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In pictures: Preparing for war in eastern Ukraine

© Mehdi Chebil

Text by Mehdi CHEBIL

Latest update : 2014-03-22

The new government in Kiev has quietly increased its military presence in eastern Ukraine amid fears that the pro-Russian separatist sentiments seen in Crimea will catch fire across the region.

The first massive concrete bulwarks appeared at the Novoazovsk border crossing on March 16, the same day that voters in the Crimea region overwhelmingly voted in favour of independence from Ukraine.

Ironically, some of the huge military blocks that now stand on this last stretch of Ukrainian territory before reaching Russia are decorated with paintings honouring Soviet WWII tank divisions.

“We are ready for any event,” Captain Igor Lisagoub, the ranking officer among the Ukrainian border guards stationed at Novoazovsk, told FRANCE 24.

However, with no heavy artillery or reinforcements in sight, it is difficult to image how Lisagoub and the soldiers at his command could defend their positions from an eventual Russian aggression.

“We have noticed no threatening military movements on the other side of the border, and the situation remains calm for the moment,” Captain Lisagoub said, almost as if trying to reassure himself.

“Nevertheless, during the past two weeks we have stepped up controls in order to prevent Russian provocateurs from participating in anti -government protests in the region,” he adds.

Finding reinforcements

The first real Ukrainian military reinforcements are stationed 60 kilometres west of Novoazovsk. Near the village of Anadol, dozens of well-equipped soldiers are digging a trench around their camp.

A light tank at the entrance of the base gives the reinforcements who were deployed from Dnipropetrovsk, a large city around 400 km southeast of the capital of Kiev, a minimum of firepower.

“Residents were woken up at 4am by a convoy of soldiers who speak Ukrainian. There were twenty troop transport vehicles and some tanks,” Radion, an electrician and the president of the local hunters’ association, remembers.

Between resignation and hostility

The deployment of Ukrainian troops in this far-away region has been greeted by a mixture of resignation and hostility.

Politicians in Kiev, regardless of their political affiliation, are widely viewed as corrupt here. The electrician Radion says a spontaneous demonstration of more than one hundred people blocked a Ukrainian military convoy near the town of Mitchourino this week.

“The people here are patriotic, but we do not like this stupid political confrontation, which Kiev is 100% responsible for,” Radion, whose brother lives across the border in Russia, says.

“In fact, the only reason Kiev is worried about a Russian takeover here, is because they would no longer be able to steal from us in the same way they do in the west of the country.”

Date created : 2014-03-21

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