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Ukraine's War on Donbass: An Interview with Filmmaker Maxim Fadeev

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-EB:Describe the situation around you on the first day you began filming.

-MF: "At first, I was hired as a live-streamer. I moved around on a bicycle with a tablet and broadcasted everything happening.

On my very first day at the front line, I came under fire by all kinds of weapons deployed by the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) at Slavyansk: first I was sniped at, then we came under 82-mm mortar fire, after that - under D-30 howitzer fire, and finally an armoured personnel carrier targeted our position with tracers. I felt as if I was in the middle of a war movie.

A swift sequence of actions unfolded: our reconnaissance team left for the enemy's rear, enemy artillery pounded our positions and the buildings around, we ran towards a building already ablaze and came under artillery fire. A wounded girl was screaming, a young boy, militiaman, was trying to help her using a torch, and mortar guns targeted the torch light. I attempted to film it all"

The wave of fear overwhelmed me only when I was already in the safe zone: I felt giddy and dizzy. There was a live fire road there, scary - I rode my bike along it, alone, and in order to get to the front line one had to cross a deserted area, where punctured burnt cars were scattered, and the rider either moved forward in silence or listening to the sounds of distant fire. The uncertainty was unnerving."

-EB: What important events or battles have you covered over the years?

-MF: "After the Crimean referendum, and beginning in March 2014, Ukraine started to amass armed forces in Donbass, deploying heavy armaments and artillery.

The illegitimate government of Ukraine declared anti-terrorist operation (ATO) in the Donetsk, Lugansk and Kharkov regions, although the protests in the east of Ukraine were mirroring the events in Kiev and western Regions several months earlier"

What would have been the reaction of Kiev residents if units of heavy artillery appeared around the capital in the time of manifestations on Maidan? Perhaps, it would have been similar to that of Donbass people. When tanks were brought here, civilians threw themselves under their tracks, crowds tried to stop the tanks with bare hands. This was happening in March and April.

On May 2, people were burnt alive in Odessa in the House of Trade Unions, and on the same day in Slavyansk for the first time Ukrainian military started to fire at the people, who blocked their way.

In my opinion, those operations were pre-scheduled: the act of intimidation by burning alive pro-Russian activists in Odessa and the escalation in Slavyansk.

On that day, units of Ukrainian army and National Guard started attacking the city from different directions. There were also air raids. Before that, commandos from central and eastern Ukraine had attempted to enter the city, but they were unwilling to shoot at their compatriots, who blocked the entrances to the city. Eventually, some of the units of the 25th airborne brigade joined the People's Militia, and the rest of the units left the city and returned to their barracks.

On May 2, the 95th air assault brigade from Zhytomyr (western Ukraine) attacked the city, started firing at people. Civilian casualties in Slavyansk were already forgotten, because the Odessa story dominated the news. No one mentioned Slavyansk, although the first death of a civilian - nurse Yuliya Izotova - occurred there at the time. Militiamen were killed at the roadblocks, when UAF opened large caliber machine-gun fire at them. If before those events journalists could work on both sides of the conflict, after May 2 it became impossible for most Russian and local journalists. The war had started.

After the Crimean events, the Ukrainian army took under its control all the airports in eastern Ukraine. They were controlled mostly by commandos and the units of the 25th airborne brigade. Kiev suspected that Russia could use air force to bring in its armed forces. The Ukrainian army got surrounded, or half-way surrounded, in the airport on the north-west outskirts of Donetsk. Ukrainian propaganda made a symbol out of the besieged airport.

The fiercest fighting occurred at the Donetsk airport, and it went on for a long time. The militia unit that I was filming in Slavyansk fought at the airport, thus, I had access to the frontline positions and was able to film the storming. I knew that the airport would be stormed by the People's Militia sooner or later, and the storming must be recorded, so, I established good relationship with the commanders in advance.

I arrived in Donetsk when the fighting for the airport was in full swing. I filmed all the stages of the fighting, beginning with in November 2014, the capture of the old terminal, the storming of the new terminal, the attempt of the Ukrainian side to unblock (break the siege on) the airport.

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Eva Bartlett is a Canadian independent journalist and activist. She has spent years on the ground covering conflict zones in the Middle East, especially in Syria and Palestine. She is a recipient of the International Journalism Award for International Reporting. Visit her personal blog,  (more...)

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