The Ongoing Ukrainian Struggle

The War in the Donbass region of Ukraine has continued unabated since 2014, yet few know or acknowledge the conflict as significant. Anti-government pro-Russian separatists,  supported by Russian troops and arms, have been fighting Ukrainian forces. When the Kremlin backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in 2014, Russia responded by marching troops, with no insignia, into Ukrainian controlled Crimea, taking over government buildings. Vladimir Putin later claimed his government was “forced to defend the Russian speakers” of Eastern Ukraine. A ceasefire was officially signed in February 2015, yet the conflict continues. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), as of February 3, 2017 the conflict has killed 9800 and displaced 1.7 million people, many the Russian speakers Putin once alleged to be saving. During the day, the area is monitored by the OSCE, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. At night, ironically, security concerns prevent them from being active. Unsurprisingly, the conflict between separatist and government forces escalates once night falls. A Raven operator claims that “there is almost no artillery during the day, because OSCE is here.” OSCE has warned that neither side is respecting the ceasefire. The entire peace process is at risk unless combatants take “visible and decisive action” to de-escalate the violence. Human Rights Watch reported in 2014 that “Anti-Kiev forces in eastern Ukraine are abducting, attacking, and harassing people they suspect of supporting the Ukrainian government or consider undesirable … Anti-Kiev Insurgents are using beating and kidnappings to send the message that anyone who doesn’t support them had better shut up or leave.”

Roman, a sergeant in Ukraine’s 58th Mechanized Brigade, who declined to give his full name to interviewers in 2016, says that “usually there’s two days out of every week when no one gets hit, then it kicks off again, but there hasn’t been a single day since we arrived when we haven’t been shot at, shelled, or mortared.” In 2017, the conflict appears to be growing with ever-increasing vigor. Human Rights Watch reports the returned use of Grad rockets, unguided rockets that can land anywhere within a 54,000 square meter area. They explode into some 3,000 fragments, which can then fly and kill or maim within a radius of 28 meters. These are hardly the weapons of those avoiding civilian casualties. The use of these weapons is a direct violation of the laws of war, which deems parties under obligation to do their utmost to minimize damage to civilians.

The last time mainstream media paid ongoing attention to the dispute was in the aftermath of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 crash; separatists and government forces continue to blame each other for this tragedy. Despite the ongoing conflict, few national leaders have made statements regarding the activity, or commented on the disruption to civilian life. So long as the war is contained, the rest of the world is content, as normal, to let them fight. Kiev, Moscow, and most of Europe insist the violent attrition battle is a ceasefire. It is a convenient political fiction that allows us to ignore the conflict, to ignore the death, and to subsequently not have to do anything about it, hoping that it will burn itself out.

Ignoring war and strife will never make it go away, at least not until one side is decimated. The world has a responsibility not only to acknowledge and report on the conflict, but to try to stop it and broker a solution that ends the pointless suffering of those caught in the middle. The conflict is not about creating a separatist state, not to the governments and people involved. It is a revival of Cold War issues of control, power, and geopolitical ambition. International leaders have a responsibility to look beyond the nominal causes and the nominal ceasefire and to defend the lives and the livelihoods of civilians. If Russia and Ukraine both refuse to take steps to stop arming and stop fighting separatists, then it is the job of the rest of the world to interfere diplomatically. To discover the root of the conflict among the people themselves and do everything possible to find a solution before more civilians are displaced or worse.