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Ukraine Winter

In War-Torn Donbass, Ukrainians Of Polish Origin Beg Warsaw For Help

WARSAW — More than 60 Ukrainians of Polish descent in the breakaway region of Donbass have asked Poland if they could be evacuated there, a request Warsaw has refused. Instead, it offered a modest aid package.

"Many of us are elderly people. There are single mothers too. It's not possible to live here any more. There is no work. The streets are occupied by armed bands. We are all of Polish descent and it's enough for our neighbors to look at us with hostility," says Jerzy Prykolota, who lives with his wife, 18-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son, in Luhansk, which along with Donetsk, makes up the region of Donbass.

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Russia's Other War, On The Front Lines In Eastern Ukraine

Despite two peace agreements signed by Kiev and Moscow, fighting rages on along Ukraine's eastern border with Russia.

KIEV — The war in eastern Ukraine, which began two years ago, has largely faded from the world's headlines. But the fighting rages on, with an estimated 10,000 people killed so far, and another 2 million who have fled their homes in the conflict pitting the Ukrainian government against Russian-backed separatists.

Artem, a Ukrainian businessman of Armenian origins, says he's confident that Ukraine will be able to recapture the rebel-held regions of Donetsk and Luhansk — and maybe even Crimea, annexed by Russia two years ago. "It's possible to defeat an army, but not a people. This is why Russia will never beat us," he declares.

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In Kiev, European Doubts And Wishful Thinking

KIEV — In real life, Nadiya Savchenko's eyes are neither large nor blue. But on welcome posters splashed across Kiev Airport recently with the slogan #freesavchenko, the doctored photos of the just released air force pilot — who was captured by Russia and elevated to heroine status back home during her long imprisonment — played fast and loose with the reality of her physical features.

In current Ukrainian politics, this blend of ambition, longing, wishful thinking and manipulation is typical. Savchenko, who is already a member of parliament, announced her willingness to run for president "if the Ukrainian people want it," confirming rumors that she intends to seek a greater role in politics.

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Gerhard Gnauck

Ukrainian Entrepreneur-Turned-Soldier: "My Holy War"

Forced to abandon his Ukrainian companies because of corruption under the ousted pro-Russian president, Olexander Martynenko has risked it all on the front line.

KIEV — "War has been the best experience of my life."

Thousands of volunteers help the federal army of the Ukraine to fight against Russia, among them Olexander. He was severely wounded while serving on the front line, but he would go back in an instant.

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Elisabet Cortiles Taribo

How A FARC Loyalist Became A Pro-Russian Rebel Fighting In Ukraine

The unlikely tale of how a young Colombian's communist convictions led him to leave his family in Spain to fight with Ukraine's Putin-backed separatist rebels.

DONETSK — Some people wind up finding their tribe, wherever it may be. For "Alfonso Cano," a 27-year-old Colombian, his ideological family turned out to be the Russian-backed rebels fighting the Ukrainian state.

It's an emotional thing, and certainly political, but not unique, as other young activists have joined separatist forces that accuse Kiev authorities of being "fascists." Kiev's pro-Western government doesn't hide its hatred of Russia, which dominated the Soviet Union until the collapse of the communist empire. Cano, who was born in western Colombia"s Valle de Cauca, joined up two years ago with the rebels who most international observers believe are backed by Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin.

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Boris Mabillard

Goodbye Lenin: In Eastern Ukraine, The Mysterious Demise Of A Russian Symbol

Under cover of darkness, right-wing militias felled a massive Lenin statue in Sloviansk. Now there's talk of selling it to finance reconstruction in the war-damaged city.

SLOVIANSK — In the main square of Sloviansk, a city in eastern Ukraine, a three-meter-tall pedestal lies empty. Until recently it held an enormous statue of Vladimir Lenin. But in the wee hours of June 3, the old communist revolutionary was secretly toppled.

Part of the local Russian-speaking population was furious, especially those who grew up during the Soviet times that glorified Lenin. But others were happy to see him go, as the bronze sculpture had become a symbol of separatism in Sloviansk, a city that served as capital of the pro-Russian insurgents before its recapture by Ukrainian forces.

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Jean-Baptiste Naudet

The Ebb And Flow Of Russia's Ultra-Nationalist Novorossiya Project

MOSCOW — Alexander Prokhanov loves to play the bad guy. But he's no character actor. He is editor-in-chief, since its founding in 1993, of Zavtra (Tomorrow), a Russian ultra-nationalist newspaper that is fiercely anti-Western and anti-American, as well as clearly anti-Semitic and homophobic. In his mess of an office, Prokhanov, 77, invites us to sit down, pointing us toward an old sagging leather couch.

"Here sat the best of Russia's ultra-nationalists, as well as the leader of Germany's neo-Nazi group and the boss of one of Bolivia's drug cartels," the aging and paunchy man says smiling, visibly proud of the bad company he keeps.

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Fabio Martini

How Italy Is Quietly Trying To Break Russia's Isolation

Italian PM Matteo Renzi has obtained Washington's blessing to pursue its own dialogue with the Kremlin. Could Rome be the bridge to resolving the Ukraine crisis?

ROME — The warm welcome that Russian President Vladimir Putin received on his recent visit to Italy did not come out of the blue. It is a direct result of a shift in Italy's foreign policy that began to take shape two months ago when Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi met with President Barack Obama at the White House.

It was April 17th, and the two world leaders were in the Oval Office discussing Italy's position on the Western sanctions on Russia linked to the crisis in Ukraine.

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Benjamin Quénelle

For Better And Worse, Crimea Depends On Moscow For Economic Survival

SIMFEROPOL — One year after Russia annexed Crimea, oyster farmer Sergey Koulik is exultant about both the future and the past. "Russian Crimea means new markets, more business and state funding," he says. "Crimea's return to the mother country is a good history lesson for all of Europe."

Koulik owns the only oyster farm in the area, near Yalta, and wants to take advantage of the embargo the West imposed on Moscow in August 2014 on various European products, including seafood. "Since then, restaurants in Moscow and Saint Petersburg haven't stopped calling me," he says. "We're going to start to produce on an industrial scale."

The oyster farmer has already invested $2 million and expects to be granted public loans from Moscow for another $2 million. "When we switched from Ukraine to Russia, we moved from a poor country to a rich country," he says with enthusiasm.

Since Russia annexed Crimea on March 18, 2014, many local companies have received help. "Moscow has been investing a lot in the peninsula," says Alexander Bassov, head of the Crimean Chamber of Commerce. "Like a real mother, it would sacrifice itself to help its child."

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Isabelle Mandraud

The Russian Heartland, Where Quiet Poverty And Denial Reign

Far from the murders and intrigue swirling at the Kremlin, or the war rumbling in Ukraine, most of Russia lives in a strange post-Soviet state of denial like one finds in the city of Yelets.

YELETS — Their faces inscrutable, their bodies leaning forward, focused on their work, Yelets' lacemakers are survivors. Crises came and went, and reduced their work force from some 2,000 during the Soviet era to fewer than 50 today.

So when it comes to today's crises — ramping inflation, the crumbling ruble, the scarcity of jobs and the terrifying images of the war in Ukraine — they would rather talk about something else.

"In any case, we're too poor to worry about that," says Galina Korshkova, a retired worker. Located halfway between Moscow, 350 kilometers to the north, and Kharkiv, the Ukrainian city across the border, Yelets burrows down within itself.

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Pierre Sautreuil

The Mysterious Air Force Of Ukraine's Pro-Russian Separatists

A new ceasefire, which has not been fully observed, should be in effect in eastern Ukraine. But the announcement of the creation of a military air force could bring dangerous escalation.

LUHANSKAt number 63 Karl Marx Street, the tinted glass facade of the Ministry of Defense of the Luhansk People's Republic (LPR) stands insolently among the scenery of shattered windows and crushed roads.

On the snow-covered square in front of the church, a dozen of half-asleep men smoke cigarette after cigarette while they wait for the recruitment office to open. The fatigue, anxiety and cold make their legs shiver, but don’t dissuade them from joining the Luhansk people’s militia even after the ceasefire recently signed in Minsk.

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