one soldier I was convinced was from Russia initially introduced
himself as being from Rostov-on-Don. "Lemon" is in his early
twenties and, without heart surgery, his prognosis isn't good. Later
when I saw his Ukrainian passport he told me that he went to Russia
as a refugee at first but could not live with himself. His family was
being attacked in Donbass. That is his home.
Even in his condition he is determined to fight until the end.
"Poli"- is just 16 years old. He was in the 11th grade in school. I asked him why he isn't in school now? I meant going elsewhere, especially at his age. He has a quick smile but has seen a lot of bad things in the war already. He explained that Ukraine shelled his school- that was what ended his education. Some of his neighbors were killed, so he joined the militia to protect the ones that survived. His great-grandfather fought the nazis and bandera. He would do the same. There was no way he could insult the memory of his grandfather by running away or letting it happen.
"Demon"- was just recently married. His wife is stuck in a Kiev-controlled area and he is worried about her. If they find out she is married to a Prezrak she will be tortured and killed like the punisher battalions have done to all the families of the Donbass army when they find them. He is more afraid for her than for himself.
The stories started blending together. For some they had survived an attack or cleansing. For others, Kiev killed their families and friends. None were professional military although some had served. Even the medics were adhoc. People were learning the skills as they went. One medic was a seamstress. Today she stitches the wounds from the attacks on civilians as well as military actions.
The difference and reason for the success against Kiev until now became apparent when I met the leaders of Prezrak. The one thing they haven't done is just throw people into the war or throw lives away. The ironic thing is that extends over to their enemies. The one constant feature in this war, even in battle, has been the communication with Kiev forces to stop fighting and live. Every time they have surrounded them or out-maneuvered them for a victory, the Donbass army has also tried to spare them.
Alexi Mosgovoy is the commander of Prezrak in Donetsk. While there, my linguistic limitations got in the way to a degree, but they were gracious to provide someone that spoke enough English. By this time and including this conversation a pattern emerged based in how Donbass people and the Novo Russia army are depicted in the press.
Everyone seemed afraid that I would not understand they were local people because, in print and broadcast, they are referred to as Russian separatists and terrorists. I came to the conclusion that was why were being so open and every person I spoke with started from square one- Maidan.
All things considered, it's an injustice to people that are being victimized brutally to slant them in a way that presents them or their right to live as less than the punishers that are mutilating their families. It is the same as saying a rape victim asked for it.
At the top of Commander Mosgovoy's mind was the idea that the civil war needs to end. Brother can not fight against brother. He, like his forces have lived their whole lives here, and if Kiev forgot they were the same people, he has not. That's why he has been sending Ukrainian prisoners home if they are not part of the punisher battalions. They are not even kept for the prisoner exchanges.
On the tip of everyone's tongue I spoke with was they were Ukrainian. They have always lived here and still have not come to grips with why this is happening. They are in shock that Kiev had attacked them and made it impossible for them to remain Ukrainian.
Mosgovoy's translator kept going to the beginning that very few have written about until now. Since 1991 nationalist Kiev has progressively lowered the living standards of Donbass while raising it in West Ukraine. There is no industry or industrial base in West Ukraine, unemployment is high but the benefits are good. In Donbass lower wages, longer hours, inferior products at the market since 1991 had changed the people into even thinking of themselves as inferior.