12 сентября 2014 15:50

In east Ukraine, suspicions of truce run deep


 The rotting body of a Ukrainian soldier lies bent double in a field-side ditch, flies swarming on the camouflage jacket that covers his head, an exposed and mottled leg the only sign this was once a human being, AFP reports.

 The rotting body of a Ukrainian soldier lies bent double in a field-side ditch, flies swarming on the camouflage jacket that covers his head, an exposed and mottled leg the only sign this was once a human being, AFP reports.

A week after the ceasefire between government forces and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine came into effect, and two weeks since his death, the soldier's body has only now been freed from the power lines 10 metres (30 feet) overhead.

His removal by two electricity workers is hardly a sign of things returning to normal, with the debris of war still littering the streets of Novokaterynivka, a village about 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of the main insurgent stronghold of Donetsk.

Suspicion of the fragile truce is running deep among locals and insurgents.

A local official, who declined to be identified, dismisses rumours the soldier was hung up by the separatists, and says he became tangled in the overhead wiring after he was blown out of his tank, the wreckage of which lies in the road.

She has come to collect his documents so he can be identified -- but confronted with the stinking corpse she tells AFP she has no gloves and leaves.

Locals say the village was the scene of fierce fighting at the end of August as Ukrainian troops came under attack when the rebels -- reportedly backed by elite Russian troops -- swept south.

  White flags 

 "It was very scary, we spent three days in the basement," says 22-year-old student Anastasia Moroz who is working in a half-bare local store. "The neighbour's house was hit by artillery and blown to pieces."

On the other side of the village from the dead soldier, military vehicles lie gutted amid the litter of spent bullets, RPG casings and camouflage clothing.

A gas mask sits in the dirt, its lenses cracked, alongside an unused military-issue medical pouch containing a blood-clotting agent.

Passing cars -- and even bicycles -- carry small white flags tied to their aerials.

Further south, past a number of checkpoints where insurgents check documents -- often apologising for the inconvenience -- is the area's main town of Komsomolske.

Groups of young men and women walk in the quiet streets where there are few signs of war.

The town was taken by the rebels just before the truce, apparently without a fight, with most of the deadly violence taking place in the surrounding villages.

At the rebel headquarters, dance music blares from a car stereo, while down the road young boys play in an abandoned Ukrainian tank.

People are reluctant to talk however, certain they will be misrepresented and used as part of a propaganda war in which Kiev loyalists have been branded Nazis and rebels as terrorists.

  'Tired of it all' 

The next village, Michurine, is 20 kilometres further on and is the last rebel-held centre along the road before Ukrainian army territory.

A man at a checkpoint wearing a Russian navy-style blue and white top offers to guide AFP, driving down a dirt path that runs alongside the tarmac road to avoid the possibility of unexploded weaponry.

Despite it being an effective "front", a young couple say they fled to Michurine from Donetsk because it feels safer.

They had been living near Donetsk's airport, still held by government troops, and where dozens of loud explosions could be heard in the early hours of Thursday and Friday.

"I think the peace agreement is nothing more than a simple step by the government so they can regroup their military forces and prepare for the next attack," says Michurine's rebel commander known as "Sever" ("North") says.

"We don't want this war. We are protecting our citizens, our families. That's why we'll continue until the Nazi Kiev government leaves our cities."

Farm worker Lyudmila Bokayeva, 48, though distrustful of Kiev, just wants the conflict to end.

"We are tired of it all, I don't care who wins, we're just fed up of staying without our salaries."

Back in Komsomolske an old man with a walking stick approaches, speaking angrily in Ukrainian.

"It's Ukrainian people killing Ukrainian people. In World War II we could tell who the enemy was but now I don't know who is going to kill me. Without compromise, no resolution is possible."

Then he quotes what he says is an old Russian proverb: "A bad peace is better than a good war."

Although people along the road reported hearing the sound of distant gunfire and explosions, for now the peace is just about holding -- but the soldier's corpse is still rotting in the ditch.

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