Ukraine Liveblog Day 61: An Easter Truce – Just Delaying the Crisis?

April 19, 2014
Baz Ratner/Reuters

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister says his government has agreed to a truce and will not take further actions against pro-Russian separatists and militants in control of government buildings in eastern Ukraine. Will the truce last, and if it does is it just delaying the inevitable confrontation?

Yesterday’s liveblog can be found here. For an overview and analysis of this developing story see our latest podcast.

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Below we will be making updates, which may be less frequent due to the holiday. Our full coverage will resume Monday. Be sure to check back often and hit refresh.


Attacks on Roma Families in Slaviansk

A Ukrainian journalist is reporting from Slaviansk that several Roma families have been beaten and robbed. Slaviansk is a town in south-eastern Ukraine that has been taken over by pro-Russian forces and already saw a scare last week over an antisemitic leaflet falsely purporting to require all Jews to register.

Nataliya Gumenyuk of reports on her Facebook page:

“In Slaviansk 5/6 houses of Romas were stormed and robbed by up till 20 armed men.Few female were beaten.They’re still threatened. Verified. Talked to one of them.”

She links in turn to a news report from  which The Interpreter has translated:

“Pogroms of the Roma have begun in Slaviansk, eyewitnesses report. Armed people are breaking into homes of Roma, beating them and robbing them regardless of sex or age. In particular, several women and children have been beaten. The assailants claim that they are acting on orders of the ‘people’s mayor’ Vyacheslav Ponomarev. According to eye-witnesses, armed people are loading citizens’ property into trucks. The information is being confirmed in Roma human rights organizations; now activists of the organizations are in the process of establishing the identity of those who committed the attacks.”

We’re waiting to get more details to confirm this report, although since Gumenyuk, a long-time reporter in this region, has spoken to one of the victims, we know at least an attack did take place.

The question is whether — once again — this could be a false attribution to the “Donetsk People’s Republic,” as the claim of the “people’s governor” (not a title used) Denis Pushilin was made about the antisemitic leaflet, which he denied. Now we’re hearing of a “people’s mayor” — also reportedly a title not used. As Time‘s Simon Shuster reported about the anti-semitic leaflets, the hate attacks could be more mundane extortion tactics by opportunists. Does the “Donetsk People’s Republic” — basically a gang that has taken
over one building — not have control of all its fighters?

Even so, racist posters have been discovered at the headquarters of the “Donetsk People’s Republic,” and we are now seeing yet another report of yet another minority attacked — this one of the Roma the most serious to date with physical assault and robbery.

As Jews in Slaviansk explain to BBC reporter Natalia Anteleva, they are more afraid of Russia — and by implication the forces allied with Russia — than the European-leaning new authorities in Kiev.

Separatists Defiant, OSCE Committed

The OSCE has reiterated that it is committed to making rapid progress on implementing the deal agreed upon in Geneva:

“It was agreed to move ahead rapidly with the practical implementation of the Geneva Statement,” the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in a statement that referred to the pact, which was agreed to on Thursday in the Swiss city by officials from Ukraine, the United States, the European Union and Russia.
“In this regard the meeting’s participants recognized the need to take immediate concrete steps towards de-escalation. The Ukrainian side informed the meeting on first steps already taken in this direction. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission informed the meeting of its plans to send the deputy chief monitor to eastern Ukraine today to work on the practical modalities of the implementation, as well as on the ongoing work of the monitoring teams on the ground.”
The participants also agreed “to meet regularly.”

The problem — the separatists in Donetsk show no signs of budging. If they don’t lay down their arms and surrender, it is hard to imagine that any of the Geneva deal will last much further than this weekend. 

An Easter Truce

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister has announced that his troops will enter into a truce, and will take no further action against pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine until after Easter Sunday. But the government in Kiev sounds less optimistic than ever about the prospects of avoiding a deepening crisis next week. The Daily Beast reports:

Ukraine’s chief negotiator, Foreign Minister Andry Deshchytsia, tells The Daily Beast he still doesn’t know what Russia’s intentions really are, but expects they will be revealed if militants in the east continue their defiance. The armed men there are coached and funded by Moscow, and backed up by tens of thousands of Russian troops just across the border.

Deshchytsia suggests the daylong Geneva talks came close to foundering. From his perspective, the problem was insistence by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that Moscow is playing no part in the pro-Russian agitation and has no control over gunmen who want Ukraine’s eastern regions to follow Crimea and be annexed by Russia.

“I don’t know what the Russians are planning,” says Deshchytsia. “They could use at any time the same pretext they used in Crimea – that they have to protect ethnic Russians. But it just isn’t true.”