By Margarita Fedorova, New Cold War.org, June 1, 2015
On May 17, USA TODAY published a news article highly critical of the political situation in the Donetsk People’s Republic. The article is titled ‘Donetsk has become eastern Ukraine’s lawless city’. It describes Donetsk as a bleak place of lawlessness in which the people and governing authorities of the DPR are at the mercy of violent gunmen, those who have been also fighting against the Ukrainian army. Below, a resident of Donetsk writes a reply to the accusations in the USA TODAY report. She is a resident of Donetsk and works in public administration.
While reading this article, I was thinking of people’s insolence and indifference towards actual state of things here. It is obvious that the people who wrote the USA Today text have no idea what they were writing about. I am sure that every person who has the courage to come here would arrive at the opposite impression of our city.
Of course, life in the city has changed during past year, but life still exists and not in the worst way. In order to understand that this article does not accurately describe life in the capital of the Donetsk People’s Republic, I will comment on each paragraph in order for you to understand what is true and what is false.
DONETSK, Ukraine — This once-booming industrial city of one million is now largely a lawless and lifeless center of eastern Ukraine’s separatist movement, where residents live under constant threat from marauding militias.
The city can still be considered as industrial, as maybe half of its factories, plants and enterprises work in their usual way. The number of citizens has actually increased lately, even if in comparison with February when the most severe shelling was happening daily. People go to work, students study at the universities and prepare for exams, children go to schools and graduates look forward to their proms. A lot of cultural and other public events take place almost every day, organized with the assistance of the institutions of the DPR.
Of course, the hostilities continue. But people are so tired of them that they have chosen to live their almost ordinary lives. It is a fact that Donetsk is no longer a city of one million. Around 600,000 – 700,000 now live here. We have working courts, and even formal procedures for adoption of children are in process. We have police, prosecutors–everything works as usual.
Huge numbers of people attended the Victory Day parade on May 9 and the Republic Day festivities on May 11. This was broadcast on television news, so this should indicate to outsiders that the city still lives.
Cases of marauding occur on both sides—among defense forces and among civilians–but such people are punished severely by the DPR police. Robbery or other violent acts are very serious crimes, so such cases are increasingly rare. Citizens are more afraid of punishment now, as it harsher compared to the time of Ukraine.
Although pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian armed forces agreed to a cease-fire last February, the sounds of artillery fire and shelling have never ceased to echo through the war-torn city. The fighting has slowed, but not stopped.
For the past year, Russian-backed separatists have controlled the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR). Most stores have shut down, and only a few restaurants remain open, filled mainly with young separatist militia fighters in dark green fatigues who rampage through the city as if it were their own playground, civilian residents say.
As for the ceasefire, it is true, it has not stopped and shelling happens regularly. I believe you will have heard about the shelling of Kievskiy district recently, as well as attacks on other districts close to the front lines. Many people of those districts, however, prefer to stay at their homes and not leave their districts. They got used to the regular ‘presents’ delivered by the Ukrainian army. Those people know exactly from what side the shelling falls and from where it starts.
A lot of stores, especially brand name ones, are closed, but the restaurants are starting to open, and it is not only members of defense forces but also ordinary people who are having dinner there. Many citizens have returned to the city for the May holidays, especially. There are many families with their children taking walks in the parks, sitting in cafes or going boating and swimming.
Olexandra Matviichuk, who heads the Center for Civil Liberties in Ukraine, said confrontations among varied militias are common at the expense of law and order. “No functioning legal mechanisms (exist) in these territories,” Matviichuk said. As a result, “any person can become a victim of looting, torture, hostage-taking and execution.
Off a main street in the city center as dusk starts to fall, two DNR policemen, Bogdan Kvetka and Ruslan Ivanov, agreed to sit down with USA TODAY in a small closed cafe to describe the lawlessness that has gripped their city. Because of their fear of retribution from fellow separatists, the café owner — a trusted friend of the men — locked the doors as the pair, still in military fatigues, nervously recounted what life is now like here.
Militia fighters, they explained, are able to carry out criminal acts with impunity. Fighters ignore the law, knowing they have the support of their own paramilitary group that can stir up trouble if one of its members is confronted. Both Kvetka and Ivanov said they are unable to enforce order. “We support the DNR, and not all of the fighters are bad, but 15% of the fighters in Donetsk are, and that’s in every militia group here,”
Kvetka said in a hushed tone despite the secure environment. “The bad ones are the ones at the top, the most powerful members. They steal cars and property, and they have killed civilians they don’t like. They control the city. They do what they want, and no one can stop them. No one can touch them.”
Both policemen said they fully support the separatist movement and proudly wear the words Novorossiya, or “New Russia,” on their shoulder. They don’t believe it is the DNR government that is to blame, but the gang mentality of rogue militia members.”
As for this, it is partially true. Cases where people serving in the DPR armed forces behave aggressively are common. They seem to think that weapons, a uniform and a car give power. But special detachments have been formed in order to control such people acting illegally. All these issues are still in the process of settlement. You can understand that it’s very difficult to control all people with weapons, but the government is trying to work out this problem. It will take time, I don’t know, maybe years, in order for all weapons both legal and illegal to get registered and to control them. I think that such cases happen in Ukrainian cities very common too, as no matter what side servicemen follow, when a man has a gun he thinks that he has total control over everybody. 
As for the cars and murders, it is mostly rumors. There is no evidence one can observe. No doubt it happens in a regular way—in every city one can find carjackings and murders among ordinary people. But this article is aimed to make noise about the DPR.
By the way, there is something that irritates me very much–people like Olexandra Matviichuk live in Kiev or another Ukrainian city, or maybe somewhere abroad, but she talks about what is happening here so masterfully that one would think she lives here and takes part in Donetsk life. So a reader should decide whether to trust a person who probably has never been to Donetsk.
The policemen who spoke with USA TODAY said they are aware residents feel that way. While both hold the rank of captain — allowing each to command two dozen officers — they said they still remain powerless on the streets.”Civilians have been killed, and executions happen here,” Ivanov said. “We know of them and have heard of them. But there is nothing we can do. If any police or any person tries to investigate or accuses a fighter of a group, then they will be killed. It is my work to stop these people, but right now, we can’t do anything.”
This is an absolute nonsense. By the way, the citation of these two policemen raises doubts whether they are real or fictional. But if they really exist, it is presented as if people are so afraid that they don’t stick their heads out their doors. But the situation is quite opposite to that. The DPR police and militias are trying to help people in every situation so that people are not afraid of defense forces and can support the DPR and be proud of it. I can observe the recent mood of citizens by seeing the many patriotic flags everywhere–in every window, on every car. People were so happy on May 11, they were so glad that our city lives without fascist rule, that we have defenders of our land. These are not words, it is an actual fact. Citizens support the defense forces. We help them, they help us.
While speaking to residents in Donetsk, USA TODAY witnessed two men in green military fatigues attack a young man in civilian clothes with a beer bottle outside a café frequented by militia members. The young man fell to the ground in front of eight other civilians, but no one moved to help as blood ran from his head onto the cold pavement.
Both militiamen flicked their cigarettes onto the victim’s limp body and walked away from the scene. After they left, one onlooker helped the young man to his feet, pressing a napkin to his head. Bloodied and in a state of confusion, he stumbled away alone. One woman from the café quickly fetched a bucket of water, splashing away the blood from the concrete. Other onlookers moved on without comment.”
So where is a photo or video of this? There are a lot of stories similar to this, but so little evidence. I can write the same stories about the Ukrainian army. Unfortunately for it, there are many photos and videos on the internet and elsewhere in the public domain. Without proven facts, such commentary as above is idle talk.
“Unfortunately, this is a widespread practice,” civil liberties activist Matviichuk said when told about the incident. “Representatives of the illegal military groups seemingly have a mandate to make decisions on property, personal freedom and even on the life of any person.”
Once again, Matviichuk has no right stating such things as she in not aware of events happening here at all. Her statements are probably drawn from reading the Ukrainian press and watching Ukrainian TV, which is so biased and unreliable. Her claim seems clearly based on these media.
The two police officers confirmed Matviichuk’s assessment. When civilian police arrest someone associated with a militia, it’s only a few hours before other militia members show up and force the police to release the arrested man.
“The problem is there are two wars the DNR government is fighting now: the war against Ukraine and the war here against our own soldiers,” Kvetka said. “It’s not easy for the DNR government to fight both. The city here is not safe from both wars.”
As for this, I cannot tell you for sure, as I don’t have friends or relatives who have been in jail. But defense forces have no special privilege when they commit a crime. And this is another fact.
As for the “war against our own soldiers”, the only such “war” taking place is among the detachments who all wish to join the DPR army and become a legal part of it. There is a natural competition to be the best that can win.
 May 11 is the date of the independence referendum of the Donetsk People’s Republic that took place on May 11, 2014.
 Laws in Russia and (before the present war) in Ukraine restrict the possession of firearms by individuals. They prohibit the possession of handguns in all but exceptional cases. In Ukraine, the right to carry handguns was granted to registered journalists following the ‘Orange Revolution’ of 2004-05, using ‘trauma’ (plastic or rubber) but not metal (lead) bullets. This led to many extreme-right cadre becoming registered by their parties as ‘journalists’. In most cases when far-right militants were detained by police during the Maidan Square protests of late 2013, early 2014, their party would claim them as ‘journalists’, including issuing to them a ‘journalist’ identification card.