DONETSK, Ukraine — In
March, a series of pro-Russian rallies swept through Donetsk.

Similar events
also took place in other southern and eastern oblast capitals in Ukraine. All
of them followed similar scripts: people with Russian flags stormed buildings
of regional state administrations, and, in the event of success, raised Russian
flags over them. In Russia and among pro-Russian activists in Ukraine these
events were called the Russian Spring.

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According
to participants, these assaults represented the “activation of Russian-speaking
citizens of Ukraine in their fight for the preservation of their language.”
Although Russian is widely spoken in many places in Ukraine, and ethnic
Russians make up 17 percent of Ukraine’s population, the demonstrators say the
government in Kyiv is threatening their language and culture.

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Their
demands also followed the same script: An urgent referendum to secede from
Ukraine and join the Russian Federation, which annexed Ukraine’s Crimean
peninsula in March. The TV cameras captured thousands of Ukrainian residents waving
Russian flags who all, supposedly, wished to reunite with Russia.

But is it
true?

A closer
look at the phenomena of “Donetsk separatism” reveals a different picture.

Many of
the key personalities and organizations associated with the separatist events,
it turns out, are either Russians or people with identifiable connections to
Russia. Moreover,
the local government budgets of Donetsk funded at least some of these anti-Ukrainian
demonstrations.



Leader of pro-Russian activists Pawel Gubarev shouts to deputies of the regional council after protesters broken into the hall during the session in Donetsk on March 3, 2014. Donetsk regional councillors have supported a decision on holding a regional referendum. AFP PHOTO/ ALEXANDER KHUDOTEPLY

Gubarev and friends

The first
massive pro-Russian rallies were held in Donetsk on March 1 and 3. Citizens of
Russia also took part in them.

In
Donetsk, Pavel Gubarev, a Ukrainian citizen and former member of the Russian National Unity movement, attempted to
head the protest. However, on March 6 he was arrested on suspicion of
separatism and the violent overthrow of the constitutional order.

Gubarev
is 31. He was born in Luhansk Oblast’s Severodonetsk. In 2005, he graduated
from Donetsk National University with a major in history.

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In 2006
he was elected to Kuibyshev district council from Natalia Vitrenko’s Bloc
People’s Opposition. In his autobiography he mentions that after becoming acquainted with the facts of “bureaucratic arbitrariness” he resigned in
protest. He actively participated in various election campaigns as a campaign
staffer.

Since
2007 he had been working in advertising as director of an agency. During the
same period he obtained degrees in management and governance.

Despite
being a leader of Donetsk separatists, Gubarev says that he had not been
planning to enter politics, “but the arbitrariness of the Nazi militants” forced
him to change his course. He assembled an entourage that included Russian
nationalist radicals and militants.

For
instance, the former head of the Moscow Shield organization, Alexey Khudyakov,
actively took part in rallies in Donetsk next to Gubarev.
Khudyakov was a suspect in a criminal case involving an attack by Russian
radical nationalists on a hostel in Moscow where migrants lived.

Khudyakov
escaped from liability for the September raid through Russian President
Vladimir Putin-ordered amnesty in December.
Due to the same amnesty, Pussy Riot and Greenpeace activists were also released.
Khudyakov had been charged with “hooliganism committed by a group of people by
prior agreement.”

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According
to eyewitnesses and Russian media, Moscow Shield was violent. In one of the
videos from the raid, it can be seen that some of organization’s members were
armed with handguns. There were also skinheads among them.

Khudyakov
is not the only right-wing Russian radical noticed in Donetsk. The head of the
Sverdlovsk regional branch of the political party Other Russia, Rostislav
Zhuravlev, also was among the participants of Donetsk protests.

This
party is not registered in Russia because of its radical views. Representatives
of this party, led by the notorious Russian writer and politician Eduard
Limonov, seized the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow on March 17, as the party boasted
on its website.
This party also actively participated in anti-Ukrainian agitation in Crimea in
anticipation of an unrecognized referendum held on March 16, which led to the
annexation of the peninsula and its accession to Russia.

On March
3 “other-Russian” Zhuravlev was present at the negotiations of the protesters
with the head of Donetsk regional department of SBU Valeriy Ivanov, although,
as he mentioned in his Twitter, he was there as a ‘journalist.’

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Until
recently, the pro-Russian movement in Donetsk Oblast had been highly
marginalized. In the 2012 parliamentary elections, only 0.4 percent of the
population voted for the radical Russian Bloc. By comparison, the bloc got 5.5
percent of the votes in Crimea’s Sevastopol, the base for the Russian Black Sea
Fleet.

While
there are representatives of openly pro-Russian parties in the Crimean
Parliament, you will not find them in Donetsk Oblast or its city council.

Nevertheless,
in the wake of the EuroMaidan Rvolution in Ukraine that toppled pro-Russian
President Viktor Yanukovych, these views have seriously gained momentum.

According
to a poll conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology on Feb.
8-18, 33.2 percent of respondents in Donetsk Oblast believe that Ukraine and
Russia should unite in one state; in Crimea, 41 percent responded that way.



A pro-Russian protester guards a barricade outside the regional state administration building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on April 10, 2014. Ukraine’s acting president promised today not to prosecute pro-Russian militants occupying government buildings if they lay down their arms and end their siege. AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER KHUDOTEPLY

State-funded separatism

The Donetsk
city budget, which is controlled by the local authorities, has served as a
source of funding for separatists and even pro-Russian organizations for a long
time.

Donetsk Mayor
Alexander Lukyanchenko, for example, issued order No. 224 on March 17 which
allocated Hr 40,000 to the Donetsk regional organization called the Society of
Ukrainian Defense Assistance.
The organization is a direct partner of Russia’s DOSAAF, a voluntary defense
organization. Mention of this association was only recently removed from the
Ukrainian organization’s website.

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DOSAAF
(Volunteer Society for Cooperation with the Army, Aviation, and Fleet) is an
organization that considers its main task as “wide propaganda of military
knowledge within working people.”

Moreover,
Yuriy Chizhmar, assistant manager of the Ukrainian organization claims that,
despite the defense mobilization in Ukraine and the military threat from
Russia, his organization does not actively work in Donetsk Oblast on preparing
citizens for defense because of  “the
tense situation in the region.”

Taxpayers of Donetsk Oblast also financed
organizations and people who actively participated in the violent dispersal of
EuroMaidan Revolution rallies in Donetsk (See here, here and here). 

For example, Lukyanchenko, in a
March 17 order, allocated Hr 13,950 to the Afghans Donetsk non-governmental
organization V.Arsenov National-Patriotic Center.

In several other orders, the
mayor supplied Hr 9,000 and Hr 50,000 for the purchase of commemorative signs
issued to the Donetsk city organization Ukrainian Union of Afghan Veterans.

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In addition to financial
assistance, the Donetsk City Council regularly issues public property for the Afghan group. For instance, on Nov. 20,
the executive committee of Donetsk City Council issued a decree giving the Veterans
of Afghanistan 50 square meters of office space. 



Riot policemen practice in their base in eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on April 9, 2014. The Interior Minister Arsen Avakov has said that the antiterrorist operation in the eastern regions is under way and will be resolved over the next 48 hours. AFP PHOTO/ ALEXANDER KHUDOTEPLY

Officials, however, claim that
they do not support separatists. 

“Separate the wheat from the chaff.
There is a program Care, which defines the activities towards different
categories of people: Afghans, Chornobyl victims, disabled people, etc. They
are people who have some certain legal status,” says Maxim Rovinskii, the head
of the public relations department of Donetsk City Council. “It is one thing is
when the question of social care and support for people with the status of
soldiers-internationalists is considered, and another question, when these
non-governmental organizations are involved in some political projects. These
two things must be considered separately.” 

Oleksiy
Matsuka is the chief editor of Novosti Donbassa newspaper. Vitaliy Sizov is an investigative journalist at Novosti Donbassa. 

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