Consular assistance in Russia

Russia is currently at war in Ukraine. Are you in Russia and need consular assistance? Find your country’s embassy in Russia on EmbassyPages.

Home News Pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine say ‘Nyet’ to accord

Pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine say ‘Nyet’ to accord

Published on 18/04/2014

High-flying diplomacy in Geneva might have forged an accord meant to soothe the war fever threatening Ukraine.

But the pro-Moscow separatist insurgents on the ground in eastern Ukraine, where they occupy 10 towns, are having none of it.

Terms hammered out by Russia and the West calling on them to disarm and leave the seized municipal buildings and police stations are being met with a firm “Nyet”. They are not budging, they say, until their demands are met.

In Kramatorsk, one of the towns under their control, where they occupy the town hall and are camped outside a nearby military base still held by Kiev, the rebels stressed their defiance.

“I’m prepared to stay as long as it takes, until absolutely everything is fixed, meaning until we have achieved the establishment of a federation,” one separatist, who wore a baseball cap and gave his first name as Artur, told AFP.

For this former advertising agency manager, and a half-dozen other young men guarding the entrance to the town hall — barricaded with sandbags and tyres — ‘federation’ means autonomy. With maybe an option to join the Russian Federation, as the southern peninsula of Crimea did last month.

Inside the building, an unknown number of his comrades are holed up in two rooms. Not far away stands an imposing statue of Lenin.

Kramatorsk lies 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the main eastern city of Donetsk, in Ukraine’s industrial heartland — a Russian-speaking territory which exports coal, metals and chemicals mostly across the border to Russia.

On the road between the two towns are several roadblocks through which pro-Russian militants were checking traffic.

For Artur, the future of his region lies with Russia.

“I have absolutely no confidence in Kiev,” where an untested Western-backed government has been installed after the ouster of pro-Kremlin president Viktor Yanukovych two months ago, he said.

Not that he wants to see Yanukovych return.

“Apart from Vladimir Vladimirovich (Putin), I don’t see anyone worthy of being our president,” Artur said. As a result, he won’t be voting in a May 25 election to choose Ukraine’s next head of state.

– Stand-off at base –

Asked about the terms of the accord requiring “illegal armed groups” to disarm, Artur shrugged. “There are no terrorists here. We don’t have guns.”

Despite his assertion though, cameras and journalists have caught groups of well-armed men leading the assaults on the public buildings in the towns.

And on one barricade next to Artur was scrawled: “It’s high time someone puts a bullet in (Prime Minister Arseniy) Yatsenyuk’s head”. Another bit of graffiti made anti-Western sentiment clear: “Hands off, USA”.

A few kilometres away, a handful of other pro-Russian “self-defence volunteers” were keeping a vigil outside a Ukrainian military air base where helicopter troop carriers were noisily landing. A cut-down tree barred the dirt road leading to the facility.

“We’re staying to the end, right until the situation ends in a peaceful way,” said a young man, Dima.

He said he works in a factory in the region and had been camped outside the base for the past week and a half.

Dismissing accusations from Kiev and the West that Russia was masterminding the insurgency, Dima said he was not armed and receives “no orders from anyone”.

In a sign of stalemate, though, he and his fellow rebels attempted to “negotiate” with a Ukrainian officer at the base, who told them he would not hesitate to open fire if they tried to force their way inside.

Lukas Walther, a Swiss observer with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) who has been in the region for two weeks and was near the facility with two colleagues, told AFP that the situation in the east was complicated by the fact that “not everybody is aware” of the accord struck in Geneva.

But even where the agreement was known, it was evident there was so far little inclination for the rebels to accept its terms. For now, at least, the impasse looked set to remain.