them,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Christian Lowe and Wiktor Szary in Warsaw and Aija Krtaine in Riga; Editing by Sophie Walker)


#Psychiatric patients struggle to get through #Ukraine conflict

People hold candles in the cellar in Donetsk on Dec. 2, 2014.People hold candles in the cellar in Donetsk on Dec. 2, 2014. © AFP

Maria Tsvetkova, Reuters.

SLOVYANOSERBSK, Ukraine, Dec 3 (Reuters) – Anna Tsvirinko takes her hand out of the jacket she is wearing over her nurse’s uniform to keep warm and points at a dirty mattress in the unheated ward of the Ukrainian psychiatric hospital where she works.

“That’s where a woman who died last night was lying,” she says, estimating she was the 50th patient to die at the hospital since the conflict between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces began in April.

“If there is no light when I’m on duty and a patient dies I go in with a candle or a torch. I’m the only nurse for six wards. I need to wash and dress others but there is no light and no water. What can I do?”

The Psycho-Neurological Hospital outside the village of Slovyanoserbsk is caught in the crossfire in separatist-held territory about 30 km (20 miles) northwest of the rebel stronghold of Luhansk and near the frontline.

There is a strong smell of urine in the ward of a dozen beds. Elderly women lie under blankets, wearing headscarves to keep warm.

Younger patients in their 30s and 40s walk along dark corridors or sit on the floor. Some seem unable to speak and one woman cries on a bench by the window.

“She wants to go home”, Tsvirinko says.

Medical workers say the head of the hospital was killed by a shell in Luhansk and about half the 180 staff have fled. There were 400 patients when fighting began, they say.


When Reuters visited the hospital this week, it had no heating, no electricity, no running water and meals were being cooked outside on an open fire.

Artillery rounds could be heard a few kilometres (miles) away. Patients helped two women cooks to chop firewood.

“We wake up, wash and then go and help our cooks. It’s cold to sleep at nights. We sleep in our clothes,” said Vyacheslav Shavkin, one of the less seriously ill patients.

On good days, the hospital has electricity, the cooks say.

When temperatures dropped in November, the number of deaths in the hospital rose quickly. Medical records show 22 patients died in a month.

The latest, on the night of Nov. 30, were Olga Beletskaya, 57, who had infantile cerebral palsy, and Irina Taranskaya, 68, who suffered from encephalopathy, or disease of the brain.

“They died because it was cold and we had nothing to treat them with,” Tsvirinko said.

Nurses said the hospital was running out of medicine. As a result, the patients were more aggressive than usual.

“They cry, they go crazy and you can’t do anything for them,” nurse Svetlana Nechvolod said.

Medical personnel and patients say they have not received their wages or pensions for more than six months.

At least one shell hit the backyard of the hospital a week ago. But the conflict is not what frightens them most.

“The most important thing is that everyone doesn’t forget us,” said Dmitry Shevshenko, a 33-year-old patient.

(Editing by Timothy Heritage and Giles Elgood).

Daily Mail Online.


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