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

    Russian-Backed Offensive in Syria Pushes War to Tipping Point

    As threat to Aleppo and rebel forces grows, US plan to negotiate becomes less and less appealing for Syrian government, says one military analyst

    IS Runs Timber Smuggling Business in Afghanistan, Officials Say

    Government turning blind eye to smuggling, according to tribal leaders; Afghanistan's forest cover dropped by 50 percent in three decades, experts say

    Video White House Seeks $1.8 Billion to Combat Zika

    Obama administration says funding would 'support essential strategies to combat the virus' such as rapidly expanding mosquito control programs, accelerating vaccine research

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.