Violence in Ukraine Escalates


Militants operating in Donetsk

While there had been plenty of drama in Ukraine earlier in the year, it looked like things had died down.  While there had been conflicts between the Ukrainian Army and pro-Russian rebels, they were somewhat farcical; angry civilians blocked army tanks, and rebels were constantly capturing army units.  The two sides declared a ceasefire, and the conflict’s intensity seemed to abate.  Last week, however, the Ukrainian government discontinued its ceasefire with the rebels, and marched into the east.  Now, it seems like the Ukrainian army is finally earning itself some victories.

This past weekend on Saturday, Ukraine retook Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, which had been under the control of pro-Russian rebels for weeks.  The next day, the Ukrainian army took control of Druzhkova and Artyomovsk.  They seem to be closing in on the strategic cities of Lugansk and Donestk, which remain under rebel control.  According to Ukrainian officials, their forces are encircling Donetsk, the capital of a self-declared pro-Russian republic, ahead of what could be a major turning point in the crisis.  The looming confrontation has been religiously chronicled on social media, which gives viewers an up-close and personal view of the military buildup.  YouTube is filled with videos of rockets and tanks.  As the Ukrainian Army continues its advance on Donetsk, rebels are working to stall the army’s advancement.  On Sunday, three of the bridges on the way into Donetsk were blown up.  Eyewitness reports describe men dressed in camouflage, frequently associated with the pro-Russian rebels, leaving the scene after a bridge explosion in an outlying village.

A video posted on Sunday shows Dymytro Yaros, the leader of the right-wing Ukrainian nationalist group Right Sector, giving a pep talk to members of his group.  After the fighting in the east began, many Right Sector members joined the Ukrainian National Guard, which has in turn supported the Ukrainian army in its offensive.  However, it’s not clear if Right Sector was actually that all important to the recent Ukrainian successes.  In the video, Yarosh speaks with a group of armed men with Right Sector patches sewn onto their uniforms.  He discusses the lack of ammunition that he and his team were given, and adds that they will be used as a reconnaissance force in the upcoming operation.  The Ukrainian army is also fighting rebels in Lugansk, and the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS reported that rebels from the self-proclaimed “Lugansk People’s Republic” are currently exchanging fire with Ukrainian forces outside the city.