Monday, 13 April 2015

Crimea: One year as era, 23 years as bad dream

A year has passed since the reunification of the Crimea and Sevastopol with the Russian Federation. No one doubts that this event will surely go down in history of not only Russia, but of the whole world. Remarkably, many Crimeans think of this year as a whole era of their life, although 23 years of living in Ukraine was something like living in a bad dream for them. It appears that many people woke up and started living a year ago. What has changed for the Crimea and its residents?

Today, all the Crimeans think of themselves as Russians in the first place, although they do not have an aversion to Ukraine. This is a conclusion that I can make after one year of communication with my Crimean friends over the Internet. Yet, many despise the Kiev junta. Amazingly, they feel sorry for the now-neighbor.

Crimea and Russia are now inseparable
"I think that the most important thing is the fact that the Crimeans and residents of mainland Russia realize that the reunification was just a starting point of connection between our historical territories. There's a lot to be done in the future," chief editor of Historian Magazine Vladimir Rudakov told Pravda.Ru.

According to the expert, the Crimea, being a part of the Ukrainian territory for more than two decades, had not seen any support from the Ukrainian authorities. Now is the time, when the Crimean Peninsula, with the help of Russia, is entering the period of large-scale reconstruction.
"As for residents of mainland Russia, the most important thing for them is that the Crimea and Russia are inseparable. If you go out in the streets and ask people, the vast majority of them will tell you that they do not see this situation differently. Most importantly, I am convinced that the Crimeans feel protected. The decision of the residents of the Crimea to reunite with Russia was the only correct decision to make in that situation. It was the only decision that could save the Crimea and its people from the chaos and war that the new Kiev government brought," Vladimir Rudakoov said.

"One can see three groups of problems for this year, - President of the National Strategy Institute, Mikhail Remizov, told Pravda.Ru. The first one is the war in the Donbass. A year ago, the threat of a military conflict was strong. In Sevastopol, the local government had been changed before armed people occupied the Supreme Council of the Crimea. The war in the Donbass showed people what they were lucky to avoid," Mr. Remizov said.

The second group of problems is a group of transitional problems. There are many of them. The people, who were involved in the Ukrainization of the Crimea, are wearing new shoes today following Russia," the expert added.

"The third group of problems is related to the blockade and disrupted communications. Yet, all of these difficulties can be solved, although it may take time," said Mikhail Remizov.

Crimeans are realistic about their problems

According to the expert, people are realistic about the current problems, they are aware of them.

"This was the move that broke the trend of historical retreat. This is the Russian version of the revolution of dignity," the expert concluded.

"During this year, the Crimea has returned to Russia and started living a full-fledged life, - Alexei Zudin, a member of the advisory board of ISEPI Fund, shared his opinion in an interview with Pravda.Ru. A variety of domestic and foreign organizations have conducted numerous sociological studies in the Crimea. Three-quarters of respondents said that they had not changed their mind since the referendum a year ago. During 23 years of living as part of Ukraine, the Crimea was still a part of Russia, and the majority of the Crimeans saw themselves as Russian citizens. For them, the referendum was a trip back home."
Former senior officer of the Red Banner Northern Fleet of the USSR, a native of Transcarpathia, now a resident of Khmelnitsky region, Sergey Dmitryak told Pravda.Ru: "I'm not afraid of anything. The Crimea has made its choice and has thus saved Ukraine, although they do not understand this in Kiev now. Blood is bing shed in the Donbass, and a lot of more blood would have been shed in the Crimea, if rabid Maidan activists had gone there. I love my country, Ukraine, this is my homeland. Alas, Ukraine is drunk now, and the moment of sobering is not anywhere near. If the Crimea, being a part of Russia, shows how to live and revive, this may become a cold shower to Ukraine to shake the country and the people up."

The Crimea is home.

US-Russia nuclear conflict: The impossible is possible

What were the prerequisites for Russia to reunite with the Crimea and Sevastopol? What consequences did the move have for Russia, Ukraine and the world at large? Pravda.Ru asked these and other questions to President of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov.
Tell us about the history of the Crimea. How did Russians, Tatars and people of other nations end up living there?
The deeper we look into the history, the less the clarity we can see, so we need to limit ourselves with a certain period of time if we want to understand which nation is the master of this or that territory. In fact, in ancient times, there were Greek colonies in Crimea. Then the Pechenegs came there. A threat was looming for the south of the then Kievan Rus back during those years. From the Crimean peninsula, they would often attack the wound Ukrainians to rob them and take away into captivity. 
There were large slave markets in Hersonissos and Korsun. The love of many Ukrainians to fat developed historically. When the Crimean Khanate was making its raids, they would not take pigs - they would capture the rest of the livestock and domestic birds. Afterwards, Russia got stronger and did not want to tolerate that anymore. Russia could protect both her land, the people of the future Ukraine. The Crimean Khanate was destroyed, and the areas were annexed to Russia for the sake of public safety, first and foremost. That was a fair geopolitical conquest.
It is important that Russia would always develop the newly conquered territories, including the Crimea and Novorossiya. After the Russian victory, the Great and Little Russians started occupying the new land. Russia considered all the conquered people, including Muslims, her citizens.
And suddenly, during the Soviet times, it occurs to Nikita Khrushchev to deliver Crimea to Ukraine. It was not even legally formalized. What was the reason for such a move?

Well, first of all, that was due to Khrushchev's limited brain. No matter what Khrushchev did, he would fail. There was a joke during the 1960s - one had to be a genius to leave Russia without bread. Khrushchev was that genius. Everybody remembers his passion for maize, including fields of maize in the Arctic. He did not like science. He was a man of emotions plus low education.

In the defense sector, Khrushchev saw that the USSR had rockets, and considered it sufficient. He cut all aviation and navy. He would make all decisions hastily. He gave Crimea to Ukraine in honor of the tercentenary of reunification. 

A year ago, everything changed in Ukraine. What happened to Ukrainians?

First, I would like to throw a stone at Yeltsin. After all, when Yeltsin made the decision to destroy the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian elite, including Mr. Kravchuk, were putting pressure on him to sign a new union treaty. If Yeltsin had been a sensible man, and far-sighted strategist, he would have ordered to return all the land that Russia had given to other republics. One had to start with Crimea and the city of Sevastopol. For the sake of personal power and ambition Yeltsin did not think about it much. He did not want to depend on any political bureaus and congresses. 

All the same, during the times of the Soviet Union, and even after its collapse, the Crimeans always considered themselves Russians, not Ukrainians. When Russia and Ukraine became independent states, the Crimeans were living in a hope to return to Russia. Sevastopol is a historical Russian city - you can see Russian history there everywhere. Those people were dreaming to return to Russia. 

When the Kiev junta staged the coup in Kiev, the Crimeans said that they would not be a part of all that fascism. It was the Crimeans who started the operation. There are many military men living there, especially in Sevastopol. The operation started with self-organization and all went well. 

After the Crimean events, the political situation in the world became very unstable. What did the Americans want to show when they were regrouping their ships? 

The Americans finish building their missile defense system. They already cover a large Russian territory with their missile defense system, except for a few areas, where Russian strategic nuclear forces are based. With the European part of the missile defense system, they can reach Russia right up to the Urals. Even in the boost phase of our ballistic missiles they will be able to intercept them. Yet, they still can not reach the territory behind the Urals. 

The Americans were looking forward to the moment when they could deploy their Aegis system vessels in the Black Sea basin. Of course, they wanted to install their radars and interceptors on the Crimean peninsula as well. They were planning to establish constant military presence on the Crimean Peninsula. 

The Americans were doing their best to set Kiev and Moscow apart for good. I believe that they intended to conduct a referendum on Crimea's independence. They would have definitely supported it by installing their puppet government in the region. 

Do you think that the use of nuclear weapons is possible today? 

During the Crimean events, Russia did not set its nuclear forces on a high degree of readiness. We held drills and exercises, where the level of readiness is always the highest. Officially, there was no such order, but the West saw the seriousness of our intentions in pursuing our interests.

The West wanted to flex its muscles to Russia, but Russia flexed her muscles to the West. Power curbs insolence well, as insolence excludes negotiations. 

I do not believe in a nuclear conflict at the moment. No matter how strong and large the US missile defense system might be, Russian nuclear warheads will reach the territory of the United States. Of course, Russia would suffer more should a nuclear war start, because Russia does not have missile defense system per se. If they launch nuclear warheads at Russia - practically all of them will land on the Russian territory. Yet, I do not believe that the Russia and American leaderships will step of the path of mutual destruction. 

The Americans have been taking advantage of Russia's military reforms of recent decades. Those reforms were all about disarmament. Looking at our military-technical retreat, of course, the opposing party is obliged to go on offensive, which they did. They have been strengthening and enhancing their defense. The USA has had the largest defense budget in history during the recent years - it equals the military spending of all other countries.

Russia's new cosmodrome Vostochny to launch first spacecraft in late 2015

It is an open secret that the Russian economy is suffering from the shortage of investment. Car-making factories close, large-scale shelf projects are suspended.   The West continues to put pressure on the Russian economy in all of its sectors, but the space industry remains out of sanctions, out of aggression. 
In late March, Roscosmos and NASA chiefs Igor Komarov and Charles Bolden paid a visit to Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, where they discussed further development of the International Space Station. The officials also discussed the long-term presence of the US-Russian team on board the ISS. In a nutshell, Russia and the United States continue to cooperate in space. When it comes to space cooperation, Russia is an ally, rather than a rival for the United States
Every year, Baikonur space launches bring Russia the profit of $1.5 billion. Russia rents the space complex for $115 million a year. Therefore, the construction of the Russian cosmodrome known as Vostochny (Eastern) came as unpleasant news to Kazakhstan. 
"Taking into account an opportunity for Russia to build its own cosmodromes before 2050, the development of international space services will be a decisive factor in maintaining the Baikonur cosmodrome. It is now when we must think how to maintain Baikonur should federal programs leave the complex," the chairman of the National Space Agency of Kazakhstan Talgat Musabaev said back in 2011, said. 
However, in the current situation, when economic relations between Russia and Kazakhstan have become even closer with the help of their membership in the Eurasian Economic Union, it is not beneficial for Russia to cut ties with Kazakhstan and shelve Baikonur programs. Officials with the Russian Federal Space Agency Roscosmos said that the Vostochny cosmodrome is not going to be a competitor to Baikonur
"The creation of the Eastern cosmodrome will increase the number of space launches for both the national economy and space exploration. Thus, Baikonur and Vostochny cosmodromes will cooperate closely to achieve the tasks," the press service of Roscosmos told Pravda.Ru. 
It is important to understand that for Russia, Vostochny cosmodrome is not just an economically important project. It also has a social significance. The new spaceport is being built in the Amur region of Russia, near the closed town of Uglegorsk. The  economic development of the region thus depends on the project. 
"In the first place, the new spaceport will ensure Russia's independence in the space industry. In addition, the spaceport has a favorable geographical position that will enable both manned flights and launches for economic and scientific purposes.
The development of the Far East is also highly important. The cosmodrome will be a key factor that will attract young professionals to the region. It will create powerful production and transport clusters," the press service of Roscosmos said. 
The first rocket is to blast off from the new Russian spaceport in the Far East already in December 2015. The first manned space flight is scheduled for 2018
"The construction of the cosmodrome in the Far East is a state instrument of the Far East. In fact, it is not very important when rockets fly into space. The number of new jobs is a lot more important, Andrei Ionin, a member of the Russian Academy of Space Science told Pravda.Ru. 
"I have never contraposed Baikonur and Vostochny cosmodromes. I have always thought that they need to develop both. Russia, Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries can already develop joint space projects. In the Far East, the new  spaceport should immediately become an international complex," Andrei Ionin told Pravda.Ru. 
If Russia wants to go East, Russia should look for strategic partners in the Asian region, where there are a lot of countries that want to develop space projects. They are not only China and Japan, but also South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam etc. Therefore, the Vostochny cosmodrome will be not just a Russian, but an international spaceport on the Russian territory, the expert concluded.

Plans of Ukraine-NATO psychological warfare against Russia appear online

Documents about joint plans of Kiev and NATO as well as of military structures of the USA and the UK to conduct psychological operations in eastern Ukraine, the Donbass and Russia have surfaced on the Internet.
According to the Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper, the English-language website drakulablog.comhas published a number of confidential materials on Ebola and the Islamic state. However, the folder with documents about the psychological pressure on the Russian leadership is most interesting.
The person behind the website wrote about himself the following: "My fellow countryman Drakula is a mysterious, unpredictable and attractive hero. And who knows maybe I'm his reincarnation and this blog is his confession? I strongly believe the Truth is out there. Let's look through my X-files and try to find it. But remember: For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow..."
The folder on Russia contains materials about the meeting from February 19 2015 on Strategic Communications in Riga. The file also contains a draft agreement about financial support for Ukrainian non-governmental organizations from the UK government worth more than 240,000 euro, as well as two information-psychological plan operations (IPO) called "Free Donbass" (in Ukrainian) and "Free Russia."
According to those documents, problem number one is the popularity of the Russian political leadership among the population, whereas the prime goal for the West, as the documents say, is to discredit the political and military leadership of the Russian Federation.
Plan "Free Russia", in turn, should help spread "panic and defeatist ideas among the enemy population (the different regions and public layers) to make Russian state and non-governmental media focus on the localization of ideas and moods that undermine the principles of Russian political system."
The plan also pays attention to first priority objects of influence to discredit President Putin - Russian Defense Minister Gen. Sergei Shoigu, Director of the Federal Security Service Alexander Bortnikov and Interior Troops Commander Colonel General Viktor Zolotov.
The officials are said to be positioned in the information-psychological operation as war criminals and invaders of Crimea. The documents also specify regions of Russia, where separatist ideas should be disseminated among relevant organizations (Tatarstan, Bashkiria, Kuban, Western Siberia, Tuva, Yakutia, Kaliningrad, Dagestan and Chechnya).
Project executors are said to be Security Service, Head of the Anti-Terrorist operation, Central Directorate of Ukrainian Intelligence of the General Staff, 74th IPO center of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (APU) and the 16th IPO unit of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. NATO's Center for Strategic Communication (Riga), NATO Cybercenter, Special Operations Command and the 4th group of operations of information support of the Pentagon, the 77th Brigade and the 15th Psychological Operations Group of the UK.
The folder also contains a document proving that the above-mentioned activities are largely funded through grants. Thus, it is logical to assume that the United States had found their niche in the Ukrainian conflict. This is information space, where one can achieve geopolitical goals.

Chechen Commander In Ukraine Drawn Into Russian Intrigue

LYSYCHANSK, Ukraine -- From a dimly lit room at his base in eastern Ukraine, the commander of a battalion of Chechens fighting Russia-backed rebels looked shaken as TV broadcast news of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov's slaying. 
Adam Osmayev hailed Nemtsov as a "true hero" both for condemning Russia's war against separatists in Chechnya and for decrying Russian intervention in the current conflict in Ukraine.

"Watch them try to tie Ukraine to this (murder) in some way," Osmayev added.

He was half-joking.

But two weeks later, Kremlin-friendly Russian newspapers published reports based on unidentified sources in the security services that accused the Ukrainian government and also Osmayev himself of ordering the Feb. 27 murder of Nemtsov in central Moscow in an attempt to destabilize Russia.  

Osmayev denies involvement and no evidence has been presented linking him to the hit on Nemtsov, who was a relentless critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Attempts to implicate the British-educated Chechen commander appear to be part of efforts aimed at deflecting attention from anyone close to Putin, including his security services and the powerful leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov.

Within days of Nemtsov's assassination, investigators arrested five Chechens, including a senior officer in Kadyrov's police force, and charged them with carrying out the killing.

All five have denied the charges.
The arrests heralded a crisis in relations between the Kremlin and Kadyrov, who rules Chechnya like a personal fiefdom.

With generous subsidies from Moscow, he has rebuilt the region after two separatist wars and has relied on his feared security forces to track down and kill foes.

His men have steadily expanded their sway beyond Chechnya to control lucrative businesses in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia.

Leaders of federal law enforcement agencies have watched Kadyrov's growing power with dismay and have made no secret of their desire to curb him.

Some observers speculated that the killing might have been ordered by Kadyrov's enemies in the federal government — an attempt to prompt Putin to fire or at least punish the Chechen leader.

If such a plan existed, it underestimated Putin's reliance on Kadyrov.

The relative stability in Chechnya is seen as one of Putin's main achievements, and he sees the burly red-haired Chechen strongman as key to maintaining the status quo.

Putin quickly sent a signal that he intended to stand by Kadyrov by awarding him the Order of Honor for distinguished public service, a day after Kadyrov spoke out in defense of the arrested Chechens.  
The arrests were a rare case in which federal law enforcement agents managed to nab a member of Kadyrov's security force, but the investigation then seemed to fizzle.

Russian media, citing investigators, have pointed to a possible link between the suspected triggerman, Zaur Dadaev, and his commander, Ruslan Geremeyev, a senior officer in the Chechen police force.

But Geremeyev is in Chechnya and off limits to federal investigators.

Russian newspapers have floated a variety of theories about the killing that have muddied the waters — a possible attempt to defuse tensions with Kadyrov.

Some reports claimed that investigators believe Dadaev and his suspected accomplices could have acted on their own, even though most observers agree that a senior officer in Kadyrov's security force would not have acted without sanction from his superiors.

Dadaev, in turn, has rescinded his initial testimony, saying he was beaten and pressured to confess.  

The reports pointing to Osmayev, a Kadyrov foe, were seen as part of these efforts to deflect attention.  
"State-controlled media have put forward a theory that is politically satisfying for Russia's security forces, the Kremlin, Kadyrov and all of their rival groups — namely, that Chechen Adam Osmayev ordered Nemtsov's murder," political analyst Georgy Bovt wrote in a commentary published in The Moscow Times.

Osmayev, 33, has a troubled history with both Kadyrov and Putin.

After graduating from Wycliffe College, a prestigious private school in Britain, and attending the University of Buckingham, he returned to his native Chechnya shortly after the second war there ended in 2000.

He worked alongside his father, who had been appointed the head of Chechnya's state oil company.  

Chechnya at that time was led by Kadyrov's father.

After his assassination in 2004, power passed to his son, Ramzan, and his relationship with the Osmayevs quickly deteriorated in a dispute over lucrative energy contracts.

The Osmayevs fled to Ukraine.

In February 2012, Adam Osmayev was arrested at Russia's behest and charged with planning an assassination attempt against Putin.

Ukraine at the time had a pro-Kremlin government.
Osmayev spent three years in detention until being released in November 2014 by Ukraine's new Western-leaning government.

Shortly after his release, he joined a battalion formed by prominent Chechen commander Isa Munayev to fight against Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

When Munayev was killed on Feb. 1, Osmayav took over the command.

His battalion includes several dozen Chechens, many with combat experience gained in the separatist wars in their homeland against Russian army troops.

They regularly get calls from Ukrainian army units asking them to carry out reconnaissance missions or diversionary raids behind rebel lines.

Hundreds of Chechens also are fighting on the separatist side.

They first joined the rebels last summer in the early stages of the conflict, and with their combat gear and professional demeanor they stood out among what was then a ragtag local force.

Kadyrov has described pro-Russia Chechens fighting in Ukraine as volunteers, the same explanation the Kremlin provides for the Russians among the separatist forces.
Osmayev said he has few doubts that the perpetrators of Nemtsov's killing have ties to Kadyrov, but that the security services now need a convenient scapegoat whose guilt would be easily acceptable to the Russian general public.

"The fact the FSB is trying to somehow implicate me in Nemtsov's murder is utterly ridiculous," Osmayev said, "but not hard to believe now that I am involved in the situation here in Ukraine."  

Visit To A Mariupol Hospital Lays Bare Ukraine War’s Toll

MARIUPOL, Ukraine -- In All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque wrote: “A hospital alone shows what war is.” 
The hospital here is no exception.

The faces of soldiers, both young and old, recovering from wounds and sickness incurred on the front lines — located only eight miles away from here — speak to the innumerable contradictions of war.  

Some are smiling and joking, enjoying the camaraderie of being in open-bay recovery rooms with up to six of their comrades.

They sing patriotic Ukrainian songs like they’re in the stands at a soccer game.

Yet others, even while surrounded by fellow soldiers, stare ahead numbly.

Eyes fixed on the cracking off-white paint of the tired Soviet hospital’s walls, or out the window at the grey, rainy day; the sounds of artillery rolling through like thunder.

They’re not looking at anything in particular, their minds locked in another time and place.

Some are angry.

They frown and look away when asked questions or become defensive when photos are taken of them. 
“No photo, no photo,” they say, wagging their fingers disapprovingly.

And some are proud.

They smile for the camera but insist they be given time to put on their uniforms and show off their unit patches.

It takes a few minutes for those with serious injuries to slip on their jackets as they gingerly work around bullet or shrapnel wounds.

But the proud ones are eager to oblige.

This day is special, after all, for the nearly 50 Ukrainian soldiers at the Mariupol hospital.

Surprise Guests 

On this rainy early April evening four women from the city have come to bring the soldiers warm meals and sweets.

It was their first time personally interacting with the soldiers sent to defend their city, and the reactions of Tamara and Margarita Oksanichenko, Helen Popova, and Valeriya Korneva to the wounded men highlight the evolving relationship between Mariupol’s citizens and the soldiers sent to defend them.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Margarita Oksanichenko said.
“But they have such kind eyes. They look so young, so innocent.”

“We had to do something,” Korneva said.

“We wanted to show them that people in Mariupol appreciate what they’re doing for us.”

“Plus, they need a mom to check in on them,” she added.

“They’re just like all boys.”

Upon entering the hospital, the women disrupted the status quo.

They were talkative and noisy; their conversations bounced off the worn-out tile and linoleum floors, carrying down the dimly lit hallways.

They earned annoyed scorns from hospital staff, who, still abiding by strict rules of procedure dating from the Soviet era, were displeased with groups of visitors roaming through the halls handing out goodies.

One nurse, an older woman wearing a stained blue and white uniform and white cap, initially told the women they weren’t allowed to see the troops.

She eventually relented, though, after the smell of home-cooked food attracted a few nearby soldiers who offered to act as guides.

One of those soldiers was Vladimir—nom de guerre “Zahar”—a medic from the Azov Regiment.
He distributed plastic booties—most of which were caked in dirt and worn through in the soles—for the women to wear over their shoes.

“We have to be careful of spreading infection,” he explained.

As Vladimir talked with the women, he cradled a Kalashnikov assault rifle in his tattoo-covered hands.

He had a full beard and thin piercing eyes, as well as the standard Azov Regiment haircut: hair closely cropped on the sides, combed forward on top.

He spoke about combat in a quiet, understated way, as if no part of what he had experienced was all that remarkable.

“Medics are very important soldiers on the battlefield,” he said, while pointing out that he was also an infantryman.

“And we have to do a lot of shooting too.”

He said individual first-aid kits donated by volunteers in the United States and Canada had improved the survivability of wounded soldiers.

“One medic can now take care of 10 people,” he said.
He also said NATO instructors had visited the units in Mariupol, training the Ukrainians in self-aid, giving them the skills to dress their own wounds without relying on a medic.

But the biggest challenge was getting the soldiers off the battlefield and into medical care quickly.

Without the possibility of helicopter medevacs due to the surface-to-air missile threat, and with armored vehicles at a premium, battlefield evacuations are often done in donated civilian cars.

Some Mariupol residents have even volunteered to ferry wounded from the battlefield, braving heavy weapons attacks in old Ladas and Hyundai hatchbacks.

‘So Proud’ 

Vladimir led the women to the first room, where four soldiers lay in bed.

The two men nearest to the door both sat up when the chit-chatty group of women burst in.

The two in the beds at the far end by the window were covered in bandages and casts and could only curiously raise their heads at the unexpected spectacle.

The room was dimly lit, humid and had the musty smell of clothes and sheets that hadn’t been washed in a while.
As if walking into a breaking wave, the demeanor of the women changed the moment they passed the threshold of the door into the room.

A hush fell over the group.

Since last summer, more than 1,000 soldiers have been deployed to Mariupol to defend the city of half a million residents from a separatist attack.

But the soldiers have mostly stuck to their barracks at the Mariupol airport, or out at the defensive perimeter of trenches and hardened positions built around the city like a fortress wall.

Last April’s separatist takeover of Mariupol has some Ukrainian commanders worried about inadvertently sparking an incident that might reignite civil unrest.

Soldiers, therefore, spend very little time interacting with civilians and are infrequently seen on Mariupol’s streets.

Military convoys zip through town, mostly at night, avoiding stops as much as possible.

The Ukrainian military’s sparse footprint inside Mariupol is also meant to spare civilian casualties if the separatists launch an all-out attack on the city.
“We have two priorities: Defend the city and save the population,” said Ukrainian National Guard Capt. Ruslaw Muzychuk in an earlier interview.

“Our positions are on the outside of the city because we don’t want to draw fire on civilians.”  

Consequently, like most people in Mariupol, the four women had hardly interacted with any of the soldiers sent to defend them.

Except at checkpoints where the soldiers are armed and edgy, and usually wearing a balaclava to conceal their identity.

Now they were up close with the men, who were no longer standing tall in their uniforms with weapons slung over their shoulders, but lying helpless in a hospital bed in plaid flannel pajamas.

The women handed out food to the soldiers.

And then, one by one, the women began to cry.

The four soldiers, only days removed from the gritty battle for Shyrokyne, seemed shy and reserved, showing the dutiful respect a young man might show his mother.

The two who could sit upright had their hands folded on their laps.

The women, for their part, slipped into familiar habits.
Korneva, 49, (who has two grown sons) sat beside Oleg—nom de guerre “Sukhar’”—a red-bearded Azov soldier in his early twenties who was wounded near Shyrokyne.

As he talked, Korneva put one hand on his knee and used the other to wipe tears from her eyes.

“We’re so proud of you boys,” she said.

“But you need to eat more.”

Oleg’s battlefield nickname comes from the Russian word for a piece of dry bread.

He said he got the name from his friends because he worked in a bakery before joining the regiment.

He was anxious to get back to fighting.

“We will go back soon,” he said.

“There’s too much work ahead to sit around much longer.”
Another Azov soldier in the room, Artur—nom de guerre “Gimli” (after the dwarf warrior from Lord of the Rings, whom his friends think he resembles)—said it was “pleasant” to see the women there.  

When asked how the hospital food was, Artur replied, “Normal, OK.”

He then segued into a conversation about how much better American MREs were than Ukrainian battlefield rations, eliciting enthusiastic nods from the other soldiers.

Quesadillas with cheese were his favorite.

Led by Vladimir, the women went from room to room in the hospital, delivering food, and taking a moment to chat with each soldier.

Some of the wounded seemed like they were hardly hurt at all, standing upright, pacing in their rooms.

One soldier even picked up Korneva in a big bear hug.

But other injuries were less concealed.

A 22-year-old Finnish soldier from the Azov Regiment was wheeled into one of the rooms as the women chatted.

A nurse lifted him into bed.

He had only been in Ukraine for a month before artillery shrapnel tore into his legs in Shyrokyne.

He was adamant that his name not be used or his photo taken.
He wasn’t scared of the enemy discovering his identity, only that his mother back in Finland would find out he was fighting in Ukraine and become worried.

“I wasn’t lucky to get hurt so soon,” he said.

“But when I get better I want to get back to the fight.”

In one room, which was relatively spacious with only three soldiers occupying it, an intelligence officer from the Donbas Battalion named Igor—nom de guerre “Monolit”—pulled out his cell-phone and flipped through photos of him and his men on the front lines in Shyrokyne.

He was particularly proud of a photo of him holding a sniper rifle.

The women crowded around to see.

Lying in bed as Igor showed his photos was Vadim—nom de guerre “Bird”—a machine gunner for the Donbas Battalion who was bald and looked older than most of the soldiers.

He had been shot through the lower back.

He didn’t want to give his last name, but he wasn’t shy about being photographed.

He painfully sat up and put on his uniform jacket for a picture, insisting that the Donbas Battalion patch be visible.
“We are fighting for our motherland and no enemy will pass,” Vadim said as the photo was taken.

Afterward he painstakingly took off his jacket and got back in bed, lying on his uninjured side.

‘Come and See’ the Soldiers 

Room after room the women delivered their meals.

As they wandered the hallways, curious faces poked out from doorways, and frowning nurses stood at intervals along the walls with arms crossed.

The men they visited were from a patchwork of military units, underscoring the cobbled-together defense of the city.

They were from the regular Ukrainian army, marines, special forces, National Guard, and civilian volunteer battalions like Azov and Donbas, which have only recently been incorporated into the Ukrainian National Guard.

The men were mostly young, usually in their early to mid-twenties.

Although, there were a few men in their thirties and forties.
Vladimir spoke proudly about the women who served as medics in some of the units, declaring they were just as brave as the men and fierce fighters in their own right.

But there were no injured women in the hospital on this day.

Near the end of the visit, the women stopped in a room that held six soldiers.

They were a mix of National Guard and Ukrainian marines.

And there was one older man at the back of the room smoking a cigarette.

He wore all black and had on black leather cowboy boots.

He said he was from an intelligence unit, but declined to give more details.

The room was packed with both men and stuff—uniforms and bags of personal items were scattered around in piles.

The soldiers were thankful for the visit and the food, and they joined the women in singing the Ukrainian national anthem.

One of the National Guard soldiers, who declined to give his name, said he was relieved to see that kind of support from the local population.

A few days ago he had been turned away from a café downtown because he was in uniform.
“They told us we had brought the war here,” he said.

Mariupol is a divided town.

According to an October 2014 poll conducted by New Mariupol, a pro-Ukraine civic group, 75 percent of the city’s nearly 500,000 residents support remaining a part of Ukraine, while 25 percent support separating and becoming part of Russia (many of those in Mariupol who support separating from Kiev see joining Russia as the best alternative, not forming or joining a breakaway republic).

Although, in private conversations and around dinner tables many people in Mariupol admit that the percentage of people who want to split from Kiev is much higher, perhaps even the majority.

“But those are the people who are just waiting for help,” said Popova, a university professor.

“They aren’t very active politically, and not likely to be out protesting. They think Russia will come and fix all their problems.”

Mariupol’s divided loyalties (provoked by Russian propaganda and intelligence operatives, some residents claim) spurred an uprising that began in April 2014, in which separatists briefly took over the city.

The Ukrainian military re-established control in May after weeks of deadly skirmishes that left the city administration building and police headquarters in ruins and at least 50 people dead.

Pro-separatist leaders claimed the number killed was much higher, a charge Kiev denies.
Since last year’s uprising, Mariupol has remained a key objective for the separatists.

Their stated reasons for taking the city range from establishing a land connection from Russia to the breakaway region of Crimea, to remaking Novorossiya, an allusion to the 18th century Russian empire of Catherine the Great.

When the four women left the hospital, their conversation was notably more subdued than when they had entered.

For them, up until this point, the evidence of war had mostly been its sounds.

Now the visual evidence of broken young bodies and the distant looks on some of the soldier’s faces offered the women more poignant proof of the sacrifices made by those sent to defend them.

As the women left the hospital, stepping out in the quickly darkening dusk sky and light rain, Popova said, “I wish everyone in Mariupol would have to come and see these soldiers. Then maybe they’d think twice about the war.”