In Ukraine flashpoint cities, residents doubt lasting peace

6th September 2014, Comments 0 comments

In flashpoint cities of eastern Ukraine, uneasy residents voiced doubt Saturday that the ceasefire deal would bring lasting peace after five months of devastating conflict that has ruined the lives of so many.

"Nothing has actually changed," 38-year-old Vladyslav Lobsin told AFP in the strategic port city of Mariupol, where residents had been bracing for a rebel onslaught until the guns were ordered silent.

"Even Kuchma said the battle will continue. Nothing is going to be stopped," he said, referring to Kiev's representative at Friday's ceasefire talks in Minsk, former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma.

"The experts think it's not a ceasefire but just a pause for reinforcements and to avoid panic among civilians."

Rebels had moved to within kilometres of Mariupol over recent days in a lightning counter-offensive south of the main rebel-held city of Donetsk that analysts said appeared to be aimed at carving out a land corridor between the Russian border and the annexed Crimean peninsula.

The West accused Russia of sending in troops and heavy weapons to back the new push by the rebels, who until last week had been losing ground to Kiev's forces in the east.

Natalia, a 54-year-old professor staying with friends in Mariupol after fleeing Donetsk, said she would never return to the city while it remained in insurgent hands.

"It's impossible to trust them (the rebels), they are bandits," she said. "(Ukrainian forces) can only fight them and push them back. There is no other way."

Both the Ukrainian military and rebel leaders accused the other of breaking the ceasefire soon after it took effect on Friday at 1500 GMT.

A leading member of the parliament of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic said Ukrainian units had launched several missiles on the outskirts of the city.

National Security and Defence Council spokesman Andriy Lysenko retorted that Kiev was "rigidly" implementing the ceasefire and that there had been a "series of provocations" by separatist fighters.

Dmytro Yarosh, the leader of the nationalist Right Sector paramilitary group, which played a role in the Kiev protests that led to the ouster of the Kremlin-backed president in February, said his volunteer militias would obey the ceasefire orders.

"But at the same time, we reserve the right to return fire."

AFP correspondents said the overall situation remained calm in Donetsk, which has borne the brunt of some of the conflict's heaviest fighting.

Donetsk was besieged by Ukrainian forces for weeks, depriving the city of essential supplies and sending thousands of people fleeing, until the troops moved away in the face of a sudden rebel counter-offensive across the southeast.

"I hope that the truce will last. If you had lived in my apartment during all these bombardments, you would understand how happy I am that there is a ceasefire," said Donetsk resident Vasyl.

He said he would be celebrating his 50th birthday on Sunday "if I'm still alive".

- 'How can we live?' -

According to an AFP toll compiled from UN and government figures, the fighting has killed nearly 2,800 people since Ukraine launched a massive offensive against the insurgents in mid-April. The violence has forced at least half a million from their homes.

Dozens of towns now stand in ruins and once-powerful factories and coal mines that form the backbone of Ukraine's economy have ground to a halt.

Ali, 24, a medical student from Iraq, said he returned to Donetsk on Friday after hearing that "everything was back to normal" after the ceasefire.

"I like Donetsk and I want to continue to live here and continue my studies. They have promised that classes will resume in October."

But in the town of Yasynuvata, a rail hub around 30 kilometres (20 miles) north of Donetsk, residents who have spent weeks sheltering from the bombardments in a college basement were pessimistic.

"How can we live like this? How can we even think the Ukrainian army is liberating us?" said a middle-aged woman named Tatyana.

"What is this freedom? Houses are destroyed, we have nowhere to go, nowhere to live."

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© 2014 AFP

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