News / Europe

Ukraine, Separatists Battle to Control Border with Russia

An armed pro-Russian separatist stands guard at a road check point outside the eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk, June 8, 2014.
An armed pro-Russian separatist stands guard at a road check point outside the eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk, June 8, 2014.
Reuters
Ukrainian border guards stand grim-faced and nervous at the remote Marynivka checkpoint on the frontier with Russia, fearing an attack by pro-Moscow separatists at any time.
 
Last week they fought off an assault by up to 150 rebels seeking control over supply routes from Russia to bring in arms and other war materials, forcing them to abandon two armored personnel carriers strafed with machinegun fire.
 
A weary border guard, wearing a camouflage T-shirt and a cap with a Ukrainian national emblem, said he feared the worst if the authorities in Kiev did not send help.
 
“They told us to expect reinforcements. We're hoping for them soon,” said the guard, who gave his name as Vadim. “They [the separatist rebels] drove around us in circles shooting for about four or five hours.”
 
An unexploded rocket-propelled grenade lay in the long grass 200 meters (yards) from the border post.
 
Not all border guards have put up such a fight. Outgunned and outnumbered, they have fled one post after another in the week since the rebels took the border guards' headquarters in Luhansk, the region's main city.
 
In an angry letter to the country's defense minister,  frustrated Luhansk border guards wrote: “We, including eight among us wounded by bullets and grenades... sincerely waited for help from you but it never came.”
 
Some of the rebel fighters, who hope to join territory in Russian-speaking east Ukraine with Russia, say they are already able to navigate the border with impunity.
 
“We need guns, we need supplies from Russia,” said a tired-looking rebel, smoking pungent cigarettes in a cafe in the city of Donetsk. He asked not to be identified, fearing punishment if his side loses the conflict.

Images from Ukraine
 
  • A pro-Russian fighter checks documents of a woman leaving the city at a checkpoint in Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, June 12, 2014.
  • A man carries his belongings from an apartment building damaged from shelling in Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, June 12, 2014.
  • Maidan self-defence activists take part in a protest outside the headquarters of the National Border Guard in Kyiv, June 12, 2014.
  • Pro-Russian fighters from a group that calls itself "Russian Orthodox Army" guard at a check point in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, June 10, 2014.
  • A pro-Russian fighter from a group that calls itself "Russian Orthodox Army" guards at a check point in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, June 10, 2014.
  • Orthodox clergymen take part in a prayer for peace in front of a cathedral in the eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk, June 9, 2014.
  • People carry their belongings using a bicycle as they leave Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, June 9, 2014.
  • A resident shows an apartment building damaged by a mortar attack by Ukrainian government troops in Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, June 9, 2014.
  • A woman walks past a gas station damaged by a mortar attack by Ukrainian government troops in Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, June 9, 2014.
  • A pro-Russian man tries to remove a Ukrainian national emblem from the gates to the city administration headquarters in Luhansk, Ukraine, June 9, 2014.

Ukraine's inability to police parts of its own border underscores the military weaknesses President Petro Poroshenko has to deal with as he tries to end the insurrection that began after his Moscow-leaning predecessor was toppled in February.
 
His promise to regain Crimea, annexed by Russia in March, also puts him at loggerheads with President Vladimir Putin, complicating dealings with Moscow to plug the power vacuum at the border where Kiev says Russia gives rebels a green light.
 
“The border can't be closed in a day, and without that the anti-terrorist operation [against the separatists] could continue endlessly,” Ukrainian military expert Dmitry Tymchuk wrote on his Facebook page.
 
Rebels boast of superiority 

The remaining frontier posts held by Ukraine - built for customs controls, not for war - lie on the outer edge of a swathe of territory crisscrossed by separatists' roadblocks that juts into Russia.
 
At one backwater border crossing that has fallen to the separatists, at Chervonopartizansk, rebels wave through a steady trickle of cars.
 
One, dressed in a traditional Cossack fur hat who gave his name as Alexander, said the border guards there had left in a long convoy, taking their weapons and families with them.
 
“We let them go with their weapons to avoid a fight. Since their position was weaker, we would have had to kill them,” he said with a gold-toothed grin.
 
That may not be an idle threat. Five of the rebels are middle-aged miners but all were ex-military, including veterans of the 1979-1989 Soviet war in Afghanistan.
 
“I haven't held a gun in 21 years but it's not something you forget,” said Vladimir, 41, who said he had also fought in the Balkan wars in the 1990s.
 
When a column of five vans came bumping down the rutty road toward the border, they jumped into action, quickly reaching for a rocket-propelled grenade and a machinegun.
 
The vans were filled with women and children fleeing the violence for Russia. The men relaxed, preening before the smiles and shouted thanks from the busses that trundled past.
 
Further north, at Izvaryne, one of the only border crossings still stamping passports on the Donbass region's 100-km (62-mile) winding border with Russia, a long queue of cars moves slowly along the sun-baked tarmac.
 
Airstrikes
 
Although government forces are tightening their grip on some rebel strongholds in east Ukraine such as the town of Slaviansk, the separatists appear largely to control the grassy borderlands of Luhansk, the easternmost province.
 
The only visible signs of a military push are air strikes, but they are not backed up by a coordinated ground presence.
 
In one incident in Luhansk, which each side blames on the other, eight people were killed when a missile blew a huge hole in the regional administration building occupied by the rebels.
 
At another separatist base, in a forest outside the city of half a million, markings on shrapnel in the ruins of camp appeared to come from Soviet-design air-to-ground rockets.
 
The violence is feeding anger against Kiev. Many view the military campaign as a callous and clumsy response to the rebellion against the pro-Western authorities that came to power after President Viktor Yanukovich was overthrown.
 
“This is a small province. I don't think we can be an independent state - it's not realistic,” said Mikhail, 42, a resident of run-down apartment blocks from which rebels attacked the border guards' Luhansk headquarters. “But Kiev's actions are so foul I don't know who will negotiate with them.”
 
Witnesses have reported seeing Russian Kamaz military transport vehicles break through frontier posts into Ukraine.
 
Even before the rebels took control of any border crossings, some villagers had crossed in and out of Russia using smuggling routes and dirt byways locals call “black roads”.
 
But Moscow and the separatists deny accusations that Russia is allowing weapons and volunteer fighters into Ukraine.
 
Separatist Valery Bolotov, the self-proclaimed governor of the “Luhansk People's Republic”, said his forces were flush with weapons that were pillaged from Ukrainian army and law enforcement bases.
 
“We are filling our arsenal. We have the means to fight tanks, warplanes and army personnel,” he said.

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs