Ukrainian militias accused of widespread atrocities against Russian speakers in Donetsk Oblast

Did Ukrainian militias target civilians for murder in secessionist Donetsk Oblast?

Guest Column from Renaissance Horizon

You may have heard about the cellphone video of Ukrainian soldiers torturing Russian POWs and shooting them in the legs. The governments of both Russia and Ukraine say they have opened investigations. The video has been potentially geolocated to a spot near the city of Kharkiv.

Another video shows Russian POWs stripped down to their underwear and blindfolded next to a ditch. What happens to them next is unknown, but it doesn’t look good. Another video shows a man, believed to be a civilian volunteer (AKA Territorial Defense), torturing and stabbing another man. The victim is believed to be a Ukrainian citizen whom the perpetrator accuses of being pro-Russia. These videos have allegedly been recovered from the cellphones of Ukrainian POWs in Russian custody.

The result of these videos is that tens of millions of Russians will see it as validation of the Kremlin’s claim that Ukrainian has been committing atrocities in the Donbas all along.

However, allegations of atrocities against the civilian population of Mariupol started within days of Russia’s invasion. One dashcam video allegedly showed Ukrainian militiamen executing a motorist and then opening fire on other cars. These were supposed to be people trying to evacuate Mariupol. Shortly after that, a resident of Mariupol was interviewed on a major news program in Greece. He said anyone trying to leave the city could be killed by the state-sponsored militia Azov.

There was a two-week period when Russia and Ukraine allowed civilians to evacuate along mutually agreed upon routes in many cities in eastern Ukraine. However, day after day, Kiev claimed Mariupol could not be safely vacuated. Each day they blamed Russia for this. At one point, a national spokesman for the Red Cross said their own employees could not leave the city because an unknown party had placed mines on the roads.

The government of Ukraine declared Mariupol a “City of Heroes” and started crafting a romanticized image of residents resisting the Russian army in a blaze of glory. Ukrainian president Zelensky stated, “I told Ukrainian defenders of Mariupol they could leave the city, they refused.” Western media even called Mariupol “Ukraine’s Alamo.” Frankly, this sounds like a potential repeat of what US/Saudi/Turkish sponsored Salafist groups did in Syria. They would set up a headquarters in a crowded apartment complex and tell the residents that if the Syrian government blows up the complex, they would be “martyrs.” However, they could be executed as “apostates if they leave.”

Once Donetsk separatist militias reached the east side of Mariupol, some civilians were finally able to evacuate to the east. When the Russian army entered from the west side, tens of thousands of civilians began exiting the city each day to head west.

Even before the departure of civilians from Mariupol, villagers from surrounding communities had already been making allegations of atrocities against civilians by Ukrainian forces. Particularly in and around Volnovadkha, the center of the Pontic Greek community in Ukraine.

To understand these accusations, you have to know a few things. In 2014, there were referendums in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts on secession from Ukraine. Mariupol and the surrounding area were part of the territory that tried to leave Ukraine but was quickly invaded by hardline volunteer militia and the Ukrainian army.

These militias, such as Azov, Donbas, and Aidar Battalions, were permanently stationed in Mariupol and/or surrounding communities such as Sartana and Volnovadkha. They were given the power to act as law enforcement and arrest people. Mainline international humanitarian groups accused these militias of war crimes against civilians and saw them as the punitive wing of the Ukrainian army.

Aidar Battalion even admitted to intercepting humanitarian aid and refusing to turn it over to starving civilians. The government of Ukraine was forced to pretend that they were disbanding Aidar and arresting some of its members. In reality, they were only given a new name, and the people arrested were never prosecuted. At the beginning of March, Zelensky sacked the governor of Odesa Oblast and appointed the former commander of Aidar Battalion to take his place.

Since the beginning of the Donbas War, Ukraine has incorporated these militias into the National Guard and federal police.

By banning Russian media, the Western media can present a black and white narrative of Russia being 100% devil and Ukraine being 100% saint. The reality is far more complex. This is why censorship is such an evil thing.

There are dozens of videos like this that have been translated to English. There are probably scores more that are in Russian only.

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