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Fear and loathing as Ukraine's frontline city votes

27 october 2014, 09:58
0
A Ukrainian army servicemen casts his ballot in a polling station in the eastern Ukrainian city. ©AFP
A Ukrainian army servicemen casts his ballot in a polling station in the eastern Ukrainian city. ©AFP

 Ukraine's parliamentary polls Sunday was meant to help bring a shattered nation together, but in the frontline city of Mariupol interior designer Natalia is in no mood for reconciliation, AFP reports.

"There is nobody to vote for. We want nothing to do with these monsters in Kiev," the 41-year-old tells AFP.

Like most of her friends she says she is boycotting the poll and proud of it.

"I'm against Kiev. I don't know what I want, but I don't want to be with them."

Mariupol is a town of divided loyalties sitting on the edge of fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels.

Seized by separatists in April, the steelmaking port returned to government control after Kiev's troops marched in two months later.

Now, with the volatile frontline separating the two forces just a few kilometres apart, the divisions in the town are still running deep.

And neither side -- those who support the separatists and those who back Kiev -- seems keen on a compromise.

Local man Vladimir Zhdanov says he is voting for the party of pro-Western President Petro Poroshenko and wants to see the pro-Russian insurgents chased out of his country.

"I want our territory to be returned to us," he says. "I want for this war to be over."

   'Don't shout, act' 

 Whatever the results of the elections, few in this once sleepy town expect any settlement soon.

Fighting on the east of the city this month fuelled rumours that the rebels were planning a major assault during the elections.

Police on Saturday said rebels in the town of Novoazovsk, 30 kilometres (18 miles) to the east, painted several trucks in the colours of Ukraine's volunteer battalions and planned to disrupt voting in government-controlled villages.

"Of course we were afraid there would be provocations," said Yuriy Petrenko, a 52-year-old doctor with the volunteer Azov battalion, an ultra-nationalist outfit, who came to vote at a school nearest to its base.

He said, however, that despite an uptick in fighting this month -- including an attack that hit a funeral procession killing seven civilians -- the last few days have proven quiet.

The city's population, Petrenko added, is swinging back in favour of Kiev after having initially opposed government troops when they regained control of the city in June.

"I've been here since the beginning and at first locals told us they would come to our base at night and stab us," said the doctor, who hails from Poltava, a city in central Ukraine.

"Now the locals are helping us," he said as people filed past him to pick up their ballots.

Standing guard near the battalion's base, another fighter said that while some locals still help the rebels, they are a small minority in the city.

The 25-year-old, wearing full military gear and giving his nickname as "Beavis", said it was difficult to track down locals who tip off the separatists about Ukrainian military positions.

"But there are just a few hundred people like that" in the city of some half a million, he said.

The young fighter said he joined the volunteer Azov battalion as soon as the fighting approached Mariupol's eastern neighbourhoods.

"Most people here are passive. They are against Kiev because they think in stereotypes," he said. But "those who support Ukraine, they don't shout about it, they act."

For some casting their ballots in this divided city, the main goal is simply to return to some sense of normalcy.

Retiree Valentina Pavlova voted for independence when the rebels held a hastily organised referendum here in May. Now she says she is sorry she did, although she is still voting for one of the more pro-Russian parties taking part in Sunday's parliamentary election.

"I regret going now (to the rebel referendum), because I look at what is happening and it's complete chaos," the pensioner said.


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