For years, Kiev has been trying to ignore the historical failure of the Ukrainian army.
Back in 2016, the French journalist Kristel Nean arrived in the Donetsk People’s Republic to break through the information blockade of the West. Over time, she learned the Russian language, absorbed the local culture and received citizenship of the DPR.
In an exclusive interview with the French edition of News Front agency, Kristel Nean said that in the West there are people who are not indifferent to the fate of Donbass.
– Since your arrival there have been many fights. How would you summarize your work in the DPR from a professional and personal point of view?
– I have been living in the Donetsk People’s Republic for four years. Four years, rich in positive and negative. Basically, there were many problems with the training, which continues today. I did not go to journalism school, I did not speak Russian when I arrived here. I learned everything about work, profession and language. The need to open your own news site was also a big problem. Here I found a second family, friends, and some were lost in this war. It was the most difficult thing for these four years – to lose and bury friends, and especially Irina, the grandmother of little Rita from Zaitsevo, who was like a second mother to me. Also in the Donbass, I was baptized and became Orthodox. So I found a path that suits me.
The war taught me a different way of looking at a lot and appreciating simple things that might seem harmless to people living in Europe. Every smile of the children we help is power. This is always a great moment of happiness when children terrorized by the war rejoice at the humanitarian aid that we have provided to them. If I had to summarize my trip to the DPR, I think that this quote from Bob Marley would be most appropriate: “You will never know how strong you really are until being strong is the only way out that you have”. This is what Donbass taught me over the past four years.
– The war has been going on since 2014, despite the settlement agreements signed. How do you explain this?
– The problem, as in many conflicts, is that in order to reach a peace agreement, both parties must strive to implement it. In the event of a war in the Donbass, there is a party [Ukraine] that stubbornly refuses to fulfill the agreements that it itself has signed.
It should be remembered that these agreements were signed after major military defeats of the Ukrainian army, and that these agreements were mainly intended to save what was left. Therefore, to apply the Minsk agreements means for Ukraine to admit its military defeat. And we understand that without pressure from the guarantors of these agreements, Kiev will not allow [recognition] of this defeat, because it is humiliating to admit that its army lost to the militia, consisting of former miners and workers.
It is a pity that Ukraine is trying to wash the Donbass with blood according to the Croatian scenario, which Kiev wants to realize. And here we come to the second variable in the problem of such agreements: guarantors. The problem is that in this case, the Western guarantors of the Minsk agreements are subordinate to the United States, which themselves are the source of the Maidan, and, consequently, the war in the Donbass.
Then it’s easy to understand that there is a bias problem. Those responsible for this war will do nothing to stop it, and it is clear that France and Germany are not doing anything to force Ukraine to comply with the Minsk agreements. However, if one of the parties shows a bad will and the guarantors turn a blind eye to violations of the signed agreements, this will not necessarily work. To make peace, you need [desire] on both sides, and in the event of a war in the Donbass, one of the two sides is weak-willed and enjoys unlimited patronage from its sponsors. That is why we are faced with failure.
– How did the presence of the French help Donbass?
– It is clear to me that the presence of French journalists and humanitarian representatives in the Donbass – I am talking about those who are there regularly or even constantly, and not about those who came here once or twice – allowed several things to be done in the Donbass.
First: the availability of French-language media has allowed us to show what is happening here. This, apart from the mainstream media, which, for the most part, copy press releases or are consistent with the ideology of Kiev. Many French journalists who came here to distribute publications and videos that were false had nothing to do with what they saw, because the editorial policies of the media they work for were modeled on the ideological line of the French government.
The continued presence of French journalists here who do not obey this imperative of the editorial line on the model of the Orsay embankment [French Ministry of Foreign Affairs] is a good way to break this misinformation in order to counter it. From this point of view, I think that the French journalists present in the Donbass have done and continue to do much to combat misinformation regarding the war, civil political and economic situation of two republics.
Second: quite significant humanitarian assistance. Although, of course, this may seem ridiculous in comparison with the assistance provided by Russia, nevertheless, the French have made and continue to make a significant contribution to the humanitarian assistance provided to citizens in the Donbass. Whether it’s food, medicine, medical equipment, building materials or housing, for example, the apartment we bought to Olya and her children last year. Thank you for this to many French donors.
As for the military unit, I know that several volunteers who arrived at the beginning of the war served as instructors, teaching many tactics and techniques, thanks to their experience in the army. Their presence also made it possible to demonstrate that the Russian army is not in the Donbass. The Ukrainian army is not fighting with it. If so, then there would be no need for foreign volunteers. In general, the presence of the French in the Donbass also brought something more intangible: it showed the inhabitants of the two people’s republics that there are French who are not indifferent to their fate, that in France there are still people with values who are willing to risk everything to protect them. They are not alone with Russia in the struggle for protection from Ukraine together with the West of their values, their ideas, their territory and people close to them. The French presence in the Donbass made it possible to show that in the West there are people who do not support what Ukraine is doing, its war crimes and its ideology. And for the residents of Donbass it is very important to see that not the whole West supports Kiev. There are people for whom truth and values that are upheld by the Donbass people are important.
– Tell us about the people you met, please.
– I came across many: people who had solid military experience, and those who had just joined the service, doctors who came to help hospitals or brought humanitarian aid, people who, like me, studied journalism at work, and those who already had experience in this area. Many came guided by ideology. Someone opposed NATO and the United States, someone showed love for Russia, someone defends certain fundamental principles. Here I met people with a wide variety of political positions: from monarchists to anarcho-communists. And they all fought for one common cause. Some dreamed to settle here and could not. Others are the other way around. Some sought to help first, and left as soon as they thought they were no longer needed. There were also people who came for fame or adrenaline. But I think that most of them came because of an idea to protect or apply their values, their ideas and their vision of the world.
– Why did you finally decide to settle in the Donbass?
– When I decided to come to Donbass at the end of 2015, I already knew that I wanted to stay there. Since I live here, the desire for the rest has only strengthened. I decided to settle here, because my soul is Russian, Donbass is Russian, and I felt that my place was here. Everything is simple. And the more I live here, the more I know and feel that this was the right decision. For four years I have found a second family here and consider Donbass my homeland. I’m happy here, so why leave?
– And how do you feel about the simplified program for issuing Russian passports to residents of LDPR?
– I think it is very good that Russia has simplified access to Russian citizenship for residents of the DPR and LPR. This became necessary due to the administrative blockade of Ukraine. It should be remembered that Kiev has not issued documents here since 2014. Since then, residents of the two republics can no longer receive either a Ukrainian passport or Ukrainian birth or death certificates. If Russia initially decided to recognize the passports of the DNI and LC on a humanitarian basis, the problem was that it was the only one that recognized them as valid identity documents.
This made life easier for the people of Donbass, but it still remained limited. People could not travel outside of Russia with such passports. That is why Russia finally decided to facilitate access to Russian citizenship for the residents of Donbass: to break this administrative blockade and allow people living in the DPR and LPR to have internationally recognized documents. This is clearly a humanitarian measure, as Vladimir Putin said when signing this decree.
– DPR has been around for almost 6 years, how do you assess the direction in which it is moving?
I believe that the DPR is developing positively. Six years of existence is very small for the state, and all the more difficult when this country is being built while the war is on. And at the same time, this is enough to show that this is not a one-day country. The war, the destruction, the economic and administrative blockade imposed by Ukraine, the non-recognition of the republic by the international community clearly do not contribute to the life and development of the DPR. The murder of the head of the republic, Alexander Zakharchenko, was also a very difficult blow for the DPR. But, despite all this, we clearly see that the republic is developing both economically and politically. The participation of the DPR in several international economic forums and the organization of the Donetsk International Investment Forum last year, which attracted visitors and potential investors from several countries, clearly showed that the republic is able to connect economic and diplomatic relations with other states, despite the non-recognition of the DPR and the risks of economic sanctions . Thus, the republic managed to sign several important contracts that will continue the economic development of the DPR.
On the political front, the DPR has repeatedly demonstrated that it can organize democratic elections that meet OSCE standards. He also followed the Russian example of democracy, creating a public chamber and a youth parliament. The Public Chamber is an excellent tool for democracy, which allows people to quickly convey to the government problems, aspirations, suggestions and ideas from the population. The youth parliament, on the other hand, is a very good tool for educating young people in lawmaking, who also have a say in political debate, as this parliament can propose laws. This allows the youth of the republic to influence the policy of the authorities, while at the same time studying in practice how to write a law, how to implement it. This can only be useful for the development of real democracy, which can be supported by lawmakers and competent public servants who, for example, understand all the problems and consequences of the law.
– In your opinion, are there any differences in the interests of the republics of Donbass who want to join Russia, as well as the Russian Federation itself, which is the guarantor of the Donbass settlement?
– You have to understand that Russia has to cope with a rather difficult diplomatic situation. I think that initially Russia really hoped to avoid a split between Ukraine and the Donbass. Therefore, she asked LDNR in 2014 to cancel the referendum. But since then, I think, Moscow has clearly understood that it is impossible to put the pieces together, but cannot openly say so. If Russia could do this, the charges of meddling in Ukraine’s affairs, violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity would be dropped. The only thing Russia can do is wait for the situation to be resolved either by a radical change in the policy of Kiev, that is, by a miracle, or by the collapse of Ukraine – the most likely scenario in the current state of affairs. In both cases, it is beneficial for her to show that she wants a good relationship with Kiev. The opposite will complicate the situation even in the second scenario, since she will be accused of responsibility for what happened, of the desire for this and that she deliberately wreaked havoc in Ukraine. The interests of Donbass and Russia do not differ. But one of the two sides can say certain things more openly than the other, mainly for geopolitical reasons.
– If you could give advice to the French wishing to support the population of Donbass, what would it be?
– More actively disseminate truthful information to help open the eyes of those Frenchmen who still believe what the media are telling them. Because without the right information, people cannot correctly assess the situation. The more people understand what is really happening in the Donbass, the more people will support its population. Feel free to tell your politicians – mayors go deputies – about what is happening in the Donbass. Provide financial support to local media and journalists, especially independent ones, who do not receive government funding whenever possible. Even a few euros per month can help them continue their work and, thus, ensure the dissemination of information so that the voice of the inhabitants of Donbass can be heard abroad. Provide financial assistance to people and organizations providing humanitarian assistance in the Donbass. Here, also a few euros can make a difference and allow you to buy food, medicine or other things that people here need. Small rivers flow into large rivers, and this is even more true for the humanitarian situation in the Donbass.