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In East, Ukrainians Await Much-Needed Aid

  • Gabe Joselow

People walk past a sign that reads "Kramatorsk is Ukraine!" painted in colors of Ukrainian national flag, in Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine, Aug. 9, 2014.

People walk past a sign that reads "Kramatorsk is Ukraine!" painted in colors of Ukrainian national flag, in Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine, Aug. 9, 2014.

On a park bench steps from Lenin Square in downtown Kramatorsk, Tatiana, a refugee who escaped the conflict in nearby separatist-held Horlovka, sits quietly in the shade.

She says she cam​e to this city a month ago, as fighting intensified between Ukrainian armed forces and rebel fighters back home.

Staying with a friend, Tatiana had nothing when she arrived, but she receives a little bit of help from the Ukrainian government.

“We came and received three kilos of flour per person and three kilos of buckwheat," she said. "Somehow it will help.”

It is not very much. But she says the people in Horlovka have even less.

Perhaps it is not surprising that she supports the arrival of a Russian aid convoy - scores of trucks said to be carrying humanitarian supplies - that crossed into Ukraine Friday after waiting at the border for days in a diplomatic stand-off.

“I think the convoy came with good intentions,” Tatiana said, “because it doesn't make sense to create such a big story and make something up, so let them bring it. Maybe it will help.”

The Ukrainian government and its international allies view the deployment of the trucks as a serious provocation. They have repeatedly accused Russia of supporting pro-Russian separatists in the east, and they suspect the trucks could contain supplies intended for rebel fighters.

Kramatorsk, in Donetsk province, was taken over by separatist forces in April and reclaimed by the Ukrainian military last month.

Alliances with Russia still run high here, but the new city administration is trying to start over and build stronger allegiances to Ukraine. Yellow-and-blue billboards, Ukraine's national colors, across the city read “Kramatorsk is Ukraine.”

Kramatorsk's acting mayor acknowledges the humanitarian needs in the east, but Vorobieva Ekaterina says local authorities should provide that assistance, not Russia.

“We are not counting on it,” she said, “we are relying on our own efforts, on our money, so we are not involving ourselves with [the convoy] at all.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross, tasked by both sides to supervise the delivery of the purported humanitarian assistance, says it is not escorting the convoy into separatist-held parts of Ukraine because of the security risks.

The Red Cross has urged all sides not to politicize the matter, saying tens of thousands of needy are in the conflict zones.

Vitaly, a young worker from a machine-parts factory in Kramatorsk, recently visited refugees who fled the fighting, and says some only the clothes on their backs.

“A woman came in a bathrobe, and with nothing else,” he said. “So people should be helped. I don't want to talk about politics, because everyone is tired of it.”

As tired as they may be, Russia's actions have only further riled Ukraine and the international community. In Kyiv, President Petro Poroshenko said Ukraine will do “everything possible to prevent more serious consequences.”

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