News / Europe

    Ukraine Rebel Commander Says Will Not Pull Out of Donetsk

    Pro-Russian separatist commander Igor Strelkov leaves after a news conference in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, July 10, 2014.
    Pro-Russian separatist commander Igor Strelkov leaves after a news conference in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, July 10, 2014.
    Reuters

    An enigmatic Russian leading separatist rebels in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk made a rare appearance in public on Thursday to say he would not abandon the city though he defended his decision to pull out of the stronghold of Slaviansk.

    Igor Girkin, a Muscovite who has the nom de guerre of Igor Strelkov, has been criticized by some other rebel commanders for withdrawing from Slaviansk last weekend and allowing government forces to savor a major victory.

    Hundreds of his men headed south to Donetsk, the region's main industrial center, after the rout and are digging in now in the city of more than 900,000 people as government forces appear to be preparing a blockade to break their resistance.

    Asked by a journalist if he would make a similar tactical withdrawal from Donetsk to save people's lives, the reason he gave for quitting Slaviansk, the 43-year-old Strelkov said simply: “No”.

    Alexander Borodai, the “prime minister” of the self-proclaimed “people's republic” seated alongside him, added: “Where would we go ? We will defend the territory of the Donetsk People's Republic.”

    Strelkov, who disclosed on Thursday he had been a colonel in Russia's Federal Security Service - the successor agency to the KGB - has been on Ukraine's 'most-wanted' list since he began marshaling rebel forces against the Kyiv government in April.

    While he commanded forces in Slaviansk, the town became a citadel of fierce resistance and at least two government military helicopters were brought down in the area by rebel fire.

    Hero status

    Said to have a penchant for historical battle recreations and enjoying the profile of an elusive adventurer dropping casually in and out of conflict zones, Strelkov began to take on hero status in rebel quarters.

    Ukrainian servicemen carry weapons, seized from pro-Russian separatists, near Slaviansk, July 8, 2014.Ukrainian servicemen carry weapons, seized from pro-Russian separatists, near Slaviansk, July 8, 2014.
    x
    Ukrainian servicemen carry weapons, seized from pro-Russian separatists, near Slaviansk, July 8, 2014.
    Ukrainian servicemen carry weapons, seized from pro-Russian separatists, near Slaviansk, July 8, 2014.

    But this reputation has been dented by the Slaviansk withdrawal and retreat to Donetsk in which, Strelkov admitted on Thursday, he lost a tenth of his men.

    On Thursday, the mustachioed Strelkov, dressed in combat fatigues with an antiquated pistol strapped to his hip, spoke without emotion as he defended the move in which rebels broke out from a government noose around Slaviansk.

    “Militarily, the reason for withdrawal of the garrison from Slaviansk was obvious. My conscience is absolutely clear,” he said. “More than 90 percent of the force got out of Slaviansk and safely got to Donetsk.”

    The need to justify the withdrawal from Slaviansk may have been his main reason for appearing before representatives of the world's media on Thursday.

    He gave few details about his past though he said he left Russia's FSB service with the rank of colonel.

    But he said he had battlefield experience as a volunteer fighter in Moldova's rebel enclave of Transdniestria and in Bosnia. He had also fought, he said, in Russia's former rebellious region of Chechnya.

    He said he had been specifically asked to lead the separatist rebellion in Ukraine's Russian-speaking east - but would not say by whom specifically.

    “I was asked to help in organizing a force, to lead a group which was ready to rise up in rebellion,” he said, saying only that the approach had come from people with whom he had been serving with in Crimea which Russia annexed from Ukraine in March.

    “They considered I could do this successfully, more successfully than they could, and I agreed to their proposal and so I came to the territory of Ukraine,” he said.

    You May Like

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora