Q: Please introduce yourself and explain why you want to have this interview published.
I called you for this interview and ask you to publish it because I want my side of the story to be told without interference. You may call me Sergei, we both know it is not my real name but given the situation I want to stay anonymous and not risk my friends and family (*). These are dangerous times, I give you this interview under the condition that my identity will not be revealed.
I am from Donetsk, I am Russian born in Ukraine when it was still part the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union fell apart I became Ukrainian because my family has lived in Donbas for generations, my father has built a blooming family business here and didn’t want to leave. My father said he was born as Russian in Ukraine and will die as Russian in Ukraine. Back then, I was in Russia in de Soviet Army and followed my father’s decision so I was transferred to Ukraine as Ukrainian (*). Becoming more and more disappointed in the Kiev government, I resigned and joined our family business in Donetsk.
My passport says I am Ukrainian but I feel Russian, I am Russian, always have been Russian and always will be Russian. We know each other for many years, you know this has always been my point of view. Please don’t get me wrong, this is my personal sentiment about being Russian, not the sentiment of all people in Donbas, especially not in Donetsk. Even my younger brother doesn’t agree with me and he still proudly serves as Ukrainian Officer. My sister on the other hand lives in Crimea and cried from happiness when she received her Russian passport, she feels liberated from Ukrainian occupation. My father is and will always be a Ukrainian-Russian, until his last breath. This shows you how divided we are and I believe you will find the same all over Donbas and other parts of Ukraine.
Q: You know I have only a limited audience, why not go to media with your story?
That is very simple – I don’t trust the media. A lot of what is written and said is not true, every side turns the facts around as they want and some even make up stories just to have a story. They show footage from the Chechen wars, from Syria, Iraq, Georgia and even Africa as if they happened here. Only last week I was offered 500 USD in cash by a reporter to tell a story for the camera which he had prepared and I should claim to be an eyewitness, footage of the events was already prepared he said. The same evening I watched an old lady telling the same story he showed me. She was an eyewitness according to the reporter, the same guy who approached me on the streets. Broadcasted on Russian TV and who knows where else. The next day my neighbors cried out “look what they are doing to us”.
I don’t want this to happen to what I want to tell. I trust you will not change my words and find a way to spread it (*). When other people publish my words as I said them it would make me happy, as long as my words are not changed or turned around. Even when only a few people will read it, at least my words will be my words (*).
Q: How do you feel about the separatist movements in Donbas?
To be honest I was all for it at first and deep in my heart I still am. The transition from Crimea to the Russian Federation gave me hope we could achieve the same for our region, I strongly believed in the Russian Spring. I have spent a lot of time on Crimea (*) for work before and during the transition and seeing what happened and how it was handled made me hope we could do the same here – become part of Russia without war. Yes I know, not everybody on Crimea is happy with it but a fast majority is and a lot of us wanted the same, many still do. And what most of us want, even does who oppose joining the Russian Federation, is to be away from the criminal and corrupt politicians in Kiev. That is what most people here have in common. I know many loyal heartfelt Ukrainians who would rather go to Russia then stay here as victim of those criminals.
So when the movement in Donetsk started, I actively supported them. Participated in many demonstrations and gatherings, helped to build barricades, spend money, equipment and food and even handed over my old military goods I had at home. When Mr. Putin spoke about supporting us in our right to determine our own future during his televised interview, our hopes wend sky high. The “friendly green men” would soon arrive and the announced referendum would bring us to Russia. There were even talks of forming a federation reaching from Lugansk to Odessa, Novorossiya as Mr. Putin called it. At night we discussed how we would compete with Crimea on becoming the greatest republics in the Russian Federations. They have the military advantage, we have the resources and manpower. That shows you how optimistic we were. Well, most of us. Others expressed not wanting to go this path.
But the “friendly green men” didn’t come and the referendum was entirely different from what I have seen on Crimea. On Crimea, most people just couldn’t wait to finally vote. There was no pressure from the omnipresent Russian forces and there was pure celebration under the Russian population. Yes I know not everybody agreed with the events and yes I know many Ukrainians decided to boycott the referendum under these circumstances. And yes, not everything wend according to the rules. Mea culpa, I also voted although not being a Crimean citizen. The ballot was handed to me by a guy clearly speaking Muscovite Russian, my ID was never checked. Voting in front of me were English speaking foreign reporters with Russian press credentials and their translator who got their ballot from the same guy. Another guy who seemed to speak English with an Italian or Spanish accent joked to their translator about voting for the first time outside of Europe. So not all was as clean as the authorities and media want you to believe but nevertheless it was the decision of the majority. And as the old proverb goes – better a dirty win than a clean loss (*).
Q: Please elaborate on the referendum in Donetsk
As I said, the referendum in Donetsk was different and the “friendly green men” didn’t arrive. Instead the local criminals started to form armed militias and gained influence in the city and suburbs. Also many mercenaries from elsewhere came and their numbers continued to increase. Mercenaries and basically every known criminal from the region formed the so called self-defense forces and became more and more violent towards the local public.
In the days before the referendum we were exposed to massive threats. Armed masked men came to my office twice to tell me I should make sure our employees would make the right vote or our company would become a sad victim of attacks by the Ukrainian army. You know that we employ several engineers from West Ukraine (*). Some of them had already resigned and left and after these incidents I advised the remaining Ukrainians to leave because I could no longer guarantee their safety. Most took my advice and moved back to the West except for 1. A thickhead, he reminds me a lot of my father. A few days later he didn’t show up for work and we have never heard from him, his wife is also missing and their apartment is now confiscated by militia members.
I went to vote, still hoping better days would come, still believing in the promise by Mr. Putin. At the ballot box was an armed masked man, insisting to check my ballot before I entered it (*). He checked all ballots of all voters. At that moment I wondered what he would have done when someone voted against his will. When I was ready to leave the building, another armed masked man stopped me, gave me a filled out ballot and ordered me to vote again. His accent was very clearly from the Asian regions. I was directed to a ballot box at the side of the room and did as I was told, recognizing several neighbors doing the same. After casting my second vote I was allowed to leave.
Later that night I visited my father who lives in a different district. He told me that he was also checked by “motivators” as he called them but he already received filled out ballots when entering the room with clear instructions to deposit them in the box. A toothless goon checked his ballots with the barrel of his gun (*). My father told me his heart wanted to vote against the DPR but he didn’t dare to do so.
This was not how it was supposed to be, this was not a vote by the people of Donetsk. I started to understand there would be no better days. War was coming, you could feel it and you could see it (*).
Q: What happened after the referendum?
For me a personal tragedy. The week after the referendum I made the mistake of going to the local police station and asked questions about the whereabouts of my missing employee and his wife. Instead of answers or the opportunity to file a missing person report, I got a serious beating from 2 goons now claiming to be in charge of security of the city. One of them is an alcoholic who used to steal cupper from our yards so he could buy his booze. The other one I recognized as the local debt collector for the Mafia who used to come in our office to collect protection money in the past. We wanted a new future but how should that happen when the criminals who terrorized us in the past are now the ruling force in the region?
The same evening our house was robbed and set on fire, I am glad my wife and daughter were not there, God only knows what they would have done to them. I got my second beating of the day and was told I should be happy they didn’t burn me with my house like they have done with other traitors. Hours later some drunken fireman came by and watched what was left of our house burn to ashes without doing anything. Drunk as can be, they told me to think about what side I am on before trying to give me a third beating but for this they were too drunk.
Criminals now ruled the streets and the local authorities were all in. You are in or out, violence is their answer in doubt. That same night I sent my wife and my daughter to Crimea to my sister who lives there and is now a Russian citizen by choice (*). I stayed behind to take care of my father and what was left of our business. We had already problems with supplies and workers started to stay home. Also a lot of our equipment was confiscated by the militias.
Then the Ukrainian presidential elections came. More threats daily, also at our company. Better not vote or else… Having experienced their or else already, most of us decided not to vote (*). My father voted, he refused to have his election rights taken away but he had to undertake quite some journey with his neighbor to be able to vote. The place he should have voted was blocked by militia, others were completely destroyed. But my father is my father so he found a way. He said he did it the Soviet way, proudly wearing his medals.
Q: There are many reports about Russian subversive units operating in East Ukraine and even Russian troops having boots on the ground in the region. What is your opinion on that?
I don’t think there are regular Russian troops here but it doesn’t take much effort to see that the militias are using weapons and equipment which are not available in Ukraine or can be purchased on the free market (*). Those must be supplied by someone and I do believe they come directly from Russia. They even speak openly about the supplies from the Motherland. Nowadays they showoff with armored carriers, rocket launchers and even tanks. Some say they were confiscated during defeat of the Ukrainian forces and captured at stockyards. That might be true for most of the equipment but I have seen carriers and tanks with upgrades the Ukrainian Army never received so I have no doubt these come from Russia or Crimea.
The borders have always been a leaking basket so it will not be a big challenge to move people and equipment across. Everyone from this region knows it, many made good money with in in the past years. Stockyards are not secured and a lot of materials have been auctioned off. So in my personal opinion it is very well possible to arm a nifty army from what is available and from what can be taken easily. But still there is a lot of state of the art arms and equipment which must have been provided, it is simple not possible to find these laying around somewhere.
There are many foreigners involved. Crimean, Chechenian, Serbs, Cossacks, Russians from all directions the wind blows. They seem to work separately from the local militias. Some say they are volunteers, others say they are paid ex-militaries who are recruited by financers backing the DPR. Again, this what we hear, I have no evidence either way. They act very disorganized except for the groups from Chechenia, I personally don’t believe these are regular troops. To put it in other words – when these are regular Russian troops it would mean the Russian Army is in even worse shape than the Ukrainian Army and I don’t want to believe that.
Some of the people in charge of DPR are clearly not from here (*) and the word on the streets is that they are send by Russia to lead the revolution – at least 2 of them where active in Crimea before the transition as was proudly shown on state television (*). A few weeks ago the foreigner declared as defense minister said in an interview that he has orders to keep the border to Russia open and destroy all Ukrainian systems that might alert Kiev when the invasion starts. I don’t know if he was telling the truth but it is interesting to see which targeting of military installations took place in the past weeks – basically confirming his statement about the objectives (*).
What we did see is a group of highly professional militaries who seem to coordinate the activities of the militias. They walk different, talk different, act different (*). Very aware of the environment, always alert. And geared up with the latest greatest. Although I have no evidence, I am sure these are Russian Special Forces or some special units from private companies like the US uses, all wearing those expensive paratrooper boots and protective gear (*). You even see it in the way they carry their weapons, these are highly disciplined pro’s (*). Let us be honest, Ukraine doesn’t have such forces so the claims that these are locals who joined the self-defense forces are nothing but lies. The locals call them the keepers (“Sergei” argued this is not the proper translation but he wasn’t able to find a better word) because they give the orders and oversee the actions of the armed groups and their movements (*).
It is however interesting that about 2 weeks after the election of the President of Ukraine these keepers disappeared from the streets here. Maybe they are still there or moved to other regions of the battles but we don’t see them anymore (*). Since then the militias have become even more violent towards the civilians. They seem to lack any kind of military leadership and command except for the one who calls himself the shooter but the locals by now call him the whiner (*) because he doesn’t stop complaining about lack of support (*).
There are of course genuine local ex-militaries in the militias and activists who joined to the militias but their numbers seem to be limited. It seems that they have less manpower now. I have no numbers or facts but I have the impression that there are less now than a few weeks ago. Maybe that is the reason why the militias have started to round up men who should enlist in their forces, confiscating properties and place all kinds of weaponry on the roofs of shops, community centers and schools. I don’t know if it is true but I heard they keep hostages on the roofs of their buildings (*).
Q: You spoke about your family business, are you still able to do business?
In Donetsk we have no supplies and most workers don’t show up for work anymore so we have decided to stop operations for now and I am not sure if we will be able to go back to work or even have any customers left. The service centers abroad are running fine but since we are not producing they will run out of parts.
Our warehouse in Luhansk was completely destroyed. First they said it was done by the Ukrainian Air Force but a few hours later they said it was the result of an artillery attack by the Ukrainian Army. Both statements are a blatant lie. The Ukrainian Army was nowhere near when it happened and several of our employees witnessed how the militias targeted our buildings with RPG’s and they could barely escape the area.
Besides the fact that our workers saw what happened, you and I can see the difference between the impacts of different ordinance and this was clearly close range (*). I showed you the pictures and you came to the same conclusions (*) – this was not done by artillery or an airstrike. Please allow me to use your own words that you identified horizontal negative angle impact and combustion marks which can’t be caused by artillery or airstrikes, this is shoulder launched and close range beyond any doubt. Those were your words, I kindly request you to publish your own opinion on this to make sure your friends know I am not making this up.
There were many pictures of our destroyed buildings in the media and on internet, stating this was Ukraine’s doing. This is not true and I am very angry about it (*). It was also stated that several of our workers died in the incident, also not true and nothing but evil propaganda. The only reason our workers didn’t die in the attack is the coincidence that someone was lucky enough to look out the window and understood what was happening. They barely escaped, otherwise they would have been killed.
Even when this is luckily only material damage, it is damage to our properties we worked for very hard. And it is damage done by the people who claim to be fighting for us. My father is convinced this is done because my brother serves at the other side (*). Some of our workers believe it was an attack on us by militias from Lugansk who are opposing the militias from Donetsk, that there is a power struggle between them and they hit us because we are seen as sponsors of Donetsk. A few hours after it happened a local goon showed up in my office to tell me this happens when you don’t pay protection money. Left or right, they destroyed our property and almost killed our people, I am furious, please let us change the topic.
Q: Many say the current situation in Donbas is caused by the revolution in Kiev, do you feel the same?
Definitely not. Ukraine has always been a very corrupt country run by politicians who take the crown in the area of corruption; that much is true but this is not since the so called revolution. It has been like that already under the Soviet Union but we didn’t call it corruption and we had significantly less money. When business started to boom in Ukraine, mafia and corruption became the leading business and nothing was done against it.
The split between Russians and Ukrainians was never an issue, at least not that I experienced. Yes, we would have liked to have Russian as official language and the right to be Russian within Ukraine. C’mon, my little brother is a proud Ukrainian and I’m a proud Russian in Ukraine and we both cheered for the Klitschko brothers. My father is the role model of Russian in Ukraine who wants to stay just that and I pity the ones who would try to change his mind on this. My little sis is Russian in Russia, I am very happy for her. None of us ever felt the need for war over this.
When Mr. Yanukovych came to power, we hoped for improvements. After all, he was one of us, remember? He proved us to be very wrong and naïve. Corruption became even worse and his own gang enriched themselves at the costs of the working class and local business owners. Later in his term he started to create artificial gaps between Ukrainians and Russians in Ukraine but this was all part of his own self enriching strategy. Don’t believe the previous presidents were any better, Yanuk was just very good at being very bad.
What truly split the country was the struggle over leaning towards the West or the East, Brussels versus Moscow. On this my father has a very strong opinion and I agree – Ukraine should be the gateway between West and East, partners with both Europe and Russia but not controlled by either. And we never want to be under control of the States. I do believe that their increasing influence in Kiev have driven a lot of people towards the call for independence of Donbas. And no, even this is not the reason for the war we have now. This is a struggle for power, people being misled thinking this is about their right to determine their own future. I think the same applies to the people who revolted in Kiev. I feel no sympathy for their cause just like they feel none for ours, I am afraid both sides will end up disappointed to the same extend and the casualties were all for nothing (*).
I envy the Crimean population (*). They have the military assets so they are apparently worth the trouble, we don’t.
Q: Do you still support the DPR?
Yes! But not under the current so called government and especially not with these militias. These are criminals and should be brought to justice.
Q: Do you still want Donbas to join the Russian Federation?
YES! But not like this, not by the hand of criminals and mercenaries who kill our people, destroy our economy and property.
Q: You spoke about the promise by Mr. Putin, how do you feel about that now?
In retrospect it is possible that Mr. Putin’s statements made us believe much more than he actually said but still I am disappointed. Mr. Putin must also see the suffering of the civilians in our region so I don’t understand why he doesn’t act. I don’t mean start a war but there are many other options like for example support an UN peacekeeping force (*) or direct negotiations with the Ukrainian government.
And I am even more disappointed in the new President of Ukraine. He said the first thing he would do is work out a peace plan and start the dialogue with the East. In reality we get weeks of all-out war and daily dying of innocent civilians. Our cities and people being shelled, bombed and whatever they can think of. Indiscriminative barrages on possible or suspected positions. Look at what they are doing to our brothers and sisters in Slavyansk and the surrounding villages. Is that your dialogue with the East, Mr. President? Then don’t wonder why we hate you and want to see you in jail or worse.
Most evil are the militias of criminals and mercenaries, hiding with the population and not caring that they make us targets for strikes and assaults. As seen last week even setting up fire positions in a running hospital and outcry when it becomes a target. Firing at planes from the roof of a school when the children are inside (*) and still claim they defend us.
This is a very dirty war. Who will rot in jail for the deaths? Who is going to repair the damage? (*)
Q: Do you support Mr. Putin?
YES! Russia needs a strong leader to become a strong nation again. After the dismantling of the Soviet Union, Russia fell apart in all kinds of regional disputes and interest, wars on wars. Even though it might sound strange after being disappointed in Mr. Putin’s actions towards East Ukraine, I still believe Mr. Putin is the answer for the future of Russia and I wish the West will finally learn to accept that. So yes, I support Mr. Putin fully.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
On Friday we received again threats, I think my father is right in his believe that this is related to my brother. There are now rumors of a revolt by the local and regional people against the DPR and it wouldn’t surprise me when these rumors will become reality somewhere soon. They say the miners will oust the militias and mercenaries to start negotiations with Kiev and Moscow. Everybody from Donbas knows the miners are a serious crowd, when they turn against you, you have a serious problem. So far they have calmly supported the movement and protested against the violence against the population, now the word is that the miners are arming themselves to clean Donbas from foreigners and criminals.
The armed criminals have already attacked our company and me, we take the new threats very serious. My father and I have decided not to wait for this to happen and leave before we get caught in the middle of the next phase of this civil war. For now I will go to Crimea with my father as long as we are still able to escape this madness.
Mr. Lavrov said patriots are welcome in the Russian Federation so when possible I will apply there for Russian citizenship. My father will not do so and I hope he is still welcome, he still hopes to be able to return as Ukrainian-Russian soon. Stubborn as he is, he says he is not fleeing Donbas, he just takes a vacation on the beautiful Crimea and is going to visit the brave City of Heroes where he met our mother (*).
Q: Will you return to Donetsk?
To tell you the truth, I really don’t know. It depends on how the future of Donetsk and Donbas will be and of course the wishes of my family. You know what they say – I am the head, my wife is the neck, where the neck goes, the head follows (*).
Q: Last famous words?
It makes me sad that my father who has helped build the economy of this region is now forced to leave the place where he was borne as a poor man. This man is in his 80’s, spend 60 years as a loyal Soviet and another 20+ years building Ukraine (*). He survived the Nazis and twice Stalin. When I asked him about the company he started and built from scratch, he smiled and said he is still young enough to start another company. There is no stopping him. I hope he can enjoy his vacation. Come visit us when you can, he will wear his medals for you when you promise to wear yours (*).
(*) Personal conversations and information which could reveal the identity of “Sergei” removed.
The transcript of this interview is published as is without modifications. The interview took place prior to his departure at the request of “Sergei” who requested to be anonymous for security reasons. The identity and background of “Sergei” is known and confirmed by the publisher.
Publication and distribution of this interview is appreciated under the condition that no modifications are made, as requested by the interviewed. Comments are welcome, please keep it constructive.