Sotyna to the front: Ukraine tries to build a new fighting force

Civilians who manned barricades in Maidan learn how to dig foxholes and clean rifles for new national guard

by Mike Eckel

Al Jazeera America

March 21, 2014 5:00AM ET


NOVY PETROVTSY, Ukraine — The foxhole Vladimir Ibadolayev was digging in the sandy pine-forest soil was slightly more comfortable than the hard cobblestones he had slept on for weeks while helping to overthrow the Ukrainian government, but he wasn’t complaining. His neighbor in the foxhole next door, Ivan Yarchenko, threw a pack of cigarettes and kidded him for complaining, comparing it briefly to his time serving in the Soviet military.

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Enter The Rabbit

Can Ukraine’s technocrat-in-chief keep the country from falling apart?


By Mike Eckel, Correspondent

The Christian Science Monitor

March 20, 2014 at 5:03 pm EDT

KIEV, Ukraine _ In the annals of prime ministerial nicknames, “The Rabbit” is a dud. But this title, given by many Ukrainians to their interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, is affectionate rather than dismissive, a reference to a cartoon rabbit — bespectacled and brainy — in the beloved Soviet rendition of “Winnie the Pooh.”

Mr. Yatsenyuk and his technocratic government inherited a country on the verge of default and inches away from an armed international conflict. Yet they’ve managed to inspire some measure of confidence, both in Ukraine and abroad. Yatsenyuk lacks charisma and political clout, but for now the lanky leader appears to be the right man for the job — and the best thing to happen to Ukraine in recent months.

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Crimeans vote to leave Ukraine, join Russia


Associated Press Writers

Mar. 16, 2014 7:32 PM EDT


SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) — Just two weeks after Russian troops seized their peninsula, Crimeans voted Sunday to leave Ukraine and join Russia, overwhelmingly approving a referendum that sought to unite the strategically important Black Sea region with the country it was part of for some 250 years.

The vote was widely condemned by Western leaders, who planned to move swiftly to punish Russia with economic sanctions.

As the votes were counted, a jubilant crowd gathered around a statue of Vladimir Lenin in the center of Simferopol to celebrate with song and dance. Many held Russian flags, and some unfurled a handwritten banner reading “We’re Russian and proud of it.” Fireworks exploded in the skies above.

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Tale of Two Rallies

on the day before the referendum, two rallies:





And in other news:



the front gates at the the Ukrainian 36th Coastal Defense Brigade at Perevalnye


and the back gates at the  Ukrainian 36th Coastal Defense Brigade at Perevalnye


and in one of the more bizarre aspects of the “self-defense forces”, an amusement park train (formerly, clearly) used as a partial roadblock and light post for the sentries at the front gates of Ukrainian 36th Coastal Defense Brigade at Perevalnye. The words says “The Fairy Tale Valley of the Red Caves.”

No idea. Whatsoever.


Russian soldiers heading to shower… inside the Ukrainian base (because the Ukrainians and Russians are apparently friendly enough still to allow such civilized things).

Humanity is not lost, at least not for the poor plebes who are actually on the frontlines


Sevastopol harbor at sunset. Ships sunk by the Russian Black Sea fleet to keep the Ukrainian Black Sea fleet from setting to sea not shown…

Take Your Pick: “Glory to Ukraine!” OR “Crimea is going home to Russia!”


Confidence and Trepidation ahead of Crimea referendum vote

By Mike Eckel

Associated Press Writer

Mar. 13, 2014 8:32 AM EDT

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) — Men hawk Russian tricolor flags to drivers at traffic lights on the streets of the Crimean capital. Mini-vans emblazoned with election slogans belt out patriotic songs. A World War II bunker has become a drop-off point for people to donate blankets and canned food for armed militiamen who patrol the streets.

One of the two TV stations allowed to broadcast in Crimea these days makes no secret of its allegiances: It stuffs the airwaves with clips that display the slogan “March 16: Together with Russia” while blaring the Russian national anthem. They promise higher pensions, higher salaries and a better quality of life — within Russia’s embrace.

Days before the Black Sea peninsula votes in a referendum on joining Russia, Crimea has slipped into a twilight of nationalist fervor, uncertainty and trepidation.

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What’s Going to Happen after Sunday?

Russian troops engage in war games near Ukraine


Associated Press

Mar. 13, 2014 2:58 PM EDT

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) — Russia conducted new military maneuvers near its border with Ukraine on Thursday, and President Vladimir Putin said the world shouldn’t blame his country for what he called Ukraine’s “internal crisis.”

In Crimea, where the public will vote on Sunday whether to break away from Ukraine and become part of Russia, jittery residents lined up at their banks to withdraw cash from their accounts amid uncertainty over the future of the peninsula, which Russian troops now control.

“These people are afraid their bank will collapse and no one wants to lose their money,” said resident Tatiana Sivukhina. “Nobody knows what will happen tomorrow.”

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Fear and Loathing in Crimea

Crimea’s parliament pushes for independence
By Mike Eckel
Associated Press
Mar. 11, 2014 4:15 PM EDT


SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) — As the campaign increased for tension-filled Crimea to split off from Ukraine in a weekend referendum and join Russia, the region’s parliament said Tuesday that if voters approve the move it would first declare itself an independent state, a maneuver that could de-escalate the standoff between Moscow and the West.

The move would give Moscow the option of saying there is no need for Crimea to become part of Russia while keeping it firmly within its sphere of influence.

The dispute between Moscow and the West over Crimea is one of the most severe geopolitical crises in Europe since the end of the Cold War. Russian forces have secured control over the peninsula, but Ukraine’s government and Western nations have denounced the referendum as illegitimate and strongly warned Russia against trying to annex Crimea.

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a town about midway between the capital, Simferopol and the naval port, Sevastopol. Among many things, it’s the traditional community center of the Crimean Tatars, and home to some absolutely stunning Byzantine-era architecture…







Simferopol or Bust


(“Don’t Touch Our Leader”)

It would be easier to appreciate the wonders (or at least curiosities) of the capital of the Ukrainian peninsula that is now in the process of be annexed by Russia were it warmer.

Honestly, though, this is a small complaint, given that there are rumored to be 20,000 Russian troops lurking around this region, scads of Russian-flag-waving goons and all sorts of schizophrenic sentiments whip-lashing around. I’m just an observer here; I don’t live here and thus I don’t have to live with the fact that this city– Simferopol– and the entire Crimean peninsula may soon be dragooned into membership into the Russian Federation– warts and all– in the interest of spurious claims of fascism and bald-faced hypocrisy about geopolitics, nationalism and national identity.

I have to wonder sometimes if Russia, were it to the take the form of an sentient adult, would be better served by sitting down with a psychotherapist and talking about it feelings (“So, Russia, you’re feeling threatened by a new government in Kiev. Tell me about that.”)

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Snipers over Maidan

The Big Story
Russia, Ukraine feud over sniper carnage
Mar. 7, 2014 3:44 PM EST

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — One of the biggest mysteries hanging over the protest mayhem that drove Ukraine’s president from power: Who was behind the snipers who sowed death and terror in Kiev?

That riddle has become the latest flashpoint of feuding over Ukraine — with the nation’s fledgling government and the Kremlin giving starkly different interpretations of events that could either undermine or bolster the legitimacy of the new rulers.

Ukrainian authorities are investigating the Feb. 18-20 bloodbath, and they have shifted their focus from ousted President Viktor Yanukovych’s government to Vladimir Putin’s Russia — pursuing the theory that the Kremlin was intent on sowing mayhem as a pretext for military incursion. Russia suggests that the snipers were organized by opposition leaders trying to whip up local and international outrage against the government.

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