In Ukraine’s Donbas, ten years of war and Russification

On April 7, 2014, a coup by pro-Russian militants in the city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine was the spark that ignited the Donbas war. In the heart of this industrial region, populated at the time by six million mostly Russian-speaking inhabitants, the armed confrontation began between an expansionist Russia and a Ukraine aspiring to consolidate its independence. The Donbas has become a desolate landscape after ten years of war, and Russification has been brutally imposed.

Mentioned in international news bulletins during the past ten years of war in the Donbas, the names of dozens of towns like Bakhmut or Avdiivka  became known far beyond Ukraine’s borders. These places now lie in ruins, along with the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol and Donetsk International Airport

With the benefit of historical perspective, the battlegrounds in Donbas appear to be the precursor of Russia’ s large-scale military invasion of Ukraine.

Donetsk and Luhansk, the two administrative regions, or oblasts, which make up Ukraine’s Donbas region, were officially annexed by Russia in September 2022. According to Moscow, they are now part of the Russian Federation. This annexation is deemed illegal by the Ukrainians, who still control part of the region, and by the vast majority of the international community.

Ten years after the fighting began, the Donbas remains the scene of bloody trench warfare, resembling a modern-day version of the Battle of Verdun. According to military analysts, the Ukrainians fire up to 60,000 artillery shells a month across the 1,000-kilometre-long front line, while their Russian adversaries can fire between 300,000 and 600,000 shells.

At the heart of Russian and Soviet mythologies

The region, named after the Donets river and its mining basin (Donets basin), has been part of Ukraine since it became an independent state in 1991. Larger than the Netherlands, the Donbas was formerly part of the Russian Empire, and then the USSR.

The region’s largest city, Donetsk, entered the industrial age thanks to a Welshman, John Hughes, who in 1869 founded a huge metallurgical complex of coal mines and foundries that revolutionised the local economy. By 1900, 68% of the Russian empire’s coal was extracted in the Donetsk basin.

According to an imperial census carried out in 1897, a third of the Donbas population were Russians attracted to the region by the development of mining and heavy industry. In the same census the Tsarist administration recorded that Ukrainians made up half the population while minority communities included Jews, Tatars, Germans and Greeks.

In the years 1924-1961, the town was named “Stalino”. It was the scene of the exploits of the coal miner Alekseï Stakhanov, whose prodigious output made him a champion of Soviet productivity and a hero of Stalinist propaganda. During the Soviet era, from Moscow’s perspective, the Donbas and its workforce were an industrial bastion – and an integral part of Russia.

“Donbas in the heart of Russia”. Soviet poster, 1921. Wikimedia Commons © Auteur inconnu. Wikimedia Commons

“In the Soviet imagination, Donbas was the furnace of the entire Soviet Union,” explains historian Galia Ackerman. “With the rise of industrialisation, many Russian skilled workers and engineers arrived in the region. The Donbas was very strongly Russified in the 1930s.” 

In 1991, however, 83% of the population of the Donbas region voted in favour of Ukrainian independence. In the years that followed, the predominantly Russian-speaking population struggled with the transition to a post-communist system, a period marked by de-industrialisation and a severe economic crisis.

In every Ukrainian presidential election over the following decades, voters in Donbas, like those in other regions of eastern Ukraine, cast their votes for political parties close to Russia.

In the 2010 elections, Viktor Yanukovych ‘s Party of Regions won 80-90% of the vote against the pro-European party of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Just prior to the outbreak of the conflict in 2014, the Donbas was “a blighted region where the population was impoverished and greatly missed the Soviet Union”, says Ackerman. “There were local mafias and a number of oligarchs who had taken over most of the heavy industry. There were towns where all life depended on the boss – social services, medicine, everything.” Many journalists have observed that these local bosses also controlled the media and tolerated no opposition.

Secession, and self-proclaimed people’s republics

In the aftermath of the Maidan Revolution, parties favouring closer ties with the EU had prevailed. On February 22, 2014, the Ukrainian parliament voted to remove pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Donetsk and then to Russia.  The parliamentary deputies in Kyiv then quickly repealed the law making Russian one of the country’s official languages.

The next day, anti-Maidan demonstrations broke out in Donbas and in Russian-speaking cities elsewhere in Ukraine, notably Odesa. Russian forces seized strategic sites in Crimea on February 27, then completed the annexation of the Crimean peninsula in just three weeks.

Anti-Maidan protests in Ukraine continued throughout March. In Western countries, these demonstrators began to be referred to as “pro-Russian separatists”. In Kyiv, they were described as terrorists.

The Russian state media began referring to a “Russian Spring” in Ukraine, and labelled supporters of the new pro-European Ukrainian leadership as fascists. 

For Huseyn Aliyev, a specialist in the war in Ukraine at Glasgow University, “Donbas is certainly Russian-speaking, but there was no organised separatism in Donbas before 2014. It’s not a region that had organised separatist aspirations before that.”

On April 7, 2014, a group of around 1,000 pro-Russian activists seized the buildings and weapons stores of the Ukrainian security service, the SBU,  in Donetsk and Luhansk. On April 12, another armed group, led by a former colonel of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) occupied several police and SBU buildings in Sloviansk, and a similar scenario unfolded in Kramatorsk. “The whole of the Donbas seemed destined for the same fate as Crimea,” write the military historians Michel Goya and Jean Lopez in their book “L’ours et le renard: Histoire immédiate de la guerre en Ukraine” (The Bear and the Fox: Immediate history of the war in Ukraine).

In yellow, the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts that make up Ukraine's Donbas region. The Crimean peninsula was annexed by Russia in 2014.
In yellow, the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts that make up Ukraine’s Donbas region. The Crimean peninsula was annexed by Russia in 2014. © Studio graphique FMM

According to Goya and Lopez, the Russian regime then decided on a strategy “aimed at the partition of Ukraine”, its efforts to subjugate the entire country having twice been thwarted, in 2005 during the Orange Revolution, then in 2013-2014 during the Maidan Uprising.

The historians note that “the Kremlin has no shortage of ideologues to theorise about the creation of a buffer state and to revive the old Tsarist term ‘New Russia’ ” – a term designating Ukrainian provinces “where Russian speakers are in a relative majority or significant minority,”  including the provinces of Kharkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk, Dniepropetrovsk, Zaporijjia, Mikolayev, Kherson and Odesa.

For the geographer and diplomat Michel Foucher, the methods Russia used to seize power and annex territory, applied so smoothly in Crimea, were once again put to use in April 2014. “The historical argument, the role of special forces, the use of violence, a false pretence of a referendum, all of this is replicated in the Donbas,” he says. On May 11, 2014, two referendums – not recognised by Ukraine or Western countries – were held in Donetsk and Luhansk. The “yes” vote for independence from Ukraine won massively in both cases, and marked the creation of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR).

The first Donbas war: April 2014 – February 2015

The day after the pro-Russian separatists took power, Kyiv immediately launched an “anti-terrorist operation”. Its army was still poorly organised, and relied on volunteer battalions often drawn from the nationalist and radical movements like the Azov Brigade or Pravy Sektor.

Then came a sequence of troop movements and armed clashes. In July, pro-Ukrainian forces pushed back the separatists at Mariupol, Kramatorsk and Bakhmut. On July 17,  a Malaysia Airlines airliner carrying 298 passengers and crew was shot down by surface-to-air missiles in eastern Ukraine over territory controlled by pro-Russian forces.

In August, pro-Kyiv forces were on the verge of retaking the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk. Faced with the deteriorating military situation, Moscow sent reinforcements. “Russian armed forces entered the Donbas probably at the end of July and in August,” says Aliyev. “They were certainly already present in large numbers and several Russian brigades were deployed in Ukraine, although Russia obviously denied all this.”

A Ukrainian flag flies over the control tower of Donetsk  International Airport during an artillery battle between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian forces in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine,Oct. 17, 2014
A Ukrainian flag flies over the traffic control tower of Donetsk International Airport during an artillery battle between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian government forces in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. © Dmitry Lovetsky, AP

“By the end of August, the number of Russian soldiers in Ukraine was between 3,500 and 6,500,” write Goya and Lopez, enabling the pro-Russian forces to launch a lightning offensive that was only halted by the signing of the first in the series of Minsk agreements, which established a ceasefire on September 4, 2014.

On January 14, 2015, a new Russian offensive was launched in support of the “separatist” forces. It resulted in the capture of Donetsk International Airport and the fall of the Debaltseve pocket after very intense fighting.

On February 12, 2015, the so-called Minsk II agreements formalised the de facto partition of Ukrainian territory, marking a victory for Russia.

In the years that followed, and until the full-scale Russian attack on February 24, 2022, “violations of the ceasefire and the multiple truces, small-scale attacks and artillery fire hardly ever ceased, without the line of contact between the forces really moving. The war in Donbas killed 10,000 to 12,000 soldiers and 3,000 to 5,000 civilians” on both sides, note Goya and Lopez.

Separatism or proxy war?

In Ukraine, many people blamed Europeans and Americans for their passivity in the face of the Russian aggression in 2014. From Kyiv’s point of, the “pro-Russian separatists” were being guided by Moscow – the separatists would never have taken up arms to protect their identity and language without Moscow’s endorsement and active support.

For the analyst Aliyev, the outbreak of war in the Donbas was the first step towards Russia’s large-scale military intervention in Ukraine. “Until 2022, Russia maintained a permanent military presence in the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, which varied in size depending on the situation. During periods of intense confrontation with Ukraine, regular military personnel were deployed in greater numbers. At other times, the security services of the Russian military sent units to help the local separatists”, he explains.

As the conflict progressed, local players with regional ambitions – such as Alexander Zakharchenko, the first leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic – were eliminated.  Considered insufficiently compliant by his Russian allies, Zakharchenko was assassinated in a 2018 car bomb attack. His counterpart in the Luhansk People’s Republic was replaced on Moscow’s orders. Since then, the two breakaway republics have been led by political figures who have pledged allegiance to the Kremlin.

“Between 2016 and 2022, these two entities became almost entirely dependent on the Russian Federation in every way: financially, economically and militarily. Moscow paid salaries, pensions and so on. It is probably from this period onwards that we can speak of Russia’s governance by proxy,” says Aliyev.

The second Donbas war and the nibbling away of Ukraine’s territory

On February 21, 2022, three days before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia recognised the independence and sovereignty of the two self-proclaimed separatist republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. On February 24, Russian troops launched an all-out assault on Ukrainian territory, notably from Belarus, Crimea and Donbas.

In the first days of the war, Russian forces advanced across Ukraine, only to be halted by the Ukrainian army and territorial defence volunteers.

After the failure of the Russian advance toward Kyiv, followed by its withdrawal from the northeast of Ukraine at the end of March, Russia officially declared that the real aim of the “special operation”, as the Kremlin called it, was the “liberation of the Donbas”.

In a speech on February 24, Vladimir Putin claimed to want to disarm and “denazify” the whole of Ukraine.

The front line in Donbas: Russian armed forces control the territories to the east of the current front line (the red line). The front line between Ukrainian and pro-Russian forces from 2015 to Febru
The front line in Donbas: Russian armed forces control the territories to the east of the current front line (the red line). The front line between Ukrainian and pro-Russian forces from 2015 to February 2022 is indicated by the yellow line. © Studio graphique FMM

In May and June 2022, Ukrainian forces were forced to evacuate Lyman, Severodonetsk and Lyssychansk in the Luhansk region. Further south, Russian troops succeeded in taking Mariupol after a bloody siege. This industrial port of 400,000 inhabitants on the Sea of Azov was mercilessly bombed.

Seventy percent of the city was destroyed, including the theatre that served as a refuge for civilians. According to the Ukrainian authorities, at least 20,000 inhabitants perished in the fighting. Azovstal, Europe’s largest steelworks, had been built “in the 1950s with underground shelters to house 30,000 people in the event of a nuclear war” and was completely destroyed “after being shelled with 3-ton bombs”, according to Goya and Lopez.

A Ukrainian fighter belonging to the Azov regiment in the basement of the Azovstal steel complex in Mariupol on May 10, 2022.
A Ukrainian fighter belonging to the Azov regiment in the basement of the Azovstal steel complex in Mariupol on May 10, 2022. © Dmytro Kozatsky, AP

After a successful counter-offensive in September 2022 that enabled Ukraine to retake a number of localities in the two Donbas oblasts, the main clash took place in Bakhmut, which the mercenaries of Russia’s Wagner Group finally captured on May 25, 2023. The long bloody battle, referred to by combatants as a “meat grinder”, resulted in the total destruction of this town of 70,000 inhabitants.

After a new Ukrainian counter-offensive in the summer of 2023 – this time without territorial gains – Russian forces resumed their strategy of nibbling away at the front line and seized the small town of Avdiivka in February 2024, at the cost of heavy casualties and the town’s total destruction.

On the defensive, Ukrainian forces have since begun to reinforce the fortifications of the Donbas front line in order to hold out against an enemy that is trying to crush them via a deluge of artillery shells. “The battle of Donbas: ‘destroying a lot and advancing a little’ “, note Goya and Lopez, describing Russian tactics.

“The Russians are adapting objectives and goals according to the reality on the ground, they are literally trying to seize and occupy every piece of land in Ukraine. That seems to be their objective at the moment,” says Aliyev.

The ‘New Russia’?

In the part of the Donbas that has been outside Ukrainian sovereignty for ten years, a return to the pre-2014 situation now seems highly unlikely. The breakaway Ukrainian republics that seceded in 2014 have since 2022 become official Russian territories, where the ruble circulates and a large proportion of the inhabitants have acquired Russian citizenship.

In March 2024, for the first time, the inhabitants of Donbas took part in a Russian presidential election, as did the inhabitants of other Ukrainian areas partially occupied by the Russian army such as Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, under strong pressure from the new authorities.

“Russification began in 2014. They changed the textbooks. They simply killed or imprisoned or drove away all those who were pro-Ukrainian. We mustn’t forget that there are nearly a million Donbas inhabitants who fled to Ukraine during the occupation of Donbas by pro-Russian and Russian forces,” Ackerman says.

Given the restricted access to this densely populated industrial region, it is difficult to accurately assess the destruction, reconstruction and degree of Russification in the territories conquered by Russia.

In August 2022, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin presented Vladimir Putin with a plan to rebuild Mariupol within three years, including the redevelopment of the devastated Azovstal steelworks industrial zone, which was to be converted into a “technology hub”.

Since then, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has made a series of visits to the seaside city – not to mention the Russian president’s visit in March 2023 – with the aim of turning Mariupol into a showcase for the “New Russia” (“Novorossiya”).

Russian television frequently reports from Mariupol on the construction of brand new apartment blocks, schools and medical centres. “There’s a massive influx of Russians to Mariupol because it’s a city by the sea, and the sales pitch to Russians is ‘Come join us, real estate is cheap’. The town is being completely rebuilt, the incoming population replacing those that have left,” explains historian Ackerman.

People stand near the sculpture of the name of the city of Mariupol written in Russian and painted in the colours of the Russian national flag during celebration of Russia Day in the city on June 12,
People stand near the sculpture of the name of the city of Mariupol written in Russian and painted in the colours of the Russian flag during celebrations of Russia Day in the city on June 12, 2022. © AP photo

Faced with Russian expansionism, European diplomacy seems to have no influence at all on the Russia-Ukraine war that has been raging for ten years on the fringes of Europe.

The Minsk agreements of 2014 and 2015, sponsored by France and Germany, were a resounding failure.

In February 2023, French geographer and diplomat Michel Foucher estimated that “the military situation on the ground could lead to a kind of freeze around stable, well-defended front lines on both sides, without any agreed settlement or even any ceasefire”.

After a decade of war in the Donbas, the question diplomats will have to consider in years to come is how to determine where the EU ends and where Russia begins.

This article has been translated from the original in French. 

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A gloomy mood hangs over Ukraine’s soldiers as war with Russia grinds on

A gloomy mood hangs over Ukraine’s soldiers nearly two years after Russia invaded their country.

Despite a disappointing counteroffensive this summer and signs of wavering financial support from allies, Ukrainian soldiers say they remain fiercely determined to win. But as winter approaches, they worry that Russia is better equipped for battle and are frustrated about being on the defensive again in a grueling war. Some doubt the judgment of their leaders.

Discontent among Ukrainian soldiers — once extremely rare and expressed only in private — is now more common and out in the open.

In the southern city of Kherson, where Ukraine is staging attacks against well-armed Russian troops on the other side of the Dnieper River, soldiers are asking why these difficult amphibious operations were not launched months ago in warmer weather.

“I don’t understand,” said a commander of the 11th National Guard Brigade’s anti-drone unit who is known on the battlefield as Boxer. “Now it’s harder and colder.”

“It’s not just my feeling, many units share it,” said Boxer, who spoke on condition that only his battlefield name would be used.

Russia, which illegally annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, controls about one-fifth of Ukraine. After 22 months of war the two countries are essentially in a stalemate along the 1,000 kilometre-longf front line.

Russian Forces aim to push deeper into eastern Ukraine this winter, analysts say, so that Russian President Vladimir Putin can cite this momentum as he campaigns for reelection, an outcome that is all but certain. Emboldened by recent gains on the battlefield, Putin said last week that he remains fully committed to the war and criticized Ukraine for “sacrificing” troops to demonstrate success to Western sponsors.

In the United States, which has already spent some $111 billion defending Ukraine, President Joe Biden is advocating for an additional $50 billion in aid. But Republican lawmakers are balking at more support — just as some lawmakers in Europe are on the fence about providing another $50 billion to Ukraine, after failing to deliver on promised ammunition.

“The reason the Ukrainians are gloomy is that, they now sense, not only have they not done well this year … they know that the Russians’ game is improving,” said Richard Barrons, a former British Army General. “They see what’s happening in Congress, and they see what happened in the EU.”

Ukraine may be on the defensive this winter, but its military leaders say they have no intention of letting up the fight.

“If we won’t have a single bullet, we will kill them with shovels,” said Serhii, a Commander in the 59th Brigade that is active in the eastern city of Avdiivka and who spoke on condition that only his first name be used. “Surely, everyone is tired of war, physically and mentally. But imagine if we stop — what happens next?”

The fatigue and frustration on the battlefield are mirrored in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, where disagreements among leaders have recently spilled out into the open.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last month publicly disputed the assessment by Ukraine’s Military Chief, Valery Zaluzhny, that the war had reached a stalemate. And the Mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, has repeatedly lashed out at Mr. Zelenskyy, saying he holds too much power.

Disquiet in the halls of power appears to have filtered down to the Military’s rank and file, who increasingly have misgivings about inefficiency and faulty decision-making within the bureaucracy they depend on to keep them well-armed for the fight.

In the southern Ukrainian region of Zaporizhzhia, where momentum has slowed since the summertime counteroffensive, drones have become a crucial tool of war. They enable soldiers to keep an eye on — and hold back — Russian forces while they conduct dangerous and painstaking operations to clear minefields and consolidate territorial gains. But fighters there complain that the military has been too slow in training drone operators.

It took seven months to obtain the paperwork needed from multiple government agencies to train 75 men, said Konstantin Denisov, a Ukrainian soldier.

“We wasted time for nothing,” he said. Commanders elsewhere complain of not enough troops, or delays in getting drones repaired, disrupting combat missions.

Defense Minister Rustem Umerov insists Ukraine has enough soldiers and weaponry to power the next phase of the fight.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov rides in an APC during a visit to the front-line city of Kupiansk, Kharkiv region, Ukraine, on Nov. 30, 2023.
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“We are capable and able to protect our people and we will be doing it,” he told the Associated Press. “We have a plan and we are sticking to that plan.”

The limited momentum Ukraine’s forces had during their summertime counteroffensive has slowed — from the forests in the northeast, to the urban centers in the east, to the slushy farmland in the South.

With Russia hoping to take the initiative this winter, Ukraine is mainly focused on standing its ground, according to interviews with a half dozen military commanders along the vast front line.

Despite wet, muddy ground that makes it harder to move tanks and other heavy weaponry around, the Russian army has bolstered its forces in the eastern Donetsk region, where it has recently stepped up offensive maneuvers.

“The main goal for the winter is to lose as few people as possible,” said Parker, the Ukrainian Commander of a Mechanized Battalion near Bakhmut who asked to go by his battlefield name to speak freely. Bakhmut is a city in eastern Ukraine that Russian forces took after months of heavy fighting.

“We have to be clear,” Mr. Parker said. “It’s not possible in the winter to liberate Donetsk or Bakhmut, because they have too many (fighters).”

Analysts say Ukraine may even be forced to cede patches of previously reclaimed territory this winter, though Russia is likely to pay a heavy price.

“If Russia keeps on attacking, the most likely outcome is that they’ll make some very marginal territorial gains, but suffer enormous casualties in doing so,” said Ben Barry, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

Some Ukrainian commanders across the front line say they lack the fighters and firepower needed to keep Russia’s seemingly endless waves of infantrymen at arm’s length as they fortify defenses to protect soldiers. That places ever more importance on attack drones — a weapon, they say, that Russia is currently better equipped with.

 In this photo provided by the Ukrainian 10th Mountain Assault Brigade “Edelweiss”, Ukrainian soldiers pass by a volunteer bus burning after a Russian drone hit it near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023. A gloomy mood hangs over Ukraine’s soldiers nearly two years after Russia invaded their country. Ukrainian soldiers remain fiercely determined to win, despite a disappointing counteroffensive this summer and signs of wavering financial support from allies.

In this photo provided by the Ukrainian 10th Mountain Assault Brigade “Edelweiss”, Ukrainian soldiers pass by a volunteer bus burning after a Russian drone hit it near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023. A gloomy mood hangs over Ukraine’s soldiers nearly two years after Russia invaded their country. Ukrainian soldiers remain fiercely determined to win, despite a disappointing counteroffensive this summer and signs of wavering financial support from allies.
| Photo Credit:

Indeed, while Ukrainian soldiers have proven to be resourceful and innovative on the battlefield, Moscow has dramatically scaled up its Defense Industry in the past year, manufacturing armored vehicles and artillery rounds at a pace Ukraine cannot match.

“Yes they’re ahead of us in terms of supply,” said Boxer, the Commander in Kherson, who credited Russian drones with having longer range and more advanced software. “It allows the drone to go up 2,000 meters, avoid jammers,” he said, whereas Ukrainian drones “can fly only 500 meters.”

This poses a problem for his troops, who have been limited in their ability to strike Russian targets on the other side of the Dnieper River. To eventually deploy heavy weaponry, such as tanks, Ukraine first needs to push Russian forces back to erect pontoon bridges. Until they get more drones, this won’t be possible, said Boxer.

“We wait for weapons we were supposed to receive months ago,” he said.

A woman stands with a tape on her mouth reading “Do not be silent” during a rally of relatives and friends of Ukrainian military prisoners of war, specifically captives from the defence of Mariupol dubbed “Azovstal defenders”, hold placards during a rally calling for their quick exchange with Russian prisoners of war, at Saint Sophia Square in Kyiv, on December 17, 2023, amid the Russian invasion in Ukraine.

A woman stands with a tape on her mouth reading “Do not be silent” during a rally of relatives and friends of Ukrainian military prisoners of war, specifically captives from the defence of Mariupol dubbed “Azovstal defenders”, hold placards during a rally calling for their quick exchange with Russian prisoners of war, at Saint Sophia Square in Kyiv, on December 17, 2023, amid the Russian invasion in Ukraine.
| Photo Credit:

To sustain the fight, Ukraine will also have to mobilize more men.

In the Northeastern cities of Kupiansk and Lyman, Russian forces have deployed a large force with the goal of recapturing lost territory.

“They are simply weakening our positions and strongholds, injuring our soldiers, thereby forcing them to leave the battlefield,” said Dolphin, a Commander in the northeast who would only be quoted using his battlefield name.

Mr. Dolphin says he has been unable to sufficiently re-staff. “I can say for my unit, we are prepared 60%,” he said.

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Zelenskyy: Russia stepping up attacks amid heavy fighting in east

The latest developments from the Ukraine war.

Russians stepping up attacks in eastern Ukraine, warns Zelenskyy


The Ukrainian army is facing an “increase in the number of attacks” from Russia in the east of the country, particularly around the disputed town of Avdiivka, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Tuesday.

Moscow’s forces have been trying for a month to encircle the industrial town, which has become one of the hotspots of the conflict.

“The army has reported an increase in the number of enemy attacks,” the Ukrainian president said on his Telegram channel, citing the areas of Avdiivka, Kupiansk and Donetsk in the east.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy stated that his soldiers were ‘holding their positions’ and were also carrying out ‘offensives’.

Putin pardons accomplice in Russian journalist murder

Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, a former Russian police officer sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in the 2006 murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, has been pardoned by Vladimir Putin for joining Russian forces in Ukraine, his lawyer told AFP on Tuesday.

“I have just heard from his family that from the beginning of the special military operation (…) he was offered a contract to take part. He did so and when the contract expired he was pardoned by presidential decree,” said lawyer Alexei Mikhaltchik, using the euphemism common in Russia for the offensive launched against Ukraine in February 2022.

According to him, his client was due to serve his sentence until 2030, but was offered a contract in exchange for a pardon because of his past experience in a Russian special forces unit.

Tens of thousands of Russian prisoners have signed such contracts with the army or paramilitary formations such as Wagner’s.

Ukrainian MP detained after alleged treason

A court in Kyiv has remanded in custody Oleksandr Dubinsky, a Ukrainian MP accused of high treason on behalf of Russia, the Ukrainian State Bureau of Investigation (DBR) announced on Tuesday.

The hearing began on Monday evening and was held behind closed doors at the request of prosecutors.

The detention was ordered in the middle of the night, according to Ukrainian media.

Dubinsky, 42, confirmed on Telegram that he will remain in detention for at least two months and believes he is a victim of persecution because of his opinions. “A new year in prison for criticising the government,” he said.

The DBR accuses the highly controversial MP of being part of a “criminal group” acting “on the orders of the Russian special services” with the aim of “discrediting Ukraine’s image on the international stage”.

According to a DBR press release, Russia spent “at least 9.3 million euros to finance this group, whose mission was specifically to ‘deteriorate’ Kyiv’s relations with its ally Washington and to ‘slow down’ the country’s plans to join the European Union and NATO.

The role of the MP, a former journalist who had been accused of corruption in the past, was to organise a media campaign to this end, the DBR said.

Ukrainians face winter in damaged homes, under threat of air raids

Millions of civilians in Ukraine are facing an increasingly uncertain and dangerous future as winter conditions set in, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has warned. 

“Once-thriving communities are at risk of disintegrating under an increasingly protracted conflict” that has lasted more than 600 days, it added. 

The NGO said “an unyielding barrage of shelling” had left an estimated 1.4 million homes in ruin or disrepair across east and south Ukraine. 


Thousands of families have been forced to flee or left to shelter in damaged buildings lacking basic services, it continued. 

As temperatures drop and public services come under increasing pressure, NRC estimated that at least 2.5 million people need vital humanitarian assistance to support them through winter. It said millions remain out of reach of aid in Russian-controlled areas. 

“Millions of families are facing a growing winter nightmare here,” explained Jan Egeland, NRC Secretary General, on a visit to Ukraine this week. “The physical impact of aerial bombardment can be seen right across the towns and cities I have visited. And the mental impact on those who remain under this ever-present threat is just as striking. People have told me about the horror of watching their communities transformed into sites of destruction or battlegrounds.

“While glimpses of stability emerge in pockets of the country, the humanitarian landscape in the east and south remains bleak and is defined by relentless hostilities and fighting along the frontlines. We are deeply concerned for the future of those millions who are already dependent on support, given that winter has barely begun.”

Heavy fighting around Avdiivka, says Ukraine

The ruined eastern Ukrainian city Avdiivka was experiencing intense fighting as Moscow tried to press its forces forward, Ukraine’s army said on Monday. 


Russia has suffered heavy losses around the city and is ramping up its air bombardment, they added. 

Ukrainian forces repelled Russian attacks in other areas of the 1,000km front line, Ukraine’s army also claimed. 

With Ukraine making only incremental gains in the east and south, Moscow launched an assault on Avdiivka – some 20 km from Russian-occupied Donetsk – in October. 

Earlier this month, the Institute for the Study of War said Russian forces are likely preparing for another wave of highly attritional infantry-led ground assaults on Ukrainian positions in the area.

Russian UN envoys shoot back at Western criticism of  Ukraine war

Western countries on Monday repeatedly called on Moscow to end its war in Ukraine and domestic repression of dissident voices, as Russia came under a regular review at the UN’s top rights body.


A delegation from Moscow, led by State Secretary and Deputy Justice Minister Andrei Loginov, defended Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, saying it had “no relation to the subject matter” at issue in the review.

He also said Russia had a right to ensure law and order by restricting some forms of protest or voices that might threaten domestic security.

Monday’s hearing in Geneva was part of an exercise known as the universal periodic review (UPR), which all UN member states face around every five years with the Human Rights Council.

Western countries during Monday’s session denounced the deportation of Ukrainian children, Russia’s crackdown on civil society and the arrest of rights defenders, including Alexei Navalny and Vladimir Kara-Murza. They also condemned Russia for curbing the rights of LGBTQI people and those protesting against the war.

“Where does one start? Since the last UPR, Russia’s repression at home has intensified, enabling its oppression overseas — not least the continuing atrocities in Ukraine,” said Britain’s ambassador in Geneva.


Ukrainian pilots trained on F-16s next year

The Ukrainian army will be able to train its pilots to operate F-16 fighter jets from early 2024 in Romania, where a training centre was inaugurated on Monday.

The programme will “most likely” begin at the beginning of next year, according to a spokesperson for the Dutch army, which is supplying the planes. 

Ukraine – desperately wanting to use the jets on the front against Russia – welcomed the opening of the centre in its neighbour.  

“This is a concrete and significant contribution to the air coalition,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy commented on X. 

According to an agreement between NATO allies the Netherlands and Romania, the first five planes arrived last week. In total, 12 to 18 F-16s will be delivered.


With the support of the United States – which makes the military jet – Denmark and the Netherlands vowed in August to provide up to 61 aircraft once Ukrainian pilots were trained.

Romanian pilots will also be trained at the facility, with US defence giant Lockheed Martin supporting training and plane maintenance.  

Amid almost daily Russian strikes across its entire territory, Kyiv has asked Western allies for several months to strengthen its air defences.

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Tucker Spreading Fake Doctored Russian Propaganda About Ukraine Losing? Would Fox News Even ALLOW That?

Yes, we know, Tucker Carlson has been playing his interview with Elon Musk the past two nights, and it has been overstuffed with loser divorced dad incel moments to make fun of, like when Elon got that look on his face that says “Is my hand in my pants right now?” while he talked about how abortion and birth control interfere with his weird breeding desires. Or when Elon said, “I’m very familiar with space and stuff.” We will make fun of those things very soon.

First we want to talk about another story related to Tucker and the Discord leaker and Russia’s war in Ukraine, where Tucker openly takes the side of the vile, genocidal, amoral aggressors. (Russia.)

Tucker has been lying and misleading his viewers about the latest accused leaker of classified information pretty much since the get-go, trying to turn the loser into some hero for the (Russian) cause of revealing the TRUTH about what’s going on in in Ukraine. (Not the truth.) He’s also been using facts and figures from the documents to convince his very idiot viewers that the presence of 14 US special forces attached to the embassy in Kyiv means Joe Biden has been lying and America is in a HOT WAR with Ukraine.

Tucker So Mad Nobody Talking About How Leaker Exposed Secret HOT WAR Between Russia And 14 US Troops

But, you see, certain things in those documents had themselves been altered while they were making the rounds on the dork nerd Discord/4Chan/Reddit internet. Certain things had been altered in a specifically Russian propaganda direction, to make it look like, for example, seven Ukrainians were dying for every Russian killed.

The Wall Street Journalreported this weekend on an American spreader of Russian propaganda named Sarah Bils, who ran and/or participated in a network of spreaders of Russian propaganda who posed as a Russian blogger named “Donbass Devushka.” (Translation: “Donbas Girl.” You’ll note that “Donbas” is the name of one of the regions in eastern Ukraine the Russians want to claim as their own and where at the beginning of the war they wanted the world to believe the people would greet them with flowers and blowjobs. It’s where Putin declared “independence” for the two republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, so that he might liberate them from their Ukrainian Nazi occupiers. “Donbass” is the Russian spelling.)

Bils is a former NCO from the US Navy, and the WSJ reports she was stationed at Whidbey Island in Washington state up until last year. Meanwhile, she’s doing this pro-Russian shit online. She says 15 people people all over the world control the “Donbass Devushka” account.

Indeed, it sounds like this account’s dissemination of some of the materials allegedly leaked by Jack Teixeira — shit that had been on the nerd internet for a while and hardly noticed — was what got the attention of Russian social media, which in turn got the attention of the Defense Department. Nobody cared about these documents until April 5, when this network of Russian propagandists that was actively supporting “our men on the front” — Russians — started putting them up on Telegram. Bils says she was not the member who posted this stuff, but rather that she took it down some days later.

But somewhere between Teixeira trying to impress his nerd friends on Discord by posting these documents and these Kremlin mouthpieces posting them on Telegram, some of the information on the documents got tweaked:

Some of the slides reposted on the Telegram account overseen by Ms. Bils had been altered from the otherwise identical photographs allegedly posted by Airman Teixeira on Discord—changed to inflate Ukrainian losses and play down Russian casualties. A subsequent post on the Donbass Devushka Telegram channel, on April 12, denied that the image had been doctored by the administrators.

“We would never edit content for our viewers,” the post said.

Take that as you will.

So that’s where the claim came from that SEVEN UKRAINIANS were dying for every Russian casualty. Have a heart, people! How could you want the Ukrainians to keep fighting if Russia is just massacring them? It’s not a fair fight! We should probably all get behind some kind of “peace plan” for Ukraine that involves giving Vladimir Putin as much of sovereign Ukraine as he wants while we all tongue all over Putin’s taint.

It’s the only humane solution, right?

Tucker Carlson sure thought so, when he started spreading the doctored Russian propaganda on Thursday night. Mediaite summarizes:

Malcontent News first reported on Sunday that Tucker Carlson used the “edited version” of the documents posted by Donbass Devushka’s Telegram channel to “claim Ukraine was suffering a 7-1 troop loss ratio and was ‘losing the war.’”

Indeed, last Thursday in an angry rant in which Carlson accused both President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin of committing “crimes” related to supporting Ukraine fend off the Russian invasion, Carlson cited that statistic.

“The second thing we learned from these slides is that despite direct U.S. involvement, Ukraine is in fact losing the war. Seven Ukrainians are being killed for every Russian. Ukrainian air defenses have been utterly degraded. Ukraine is losing. The Biden administration is perfectly aware of this,” Carlson declared. Carlson has long claimed Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine is going far better than the media has reported, all while remaining a fierce critic of Ukraine’s leadership.

Here is a tweet from an investigative journo about it:

And here is Rachel Maddow talking about Tucker:

Oh yes, weep for the poor Ukrainians, who are totally losing the war, for whom all hope is lost! Why would you force them to keep fighting like this if seven of them are dying for every Russian? Are you some kind of MONSTER?

Only Tucker Carlson and his ideological pals truly care about the plight of the desperate Ukrainians. And he read some stuff a fake Russian propaganda blogger posted that’s just really concerning him right now.

As far as what’s really going on in Ukraine, Cathy Young writes at The Bulwark that most of the people pushing the narrative that we really should be reeling over the information in these leaks are indeed propagandists for Russia, the Putin apologists who have a fundamental and sick need to believe Ukraine is losing.

But Young says even some more mainstream media is taking the bait, and should cut that shit out. She argues that from the perspectives of the Ukrainians and their supporters, the leaks “[contain] essentially nothing new, at least as far as the war in Ukraine is concerned.” She goes through all the things that are supposed to be sorts of shattering revelations and shows the receipts on how people have been talking about them for months.

And, she notes, the leaks contain a hell of a lot that’s embarrassing for Russia, stuff that’s clearly driving some of their propaganda-spreaders quite batshit. (She’s got the receipts on that too.)

So, you know, chill the fuck out.

Read the whole thing, as they say in internet circles.

And don’t listen to Tucker Carlson.

Y’all hear his employer is paying out $787.5 million to a voting machine company as a penalty for brazenly and knowing lying to its gullible idiot viewers about that company after the 2020 election? And that a lot of those lies came from his show?

And here we all thought they were so credible and above reproach.


Follow Evan Hurst on Twitter right here

And once that doesn’t exist, I’m also giving things a go at the Mastodon (@[email protected]) and at Post!

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