“I don’t see Russia as the enemy”: Ukrainians who support the Russian invasion in disputed Donbas


Opinions among residents of Bakhmut, a frontline town in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, are increasingly divided, revealing conflicting loyalties.

Sometimes, it appears as a whisper. More often, she hides behind euphemisms, shrugs, and carefully ambivalent responses. Although, from time to time, he expresses a fierce pro-Russian feeling, like the sound of a shotgun, in the green hills of Donbas.

“This is Russian territory. Ukraine is the occupier here,” says a man in overalls, standing next to a group of municipal workers. They had been clearing weeds in Bakhmut, a Ukrainian city currently within sound wave range of Russian artillery.

And the man was not the only one expressing contempt for Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Next to him, Yelena, 65, simply stated her position in more ambiguous terms.

“I personally don’t know Putin, so I can’t say what I think of him. But I don’t see Russia as the enemy. We all lived together under the Soviet Union. so we’ll see what happens [si Rusia ocupa la población]”, Explain.

Ethnically Russian Ukrainians

The notion that Ukraine remains unarguably united in its opposition to the Russian invasion may hold true for most of the country. But here in Donbas, there is a large Russian ethnic minoritya painful 8-year tale of separatist conflict against Russian-backed militias and, particularly for an older generation, a powerful nostalgia for the Soviet Union.


The result is an increasingly tense conflict of loyalties, with at least some residents of Bakhmut – a key stepping stone for those escaping from the Luhansk region further east – openly supporting the latest Russian invasion.

“Putin is a smart man, a smart man from the KGB (the intelligence service of the former USSR),” said an 80-year-old retired engineer as she sat in the kitchen of a local cafe peeling potatoes. In the event that the Russians took over the town, it wouldn’t “make any difference to me,” she whispered, before falling silent as one of her colleagues entered the kitchen.

“I am a creation of the Soviet Union. We all lived together in those days and I have family everywhere. I will not tell you what I think of Putin,” said another ethnic Russian woman, part of the task force preparing to plant rows of saplings at the entrance to Bakhmut.

Harmless comments?

Some Ukrainians in this area have dismissed these pro-Russian comments as harmless complaints from a generation out of touch with the present, from a handful of older pensioners who refuse to leave their homes and whose views seem unlikely to have any real impact. in the course of this war.

But in other parts of Ukraine recently liberated from Ukrainian occupation, there is evidence that some collaborators may have actively assisted Kremlin troops.

And today, in frontline cities like Bakhmut, there are concerns that pro-Russian sentiment could present a real riskparticularly if shared by local government officials.

“These people are trying to have it all, win or lose,” said a local businessman, Dmytro Kononets, describing what he says is the attitude of certain figures in the municipality.

He contrasted the relatively low-key public comments of the city’s mayor, Reva Oleksiy, with the strongly defiant tone of many of Ukraine’s younger regional governors and civil servants, and asked why the municipality was busy employing people to remove weeds when they could. be digging trenches.

“Obviously, they don’t really want to avoid [que Rusia se apodere de la ciudad]. It’s like they’re faking it. It’s just ridiculous,” Kononets said, adding that he knew many residents who got all their news from Russian television and believed “such nonsense.”

“Part of the Struggle”

But supporters of the municipality said such suspicions were misplaced. They defend the beautification campaign being carried out on the city’s streets as an inspiring and defiant display of normality in the face of Russian aggression.

Firefighters attend to a fire after a bombing at a train station in Donbas


“This is our form of resistance”one of the workers told us.

“The mayor is firmly pro-Ukrainian, no doubt,” said one councilor who, however, asked that his name not be published.

The mayor himself refused to give an interview. He has held the same position for more than 30 years. His deputy, Maxim Sutkovyi, dismissed suggestions that the mayor might be anything less than loyal to Ukraine as an accusation “below contempt.”

Bakhmut is part of Ukraine. Our job is to protect the day-to-day here, to keep doing our job and not to collapse in hysteria. there is certainly [colaboradores] here, but it is a responsibility of the security services to eradicate them,” Sutkovyi said.

While most of the families in Bakhmut have already left the city, following official advice, there are many local volunteers, in uniform, who have stayed behind to fight any Russian attack.

“We will defend this place to the death”said one farmer, Slava, who joined the local guard and was busy loading supplies into his car to take to his colleagues manning the trenches on the outskirts of town.


Ukrainian citizens praying in a Russian Orthodox church

Svetlana and other residents pray in a Russian Orthodox church in the basement of their home.

But as air-raid sirens wail across the city, Russian forces poised to take full control of Popasna, 30 km to the east (Russians also advancing from the north and southeast), it’s no surprise that long-standing suspicions and new tensions are emerging here.

“Karma will catch up to you quickly”said Svetlana Kravchenko, 57, of anyone who has supported the Russian offensive in Bakhmut.

She helps run a small charity that collects food and other supplies for distribution to soldiers in the town and older civilians in surrounding villages.

Her basement office also houses a Ukrainian Orthodox church, where she and others pray daily. Most of Bakhmut’s more traditional churches are still officially linked to the Russian Orthodox Church, whose leaders publicly backed President Putin’s invasion.

“Everyone makes their own decision. And they will have to answer for it. Maybe some people here want to give up [a los rusos]. But when this conflict ends, when the shelling and shooting stops, the traitors will be punished, either in this world or the next,” Kravchenko said.

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