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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Spotlight Donbas

by Theo Russell

AROUND 40 activists attended a recent meeting in central London to see UK photographer and journalist Dean O’Brien showing photos of the Donbas, speaking on his experiences there and answering questions. He has recently been interviewed twice on these topics on George Galloway’s Mother of all Talk Shows on RT News.

Dean first visited Kiev in 2008, and even then, six years before the February 2014 Euromaidan coup, he saw neo-Nazi marches with people wearing German WW2 uniforms and waving swastika flags, and Hitler’s Mein Kampf and SS books being sold on the city’s streets.

He was in Kiev at the time of the Western-backed coup in February 2014 that installed openly fascist parties and armed groups in the government, police and armed forces.

“I witnessed how the government in Kiev was illegally overthrown in the so-called ‘Maidan’ revolution, backed by the USA to destabilise the whole country, and plunging it into the war we see today. I saw the far-right intimidating Russian speakers.”

In 2018 Dean visited Odessa on 2nd May, the anniversary of the Trade Unions House Fire in 2014 in which a far-right mob surrounded anti-fascists. Many were burned alive and many trying to escape were murdered. There has never been any investigation, but 50–100 are believed to have been killed.

At the memorial gathering Dean said: “The fascists were kicking and spitting on the mothers of those who had died, while the police stood by and did nothing. Later I saw them sharing a beer with the fascists.”

But despite the danger of fascist attacks, in ‘Kiev-controlled’ Ukraine Dean saw many examples of open resistance to the junta and the fascist thugs.

“On Victory Day [9th May, the victory over Nazi Germany in 1945] all over Ukraine, even in Kiev, citizens still risk fascist attacks by publicly marking the victory over Nazism, including many grandmothers and great grandmothers.”

Dean later visited several majority-Russian-speaking cities in the East, where positive memories of the Soviet Union are widespread and many are against the illegal government and the fascist gangs it has unleashed.

“People in Eastern Ukraine don’t recognise the current government and see it as illegal.”

These people who oppose the Kiev junta, along with and the four million living in the rebel republics, are labelled separatists and terrorist supporters by the Kiev regime. And as far as the Western media is concerned, they don’t exist – they’ve been ‘cancelled out’ along with Syrians, Libyans, Palestinians, Venezuelans and Kashmiris.

In Mariupol Dean visited the police station that sided with the Anti-Maidan forces and was destroyed by the Ukraine Army and fascist battalions in heavy fighting in the 2014–15 war. All the police inside were killed.

“While I was in the east people were telling me to visit ‘the other side’. They had relatives in ‘non-government controlled’ Donbas and said that I should go and see what the Ukrainian government is doing to them.

“I’d read so many conflicting articles regarding what was happening there, so the only solution was to go and see for myself.

“In May 2019 I travelled to the Donbas for the first time. This meant that I could never visit Kiev-controlled Ukraine again while the current regime was still in place.

“I’d heard that there was no food in the shops, that the streets were full of Russian soldiers. I’d been told that the people there were imprisoned and that the streets were dangerous. None of this turned out to be true.”

Western reporters don’t even bother to visit the ‘rebel’ republics. On UK radio, TV and in the papers, they simply report the war from the Ukrainian side of the front line – taking great care only to interview supporters of the Kiev regime.

“Most western media correspondents are based in Kiev and only report from one side. It’s biased lazy reporting at best,” Dean said.

no surprise

It comes as no surprise then that Dean found that: “People in Donetsk were happy and pleased that I had travelled all the way from the UK to hear their side of the story.

“Donetsk City is like any other European city with cafes, restaurants. I felt very safe there, safer than my home town, Coventry, and Donetsk City feels like any other European city.

“Bars and coffee shops were open, supermarkets all had food. There were no Russian soldiers, only volunteers who were all local men and women. People were going about their daily business, travelling to work etc.

“In the evening people sat on benches playing chess, teenagers were texting on their phones and listening to music. So life is fairly normal there in the city centre. That is until dusk arrives, and you can hear the boom of shelling in the distance. Then you remember where you are.

“I was most impressed with the cleanliness of the streets. Virtually no graffiti. That although there was a war going on people were happy. They never spoke about revenge, only the desire for peace. One thing they did make clear though was that they were not prepared to give up their new republic and re-integrate back with government-controlled Ukraine.

“The most common phrase I heard being spoken in Donetsk by the inhabitants was ‘Ya xachoo mira’ – ‘We want peace’.

high level

“I met many members of the People’s Militia, the DPR’s defence force. I also visited frontline positions at Yasynuvata, and the militia members I spoke to all had a high level of political awareness.”

He pointed out that: “During the fighting in 2014–15 there were no Russian regular soldiers, but there were many Russian volunteers.

“My life was never going to be the same after this visit. It really opened my eyes to how the media controls how and what we think.

“Once I’d been to the Donbas I knew that it would never be possible for me to return to government-controlled Ukraine.”

He was recently informed that he had been placed on the ironically named ‘Peacekeeper’ website. This was set up by fascists several years ago and has made public names, contacts and addresses of people who have visited or supported the Donbas, many Donbas, Crimean, Ukrainian and Russian citizens, and Western journalists whose work they see as unacceptable.

“That confirmed to me that they do not like objective reportage. I’m now on their list with many other photojournalists and correspondents. But in all honesty, it’s a small price to pay to get the truth out there about this conflict.

“Those that have heard about the conflict believe that Russia has invaded Ukraine, simply because that’s the message the western media is sending out to them.

“But the media fails to mention the West staging the coup that helped Ukraine fall into a civil war and overthrow the legally elected government. That’s what started all of this, turning Ukraine into the mess of a country that we are witnessing today.”

Dean is working on a small self-published photo book, Shots From Donbass, which will be a collection of images from his visit to the Donbas in May 2019.

Since 2019 Dean has not been able to return to the Donbas due to the COVID‑19 pandemic. Last autumn he travelled to Rostov-on Don but as the border to the Donetsk was closed, he travelled to Crimea where he met volunteer fighters from the Donbas.

He has continued to actively support and speak out for the people of the Donbas and all Ukrainian anti-fascists, including at the London gathering.