We are in a small town called Donetsk, but which has nothing to do with the Ukrainian separatist territory which bears the same name, although Ukraine is less than a kilometer from us. Vladimir sees her from his balcony.
The city of 50,000 inhabitants looks like any other in the region: two or three Orthodox churches, a few supermarkets and restaurants, small Russian flags on all the streetlights and several monuments to the memory of the heroes of the Great War.
” We lost 50 million men. You would have to be crazy or completely sick these days to trigger another one. »
Vladimir does not believe for a second in the possibility of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Look around us, nothing is happening.
There’s a lot of coming and going in town this February morning, but there isn’t a soldier in sight at the border. Not the shadow of a tank either. None of these monster deployments that we know of in the region (supporting satellite images) and whose existence the Kremlin confirms by qualifying them as mere military exercises.
Why such a show of force? Vladimir shrugs his shoulders, and although he’s not used to cameras and microphones, he doesn’t hesitate to deliver his analysis of the situation.
” Tell me instead what Canadian soldiers are doing in Ukraine? And the Americans too? Why are the British supplying arms to Kiev? Well, it’s quite simple, it’s to attack Russia, of course. »
He 100% supports its President Vladimir Putin and believes that Russia has an interest in protecting itself from the wrath of the
conspiracy of the West to divide us from our Ukrainian brothers.
Like most Russians we took the time to survey, Vladimir says, pointing to the border, that Ukrainians are fellow Slavs who deserve to live in peace.
At the border post, 800 meters further on, cars and taxis line up to enter Russia. We met several families there who arrive from Ukraine and leave a few hours later with their trunks full of groceries.
Vladimir, 60, wears a fur hat and his son Vitali wears a cap. They come from Luhansk, the closest of the two separatist territories of Ukraine.
They explain to us that they cross twice a year to Russia to buy food because, on their side, there is not much choice and everything has been more expensive for eight years.
The Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic declared their independence from Ukraine in 2014, after referendums that were never recognized by the international community. Both territories have since been ruled by pro-Russian separatists and remain the epicenter of a proxy war between Ukraine and Russia.
When Vitali is asked if he thinks Russia intends to attack Ukraine using their territory, he gets emotional before answering.
” We in Luhansk are not going to attack anyone, we are peaceful people who want to live in peace. »
He withdraws for a few seconds, then pulls himself together.
We just want the international community to recognize our independence from Kyiv, the one we fought for.
He no longer considers himself Ukrainian for a long time. He doesn’t want to be Russian though, though he has a Russian Federation passport in his hand, courtesy of Moscow.
Next door, sitting at the table, Evgenia is drinking tea while waiting for a taxi, wrapped in a fur coat. She came from Luhansk to shop with a Russian friend and pick up a package that she had delivered from the nearest Zara store in Russia.
” A shirt for my son and a coat for my eldest, because, on our side, there is not much choice and everything has become expensive since 2014. »
She too lives in Luhansk, the separatist territory, but her heart will always be in Ukraine.
Ukraine is my country and I love everything about it, especially the language. Even if I speak Russian and have the passport, I will always feel more Ukrainian.
When war broke out in the east in 2014, Evgenia spent months on the run to escape combat, along with her two children.
She now fears an invasion and concedes that she is frightened to know so many Russian troops massed in the border regions, even if she does not know their extent or the real intentions of the Kremlin.
” However, we are humans and we have learned to adapt to all situations without despair. Life goes on. »
I saw you on the surveillance cameras. Why didn’t you announce yourself? We had been waiting at the door of the area Cossacks’ room for barely 10 minutes when the leader Leonid Pereshelin drove up.
He hurries to let us in because it’s raining heavily, then puts on his uniform for the interview he willingly agrees to grant us, in order to share his thoughts on the risks of a conflict in his region.
” Ukraine is Ukraine, and it must be left alone, you understand. »
Leonid grew up in Russia, but was born in Odessa, Ukraine, where several members of his family still live today.
We have so much in common with Ukrainians. We pray to the same God, and with the same Biblehe said, smiling.
In the next room, photos of two young Cossacks are displayed near a candle. They died in 2014 while going to support the Donetsk separatists.
If the Cossacks were at the time of the tsars of the warriors inseparable from the Russian army, they operate in Russia today on a voluntary and paramilitary basis only.
Leonid won’t say if he’ll join the fights if the worst happens.
Provocations must be avoided; it would be a fratricidal war for us.
However, it supports its president’s demands that Ukraine never become a member of theNATO, in the name of Russian security. He refuses to believe that Vladimir Putin would go so far as to invade it if the West did not acquiesce to his demands.
A disaster scenario that many simply refuse to think about. What if war should break out, whoever causes it?
Vladimir, the father from Luhansk, shakes his head as he takes off his hat and says he is too old to go to the front.
His son Vitali thinks before answering confidently:
If war breaks out, I will fight with Russia.