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The first blood. How "Russian Winter" started in Donetsk

03/29/2016 03:57:15 pm
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More than a thousand of aggressive pro-Russian activists attacked the protesters for the unity of Ukraine on Lenin Square in Donetsk two years ago, on March 13th, 2014. On that terrible day everything began relatively quietly but later the situation changed dramatically.


People with flags of Russia and at that time unknown organization "Donetsk Republic" threw eggs, firecrackers and smoke bombs at their opponents. When the demonstration was over, they started beating the protesters that were leaving.


It was a real carnage in the city center with a large amount of police! There were casualties - Dmitriy Cherniavsky, who was an activist and spokesperson of the Donetsk regional organization of Svoboda, died as a result of stabs. On that day he was one of self-defense that protected the protesters "For united Ukraine".




We asked direct participants of the event - organizers of the pro-Ukrainian demonstration, random participants and activists - to tell what the day was like and how they evaluated it two years after. Some of them asked not to indicate their names to protect themselves and loved ones living in Donetsk.

Diana Berg. Co-organizer of the "For united Ukraine" demonstration: "While we were singing the national anthem and calling for a peaceful dialogue, the other side was throwing firecrackers, fireworks,  containers with green paint."

We, the organizers of the "Donetsk is Ukraine" movement had a double feeling after the experience of the mass pro-Ukrainian demonstration in Donetsk on March 5th, 2014. On the one hand, it was obvious that there were many pro-Ukrainian Donetsk residents, it was necessary to protest - after all that about 10 thousand people gathered on the square then. On the other hand, we understood that every demonstration under the Ukrainian flag was a risk of pro-Russian crowd’s attacks. This was confirmed by disrupted demonstration on March 9th. However, it was clear that not to go to mass protests because of fear was cowardice. The example of Kiev Maidan didn’t let us sit quietly at home. Therefore, there was a collective decision to hold the next demonstration on March 13th (we chose a weekday on purpose - opponents for pro-Russian actions were brought massively to the city at the weekends).

One of our mistakes was the announcement of the date and place of the demonstration. Of course, a notice of the action was submitted to the city council. However, the pro-Russian party, knowing about our plans, also submitted a notice of a "peaceful demonstration for the federalization" - at the same time in the same place. We got to know that fact just a few hours before the demonstration but we decided not to cancel it at the last second - just warned in social networks that we were dangerously close to the opponents.

At night on March 13th several of our team members were detained by the police - for attempting to tear off a Russian flag in the main street of the city. They spent 12 hours in the police office and it was an obvious hint that we shouldn’t have relied on police patriotism.

The demonstration was tense - a cordon of police and self-defense chain separated couple thousands of pro-Ukrainian activists from the angry "peaceful supporters of federalization". While we were singing the national anthem and calling for a peaceful dialogue, the other side was throwing firecrackers, fireworks, containers with green paint. But the most popular instrument was the egg - thousands of eggs were thrown at us and the entire surface became slippery as an ice rink. When the meeting was almost over and participants began to leave, it turned out that we were surrounded on all sides - at that time we were attacked by more experienced and trained people  with gas, bats, knives and guns. Fortunately, most people managed to escape. Organizers survived only thanks to the self-defense - several dozens of guys who resisted the brunt. A crowd of opponents was growing and attacking our guys, Dima Cherniavsky was among them...

It was there, near the police bus, where Dima was fatally stabbed while police was calmly watching the carnage. It's the bus that had to evacuate the self-defense as a last resort - and it turned out to be a trap. Then Donetsk shed the first blood for the integrity of Ukraine and hope to resolve the conflict in a peaceful way disappeared.

Artyom, Donetsk self-defense activist: "We tried to avoid the events that eventually happened in Donbass."

I realized that we had to show whole Ukraine that there were patriots in Donetsk. And we had to take to the streets with flags of our country. I participated in that event accidently then. Even there, on the square, I was offered to join the so-called self-defense – had a red ribbon tied on my arm. This meant that I had to, in the case of fights, protect civilians from provocation of pro-Russian opponents. Including my own sister whom I met by chance in the same place, at the demonstration.

I had a double feeling the next days: when I was looking through pictures of events of that evening, I found many comrades who were "on the other side".

The events that happened two years ago don’t seem something extraordinary when you think about the war, the fact that we had to leave our hometown. We tried to avoid the events that eventually happened in Donbass.

Dmitriy Tkachenko, head of the analytical center of the Thought factory "Donbass" : "Two years after I  want to concentrate on what those events meant for me and the like-minded "

Already on March 8th it was known that they were preparing serious provocations against us, therefore, the Committee of Voters of Ukraine and several other organizations didn’t support the idea of ​​holding a demonstration on March 13th.

Two years after I want to concentrate on what those events meant for me and the like-minded. It was after the events of March 13th when we decided to create a union of the Committee of the Patriotic Forces of Donbass. We managed to create one of the first volunteer groups to help the Ukrainian army, begin to shape the media space and show that Donetsk is Ukraine.

Many of us have become volunteers and volunteers continued their struggle. Those sad events in Donetsk showed that another Donbass had to return to Ukraine and we need to design it on our own.

Igor, a student: "After the hell at the demonstration I realized that I had lost my favourite Donetsk forever"

I am a native of Donetsk. I got to know about the demonstration in the social networks. Encouraged by the previous demonstration of patriots of Ukraine, which had been held a week earlier, I decided to take part in that one. I rang up friends with the pro-Ukrainian position, offered to go together. Many said they were afraid to go because of the increasing aggression in the city against everything Ukrainian. As a result, there were only four of us, including a fragile girl who completely wrapped herself into the Ukrainian flag and walked like that several streets.

We came to Lenin Square, where the demonstration was already in full swing. At this point, the activists were just singing the national anthem of Ukraine and we gladly joined. It was really scary when we saw our angry pro-Russian opponents and, in fact, inaction of the police. Then they started to throw everything possible at us - eggs, firecrackers and stones. When a a smoke bomb exploded just a meter away from our fragile and  eggs hit her head a few times - we took her away from all obscurantism.

The demonstration was over and when we were approaching the pedestrian crossing near the McDonalds, people with the Russian tricolor started to beat us. We rebuffed but there were too many of them. They didn’t hurt the girl but tore apart her Ukrainian flag. Later we got to know about the death of Dima Cherniavsky, we were completely shocked. After the hell at the demonstration I realized that I had lost my favourite Donetsk forever.

I go to Donetsk often enough - almost all my close relatives are there. But I can not physically be there for a long time, rarely go out, although I live just 15-minute walk away from the same Lenin Square. I just want to keep in mind my favourite places in Donetsk without "DNR" symbols, without destruction in the streets and in separatists’ heads.

Sergey Garmash, journalist: "No one drew any conclusions then. Neither in Kiev nor in Donetsk."

I didn’t attend the demonstration. At that time I was invited to live broadcast of Donbass TV company. There were live broadcasts and we knew that there was a mass brawl but then I couldn’t imagine it was an outright slaughter. It seemed to me that the police and authorities had to provide, at least, an illusion of protection of statehood because it could affect their posts ... It was, in my opinion, beginning of the "Russian Winter" in Donbass: terrors felt their impunity, felt their power. And the authorities and law enforcement agencies, without incurring responsibility for what happened, realized that you could play games but not perform their duties. Moreover, after this demonstration, police began pursue guys from the Self-Defense ...

I went to the Kalinin hospital where the victims had been brought immediately after the demonstration. I saw the blood, communicated with people. The next day, as a journalist, I talked with the organizers and I found out that in many ways the reason for what happened was disorganization of pro-Ukrainian forces, they were not coordinated. I do not blame the guys, at the time we did not realize that we opposed a well-organized and disbursed campaign stimulated by Russia. We got to know later that whole groups of people from Rostov, who lived in the building of Donetsk temples; safe but not very conspiratorial apartments; that titushky and criminals from the whole region in Donetsk were brought specially for such actions. All the criminal world, which Yanukovych, Ivanyushchenko, Akhmetov and other "regional" evil affected, worked to create chaos and conflict in which everyone hoped to receive their dividends. They divided the region between themselves and Russia used the situation to play out its script.

Unfortunately, no one drew any conclusions then. Neither in Kiev nor in Donetsk. We didn’t close the border for the strings of "tourists" from Russia. We didn’t change the heads of the police at all levels. We didn’t make the regional authorities in Bankova become authorities ... In general, all, that we have now, started with that first blood.

Ruslan Biryukov, OstroV