Friday, July 01, 2016


Ukraine

In Ukraine's West, Patriotism Is One Thing. Fighting's Quite Another

Ihor, 51, reporting for army training in Lviv with his 2-year-old daughter, Bozhenka, and his 14-year-old son, Nazar.
Ihor, 51, reporting for army training in Lviv with his 2-year-old daughter, Bozhenka, and his 14-year-old son, Nazar.

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Letters From Donbas, Part 3: 'Dirt, Tears, and Blood'

Thousands have fled eastern Ukraine since the conflict erupted in April. Some have since returned. Other people chose to stay and tough it out. From teachers to pensioners to families with children, residents of rebel-held towns are struggling to get on with their lives amid the chaos and uncertainty.
By Daisy Sindelar and Halyna Tereshchuk

MALEKHIV, Lviv Oblast, Ukraine -- In towns this small, there are three numbers that local officials like Volodymyr Seinkovskiy can recite without even consulting their files: how many of their men are fighting, how many are injured, and how many are dead. 
 
In the undeclared Donbas war that has claimed the lives of more than 5,400 soldiers and civilians, this quietly prosperous village on the northern outskirts of Lviv in western Ukraine is luckier than some. Out of a population of 2,400, it has 19 men at the front, four recovering from injuries, and -- as of last month -- one death.  
 
The victim, 27-year-old Taras Dorosh, was shot by a sniper on January 14 during heavy fighting against pro-Russian forces in the settlement of Stanytsa Luhanskaya in eastern Luhansk Oblast. Despite wearing a Polish-made vest -- purchased for him by the Malekhiv council at a cost of 75 euros ($86) -- he was killed instantly when the bullet slipped between the armored plates. 
 
"He was a very good guy, a great person," Seinkovskiy says, lowering his head and crossing himself as he stands next to Dorosh's grave, awash in flowers and a laminated photograph of Dorosh in a traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirt. "And he's made it very hard to convince other men here that they should go fight as well."
 
Seinkovsky has spent the past three weeks knocking on doors in Malekhiv in an aim to deliver 78 call-up notices to local men, aged 25 and older, deemed eligible for service. And he's feeling increasingly unpopular: for every 10 notices, he says he's lucky to make contact with two or three people.

"There's only so much we can do," he says. 

The grave of 27-year-old Ukrainian Army soldier Taras Dorosh in Malekhiv, his home village in the Lviv region. Dorosh died far from home after being shot by a sniper during heavy fighting against pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.
The grave of 27-year-old Ukrainian Army soldier Taras Dorosh in Malekhiv, his home village in the Lviv region. Dorosh died far from home after being shot by a sniper during heavy fighting against pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.


 
With the fourth wave of mobilization, launched on January 20, the government has issued a reported 100,000 call-up notices with the aim of mobilizing at least half. 
 
For Lviv Oblast, that means 3,000 men. But while no one denies the seriousness of the stakes in the east, few are eager to fight a war for a government they say has done little to provide proper training, equipment, or compensation. 
 
"There's a mobilization going on, people are going through training, but there's nothing to shoot with, no guns to practice with," says Mykhaylo, a 30-year-old Malekhiv native who has yet to receive a call-up. "There's a budget for this, right? What happened to that money? If everything operated the way it should, the army would be taking care of people." 
 
"Kyiv has done a really bad job of promoting the mobilization," adds Yuriy, 29. "A lot of men are dying at the front, and people are afraid to go. Let the authorities provide some social benefits for those people who come back from the war, so that people know what they're fighting for." 
 
'The Cowardly Bastard' 
 

Many western Ukrainians – deeply patriotic but geographically distant from the war -- bristle at the suggestion that they are shirking responsibility at a time of national crisis. 
 
"We do everything ourselves," says one Lviv resident, who can recite with pinpoint precision the latest battlefront developments. "We feed our soldiers. We clothe them. We take care of their families. Everyone is donating everything they can. No one is helping us -- certainly not Kyiv." 
 
Lviv, together with the neighboring regions of Ternopil and Ivano-Frankivsk, was considered the restive heart of the Euromaidan protests that led to former President Viktor Yanukovych's ouster a year ago. But the west has since become a target of government scrutiny on the issue of mobilization, particularly as reports of draft dodging have spread. 
 
"He yells 'Glory to Ukraine' until he's hoarse, tells everyone what an absolute patriot he is," wrote Yuriy Biryukov, a military adviser to President Petro Poroshenko, in a recent Facebook post taking aim at western Ukrainians. "He despises the weakness of the Kyiv authorities...and foams at the mouth proving that the use of Russian is a sign of the work of Muscovites. And yet the cowardly bastard puts his tail between his legs and hides from the commissar." 
 
Military prosecutors have reportedly launched as many as 1,300 criminal cases against draft dodgers, most notably Ruslan Kotsaba, a journalist in Ivano-Frankivsk arrested after posting a video calling on Ukrainians to resist mobilization. 
 
In Lviv, military authorities last week set up roadblocks around the city, using routine traffic stops as an attempt to catch draft dodgers. The tactic was abandoned after less than two days. But in that time, says Oleksandr Tishchenko, the military commander for Lviv Oblast, dozens of offenders were served notice. 
 
"A lot of people are attempting to avoid mobilization," he says. "We get messages that they're abroad, or on a business trip, or that they no longer live at a certain address. But as we discovered, they're freely driving around Lviv." 
 
More than 2,000 people who have received call-ups have failed to show up for registration, Tishchenko adds.
 

"We're not the worst when it comes to the mobilization" -- that distinction reportedly falls to Ivano-Frankivsk and to the Kharkiv region in the east. "But the situation is deplorable."
 
Some have accused Russia of feeding antimilitary sentiment in the west as a way of driving a wedge between regions like Lviv and the post-Yanukovych government in Kyiv. Viktor Medvedchuk, the head of the Ukraine's Choice civic movement and a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is seen as a driving force between major antimobilization campaigns in the west. 
 
Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyy, meanwhile, has scrambled to defend his city's reputation, arguing that the draft is proceeding well.  Of 574 call-up notices issued in the city by February 13, 472 people had already come forward to enlist.

"I want those who criticize Lviv residents to hear these figures," he said. 
 
Finding A Cause
 
Supporters of recruitment say the government is trying to do more to improve the lot of enlisted soldiers -- current frontline pay, for example, is 10,000 hryvnyas a month ($383), a substantial jump from Lviv's average income of just 3,300. 
 
The Defense Ministry has also raised the chance of exemption for men with illnesses, young children, or invalids in their care. And authorities have vowed to address one of the bitterest grievances of volunteer brigades, who until now have been unable to receive official documentation of wartime service granting them access to free hospital care and other benefits. 
 
Still, local authorities like Seinkovskiy say few men go to battle feeling secure about their families.

"In Malekhiv, we compensate injured soldiers with plots of land. But how is a man with head trauma or other injuries going to build himself a house? He's not. He's going to sell the land, spend the money, and end up begging for change on the street," he says. "These soldiers deserve to know that, if something happens to them, their families will have a place to live, and money to live on, no matter what." 

Ivan Sprynskyy, 29, head of a voluntary organization that delivers supplies to Ukrainian soldiers fighting in the country's east. He is standing with a 6-month-old German shepherd, one of two dogs donated by volunteers in the Czech Republic to be trained to detect explosives in the war zone.
Ivan Sprynskyy, 29, head of a voluntary organization that delivers supplies to Ukrainian soldiers fighting in the country's east. He is standing with a 6-month-old German shepherd, one of two dogs donated by volunteers in the Czech Republic to be trained to detect explosives in the war zone.


 
With the fate of the February 15 cease-fire deeply uncertain, some in the west are quietly suggesting that it may be easier to hand the eastern territories to Russia rather than continue a costly war.

Ivan Sprynskyy, 29, the head of a local volunteer organization, disagrees. 
 
"When people say something like that, I usually tell them: 'It's you that should be sent to Russia, and not the people of Donbas,'" says Sprynskyy, who regularly drives to the war zone to deliver food, clothing -- and eventually, two bomb-sniffing German shepherds donated by the Czech Republic -- for his charity, They Don't Let Slaves Into Heaven. "That's just giving away the land of a country that was built over centuries...built through blood. To say that we should give it away is either weak or just despicable." 
                                                                                                     
At a local enlistment base in central Lviv, 51-year-old Ihor agrees. Though one of the older men reporting for 40-day training at the nearby Yavoriv military base, he is by far the most impassioned.

"I didn't go to Maidan because I thought my kids were too small," says Ihor, who has a 2-year-old daughter, Bozhenka, and a 14-year-old son, Nazar. "But it bothered my conscience not to be there. When the war started, I said, 'I want to go, you have to enlist me.' And they did. I insisted on it, and now I'm going." 
 
Ihor lifts Bozhenka, burbling in a bright pink coat, and looks tenderly at his wife, Viktoria, who is packing and repacking his bag, tears rolling down her cheeks. He says he's tired of watching people suffer in the east. 
 
"I'm not going there to kill," he says. "I'm going to save human souls. I'm a religious man. One of our politicians said no one is going to help you -- not Europe, not America. Only God." 
 
He pauses, then adds, "Freedom comes through blood." 

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