In March, the protest movement in the Southeast expanded. People believed in the possibility of Russia's intervention and their protection from the coup. The demands of the protesters were mainly limited to a referendum on federalization and the status of the regions.
The protest movement was fragmented, there was practically no single center, there were practically no contacts between the regions.
In each city, there were several resistance groups operating independently. In Kharkiv, on the basis of the Civil Forum, which united more than a dozen pro-Russian organizations, the Southeast movement was created, together with the Communists, who conducted mass protests in the city.
The Southeast Bloc grew out of a tent camp, bringing together activists who had not previously participated in such activities and were prone to forceful actions. In the middle of March, an exotic organization called Borotba, without any political preferences, but striving to be among the leaders of the protest movement, appeared in Kharkov and Odessa.
Between these resistance groups there was often a misunderstanding about the goals of the actions being carried out and the methods for achieving the goals. There was an unhealthy competition, which resulted in opposition groups before the seizure of the administration. As a result of the negotiations the conflict was settled. Further, there were already agreed joint actions.
The Southeast movement managed to establish contacts to coordinate with the resistance of Donetsk, first with the pro-Russian groups and, when they were pushed aside, with the Pushilin-Purgin group.
In Odessa, the protest movement included various groups that were not integrated into a single whole. The most organized were the People’s Squad of Odessa and the Odessa Squad, supported by the Rodina Party, United Odessa, the People’s Alternative and a number of other organizations. There was no single coordination center in Odessa either, each organization had its own leaders and its own assets. Part of the shares was coordinated, part was carried out by decision of their leaders. The Odessa authorities tried to control the protest movement and the actions it carried out.
In Donetsk, at the initial stage, the protests tried to be organized by the Russian Bloc Party and other pro-Russian organizations, but gradually they were squeezed out of the protest movement. The leadership of the protest movement was intercepted by a well-organized group of Pushilina, and later she led all the actions of the protesters.
In Lugansk, the resistance at the first stage was led by the pro-Russian organizations "Young Guard" and "Lugansk Guard". Law enforcement authorities, accusing them of violating the laws, arrested. Over time, the leadership of the movement got people with more radical views on the actions of resistance.
Approximately with such a balance of forces and without general leadership, the resistance movement approached significant events of the beginning of April. By this time, the "Crimean Initiative" continued to operate and found support among several resistance groups in Kharkiv, Donetsk and Lugansk, ready to take radical measures. Aksenov’s call to take decisive action in Odessa did not find a response.
It was on these days that the further direction of the protests in the Southeast and the tragic fate of Donbass were determined. The seizures of the regional administrations in Kharkiv and Donetsk and the SBU building in Luhansk occurred simultaneously on April 6, while they operated independently of each other. The initiators of the actions, having planned and recommended holding them in one day, for some reason did not ensure the interaction of the regions. In Lugansk, the SBU building was captured only because there were arrested resistance activists.
In the regions, people sincerely believed that everything would follow the Crimean scenario, and they would be given real help. They did not receive any assistance, and it seems that there was simply no plan for joint actions after the seizure of the regional administrations.
Before these actions, rallies were held with requirements to local authorities to appoint referendums on the status of regions. The building grabs were made without serious collisions and without using weapons, the police did not particularly resist. Further actions in the regions went under different scenarios.
In Kharkov, the seizure of the regional administration was led by the Southeastern Bloc, which had previously worked closely with the Crimean emissaries. The promised help from the Crimea and Donbass was not received, there was nothing to protect the building. The activists spent the night in the regional administration, and the next day the leadership of the regional council, the mayor and the leaders of the resistance groups considered the demands of the protesters. As a result, an appeal was made to the regional council to hold a local referendum on raising the status of the region. Then I was twice given the opportunity to speak about this at the session of the regional council, but the decision was never taken.
In Lugansk there were demands for the release and amnesty of those arrested and a referendum on the status of the region. After the seizure of the SBU, the demands became more radical, and after a few days they demanded that the region be independent. This was also explained by the fact that a large arsenal of weapons unexpectedly turned out to be in the building captured by the SBU, and several versions of its origin still circulate.
So in the hands of the Lugansk resistance there turned out to be a lot of weapons, but it did not reach Kharkov and other regions. In late April, I was in Slavyansk. The militia fighters were already with machine guns, only worn and used, clearly not from warehouses. Apparently, these were the 62 automaton with which the Strelkov entered Slavyansk.
The most interesting events took place in Donetsk. After the seizure of the regional administration, there was unexpectedly a requirement for the regional council to adopt a resolution on joining Russia. Naturally, he did not accept anything, and the next day 7 of April, unknown to whom the created "people's council" proclaimed the Donetsk People's Republic, appointed a referendum on leaving 11 in May for Ukraine and appealed to Russia for help. It was also stated that all these actions were coordinated with Kharkiv and Lugansk, which was not true.
On the same day, Pushilin phoned us and proposed, by analogy with the DPR, to create the Kharkiv People's Republic and dropped the documents on the proclamation of the DPR. It was a package of documents that could only be prepared in advance. From these documents it was clear that the proclamation of the republic was well prepared.
After reviewing the documents, we refused this, since there was nothing behind such a proclamation. It was just a slogan, not supported by any plans and actions after the proclamation of the republic. Moreover, the leaders of the “Southeastern Bloc” who carried out the seizure of the regional administration and maintained contact with the Crimea did not receive any recommendations on the establishment of the republic.
After that, the same proposal was received by the leader of one of our resistance groups, and he agreed to declare HNR. By the end of the day, he made a list of “people's council” of several dozen people and proclaimed XNR in the foyer of the regional administration. This loud statement was followed by no further action. Except in this declaration, such a republic has never existed anywhere.
With Lugansk resistance, the question of the proclamation of the Lugansk People’s Republic at that stage was also not coordinated. The creation of this republic after long and not easy negotiations with Donetsk was announced only on April 27.
Then it became clear that the proclamation of the three republics is a purely Donetsk initiative. This was done for a reason. The Russian leadership has not officially taken steps to support the protests in the Southeast. The putschists gradually strengthened their power, local business elites were looking for ways to preserve their assets. For this, they needed a bonus in bargaining with the coup, who had a problem with paying off protests in the Southeast. They could seriously help with this, taking control and extinguishing protests.
The business elite performed the same operation in 2004 year at the time of the “orange” coup. For bargaining in the Yushchenko team, they created and headed the “Ukrainian South-Eastern Republic”, which they then successfully surrendered and decided their business interests.
So the business elite already had experience, they acted on the same template. In Donetsk, this issue was resolved initially, and in Lugansk, apparently convinced the resistance leaders of the expediency of such actions, promising support for Moscow. Kharkov and Odessa fell out of this scheme, and they had to decide something.
Such an approach, apparently, suited the Kremlin. The problem of Crimea was solved, silence was needed on the borders of Russia, and the protests in the Southeast only complicated the situation. If the republics “by agreement” had been surrendered to the putschists, this would have simplified a lot. Russia, in contrast to the Crimea, did not respond to the proclamation of the DNR and the LC, especially did not provide military support. People were simply deceived, promising that which, in principle, could not take place.
There is a version that one of the near-Kremlin groups was preparing the Crimean scenario for the Southeast, but this is only a version, the same as mine. Whatever it was, the creation of the DPR and the LPR and the attempt to create the HNR were, in spite of the official position of the Russian leadership at that time. Proof of this is that, since the proclamation of the republics, Russia has not recognized them until today, it did not provide serious support until July and asked not to hold a referendum on secession from Ukraine.
After the proclamation of the republics, the attitude of the putschists to resistance in Kharkov, Donetsk, Lugansk and Odessa was fundamentally different. In Kharkov, it was decided to conduct a military operation and clean up the activists. Kharkov "Golden Eagle" refused to carry out this operation. At the command of Avakov, the Vinnitsa special forces "Jaguar" was sent to Kharkov, unceremoniously clearing the regional administration. In the course of this operation, 66 activists and leaders of the Kharkov resistance were arrested for years in prison.
It was predictable, the coup did not intend to surrender the city. Before that, I was repeatedly invited to the "talks" by the leaders of the Kharkiv Security Service of Ukraine and directly said that they would not give up Kharkov. In Odessa, a month later, in order to intimidate the entire Southeast, they staged a provocation and a bloody massacre of activists of the Odessa resistance.
In the Donbass, despite the proclamation of the two “illegal” republics, the ominous statements about secession from Ukraine and the seizure of an arsenal of weapons, the putschists did not carry out any military actions against the DPR and the LPR, and they lived some kind of life. At that time, the republics were controlled by people controlled by the local oligarchy, and, apparently, there was bargaining on what conditions to surrender them. In mid-April, a squad of Strelkov entered Slavyansk unexpectedly for the Republicans, and in May small towns of Donbass began to rise.
In April, I visited Donetsk several times and saw that, despite loud statements, no one touched the republic. All republican power was limited to the territory of the barricades around the regional administration; no one was preparing the city for defense and was not going to defend it. Calmly prepared a referendum on sovereignty. What I saw in Slavyansk was fundamentally different from Donetsk. The city was seriously preparing for defense, bristling with concrete barricades.
At this stage, no serious steps were taken to create a leading center of the protest movement. Neither Ukrainian elites, nor state structures of Russia showed interest in him. Amateur activity from the Crimea, not supported by the real support of the Russian structures, only disoriented the resistance leaders in the regions and led to a loss of public confidence in the protest movement. The proclaimed republics were created in the interests of the business structures of Donbass and did not fulfill the functions of the uniting center of resistance of the Southeast.
To be continued ...
“Russian Spring” in Ukraine in 2014. Part of 3. DNR, LC and HNR
- Yuri Apukhtin
- Photos used:
- Articles from this series:
- “Russian Spring” in Ukraine in 2014. Part of 1. Kharkiv Congress and the beginning of resistance
“Russian Spring” in Ukraine in 2014. Part of 2. Crimea. Regional elite. People's protests