The shooting down of MH17 has led to harsh words used about both the Kremlin-backed militants in eastern Ukraine and those behind them, but left terminology largely intact. With the western media still talking of ‘separatists’ and of a ‘civil war’ underway in Ukraine, it is worth noting the poignant words spoken by Said Ismagilov, Mufti of the Religious Administration of Muslims of Ukraine who is himself in Donetsk.
Asked how he would describe what is presently happening in Donetsk and in the Donetsk oblast, he replied:
“I can’t even understand what is happening. Who could tell me! Heavy military technology with Russian flags is passing through city streets, together with a large number of armed soldiers. There is constant military action. It’s very audible and visible, and people are dying. It’s pretty difficult to formulate or give any classification for what’s really happening. People say that it’s more like an undeclared war. Because huge amounts of military technology and armed men are getting through from a neighbouring state and they are engaging in armed conflict with Ukrainian military units. This is happening in full view of residents. What classification do you give it? Here military experts should give their assessment, maybe politicians, maybe human rights and international organizations. <> A serious war is underway using Grad rocket systems, tanks, mortar, grenade launchers, you name it”.
The Kremlin and Russian media have assiduously pushed two different but related narratives. One is that Ukraine is in a state of civil war, the other that a ‘fascist regime in Kyiv’ is waging war against the people. The rhetoric has continued unabated regardless of the results of numerous public surveys and the unprecedented victory in the presidential elections by Petro Poroshenko. Profound, if not fatal, division is assumed in the west also.
Differences there doubtless are, yet even the immediate silencing of Ukrainian media and imposition of Russian propaganda channels have not resulted in the militants , from the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics [DPR, LPR, respectively] being seen as representatives of the people,. Slovyansk and Kramatorsk are returning to normal life after the militants fled and there are no signs that the residents want them back.
Religious intolerance from the militants’ official ideologues who acknowledge only the Russian Orthodox Church, the abduction of clergy and murder of four members of an evangelical church have probably only strengthened impressive solidarity seen among representatives of different faiths. This has been especially strong in Donetsk where Pastor Sergei Kosyak, Said Ismagilov and other religious figures have led a prayer marathon for the last 142 days.
In the same Radio Svoboda interview, Said Ismagilov was adamant that the majority of Muslims in the Donetsk oblast support Ukraine, and that there would only be a minority who side with the DPR. Asked if he is aware of pressure from the DPR on Muslims, he answered that he himself had not been targeted, but noted that the situation was difficult for members of other faiths. “It’s hard to feel calm and confident when representatives of other faiths are abducted, when pressure is put on them. The Donetsk Christian University was seized in the last few days, everybody was thrown out and armed formations moved in.”
Separatist or terrorists?
Western media preface any use of the term anti-terrorist operation with the words that this is how the Ukrainian government calls its operation against the Kremlin-backed militants. Even the shooting down by militants of a Malaysian airline has not led to a readjustment of terms. The logic is presumably that they did it ‘by accident’ believing that they were ‘only’ shooting down a Ukrainian military transport plane.
The so-called separatists have in general not been locals. In Slovyansk they had to ask how to get to the central square of the city, while another lot dazzled in Kharkiv by mistaking the opera house for the regional administration building they wanted to storm. A very large number of those fighting are Russian nationals, and Moscow has long abandoned attempts to rely on home-grown ‘separatists’ to front the so-called ‘republics’. The DPR leaders, for example, include Russian ‘defence minister’, Igor Girkin [Strelkov], believed to be a GRU military intelligence man, Alexander Borodai, a Russian PR manager and the new ‘deputy prime minister’ Vladimir Antjufeev, former head of the KGB of Moldova’s breakaway region of Transnistria which is politically and economically supported by Moscow.
Most of this has been reported countless times, and will be so again, with seemingly no impact on the terminology used.
The presentation of those fighting as ‘separatists’ is not swayed either by the overtly terrorist or simply criminal activities that the militants are currently involved in.
As of July 24 two priests are still held hostage: Father Yury Ivanov (Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate) and Father Viktor Wąsowicz, a Polish Roman Catholic priest from Horlivka. The number of journalists, civic activists and simply members of the public taken hostage is much higher and ongoing. Four deacons and members of a church, Horlivka deputy Volodymyr Rybak, 19-year-old student Yury Popravko and others were tortured before being murdered. An unmarked grave was uncovered on July 24 in Slovyansk which may well hold the remains of people killed for alleged help to the Ukrainian military, etc.
Much of the hostage-taking appears to be linked with banal extortion, or – as with the abduction of up to 9 African students from Luhansk and many other young men – for use as physical labour or live shields.
The elaborate performance in which the Russian Vostok battalion was deployed to ‘clean up’ the Donetsk militants on May 29 was for the cameras only. The militants have actively plundered and robbed civilians, shopping complexes and ‘confiscated’ Privatbank in Donetsk. On July 23, for example, the supermarket Varus and shopping centre Donetsk City were cleaned out by the ‘militants’. Said Ismagilov writes that the saddest show was enacted against 8-10 Indians selling mobile phones in small shops. They were shoved out onto the street with automatic rifles pointed at them. The Indians shouted something to each other in their own language, and received a torrent of foul language from the militants and demand that they speak Russian. Their whereabouts now are unknown.
In the meantime western countries who have clearly recognized Moscow’s very major role in providing the arms and military technology, men and training for this artificially manufactured unrest, are continuing to ‘consider’ tough measures which they may just set to paper before heading off for their summer vacation.