Vladislav Kopatsky, a 24-year-old Ukrainian policeman, brings flour and bread to villagers in the eastern part of Ukraine, but sometimes he thinks he is in enemy territory.
Kobatsky takes his groceries out of the trunk of his car and quickly looks up at the horizon for signs of smoke, which may indicate the recent Russian bombing in the city of Novomikolivka. It has since continued on its way to distributing humanitarian aid to residents. However, his visit can sometimes be cold or awkward.
Despite fierce fighting and eviction orders from Ukrainian authorities, many residents of Novomikolivka, near Gramadorsk, remain supportive of the Russians. Adults who grew up in the Soviet era continue to have deep distrust of Kiev.
Kobetsky explains that many residents have already been detained on suspicion of providing GPS coordinates of Ukrainian backbenches to the Russians. “Unfortunately, this happened,” he says, as he emerges from a makeshift underground shelter where a family spent three days under a Russian bomb.
Kobetsky says he “tries to talk” with pro-Russian residents, “but it’s hard to trust those who grew up in Soviet times.” “They have a vision, they will not budge,” he assured.
One idea, triggered by the Kremlin’s propaganda, is to classify the Ukrainians as “neo-Nazis” under Washington’s orders, making it a possible target for Kopetsky in these frontier locations.
It is estimated that 30% to 45% of Ukrainian soldiers in contact with settlers support the Russians. “They are definitely handing over our territory to the Russians,” lamented one soldier, five days after the break.
Donbass is home to a large Russian-speaking population, whose roots were sent to Russian workers after World War II. This history created the identity of Donbass, who maintained strong economic and cultural ties with Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union and the independence of Ukraine.
Andriy Oleynik, 48, of Novomykolayvka, who has been confined to a wheelchair for the past week, has been listening to warplanes circling in the dark and exploding nearby shells. His wooden hut in the garden was attacked. Since then, he has been even more angry at Kiev and Moscow for not seeking peace.
“The Russians left Kiev. For the people there, the war seems over. If the Kiev people continue to live here, everything will be different,” he says. “I blame both governments. Both sides are responsible. They do not care about us,” he laments.
Part of the resentment against Kiev was due to the economic situation in the region, which was affected by industrialization before the outbreak of war with the separatists in 2014.
Andriy and his wife, Yelena, have been trying to collect their savings and move to a neighboring town with their children in recent days, but had to return four days after their arrival as they were the target of airstrikes.
“Where can we go?” Asks Andre. “There is war all over this area,” he added. A local policeman could not hold back tears as families returned with their belongings in defiance of the bombings. “They go back to this hell because they have nowhere to go,” he says.
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