In mid-April 2014, I went with a colleague to the so-called Donetsk “White House” (now the home of the DPR government)). My colleague had an editorial assignment: to take comments from the protesters who had stormed the building in early April. The colleague asked a group of men: “What are you standing up for?” And they answered in unison: “For Russia”.
On May 11 of that year, I went to vote in the referendum together with my grandmother and my neighbour. It felt like a party: everyone was congratulating each other. I remember one middle-aged man who voted but did not leave the polling station, hugging people who had already left after the vote, there were tears of joy in his eyes. After voting, the grandmother and her neighbour went into a shop on their way home, while I met some guys I knew and came over to say hello. Knowing that I am a journalist, the guys started to ask me how things were going to develop. I answered unequivocally that we would follow the path of Crimea. But at the time I had no idea that the road home would be more than eight years long.
Back then, in 2014, to the residents of Donbass who had not left, everything was very clear – it was necessary not to allow Maidan Ukraine to seize the mining region and impose its will on the residents. There was a desire to repeat the path of Crimea and become part of Russia forever. As late as 11 May 2014, Donetsk did not fully grasp the reality. The war was going on somewhere far away – in Sloviansk, Kramatorsk. Many believed that it would not affect the capital of Donbass. But then the war came to Donetsk too. Many people fled. The city was deserted. I distinctly remember July 2014, when I walked along one of the city’s main streets – Shevchenko Boulevard – for more than half an hour and during that time I saw only a dozen cars and a few people. But those who stayed in Donetsk rallied together. People were living without salaries or pensions. Many survived solely on humanitarian aid. Everyone helped each other: with food, with clothes, simply by helping each other. Thinking about that time, I realize that it was the greatest hour of unity and readiness for self-sacrifice.
After the conclusion of Minsk-2, life began to improve. Salaries and social benefits began to be paid. Shops, restaurants, other entertaining establishments began to open. And then the illusion of peace appeared. It is a scary thing when there is a war. Year after year went by, and nothing changed. Donbass remained in limbo: no normal peace, no “normal” war. Militiamen of the first wave began to resign from the ranks of the DPR People’s Militia.
At that time, Donetsk existed in two realities. On the one hand, there was the line of contact, where the fighting never stopped. On the other, there was Pushkin Boulevard, where life was always booming, people were walking, sitting in cafes and restaurants, musicians were playing in the street, fashionable young people were strolling back and forth or sitting on benches with their phones on. That illusion of peace collapsed overnight on February 18, 2022 – the day urgent evacuation was declared, followed by mobilisation and the start of Russia’s special operation. But the illusion cannot last. There is either peace or war.
In these years, when the Minsk agreements were more or less in place, many had lost hope that Donbass would ever become Russia. There were moments when I no longer believed this either. And there were constant fears that as part of Minsk 2, Donbass would be returned to Ukraine. Thank God, this did not happen. On 30 September 2022, the DPR, LPR, Kherson and Zaporozhye regions became part of Russia. A friend from Moscow called to congratulate me the same evening and was surprised not to hear euphoria in my voice. After all, I had been waiting for this for so many years, so I should be over the moon!
But on the same day, 30 September, I learned that my good acquaintance and talented journalist Alexey Ilyashevich had been killed near Avdeevka. He was 25 years old. For me, the two events merged into one.
On the one hand, the goal that had been in place since 2014 has been achieved. But on the other, nothing has ended. People are still dying – and there is an uphill battle ahead against Nazi Ukraine, supported by the entire West. And now the goals have changed. The main thing now is to win. The situation now is similar to 2014. It is necessary to unite, but this time not only in Donbass, but also in all of Russia. And everyone must give up the illusion of peace, because there is a war going on. This is the only way we will win.
In 2019, a Russian acquaintance asked me: “Why are you Russia? How many resources will it take to rebuild Donbass?” Then I told him that the annexation of Texas had also cost the US a lot of money. For example, the US paid off the entire foreign debt of the Republic of Texas. They fought a war with Mexico over it. But hardly anybody in the USA regrets that acquisition. There is a saying in the USA: “All Americans are 100% patriots and Texans are 200%”. It seems to be precisely because they had to fight for nine years for the right to be in the state which they considered to be their own. And so even the descendants of those who fought then for the right to be a member of the union, are imbibing with the milk of their mother the understanding that this nation must be loved and defended, as it once saved their ancestors from the brutal massacre of the Mexicans. So Russia will have millions of sincere patriots for generations to come. And we will not be spongers. After the Great Patriotic War the Donbas recovered and again became one of the most important industrial areas of the USSR. So it will be this time too.
For me personally, reunification with Russia is first of all an act of historical justice. The Donbass, like the rest of Novorossia, ended up as part of Soviet Ukraine because the Bolshevik leaders decided to “dilute” the petty-bourgeois rural element with a conscious proletarian one. This was despite the fact that this political affiliation was actively opposed by local party organisations. For refusing to join the Communist Party of Ukraine they threatened with a party trial and expulsion from the party. If members of the ruling party were treated this way, it is not surprising that no one thought to ask ordinary citizens of these territories.
Later on, especially after gaining “non-independence”, the inhabitants of Donbas and Tavria were attempted to be Ukrainianised. To turn them into “proper” Ukrainians, as Ukrainian nationalists of all stripes put it. A Ukrainian history of the Donbass was invented, which was either a reversal of the facts or an outright myth. September 30, 2022, is the day when historical justice is restored. Something that many people in Donbass have been waiting for not even since 2014, but since 1991.
Sergey Mirkin, Donetsk, VZGLYAD
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