Tensions Build at Russia-Ukraine Border
Published: March 24, 2014 (Issue # 1802)
SNEZHNOYE, Ukraine — While Russia formally takes control of Crimea, tensions have shifted to eastern Ukraine, where both Russian and Ukrainian military forces are concentrated along the shared border.
In the poverty-stricken industrial towns in Ukraine's Donetsk region near the border, local self-defense groups have been forming to protect the area from what they see as an imminent threat from western Ukraine.
Ivan Seleznev, 34, a well-built miner, is a local activist of the so-called Ukrainian Eastern Front organization, which, according to him, has more members than Ukraine's National Guard, which is currently managed by the fledgling pro-Western government in Kiev.
"It was a mistake to include our region into Ukraine. We are part of Russia," said Seleznev, sitting in Snezhnoye's only cafe.
Snezhnoye is only 15 kilometers from Russia. Many people make their living here by smuggling petrol from the nearest Russian towns.
Many miners in this town and dozens of other surrounding towns were left on the streets after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The area that once flourished today resembles a string of ghost towns along the dark highway from Russia to Donetsk.
Since state-run mines were shut down, many workers had to dig makeshift shafts themselves, usually without proper ventilation and structural support. Hundreds of miners died in such unlicensed mines every year.
Seleznev worked in one of these mines, known as "kopanki," and many of his friends perished there. Years of mismanagement and economic despair made him look to Russia, where he has extended family connections, for relief.
"People in the government and in western Ukraine think of us as some kind of inferior people," he said, sipping tea. "We will prove them wrong," he said.
"It is not about Russia as such, we just want some positive change in our lives," said Seleznev.
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