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Independence Day in Eastern Ukraine Takes on New Meaning

  • Gabe Joselow

Independence Day took on a special meaning Sunday in Slovyansk, Ukraine, a town that, earlier this year, was under the control of pro-Russian separatists. But a new nationalist fervor is sweeping the city as residents fight for a more Ukrainian future.

Take the activity buzzing at city hall in Slovyansk. Citizens confronted the chairman of a local machinery plant, Pavel Pridvorov, who was vying for the position as acting mayor.

Angry residents accuse him of supporting the pro-Russian separatists who took control of the town in April and were ousted by Ukrainian forces last month.

Valentina, a local businesswoman takes the floor to condemn the current city council.

“The executive authority didn't do anything," she said, speaking in Russian. "Moreover, when everything happened, they all unanimously and quietly supported it. I think the old staff has no moral right.”

Tired and angry after months of fighting, citizens are demanding a change in the city's formerly pro-Russian leadership.

The harshest comments are directed at Privorov himself, accused by this woman of supplying separatist forces with material from his machine plant.

Privorov does his best to defend himself.

“We never gave any equipment willingly. I will say it again. We didn't give any equipment willingly, only under the barrel of the gun.”

It is a festive atmosphere in Slovyansk as Ukrainians here mark 23 years since the country became independent from the Soviet Union.

This year, citizens are re-evaluating their country's future, embracing a new-found Ukrainian nationalism that has risen up in resistance to the separatist movement.

Ina is a Slovyansk resident and a mother of two. Through an interpreter, she was grateful for current peaceful conditions.

"Ukraine is a great country and we've survived. But now I think everything will be different, a new history will start, glory to Ukraine," she said.

The city still bears the marks of the heavy fighting that took place here. But battles between rebels and Ukrainian forces continue in the nearby cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Ukraine and its allies accuse Russia of supplying the separatists, though Moscow denies any involvement.

Volunteer soldiers who helped free the city now patrol the streets of Slovyansk to make sure separatists do not return.

Their deputy commander, Yuri Chebon, expressed confidence that overall victory is in sight.

“They came as volunteers," he said through an interpreter. "They understand they have to defend our country, the integrity of our country, no matter who invades or who wants to oppose us. We will win.”

But despite the optimism, Ukraine still has a long way to go to win the battle in the east, which some are starting to see as part of a prolonged fight for independence.

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