From Both Sides of the Tracks

February 17th, 2015

Eastern Ukraine erupted in activity on Tuesday, when a battle for a railroad town ensued between Russian-backed militants and Ukrainian troops. By midday, it was unclear to who was the victor. The separatists claimed they had captured the railroad town of Debaltseve via a separatist sympathizing news agency. However, the Ukrainian military refuted that statement, saying they had repelled the separatist’s attacks.

“An intense fight is underway now on the outskirts of Debaltseve,” Ukraine’s military spokesman, Andriy Lysenko, said in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital. “There are engagements near the train station. But our soldiers are holding their positions, and they have full authority to return fire.” – New York Times

These most recent conflicts in Debaltseve undermine and challenge the fragile cease-fire that was established between Russians and Ukrainians last Sunday. The town of Debaltseve is strategically placed between the two rebel towns of Donetsk and Luhansk, making it a key strategic militant zone for Russian seperatists.

However, currently Ukrainian forces (roughly 8,000) are holed up in the city. Mined and within range of rebel artillery, the only supply road is inaccessible to Ukrainians; “making it nearly impossible for Ukraine to resupply or evacuate the thousands of Ukrainian soldiers trapped in the town.” Even as they are surrounded, Ukrainians manage to escape still. Eight Ukrainian soldiers escaped on foot on Friday through the hills, and on Sunday – it was reported that a dozen made it out by truck.

The Donetsk People’s Republic (main Russian-backed rebel group), has said “it will not observe the agreement in Debaltseve”, saying that “it was encircled before the cease-fire began”; even though Ukrainian government holds that they were not surrounded before the cease-fire took effect.

Ukrainian rocket-launching tanks and trucks were spotted barreling down the resupply road toward the fighting on Tuesday, even though the cease-fire made it very clear that both sides were to withdraw all heavy weaponry starting at midnight on Monday.

Russian Rebel shelling was landing throughout the resupply road on Tuesday. One shells hit a gas pipeline next to the highway, and “it burned unabated in a gigantic twirl of orange flame”.

A soldier [anonymous] reported at a checkpoint on the route that “they are shooting at us”, “where’s the help from America?” “We are poor and cannot fight the Russians alone”.

Another soldier did not share the same view as his comrade that a few American weapons could help. “The United States and Europe should force Russia to observe the cease-fire”, he said. “We don’t need weapons, we need peace.”

Even though it could provoke a deadly Russian response, President Barack Obama has opened negotiations about sending antitank and counterbattery weapons to the Ukrainian government.

Vladimir Putin of Russia said the Ukrainian soldiers in Debaltseve were surrounded, and that they should surrender. “Of course, it is always painful to lose,” he said, “especially when you are losing not to a regular army but to people who yesterday happened to be miners and truck drivers.” This comment from Russian President Vladimir Putin is sure to provoke a heated response from the Ukrainian government.

An official associated with the separatist group asserted Tuesday that 300 Ukrainian soldiers had surrendered, but Mr. Lysenko of the Ukrainian military, disputed such claims. “In fact,” he said, “the situation looks different. The enemy requires ever more personnel and weaponry, and fire support from their artillery continues.”

The ongoing Ukrainian conflict depicts a young nation that lusts for statehood. Finding their sovereignty, however, will be quite a feat. For even though the Ukrainians do not lack national self-determination, they lack the resources and manpower required to rid themselves of Russia’s ever-tightening grip on their small country. The cultural separation between Russian loyalists and Ukrainian nationalists has caused a great enough rift in the Ukraine that Russia need not employ vast amounts of Russian troops to quell the decolonization that is brewing. The Ukrainian people wish to rid themselves of the hegemonic and oppressive Russia, but they must first put to rest the internal conflict within their country if they wish to succeed from Russian rule.







1] Andrew E. Kramerfeb. “Despite Ukraine Truce, a Battle That Continues”. The New York Times. February 17th, 2015. Web.

2] Wilson Andrews, Joe Burgess, Hannah Fairfield, Bill Marsh, Sergio Pecanha, Archie TSE, Tim Wallace, Derek Watkins, Jeremy White and Karen Yourish. “Ukraine Crisis in Maps: A visual guide to the continuing conflict.” New York Times. February 17th, 2015. Web.