Donetsk—Separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk may have agreed on a cease-fire with representatives of Ukraine’s government, but they are still at war.
That was the message at a rally for Donbass Liberation Day, the celebration commemorating Soviet forces’ victory over German troops in the region in 1943. Speaking in the shadow of a 100-foot tall monument featuring a Red Army soldier and a coal miner, Alexander Zakharchenko, prime minister of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, promised to repulse Ukrainian government forces, which he called the “same kind of invaders” as the Nazis, from the region.
“The more of them they send, the easier it will be to hit them,” he said as he waded through the crowd after his remarks, joking that scrap metal prices have gone down because the rebels have destroyed so much Ukrainian armor. “We’re asking them to send bigger tanks. A forty-ton tank is not very much, send a seventy-ton tank, that can feed a village for a week.”
Two women held up pictures of a Malaysian Airlines Boeing like the one shot down here in July, with messages on the other side promising to “cleanse” the region of government forces. “This was a peaceful plane destroyed by the Kiev junta,” one of them said.
Although the cease-fire agreed on Friday as part of a twelve-point peace plan saw a small lull in the fighting, it was broken a little more than twenty-four hours later when a Ukrainian checkpoint outside of the coastal city of Mariupol was hit by shelling. Ensuing violations of the cease-fire—evidence points to the rebels firing first—have showed that while Kiev stands to gain tactically from a pause in the fighting, its opponent is less committed. Analysts called the truce a politically useful fiction, and predicted the twelve-point peace plan will not produce results unless the situation changes significantly.
Besides the Mariupol attack, the cease-fire has already been violated on multiple fronts. The International Red Cross reported on Saturday that it was not able to deliver humanitarian aid to rebel-held Luhansk, a besieged city without water or electricity, because of fighting in the area. And on Sunday, black smoke rose above Donetsk airport and heavy machine gun fire and the multiple explosions of Grad rockets could be heard, leaving two homes destroyed in the nearby village of Spartak. “No one here believes in any cease-fire,” said Natasha Kravchuk, sobbing on her way to try to extinguish her burning home there.
Both sides insist they are observing the cease-fire and will only open fire to defend themselves. “We don’t shoot because we have a cease-fire. Meanwhile, [government forces] are taking territory,” said a rebel outside the Donetsk regional administration building, giving only his first name, Nikolai.