03/03/2022, 09.42
UKRAINE-RUSSIA
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The Donbass forgotten in invasion of Ukraine

by Vladimir Rozanskij

It was the point of tension between Kiev and Moscow before the Russian attack. Since the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, Ukraine has garnered a true sense of natonal unity. Ukrainian army cleansed of out-of-control militias in Donbass. The Kremlin will not easily achieve victory.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - The war is raging all over Ukraine, Russian troops are storming the big cities and heading for Kiev, to finally crush the Ukrainian capital with the entire leadership barricaded in led by President Volodymyr Zelenskyj. At this point the fate of the Donbass is of little concern, despite only a week ago being flagged as the critical point of confrontation between Russians and Ukrainians, while in reality it has always been a peripheral area used by the Russians as a pretext to justify the war and the invasion of the whole country.

The Donbass region has a certain symbolic value, because it harks back to the time of Russia's liberation from the Tatar yoke in 1380, when the prince of Moscow managed to achieve the first victory over the Asian invaders at the battle of Kulikovo, near the Don river. That is why Prince Dmitry was called "Donskoj", and the whole Don region has remained a sacred place symbolic of the courage and identity of Holy Russia rising as a nation called to save the whole world.

It is not surprising that such a mystical idea lies at the heart of the Russian offensive in the land of the decisive confrontation between East and West, from medieval times to the present day. Yet it seemed that this was a 'defensive operation' focused on the Donbass, tormented by eight years of 'hybrid war', and that Tsar Putin 'the Terrible' could be content to associate the republics of Lugansk and Donetsk with the annexed Crimea. It had already happened 14 years ago with Georgia's pro-Russian republics of Abkhazia and North Ossetia.

In Meduza, humanitarian activist Varvara Pakhomenko retraced the steps of these long years in the area of the mouth of the Don, where the Donets tributary, which gives its name to one of the two separatist republics, also flows. For eight years the hybrid war has alternated between moments of great tension and relatively quiet periods, and in February of this year everything seemed fairly stable, until Putin launched the campaign of "de-Nazification and de-Militarisation" of the region and the whole of Ukraine, as it is officially called by the Kremlin, which forbids the press from talking about "war" or "invasion".

The Russian recognition of the independence of Donetsk and Lugansk on 24 February, which coincided with the start of Moscow's offensive, has left all the inhabitants of the area rather perplexed: what borders did Putin and the Duma's proclamation refer to? For years, the two regions have been disputed between the local and Ukrainian authorities, who accuse each other of being 'occupiers'. It was clear that the uncertainty of the borders led directly to a widening of military action, even though no one, not even in the Donbass, was thinking of a total invasion.

Parkhomenko says he has worked with the Ukrainian military in recent years on behalf of various humanitarian organisations, with training in international humanitarian law and the defence of the peaceful population. "I have seen how this army has changed, it has become much more professional and motivated, and I don't think the Russians will easily come to victory," Varvara explains, "the whole Ukrainian army has rotated through the Donbass more than once."

Since 2017, the various volunteer battalions have been integrated into Ukraine's official armed forces, and a very sophisticated coordination system has been designed to prepare for the worst. The fighters who carried out spontaneous and out-of-control actions in the Donbass in recent years have been detained and called to account in court, and it does not seem likely that the Russians will actually succeed in taking control of the territory.

In these eight years Ukraine has learned to feel like a truly united nation, something that had not been possible in eight centuries of history, or even in the 20 years following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Donbass is a highly urbanised and advanced region; although pro-Russian sentiments prevail, it is by no means a foregone conclusion, however, that it will lie quietly in Mother Russia's embrace, as was the case with Crimea. The events of the war may come to a favourable conclusion for Moscow, but the lives of the Ukrainians will not be in their hands.

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