Last week, PAX has recorded a first interview in a series, with a Ukrainian citizen, who is connected to PAX. We are speaking with mr. L., a lawyer from the Luhansk-Donetsk region.
Mr. L. from Luhansk-Donetsk
Mr. L. is not his real name. L. is not even the first letter of his name. We use this pseudonym because he is afraid for repercussions, giving us his insights about the war in his region. He experienced these repercussions in 2014 as well, when separatists violently took over this province in the East of Ukraine.
The photo as shown in the article is situated in his basement, where he and his family are hiding and trying to stay safe.
What are you doing at the moment?
I am looking over the city that the Russians are trying to take over, from one window. Before, on the other side, I could also look out over the other big city in our region, but these windows have been blinded not to attract attention from Russian planes and soldiers.
How are you? How is your daily life at the moment?
Our body has become like one big ear; we listen attentively all day what is going on. Due to numerous explosions and shelling, in order to stay safe, we had to move to our basement, where we normally during wintertime stall our jars with vegetables. Actually underground we have set up our so-called second house. My daughter has even decorated this room with Christmas lights to make us feel more like home. [Painting this image, his voice breaks and he needs to take a breath.] We sing songs, we read stories, we talk. We only run up to the kitchen to prepare our food. But for basic needs, we are not leaving the house anymore. Last week a woman was killed by shelling, just on the street, on the east side of town.
My eldest daughter studies in Kyiv, she is also under shelling every day. I am calling her many times every day to see how she is doing since I am very worried about her. I also call my friends and relatives in Kharkiv. They are sharing information that jet flights fly over and are shooting. But when I ask them if they will leave Kharkiv, they reply that they would rather die in their home town than flee.
How are the basic needs such as electricity, water supply, internet, food?
Thanks God we are provided with all basic needs, but sometime we experience power cuts and cuts of the internet connection.
What do you expect to happen now? What is in your eyes a solution to this war?
Regarding the solution, I see a role for international organizations focusing on creating a safe place for civilians in this area. I clearly understand that this hard to organize. Let me try to explain it in a metaphor. It’s easy to find common language with a criminal, even the worst criminal, but with shelling you can’t negotiate, there is no common language.
To stop the war, in my view a few steps should be taken. First of all international organizations or third party organizations should step in to create safe areas or safe heavens. In these place people could move around peacefully, to get hygiene packs for example. But I also see that peacekeepers should be invited. And this will be difficult as well, especially since 2014. But these missions should record acts of violations. Let me give you an example. We are sending to our Russian friends living in Russia now videos of violations of their army. We are so angry with Russia. Because it’s so unhuman all this shelling they are confronting us with. I also believe that Russia should be brought to international justice. Thanks to the Ukrainian army, we are protected now. This didn’t happen in 2014. It was said at that time that our region had 700.000 inhabitants but nobody protected us. We had to leave at that time during occupation and we returned only now. But those who continued to live in this area and didn’t leave the territory, they left later and they don’t want to come back anymore. The international community started to record the violations now and I really want the International Criminal Court to start as soon as possible to bring Russia to justice.
Another cause why we are now in this situation, is due to the fact that in 2014 no proper sanctions from the international community were taken to punish the people that violated our sovereignty. Nobody was punished for these war crimes. And this resulted in the repetition of these crimes, like we witness now. Just to give you an example. In 2004, not in 2014, we were under repression, because we were not supporting the political parties that had the majority in our region. As a result, my mother she was fired from her job illegally, violating the labor code. She worked in administration in one of the factories in the area. I brought her case to court. This has ended in her death a year after, when the case was closed.
In your city, from 2014 onwards, as you have stated, Ukrainians were moving out, other people were moving in. Do you see a rise in tensions between people at this very moment?
[Trying to find words to answer, Mr. L. starts sniffing.] First of all I would like to say that in 2014, nobody in our area supported the separation from Ukraine. We were all citizens of Ukraine. That’s why we don’t have a conflict amongst ourselves, those who left and came back. In 2014 I was really surprised that we were not participating in voting. But it was decided that the population from my area voted for the Luhansk Peoples Republic. But they were not locals, they were brought from other parts in the region. And they voted, so this party won the elections.
During the Orange Revolution, we had elections in 2004 and I was head of a polling station. We received lots of signs that the elections were manipulated. We saw how dirty the political party of Viktor Yanukovych was. We called the people voting ‘dead souls’. We were threatened. I had to deal with a police station commander, who was also in the position to manipulate the elections. Nothing stopped them to win.
In your opinion, what kind of help should Ukraine get from Europe?
Regarding sanctions and military support, I think it’s helpful but it’s not enough. First of all, sanctions are not a punishment, they don’t provide safety to people. Secondly, there should be peacekeepers. Then, those that are guilty should be brought to international court. The Russian society, Russians, do not believe that Russia is doing this to us.
The first step that need to be taken is inviting peacekeepers, in the next few weeks, either be it from the UN or NATO troops. It will be an UN decision, to deploy them, in all the districts of our area and in every region. If we would have this third party now, it would decrease 80% of violations happening now. If we would have had them 2 weeks ago, the situation would have been 50% less harmful, with much less shelling and civilians killed.
You know I see the image of innocent sheep walking around in green pastures, and wolves attacking them in packs, biting them, hunting them. These sheep, it’s us.
And what about the military support Ukraine is getting now, what are your thoughts?
No doubt it is important and crucial for us. But to be honest, it had to be done 5 years ago when we were confronted with this Russian aggression. Now we are suffering from violence. For example, when a person is are already weak and you are giving him a baseball bat, it won’t help him. Or to give you another example, with domestic violence there should be a third party stepping in to resolve the conflict between people. This is the case for us as well. Sanctions, weapons, peacekeepers and tribunal are my answer to your question.
Did I miss an important topic about which you want to talk about?
You have raised questions that touch our society. It touches my soul and even in some way I started to feel that we are not alone. So I want to thank you for writing down my story. It is very important and valuable for us.
Note: One day after the interview had taken place, mr. L. and his family were evacuated in the middle of the night and safely united with their eldest daughter in the West of Ukraine. The journey took them 2 days.