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Nervous And Thirsty, Donetsk Braces For A Showdown

A young boy takes a picture of a crater left in the asphalt in the eastern city of Donetsk.
A young boy takes a picture of a crater left in the asphalt in the eastern city of Donetsk.

As the circle around the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk draws tighter, residents are finding it more and more difficult to leave the city.

Local blogger Denis Kazansky tells RFE/RL that people are growing increasingly nervous and dissatisfied as separatist militants dig in for possible street-by-street fighting with approaching Ukrainian government forces.

"People can leave," Kazansky tells RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, "but it is very risky because all the routes out of the city cross the front lines where there is shooting. But the trains are running and, in principle, the tracks are undamaged. There are still ways to get out of Donetsk."

The already tense situation in Donetsk has been made more uneasy by reports that water supplies to the city have been cut and reserve supplies might last as few as five days.

Ukrainian and Russian media are reporting that the pipeline supplying water from the Northern Donetsk-Donbas Canal has been damaged in several places by fighting in recent days. Local water and electricity officials have said they will not be able to repair the damage until the security situation in the region improves.

It is impossible to say how many of Donetsk's preconflict population of about 1 million remain in the city. But there are growing signs of public discontent with the way the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic has been run since it declared independence from Ukraine, blogger Kazansky says.

"There are many people in Donetsk who need help," Kazansky says. "There is a problem with bomb shelters -- people don't have anywhere to shelter during air raids or artillery attacks. People try to call to the City Council, to the city administration, but either no one answers the phone or someone just tells them rudely where to go."

Donetsk Mayor Aleksandr Lukyanchenko left the city last week. "Government has ceased to work…." Kazansky says. "Donetsk has already fallen into anarchy, unfortunately."

'People Are Just Tired'

The remaining residents of Donetsk are increasingly coming to the conclusion that de facto independence has meant nothing more than military rule.

"Many people are just tired," Kazansky says. "They understand there can be no normal life with these people [the separatist leadership]. This is not a government, but a military group that knows how to fight, how to get ahold of weapons, how to murder, how to shoot. But if the fighting somehow ended tomorrow, how would these people manage the city?"

Kazansky says many locals are also dissatisfied with the domination of Russians in the independence project.

"It is open occupation," he says. "Russian arms, Russian agents, Russian mercenaries and fighters…." He says locals such as self-proclaimed Donetsk Governor Pavel Gubarev and self-proclaimed Donetsk legislature head Denis Pushilin have been just "fig leaves" for the Russian presence from the beginning and that they have now largely "disappeared" from public view.

Ukrainian government officials have said repeatedly that they will not take Donetsk by storm and that the city will not become a battleground. The separatists, for their part, have vowed they will not be dislodged without a fight.

A local journalist in Donetsk who sometimes reports for RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service says local residents are cautiously optimistic that Kyiv will manage to repeat the July 7 retaking of Slovyansk.

"As the experience of Slovyansk shows, those who come and liberate the city are treated like heroes," the journalist says. "I think the Kyiv government has a great opportunity now to increase the number of its supporters in Donetsk by freeing the city from the militants and quickly restoring order."

RFE/RL correspondents Merkhat Sharipzhanov and Robert Coalson contributed to this story from Prague.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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