The evening of Saturday, 26th April in central Donetsk: A smallish crowd outside the regional administration building, which is occupied by supporters of the Donetsk republic.
Masked men wave through girls holding balloons into the barricaded area in front of the building, where there’s a concert going on. “Arise Donbas, Arise working class!” – a fortuitous rhyme in Russian as in English – growls the middle-aged singer, in a voice which has seen many cigarettes and perhaps half a life down a coal mine. A dog decked out in a Russian flag runs around wagging its tail, delighted at how it is making people laugh. Small children are clambering onto a chopper to have their photo taken under the watchful eye of a bearded biker. More masked young men are drinking plastic cups of tea with their girlfriends.
There’s an undercurrent of dissatisfaction maybe – a reluctant eagerness to pour out months of grievance over not being heard, being disregarded by the rest of the country, being misunderstood; how it’s not fair that Kyiv was allowed to build its barricades and throw its molotov cocktails and have its heroes so why can’t we? But generally there’s a quiet, almost festive atmosphere.
The evening of Wednesday 30th April: same time, same place. About the same-sized crowd.
The children have disappeared, the balloons too. Donetsk Radio Republic is playing to itself from the deserted stage. Most people are carrying metal bars, truncheons, baseball bats. Those masked men are rushing about, leaping into cars and vans, leaping out again. One or two militia men are keeping a safe distance. No one can say or wants to say what’s going on – if anything is going on. Everyone talking into mobile phones. Overheard snippets: “fascists”, “those fucking Kyiv bastards”, “war…”, “trying to encircle us from both sides,” “like in 1938”, “protect our own…”
Fear, but more than that, hatred. ‘Us’ against ‘them’. It’s ugly, ugly, ugly.