By Dmitrii Volchek
The representatives of the so-called DPR aren’t concealing that one of their main aims is to seize Mariupol for the second time. This was stated by the “prime minister” of the so-called republic, Oleksandr Zakharchenko, in his interview to Reuters. While Oleh Tsarov explained that the seizure of Mariupol is also necessary due to the town’s strategical stock of grain. “There are no storehouses with food in the territory that is under our control,” complained Tsarov. Mariupol is located only 40 km from Novoazovsk, that was seized by the separatists on August 27, with support from Russia.
Mariupol survived a month under the rule of the DPR, and now the number of the “people’s republic” supporters has decreased significantly. A rally in support of united Ukraine took place on August 28, attended by thousands [of people]. Right now, the citizens of Mariupol are preparing for the defense of their town by digging anti-tank ditches and fortifying the checkpoints together with the servicemen.
The head of the public organization “United Mariupol”, Denys Havrylov, told us about what is going on in the city.
– We started getting concerned on August 25, when certain media spread quite inaccurate information. Panic was spreading in Mariupol on Monday and Tuesday, as citizens were standing in long queues to the petrol stations, which was even bought by those who didn’t own a car; there were long queues in the shops, with people practically buying anything they could get their hands on. It took a lot of effort on the part of the public activists, local authorities and the ATO headquarters, to settle the panic and explain to the citizens that the information wasn’t completely accurate and that everything isn’t as bad. Luckily, the Mariupol residents have managed to deal with the panic.
Five thousand people took part in Thursday’s rally against the incursion by the Russian troops. People’s spirits were uplifted and they were asking how they could help the army. A decision was made to dig anti-tank ditches, and the patriotic citizens got started. The anti-tank ditches and trenches are being dug on the side of the Mariupol-Taganrog highway, Novoazovsk highway, next to our checkpoints, and further away, where the Russian tanks could pass. People are ready to stand up for their town. Mariupol has experience, since we were within the Donetsk People’s Republic for practically a month. People have realized what it is like, and many don’t want to go back there. People don’t want to leave the town and are determined to defend it together with the servicemen.
– How did the month under the rule of the DPR go?
– The month under the rule of the DPR in Mariupol was horrible. In the beginning, when this all was just being initiated, around two to three thousand citizens would take it to the streets, shouting: “Russia! DPR! Putin, send in your troops!”. But after the town council, the police and the SBU buildings (Security Service of Ukraine) had been captured, true chaos emerged in the city. Looting was taking place, shops and banks were pillaged. And all of this was happening in the broad daylight. People who were doing this perfectly understood that there was video surveillance, but they did not care. A lot of infrastructure was damaged; the detriment suffered by the city was immense. The fourth floor of the town council building, where the sessional chamber was located, burnt down. It appears that it cannot be restored, as the girders have collapsed. The building where the headquarters of the Mariupol police garrison was located burnt down.
That month was terrible for us. Banks froze all payments, and people who are receiving their benefits, wages and pensions on their debit cards couldn’t withdraw money anywhere. Banks were obviously concerned about their employees and their property, since looting was widespread, and many ATMs were damaged, as well as shops and terminals. We only have three stores in town that sell weaponry, and all of them were looted. That whole month was truly a chaos. Hence, people are fed up with DPR.
On June 13, after the “Azov” battalion liberated the city, the citizens of Mariupol breathed a sigh of relief. Living became much easier. On July 13, we celebrated a month since the city was liberated by the “Azov” battalion on the square. The biggest Ukrainian flag in the whole country was unfolded. I think that neither the public, nor the politicians, nor the servicemen would allow the seizure of Mariupol to happen. If we were to give up Mariupol, there would be no point in fighting for the Donetsk Oblast. Mariupol is not solely a strategic city of the Donetsk Oblast, but also of the whole of Ukraine, since it has one of the biggest ports, which means access to the sea and trade links. If Mariupol would get captured, it would be very difficult and problematic for our authorities to deal with the situation.
– Did cleansing take place within the local council after the town was liberated, and has a new governing team of the town been formed? Or do the old officials remain [at their positions]?
– Unfortunately, no cleansing was carried out. The town mayor is at his [old] place, the town council secretary is at his [old] place, as well as all of the deputies, except for the two who fled as information that they co-operated with the terrorists appeared. Only three months ago was the town mayor, Yurii Yuriivych Hotlubei, sitting down to talks with the terrorists, the so-called leaders of the Donetsk People’s Republic. The head of the local police was sitting down to talks with them as well. They were signing some memorandums about non-aggression, about cooperation. This, of course, enraged the public a lot. How could one sign these kinds of memorandums with the terrorists? So for now no cleansing has taken place, even though it is being insisted upon. During the rally with five thousand participants, one of the people giving a speech said that the town mayor is here and suggested he be given the floor. However, everyone started shouting “Shame!”, and did not let the mayor say a word.
No one wanted to listen to his speech, because three months ago he was cooperating with the DPR, but right now our Yurii Yuriivych is like a chameleon, wearing a vyshyvanka and speaking in Ukrainian language. He has been our mayor for 15 years already, and for the first time in 15 years, we are hearing him speak in Ukrainian language. So our local authorities have adapted themselves. With great efforts, we have managed to succeed in removing the head of the local police from office, who sat down to talks with the terrorists and signed some sort of peace deals. The head of the Kirovohrad Oblast police took up his position. Unfortunately, the head [of the police], Oleh Morhun, who had been dismissed, was put in charge of the Novoazovsk district department. We are even joking that Morhun has driven Mariupol to such a state, that it ended up being captured. And now that he was transferred to Novoazovsk, it was practically captured just a few weeks after.
– Are you receiving any news from Novoazovsk since its seizure? Are there refugees leaving [Novoazovsk]?
– I have friends and acquaintances there, and we are trying to stay in touch with the Novoazovsk regional administration. The situation there is very difficult. Since Novoazovk has become encircled by the Russian servicemen, you can only enter the town, but unfortunately, you can’t leave it. The cars are prohibited from exiting it. They say that right now they [Russian soldiers] have started capturing people who don’t possess a Novoazovsk registration. They are more lenient towards the people who have a Novoazovsk registration, whereas those who don’t have one are captured and put into basements. At the moment, the chairman of the Novoazovsk regional administration is heroically attempting to organize a green corridor for the refugees. People have gotten unlucky twice: there are a lot of people from Sloviansk, Snizhne, and Luhansk, who had already fled from war once and thought that they would be better off here. Around 10,000 refugees are accommodated in holiday hotels. Currently, talks are being held to somehow organize a green corridor under white flags for these people, in order to at least get them to Mariupol.
– Does “United Mariupol” give courses on civil defense? Are people signing up?
– Yes, people are signing up, and are responding very actively. We already conducted this type of course in April, after Crimea was occupied by Russia. Unfortunately, only a few people attended these courses back then, 50-60 people. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that people didn’t believe ’til lately that such things happening in the Donetsk Oblast could possibly happen. We stopped these courses for safety purposes when the town became occupied by the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, as there was no point carrying on with them. Right now, 40km away, the tanks are already moving towards our town.
The situation is difficult, and we decided to resume with these courses. We held the first session last Sunday [August 24]. We are planning on inviting the servicemen, so they could tell people how to behave should the active combat operations commence, as well as [inform the civilians] where to hide, which bomb shelters there are, in case the town would be getting shelled by the artillery, and God forbid, by the aviation, and try to teach people how to administer first aid. The main thing is not to panic! If an individual would start panicking during the shelling, there is a 90 per cent probability that he won’t save himself, nor anyone else. This is why, first of all, we want to teach people not to panic and to provide them with a clear plan of how to act and how to help themselves and others, should an artillery shelling take place. I think that if, God forbid, we would be hit by such tragedy, then these courses should help save hundreds, or even thousands of people.
– According to your estimates, is the majority of the citizens on your side? I read a post on the Facebook page of “United Mariupol”, saying that parents are refusing to send their kids to school on September 1 because the Ukrainian anthem would be played.
– Overall, the situation with the schools is difficult. When the DPR wanted to organize a referendum in Mariupol concerning the secession of the Donetsk Oblast from Ukraine and accession to Russia, the head of the regional education council, Zynovia Dmytryiva, was helping them very actively and asking the school principles to allow the referendum take place in their schools. I don’t know what this has to do with . Maybe she was scared for her life, maybe she was threatened under gun point, or maybe she is simply a DPR supporter. This is up to the law-enforcement agencies to examine. But these instances do actually occur. It happens that teachers refuse to give Ukrainian language lessons. But these are isolated cases in our city of half a million inhabitants (the population of Mariupol is 460,000 people).
Undoubtedly, we understand that people who still believe in and support the DPR, remain. These are not the people who took up arms. These are mainly pensioners or youth. Middle-aged people were either pro-Ukrainian to begin with, or the DPR has convinced them that Ukraine must stay united, with all that was happening in the city. Of course, the DPR supporters still remain in town, and this is worrisome . We have to educate these people, explaining to them what the DPR is, and what Ukraine is. Many of them don’t understand. They confuse the terms of federalization and centralization. People are confused as they were persuaded that the DPR is better, that Russia is better. The whole patriotic society of our town gathered at Thursday’s rally. In the light of the situation that is unfolding in Novoazovsk, at the border, an idea to hold a rally suddenly emerged. The rally was organized in less than 24 hours, and 5,000 people attended it. Mariupol is changing, Mariupol has changed drastically since it has been liberated from the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic.
– Denys, if you had an opportunity to meet with Petro Poroshenko, what would you say to him?
– I would tell him that we fully support our president, who got the majority of the votes in Mariupol. It is a very difficult time right now, and he is the only person who took the responsibility for the country upon himself. One can give much advice, one may talk about the rights and wrongs of the president’s actions, or speculate about the possibilities and impossibilities of imposing the martial law, but there are many things we don’t know. The war is going on and a lot of information is classified as secret. Right now we need to support the president. This man has taken responsibility for our country and for our future upon himself.
On August 24, at the meeting dedicated to the 23rd anniversary of Ukraine’s Independence, we wrote a letter to Petro Oleksiivych Poroshenko, fully supporting his policies, which was signed by around 300 Mariupol residents. We support our president and we have faith in him. We believe that Petro Oleksiivych will be able to act in the right way and bring peace to Ukraine. Only, not the peace that is being offered by Russia on its conditions, but peace based on mutually beneficial terms. We don’t mind being friends with Russia, but this friendship has to be based on normal respectable neighborly relations. Unity and indivisibility of Ukraine shouldn’t be condemned at all. No one in Mariupol doubts that Crimea – is Ukraine.
– Mariupol isn’t only a commercial port, but is also a holiday town. Are there any extremists at the moment, who despite everything, still come here to the beach?
– When the Donetsk People’s Republic was governing here in the beginning of June, the situation was dispiriting. But after the town was liberated, and after a never-ending stream of refugees started arriving to Mariupol, the beach by the Azov sea became very crowded with people. Recently, we held a sports day: there are a lot of vacationers on the beach – coming from Mariupol and elsewhere. Certainly, the situation has slightly worsened in the last few days, but this is due to the fact that serious panic was rising on Monday and Tuesday, due to the invasion of Russian forces into Ukraine being spread by the media, stating that they are approaching the town. Some were saying that they [Russian forces] were already in town. Hence, the situation with the vacationers of course slightly worsened. But overall, there are quite a lot of vacationers, and holiday season continues.
Source: Radio Liberty, translated by Dasha Darchuk, edited by Lisa Spencer