On the night of July 4-5, the militia of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) withdrew from the embattled cities of Slavyansk and Kramatorsk. The volunteer self-defense forces made an orderly retreat to the south, where they took up positions in and around the regional capital city of Donetsk.
The decision to withdraw came after weeks of unrelenting military assault by forces loyal to the regime of neoliberal politicians, oligarchs and fascists, based in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev and backed by the United States,
“To put it bluntly, we are dealing here with unconcealed genocide,” said DNR Defense Minister Igor Strelkov, during a videotaped statement from Slavyansk on July 4. “To break the resistance of the militia, the enemy is using all available types of weaponry against the civilian population.”
The nearby city of Nikolayevka has been completely surrounded and bombarded with heavy weaponry. On June 3 the Nikolayevka Thermal Power Plant was destroyed. Banned weapons, including poison gas and white phosphorus, were reported used in the village of Semyonovka.
Brutal airstrikes, mortar fire and chemical attacks targeting homes, schools and hospitals continued even during a “ceasefire” declared by Ukraine’s pro-West President Peter Poroshenko in late June, which coincided with the signing of an economic agreement with the European Union. The “ceasefire” ended July 4.
The Kiev regime’s military attacks have also continued in the capital of the neighboring Lugansk People’s Republic (LC). The regional cancer treatment center was bombed on July 4. Airstrikes and shelling of residential areas of the capital were reported July 6.
Last May 11, people in the DNR and LC voted overwhelmingly for independence from Kiev in a democratic referendum.
“Over the course of the ‘ceasefire,’ the Ukrainian army performed full mobilization and concentration of forces,” said Strelkov, explaining that the continued defense of Slavyansk was unsustainable.
Officially, more than 250 people have been killed in Kiev’s so-called “Anti-Terrorist Operation” — mostly civilians, including many children. No one knows the real number of casualties since many areas are completely inaccessible.
Nearly 19,000 people — mostly parents with young children — have fled toward neighboring Russia from the Donbass region, which encompasses Donetsk and Lugansk. The International Committee of the Red Cross reported July 3 that the actual number of refugees in Russia is probably much higher.
Some 112 Donbass cities, towns and villages, with a total population of over 3.8 million, have come under attack, according to analysis published by the website Voices of Sevastopol.
Only 30,000 of Slavyansk’s population of 130,000 people remained when the people’s militia withdrew, Strelkov reported. Water, electricity and food supplies have been cut off for weeks.
Liberation or ‘filtration’?
While the people’s government in Donetsk termed the withdrawal from Slavyansk a strategic retreat, Ukraine’s billionaire president claimed it was a “symbolic victory in the fight with terrorists for the territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
Similarly, Interim Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk — a U.S. favorite who recently termed Donbass residents “subhuman” — crowed about the “liberation of Slavyansk and Kramatorsk from terrorists.” Pro-junta media showed photos of Ukrainian soldiers hugging children and giving flowers to grandmothers.
On the ground, the “victory” was less impressive.
According to independent U.S. journalist Patrick Lancaster, Ukrainian forces entered Kramatorsk’s main square with “two tanks, two APCs [armoured personnel carriers] and 15-20 foot soldiers, some of them snipers and some carrying rocket-propelled grenades.” After raising the Ukrainian flag on the roof of the former resistance headquarters, “they jumped back on their tanks and left.” (RT.com, July 5)
Within a few hours of Kramatorsk’s “liberation,” heavy shelling of the city by Ukrainian forces resumed.
Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, headed by the ultra-rightist Arseny Avakov, meanwhile announced that “an internal investigation of each member of the local police force will be launched” in Slavyansk on suspicion that they cooperated with DNR authorities.
Local police were detained while cops loyal to Kiev were brought in from western Ukraine.
Oleg Tsarev, speaker of parliament for the Union of Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republic, told Russia’s Channel 24, “Overnight, they arrested all policemen and took them out of the city.” He added, “They are arresting all young men from 25 to 35, not even trying to find out whether these men took up arms or not. Searches are underway. They are trying to find those who helped take care of the wounded.”
Kiev’s Ministry of Internal Affairs echoed former acting Minister of Defense Michael Koval’s plan for “filtration camps” for southeastern Ukraine, announcing it would “filter” refugees seeking to leave the region. (Glagol.in.ua, July 4)
Donetsk’s answer: ‘To Kiev’
On July 6, Koval — now appointed deputy secretary of the National Security Council — told Inter TV that “the main strategic plan of the Ukrainian army” was that “In the two regional centers of Lugansk and Donetsk a total block will be applied and appropriate measures carried out that will force the separatists to lay down their arms.”
More than 4,000 Donetsk residents took to the streets the same day to deliver their answer to Koval, the junta and their U.S.-EU backers. They demanded an end to Ukraine’s war crimes and declared their determination to defend the DNR.
At a mass protest in Lenin Square, People’s Governor Pavel Gubarev announced, “We will begin a real partisan war” around Donetsk.
The demonstrators were accompanied by members of the self-defense militias. Some rode in captured tanks and APCs emblazoned with the slogan “To Kiev” — meaning they do not intend to leave other Ukrainians at the mercy of the junta.
Meanwhile, in the heavily bombarded capital of Lugansk, protesters held up home-made target signs — similar to those that became the symbol of people protesting the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.
In an interview with LifeNews on July 7, Denis Pushilin, chair of the DNR Supreme Soviet, called the redeployment of the militia “a turning point in the confrontation with Kiev.” He continued, “If the militia had remained in Slavyansk and Kramatorsk, the cities would have been completely destroyed. Now there is more wiggle room.”
In an interview with LifeNews after his arrival in Donetsk, militia commander Strelkov said: “I plan to create, by my order as the minister of defense, a Central Military Council, which will include all the key field commanders, and where we will coordinate all questions related to the defense of the Donetsk People’s Republic. … In other words, we will be preparing Donetsk for active defense, to ensure that it is not taken over by the enemy.”