Ukraine crisis latest: Donetsk unmoved by Geneva accord

For the men facing off at the airport, the multinational peace deal is meaningless

Kramatorsk

Dmitry Victorovich Podushkin waved a piece of paper: “This is what the OSCE [the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe] gave me; this is supposed to stop the bandits, terrorists, from doing their criminal acts, blocking roads, harassing. You can see it has no effect at all.”

That, indeed, seemed to be the case. Two men stood three feet away, haranguing him. “You are a thief. You stole this place with your corrupt friends. Now you are helping the invaders”. Behind the object of their scorn, the director of Kramatorsk airport, stood half a dozen Ukrainian soldiers, their faces covered by scarves, nervously fingering their assault rifles.

“They are my protection.  I am not depending on the OSCE for anything. What I worry about is what happens if these soldiers leave. I have to stay here; my family stays here.” Mr Podushkin spread his hands. “They can have all kinds of international organisations saying all kinds of things, but what matters is that nothing is changing here. It’s a bad situation.”

The standoff at the Kramatorsk airport was replicated across the east of the country a day after an agreement was struck between world powers in Geneva that was supposed to defuse the tension.

 

On this occasion it was the troops of the Kiev government which found themselves surrounded. In 13 other towns and cities it is the separatists who are behind the barricades, occupying an array of state institutions.

Nothing will change, if Denis Pushilin, the leader of the separatist “Peoples Republic of Donetsk”, has his way. He dismissed the deal brokered in Switzerland yesterday between Russia, the US, the EU and Ukraine. “Sergei Lavrov [the Russian Foreign Minister] did not sign anything for us, he signed on behalf of the Russian Federation. Here, we will persevere until the end,” Mr Pushilin said. Under the Geneva accord, the armed groups occupying the buildings must disarm and depart; there will be a general amnesty; and a national dialogue will take place on a new constitution, with the offer of devolution of powers to the regions.

Mr Pushilin was speaking at his 11th floor office in the administrative building in Donetsk which had been taken over by the separatists and is now guarded by masked men with Kalashnikovs, cement bags, razor wire and rubble.

The “chairman of the presidium” made a counter-offer: “As far as the vacating of buildings and areas is concerned, surely everyone must leave them, including Arseny Yatsenuik [the acting Prime Minister in Kiev ] and Oleksander Turchinov [the acting President]. They also took over buildings illegally. We are ready to do it after them.”

A picture of the ousted Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovych, on a dart board in Kiev A picture of the ousted Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovych, on a dart board in Kiev (Getty Images)
Mr Pushilin, flanked by advisers in balaclavas, said the “Peoples’ Republic” intended to forge ahead with its own programme – a referendum with the choice of autonomy in a federal Ukraine, independence, or joining Russia. “The date for it is not changing, no later than 11 May,” he said. “We are expecting nothing from Kiev which will make us change our minds.”

Whether the east can expect more troops to arrive from Kiev remains to be seen. The contingent at Kramatorsk, divided between civil and military parts, were remnants of the airborne brigade which captured the airport with a helicopter assault on Sunday, and retreated back there after a “show of force” in the city went disastrously wrong. They lost seven armoured personnel carriers to the separatists.

The small number of soldiers standing in the sunshine yesterday in full combat kit said they were providing tactical  support . “We don’t know whether we are going to stay on or go somewhere else. We don’t know what orders we will get next”, said one, cautiously peering at an equally small group of protesters manning a rope barrier 50 yards down the road. “But I think if we are going to stay, we need proper defences. This place is too open to attack.”

Amid the lines of attrition between the separatists and Ukrainian loyalists, local feuds, tensions and prejudices have come into play. In answer to the charge that he had “stolen” the airport, Mr Podushkin insisted that he had borrowed the money.

One of those manning the checkpoint later insisted on telling the “real story”. He said: “This man Podushkin bought this airport at a fraction of the price, and all the land around here. He was working with a senior police officer who also got a cut from all this. This is a strategic military facility, very sensitive; how can this go into private hands?

Ukrainian soldiers fly the flag on top of their armoured vehicle in Kramatorsk Ukrainian soldiers fly the flag on top of their armoured vehicle in Kramatorsk (EPA)
“That is what he’s afraid of; the Russians coming and investigating what went on.”

But were these anything more than rumours? “This is how I know,” said the man, producing his police ID card.  “I am now in criminal investigations, murders, robberies; but I used to be in economic crimes branch, so I have some knowledge of these matters.”

This was not, of course, evidence of any guilt on the part of Mr Podushkin. The next statement, by the police captain’s companion, illustrated how social attitudes influence political choices. “This man is a baptised Protestant, so he feels he needs protection from Kiev.”

At nearby Slovyansk, which has become a stronghold for the separatists, Pavel, keeping guard at the captured main police station, tiredly shook his head. “We need to get the airport; not because the owner’s a Protestant or Orthodox, but because Kiev can use it to bring in men and weapons. No one thinks this thing in Geneva will lead to anything. We don’t think so and neither do they.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders