Tragedy of Donbass: The Saddest Episode in Modern History

by Kennedy Applebaum
December 20, 2014

I remember the photos from early May 2014 of the people of the Donetsk and Lugansk Oblasts going to the polls to vote for independence. These were ordinary innocent Europeans, looking exactly like modern educated Americans, except that they appeared happier and wore brighter, more colorful clothing. These optimistic citizens voted some 90% in favor of independence from the newly formed coup regime in Kiev. At the time, I thought these wholesome wonderful people would surely be heard. No one could possibly harm them.

Then came that dark day when photos began to appear, pictures of truckloads of GRAD rockets aimed at the homes of these very same people, just outside the health resort of Slavyansk. Some said these were the missiles with which Kiev was going to kill the people of Donbass. I could not believe it. Then, almost upon the eve of Poroshenko’s electoral victory, the GRADs began firing on the city. The Ukrainian troops that manned them did not aim at local militia checkpoints. No, they fired at the clinics and hospitals of Slavyansk, indiscriminately killing civilians, having been told by their commanders that Slavyansk had been evacuated, when in fact the majority of the population remained.

The events were clear and shocking. Civilians were being deliberately massacred by the Ukrainian army and its independent warlord battalions who fought under the orders of Kiev. It was the night of June 5, when many watchers around the world began to realize the massacre that was unfolding. This was the historic night Gleb Bazov posted on Twitter his heartbreaking poem, a lament of shattered faith, of shock and grief that I am able to reproduce in part, and will call:

The Shattering Night of the Tragedy of Slavyansk

My relatives, broken along the line of conflict. But right now a feeling of betrayal by the Russian government. A feeling/
that, beneath all the emotions, my mind is telling me is mistaken, but still a feeling of betrayal. My analytical mind understands/
the strategy, the geopolitical constraints, the painful struggle among Kremlin’s elite to find resolve, a common solution, to take/
the necessary step to protect life. By my heart is refusing to accept the wait amid this horror. There is but one defining,/
characteristic of Russian civilization, the root of what it is to be Russian: fairness. And observing the cannibalistic actions of/
the Nazi Banderite regime makes my entire being scream against the unfairness. I do not cry, hardly ever. I cannot remember the/
last period of my life when tears of anger, voiceless, silent anger came upon me so frequently, every time I read or listen. I am/
betrayed by the the Russian government, though my mind tells me otherwise. If I were there, I would have a weapon in my hands. And/
I have never held a weapon, never shot one, and have always refused violence as a solution. This crisis strikes to the very core./
There is no other way forward but to take a stand. And all be damned. If we don’t save the helpless what are we good for./
Remembering horror of Nanjing, Stalingrad, concentration camps, brings you and me, us all together. Fighting it is what unites us./
And thank you, thank you again. For responding. For a minute there i felt like I was screaming in the middle of a desert. No longer./

[Editor’s note. From this lament came the sentiment “No limit to our anger”]

The sitrep news on that night of June 5, 2014 carried this item: “At 9:00 the enemy commenced massive shelling of Semyonovka and the industrial zone in its vicinity using all manner of artillery and mortar fire. Among equipment used were 122mm, 152mm and 240mm mortars/artillery pieces as well as GRAD rockets. Mass shelling continued until 9:00 and has been resuming, periodically, to present time. At 10:30, the enemy advanced from the direction of Seleznyovka with tanks, APCs and infantry and attacked positions of Donbass Militia in Semyonovka. Our troops are taking action to repel enemy attacks.”

The issue was clear cut: Kiev was deliberately slaughtering civilians in order to create terror for strategic ends, which is the technical definition of the word “terrorism”. Their strategic ends were to force Donbass to “surrender” to the coup regime. Yet, we assumed when Poroshenko stepped into office, he would order an end to the killing and begin negotiations. He even promised that Donetsk would be first city he visited. But it was not to be a friendly visit, and his promise acquired a sinister meaning. In reality, he “visited” Donetsk with ever more efficient killing machines and began slaughtering still more civilians. We began seeing unbearable photos of these same brightly-dressed educated Donbass people lying on the ground in pieces. Photos appeared of children holding signs, “Save Donbass People”. Then word came that the man who had taken these photos had himself been killed.

Igor Strelkov emerged as the great Russian volunteer commander who led a David-and-Goliath campaign to save the Donbass people from the Kiev post-coup regime. More and more evidence also emerged that the US was the main force behind the coup in the first place, and that America, a land that had represented hope for so many, and my own homeland to which I have no choice but be loyal, was supporting the murderous actions of the Ukrainian army. The atrocities mounted, a little girl in her Sunday best lying dead in the arms of her father, churches, schools and apartments shelled, while small defense battalions like Strelkov’s valiantly fought to ward off the enemy. This could not be happening, I thought.

But it was, and I had to accept it, and to somehow assimilate that my own country was behind this slaughter. In agony over the state of affairs, a Quemado Institute member composed in July a Ukraine Peace Proposal, based on the premise that the killing of Donbass people must end. [The full Peace Proposal is presented at the end of this article.] We believed this proposal met the needs of all sides of the conflict. On July 12, copies were urgently emailed to many prominent people, including Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, the French Foreign Ministry, the OSCE, Dieder Burkhalter, Bill Richardson, Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, The Saker, Ron Paul, and more. (The leadership in Donbass could not be reached, nor could the UN, the EU or the IMF.)

To the many copies sent, we received only three replies. Bill Richardson kindly said, “Thanks for your efforts.” The Saker, alas, declined to help. We had hoped he might pass the Proposal on to the leaders in Donbass, whom we could not reach; perhaps he was unable. But the most appalling response was that of Dieder Burkhalter. In a rather detailed but cold reply, he made it clear that the OSCE, of which he was acting head, fully supported Poroshenko’s peace plan (ie. the “plan” under which the massacres were being carried out) and that, in any event, nothing could happen until scheduled talks in September. September?? This was July, and people were dying daily. Peace could not wait. But worse, his response proved the OSCE had already decided to support Poroshenko, revealing that it was not a neutral body at all.

After that, the issues clouded. Rumors circulated about Strelkov, Kiev media blamed the civilian deaths on pro-Russians or even the Russians, as if they would kill their own people. The truth was censored from Twitter; prominent Twitter news sources simply disappeared. Conflicts arose within Novorossiya. And with the Minsk talks in September came the big “sellout”, when the winning and advancing NAF militia, now on the offensive and nearing Mariupol, was suddenly pulled back and stopped with the signing of the Minsk ceasefire.

After that, nothing was clear. The truth was impossible to find. And to this day, we at Quemado Institute cannot honestly say we know what is happening.

This is a copy of the Peace Proposal:

Ukraine Peace Proposal
(Preliminary Draft Condensed)
July 12, 2014

The killing of the Donbass people must end.

To peacefully end the Ukrainian conflict, the following terms must be met. This agreement requires the signatures of 1) Petro Poroshenko; 2) designated leaders of the proclaimed Donetsk Lugansk republic, 3) Vladimir Putin or delegate; and delegates of 4) NATO, 5) the EU, and 6) the IMF.

Key Points

The autonomous Donetsk Lugansk Region must be neutral.
Ukraine and foreign military must immediately withdraw.
Amnesty must be universal.
Existing contracts remain in force.
The IMF must comply regarding its loan requirements.
Delay must be avoided.
This agreement is self-enforcing.

1. Donetsk Lugansk must be designated an autonomous region within the nation of Ukraine. Autonomy must include 1) neutrality: neither NATO nor Russian military activities are allowed on Donetsk Lugansk soil; 2) a currency of choice; 3) control of airspace; 4) exemption from EU regulations; and 5) control of Russian border and trade.

Reason: The Kiev government fears that a fully independent Donetsk Lugansk would join the Russian Federation. This is unnacceptable to Kiev, the EU, and other factions with regional interests. Also, if Donetsk Lugansk is not given autonomy, the region’s leaders would continue the fight for independence. Moreover, if Donetsk Lugansk were not neutral, Russia might be unwilling to sign.

Key Point: The autonomous Donetsk Lugansk Region must be neutral.

2. Upon ratification of this Plan, all Ukraine military forces will withdraw from Donetsk Lugansk and a surrounding buffer zone. All military personnel will be allowed to exit the region unhindered. All military equipment now held by Donetsk Lugansk defense forces will remain in their possession. Donetsk Lugansk will retain a militia, authorized to act within its borders. Russian or foreign citizens active in the military conflict will exit Ukraine or lay down arms.

Reason: Ukraine military withdrawal will automatically result in a ceasefire, since there will no longer be two opposing sides in the region. The Donetsk Lugansk defense forces will keep their arms, both to ensure near term security, and to support a militia. If not, the Donetsk Lugansk leaders would be reluctant to sign this agreement.

Key Point: Ukraine and foreign military must immediately withdraw.

3. Neither Poroshenko nor his administration or armed forces shall be indicted for crimes related to the 2014 Ukraine military conflict. No person in Donetsk Lugansk nor anywhere else shall be indicted for terrorism or other crimes related to this conflict.

Reason: If Poroshenko’s government faced a threat of indictment for war crimes, he might not sign an agreement. If anyone in Donetsk Lugansk could be indicted for terrorism or other related crimes, they would have to keep fighting to protect their lives.

Key Point: Amnesty must be universal.

4. All preexisting corporate contracts affecting land within the Donetsk Lugansk Region must remain in force.

Reason: If oil or gas contracts or leases were nullified, this would be unacceptable to factions with major regional interests. These factions would then exert influence to stop ratification of the agreement.

Key Point: Existing contracts remain in force.

5. The IMF must not require that loans to the Kiev government be contingent on a fully unified Ukraine, but must be willing to honor a peace settlement with an autonomous Donetsk Lugansk.

Reason: if an IMF loan is contingent upon full unification, the Kiev government may see no choice but to keep fighting.

Key Point: The IMF must comply regarding its loan requirements.

6. The EU does not require Donetsk Lugansk to comply with regulations (see item 1).

7. NATO must not conduct military or other activities in Donetsk Lugansk (see item 2).

8. The Russian Federation must not conduct military activities in Donetsk Lugansk (see item 2).

9. Talks on reparations or referendums for other regions are separate from this agreement. This Plan is not contingent on reparations or the future status of any region other than Donetsk and Lugansk.

Reason: To address these complex issues here could delay ratification.

Key Point: Delay must be avoided.

10. This agreement is self enforcing. No foreign party will conduct peace keeping actions, and no region will enforce compliance on another region. This does not preclude the presence of neutral observers.

Reason: If foreign or domestic forces carried out peace keeping actions, this might exacerbate tensions and carry the risk of enlargement of the conflict. Each signatory acknowledges that compliance is in their best interests.

Key Point: This agreement is self-enforcing.

This Peace Plan expires (July 30, 2024).




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