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.

LUHANSK At 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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Benoît Vitkine

Brothers Divided, Iconic Ukrainian Miners Torn By War

While Ukraine combat continues despite peace efforts, the Donbass region's famously rugged coal miners have divided their loyalties: some keep working on Kiev's behalf, others fleeing to the pro-Russian rebels.

MAKIIVKA — It's easy to forget there's a war going on when you're 480 meters underground.

The crash of explosions and detonations on the surface gives way to the considerable silence in the galleries, interrupted only by the sounds of dripping water and of passing carts filled with coal. Here, the men are focused on one goal and one goal only: extracting coal. They weave in and out of narrow corridors propped up by logs, crawling up the metal machines that tirelessly scrape the stone.

The war raging here in Ukraine isn't far away. Two days earlier, a team was trapped inside the second well at the end of their six-hour shift. A shell left it without electricity.

This mine, located in Makiivka, near Donetsk, never stopped functioning — even when the conflict and bombings were at their worst. When a mine ceases to function, it takes weeks just to pump out all the water and relaunch it.

Still, its director had to slow down its activity. Kiev halted supplies of wood logs, which are used to shore up the tunnels. The economy here has been hit hard. Coal production — 80 million tons in 2013 — is now at just a quarter of what it was, forcing Ukraine to import the material necessary for heating and for the industry from South Africa and Russia. Many miners have also left. In this mine in Makeevka, only 500 of the original 1,000 miners remain. Most have left the region, and about 50 have enlisted in the pro-Russian rebel "army."

Yuri is one of these fighting miners. He is stationed not far from the Kholodnaya Balka mine, where he worked for 22 years. The 42-year-old man enlisted on Aug. 4, at a time when the Ukrainian army seemed on the verge of victory. Miners are men of few words. His speech sounds like a thousand others heard in this region. "Ukraine is the aggressor," he says. "We must defend our land and our families." Standing with him is Sergey, 25. He doesn't have a family, but he does have a 1974 machine gun around his neck. The mine where he worked, in the town of Kommunar, has been completely destroyed, he says.

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Pascal Riché

After Minsk: Can The French-German Alliance Heal A Sick Europe?

The Ukraine ceasefire reached in Minsk represents a major diplomatic success for Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel, hopefully the first of many.


PARIS — As French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, looking a bit like co-conspirators, prepare to negotiate for peace in Ukraine with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Hollande whispers into Merkel's ear, "OK, Angela, I’ll play it firm, and you flexible, alright?"

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Andreï Gratchev*

War Or Peace In Ukraine? It's All About Europe

The risk is real of armed conflict between the West and Moscow on European soil. Searching for a way out means learning the lessons of Finland, and counting on leadership from France.


PARIS — A year into the Ukraine crisis, ties between Russia and the West are coming dangerously close to irreparable rupture. Mikhail Gorbachev, the last, reformist leader of the Soviet Union who brought the Cold War to an end a quarter century ago, now fears a possible military clash between Russia and the West on Ukrainian soil.

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Viktor Loshak

The Infectious Poison Of Russia's Anti-Ukraine Propaganda


MOSCOW — The dials of the propaganda machine were never properly calibrated. Instead of talking about fighting Ukrainian nationalists, who like nationalists anywhere are dangerous and unsavory, it was simply Ukrainians and Ukraine that Russians were fighting.

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