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Tensions Build at Russia-Ukraine Border

Published: March 24, 2014 (Issue # 1802)



  • A Ukrainian soldier standing guard at a temporary military camp 600 meters from Ukraines border with Russia.
    Photo: Pascal Dumont / SPT

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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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Friday, Aug. 29


Park Pobedy will feature the sights and sounds of the world outside of Russia during the Open Art International Festival today. Taste foreign cuisine, learn how to make tea like the Chinese or relax in a hammock during the free event. Although entrance is free, you must register beforehand if you wish to attend.



Saturday, Aug. 30


Break out the tweed and channel your inner Englishman during the English Hunt Picnic this afternoon organized by the Bagmut stables from Krasny Bor in the Leningrad Oblast. Equestrian stunts, English archery and classic hunting fashion will all be available to visitors hoping to live like the characters in Downton Abbey if only for a day. Tickets for the event cost 7,900 rubles ($219.40).


Bookworms will have their chance to swap out well-read classics for something new for their bookshelves at Knigovorot, a free book exchange that will be held in the Yusupov Garden on Sadovaya Ulitsa today. Come for the chance to get a new book or take the opportunity to discuss the literary merits of your favorite authors with fellow fans.



Sunday, Aug. 31


The Neva Delta International Blues Festival wraps up this afternoon on Vasilevsky Island with a concert featuring not only some of Russias best blues bands but international stars as well. Admission is free for all three days of the festival, which begins on Aug. 29, and the shows starting at 5 p.m. each day.



Monday, Sept. 1


Today marks the beginning of Lermontov-Fest, a fall festival celebrating the life of one of Russias most remarkable poets who, in a fate eerily similar to Pushkins, was killed in a duel at the age of 26. Organized by the Lermontov Library System, the next several months will see art exhibitions, concerts and public lectures focusing on the Lermontovs short yet prolific career. Check the Lermontov Library Systems website for more details.



Tuesday, Sept. 2


Join expats and practice your Russian during the Russian Clubs weekly meetings every Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. The club is free to participate in although you need to be a registered member of Couchsurfing.



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