Monday, July 7, 2014

The Homemade War of the Ukrainians





As if facing the aggressive pro-Russian secessionists were not enough, the Ukrainian armed forces have to deal also with the inefficiency of their government, which is failing them, even at the most basic level. To cope with the failures of the state institutions that are supposed to back them, the soldiers have to rely on civilian organizations that citizens have set up to gather and distribute what the troops need. 
But is it really just ineptitude, on the part of the Ukrainian state, or is this state of affairs intentional?


The Homemade War of the Ukrainians
Di Valentina Cominetti
(Translated and edited by Leonardo Pavese)


From the outside the Donbas looks like hell. From Donetsk it is less frightening. One walks on eggshells, that’s for sure. The city is in the hands of the pro-Russian separatists, even though they took over just four buildings: two seats of the SBU (the Ukrainian Security Forces), the regional government building and the television headquarter.
To the north, south, and west are the points that secure the control of of the city because to the east it is not necessary.
The wisdom of this approach is not attributable to the pro-Russian Ukrainian separatists, who have often been even guilty of looting. For that reason, many supermarkets have closed, as well as all the automobile dealerships, which have very wisely stored their show cars in safer places.
The true strategists of the “separation” are the Russian, Ossetian but most of all Chechen fighters, who control the key points and very often have to restrain the pro-Russian Ukrainians.
We were present on June 2nd when the Vostok battalion had to clear a building occupied by the secessionists, taking away, to who knows where, in armored vehicles without markings, the Ukrainian militias that had taken over the Regional government seat.
According to father Vasily, of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic cathedral of Donetsk, a change of leadership is taking place in the separatist forces, because dozens of Chechens keep coming to the occupied SBU seat, just fifty yards from the church. Many Chechens are also being buried in the Muslim cemetery behind the cathedral: on June 4, father Vasily counted twenty-six caskets.
The fighting takes place far from the inhabited areas, around the perimeter of the city. The pro-government forces surround the pro-Russians, but, to avoid civilian casualties, they do not attack them. This is the case in almost the entire war zone, with the exception of the tormented cities of Slavyansk and Luhansk, against which on June 16 an offensive was launched from many directions. But the problem remains, because the separatists concentrate in the residential areas.
The anti-terrorism operation (ATO), launched on April 13 by the Kiev government, to preserve the territorial integrity of the Ukraine, proceeds by fits and starts. On June 16, the Secretary of the National Security and Defense of the Ukraine, Andrij Parubiy, finally announced the creation of units of snipers within the DPSU (the equivalent of the U.S. Border Patrol), to enforce the control of the frontier with Russia: a measure that had been approved a long time ago.










The offensive operations of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the National Guard are sporadic and badly coordinated. The soldiers complain that the orders are not precise, when they’re not totally lacking.This is confirmed to us by a Captain from Crimea, who refused to join the Russian army and now lives in a refugee center in Kozubinski, near Kiev. The soldiers that returned home also confirm it, but especially many of the wounded we met at the military hospital in the capital: “We knew it wasn’t the right thing to do, but those were the orders,” they say, or “We had no idea about what we were supposed to do.”









They were not just lacking orders. The Ukrainian army is also being sent to fight without the proper equipment: the troops have guns, but they lack flak-jackets and even helmets. The kids who patrol the border zones have no logistical support. They are forced to spend weeks in the woods with no rotation, without sleeping bags or even a tent. Sometimes even food is scarce, which is the reason why many soldiers (but even the battalion commanders) have begun to ask their families and their friends for help.
Some, in the Ukrainian civil society, have organized to respond to the emergency. Many associations have been created to gather, purchase, and deliver supplies to the war zone. Armiya SOS is one of the largest ones, and they cooperate directly with the Ukrainian Department of Defense, whose bureaucratic procedures are too convoluted and rigid to face an emergency. The founder, Kostyantyn Ostrovskyy, has set up a Facebook page on which he posts a list of what is needed at the front-line and on which he collects the offers of assistance. The association’s contact in the combat zone is Yuri Kasyanov of the 1st Battalion, National Guard, who collects the requests of the various commanders and then delivers personally the material. Every day Kasyanov eludes the enemy check-points to take the packages to their destination, departing from the base in Izyum; which is a good sorting point, since it is situated right in the center of the combat zone, between Kharkiv, Donetsk, Luhansk and Slavyansk.









Even as far as taking care of casualties is concerned, the civil associations, more than the state, play a center stage role. Volonterska Sotnya (the Century of Volunteer Women) is an association that has taken under its supervision twenty hospitals in seven cities of the Ukraine, demanding adequate care for the wounded, sending eighty of the most serious cases to foreign hospitals, organizing legal and psychological assistance for the men, and finding and providing medications.
More than 1000 of the wounded have received assistance from this organization, which has also provided help to the troops at the front-line, where it sent more than 660 pounds of drugs, 400 first aid kits and 1500 flak jackets. “Because if we didn’t take care of it, many of the kids would die,” says the founder of the group, Natalia Sokolova.
The Ukrainian government does not even take care of the Reserve: the Defense Department can count on a small number of reservists, but it does not have the money to train them, let alone to train new members.
Therefore, the Ukrainian civil society is also getting more militarized, because the citizens are convinced that the national army is too weak, and they are afraid that, in the case of an invasion of other areas of the country, they would have to take up arms themselves. There are many newly created non-governmental courses that promise to instill military discipline in a short time; a few charge tuition, others do not.
We have spent two days at the Ukrainian Reserve Army, which is an association based in the countryside near Kiev. Regular people like white collar workers, students and small business owners, spend a weekend here to learn the fundamentals of military art, and they are charged only the price of ammunition (200 Hryvnias, about $ 12).






“Our goal is not to create a paramilitary militia, to be mobilized in case of a large scale invasion” explains Yura Gulei, one of the three founders. “We want communities that can react independently in case of attack. The Department of Defense authorized us but, unfortunately, that does not mean that they recognize the importance of having a well trained reserve.
We asked them for their help in designing a training program, but no one gave us any feedback, so we have to proceed on our own, imitating what they do in Switzerland, in America or in Israel. We do what we can, but we really feel let down by the government.”
The lack of confidence in the Government and Parliament is a very widespread feeling in the Ukraine, to the point of turning into distrust or even into suspicion. Many people, for example, think that a prolonged instability in the east of the country might even benefit the Ukrainian government. That is because, after the Maidan revolution, all the energy was focused on the renewal of the institutions. For example, many civil committees for the “Lustrazia” had been created, which were only waiting for a political legitimization through legislation introduced last March and never discussed in Parliament.
(The Lustrazia is a process of gradual rectification of the inefficiencies of the political system which create corruption. The promoters of Lustrazia also envision the expulsion from the administration of the people involved with the procedures that permitted the shooting in the crowd of protesters). But nothing has really changed, because the state and the society are bogged down, dealing with the contingency of warfare and counting their dead (135, on June 18). 
From this point of view, this “homemade” (in every sense) Ukrainian war has taken on the character of a diversion; at least according to many members of society that suspect that someone is trying to divert their attention from change, but at the same time cannot believe it, or, more simply, do not have time to even entertain the idea.

Valentina Cominetti is a young Italian reporter, who graduated from the Luiss Guido Carli University in Political Science and Communications and writes mainly about foreign affairs and geopolitical issues. Ms. Cominetti blogs at polemicafertile.
The article was first published on the Italian on-line magazine Analisi Difesa, and was translated and posted here with their permission. 
I'd like to thank J.J.P. for reviewing the English text. 
You comments will be greatly appreciated. Thank you,
L. Pavese  

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