DONETSK, Ukraine (Reuters) – On the streets of the biggest city in Ukraine’s breakaway eastern regions, some residents expressed joy and gratitude on Tuesday over Russia’s decision to recognise their independence, but others were filled with foreboding for what might come next.
President Vladimir Putin on Monday granted official recognition to the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics and signed friendship treaties with their leaders, a step that paves the way for Russia to send in troops and establish military bases.
The West condemned the move as an illegal act that could mark the prelude to a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine and began imposing some sanctions.
But for some in Donetsk, where Moscow-backed separatists have battled Ukrainian government forces in a conflict that Kyiv says has cost 15,000 lives since 2014, it was long overdue.
“This is very important for me. I know that the blood I spilled with my comrades and our labours and efforts and the losses of civilians were not in vain all this time,” said Dmitry, a former member of a pro-Russian separatist militia.
He was looking forward to the arrival of Russian troops as part of the agreements signed on Monday.
“This great people of Donbass have suffered so much, they need it now (Russian troops). They’ve had enough blood, enough death,” he said.
A convoy of at least a dozen cars flying large Russian tricolor flags and honking their horns wound its way through the city centre. “Russia, hoorah!” shouted one driver.
Other residents of Donetsk were trying to go about their lives as normal, walking with children or shopping at the market, a Reuters witness said. A wedding took place at a hotel.
However, six blasts were later heard in the centre of the city. Their origin was not clear. A diplomatic source told Reuters shelling had resumed on the line of contact between the Ukrainian government and separatist forces.
‘EVERYONE IS VERY SCARED’
Irina, a woman of about 40, said Russia’s decision was not unexpected but people were unsure how to react.
“I don’t know what will happen now – everyone is at a loss and uncertain,” she said, adding that she hoped the reinforced Russian backing would help bring an end to the conflict.
“If there are (Russian) troops, it means it’s not worth fighting because Russia is a great power, mighty, nuclear.”
A Reuters reporter saw a handful of tanks on the outskirts on Donetsk overnight and two more in other parts of the city. The Kremlin’s spokesman said he was unable to say if Russia had already sent in military forces.
Vyacheslav, a man of about 60, said he hoped the deployment of Russian troops would bring an end to “provocative actions” by Ukraine, adding: “I think the other side will also have a think and decide to move onto peace negotiations.”
But Karina, a woman in her early twenties, burst into tears as she described her feelings.
“To be honest, it’s such a depressing situation right now that I don’t know how good a decision this really is and how much it can lead to peace,” she said.
Referring to the separatist administrations’ decision to evacuate tens of thousands of women and children from Donetsk and Luhansk in recent days, Karina added: “Now everyone is very worried, everyone is being taken away from their fathers, brothers, husbands. In fact, everyone is very scared.”
(Writing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Gareth Jones)