In the Donbass air of siege: troubled soldiers, anger and first victims

Of Andrea NicastroOf

Journey to Mariupol, where the young soldiers at the checkpoints are half an hour away from the Russian tanks. Demonstrations and preparations: “We stocked up on blood and antibiotics”

MARIUPOL – Since yesterday, the siege has become something more than a fear. Eight years of war in slow motion had made him a fuzzy thought, now, as he exits the city-port to the east, the Ukrainian soldier on guard has stopped looking at the large Soviet apartment buildings in front of him. That is the extreme periphery, there is the cigarette kiosk, down to the left the car wash, then a karaoke club, the normal life of someone who is in uniform during the day and returns home in the evening. Mariupol’s gardens and balconies are full of military suits hanging out to dry. Camouflage on one side and blue overalls on the other because as a young man you go to the army, as a family man in a mine or factory.

Within Putin’s borders

For eight years at the checkpoint, the boy on duty could look ahead, towards a good or bad future, but still within reach. Not yesterday. Yesterday the boy began to look back, to take cover in the concrete sentry box, to tighten his helmet. Putin’s words and the entry of regular Muscovites into the rebel regions behind him changed everything. Moscow recognizes the sovereignty of the separatist republics, but not in the current borders, rather in the larger historical ones, which also include Mariupol. It is not that the Russian claims were not known, it was just not that they had to be thought about. Everything was in plaster. Yesterday, however, the soldier at the check point remembered that the enemies are ten minutes away by car. At full speed, a Russian tank would take half an hour to arrive at the Rada, the municipal council of Mariupol. And the most direct path is the one that controls him.

The accounts change

If Putin aims at the entire Donbass, if they start bombing, if they send landing troops, if there are infiltrators already in the city, if Russian helicopters or fighters … fear seems to touch it, but it feeds on shadows . The bombs started raining again along the “line of contact”. Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian secessionists accuse themselves of the escalation. The accounts change depending on who tells. But the dead are real. Yesterday another Ukrainian. From Monday night, however, among the rebels there are also regular units in Moscow, with their badges and their radios to call the fighters for intervention. It is not convenient for the Ukrainians to provoke, it is not convenient to attack and instead the pro-Russians speak of 140 foiled blitzes and 400 artillery shots fired at them in 24 hours. If true, the Ukrainians would be reckless reckless as they have the largest military line-up since the Second World War surrounding them on three sides.

Trench rhetoric

A confirmation of Mariupol’s combativeness could come from the demonstration organized by the city authorities last night. Reason: to contest Putinian claims. In fact, only the address was conciliatory: Prospect Myru (Avenue of Peace), in front of the white columns of the Municipal Theater. Unrepeatable were signs and slogans, Putin here, Putin there, we will resist and something like we will break the kidneys of the Russians. Yekaterina Sukomlinova, vice president of the Rada, the municipal council, explains al Courier service that the city has stocked up on blood and antibiotics. “Everyone is ready for self-defense, but everyone knows that our soldiers will defend us to the last breath“. She rhetoric from the trenches, she screams among the besieged to awaken the courage, a vague taste of preordained, almost Soviet. The problem is that after the mayor, councilors and councilors were removed, there were 200 people left. Not enough to challenge the Moscow bear even by arm wrestling.

The miners’ team

The port and two colossal steel mills of Mariupol are the ATMs for whoever takes over the city. At the moment, to collect the cash, there is Rinat Akhmetov, who in addition to being perhaps the richest man in Ukraine is also a great supporter of the pro-European parties in Kiev and president of a football team that regularly attends the Champions League , the Shakhtar Donetsk (the Donetsk miner). When the pro-Russian rebels took Donetsk, the patron packed his bags and moved players and checking accounts elsewhere. By choosing the Ukrainian side, the billionaire lost factories and mines that he owned in the region conquered by the pro-Russian, but he kept the Mariupol steel mills. In his outbursts, Putin was thinking of him when he spoke of “traitorous oligarchs”. If the Russians came to conquer the city, Ahmetov risks losing the gigantic metallurgical plants who poison her, make practically everyone work and make him rich.
If one loses, there is another who gains: Putin. With the factories of Mariupol, combined with coal and iron mines already under the control of pro-Russian rebels, the Kremlin leader would have rebuilt Donbass, one of the richest mining-industrial districts of the defunct Soviet Union. The costs of the siege of Ukraine and sanctions would become less bitter with Mariupol’s money. And the geopolitical victory, Putin’s real goal, even sweeter.

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