“Whoever started it must answer to God”

With the Russian army only a few kilometers away, Marina Chuparenko’s small grocery store is the only one still open in the Donbass city of Mykolayivka.

Most of the 20,000 residents have fled, and after serving a few anxious customers each morning, it closes at lunchtime.

But even now, business is better than it was when armed Russians last knocked on the door—back when Mykolayivka briefly fell under the control of pro-Kremlin separatists in 2014.

“Half of them looked like junkies and they ransacked my store,” Ms. Chuparenko said. “I don’t want them running things here again because they’re going to ruin everything.”

Mykolayivka, whose gold-domed Russian Orthodox churches gleam in the sunlight, lies east of the city of Sloviansk, the next key target for Vladimir Putin’s forces after their seven-week struggle to capture Severodonetsk. Amid the feeling of an approaching storm, the churches, like Ms. Chuparenko’s shop, get a handful of visitors each morning.

Valentina Nichporuk (70) crossed herself on Nikolausplatz and fought back tears. “I have relatives in Ukraine and in Russia, and nobody wants our cities to be destroyed by war,” she said. “Whoever started this must answer to God for their actions.”

She didn’t want to say whether it was Mr. Putin. Like many others in this part of eastern Ukraine, which has a large proportion of Russian speakers, she was wary of where her allegiances lay.

Few in Mykolaivka, however, seem to have much longing for the city’s sojourn under Separatist rule in April 2014.

Masked gunmen from the newly proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic entered Mykolaivka and Sloviansk and occupied council buildings and the headquarters of the SBU security service.

They controlled both cities for three chaotic months but were eventually driven out by Ukrainian forces in July.

“They tied a woman to a tree for waving a Ukrainian flag and when they left they even planted a landmine in my shop,” Chuparenko said. “If they come here again, I won’t have any more business.”

In Sloviansk, the separatists left a far bloodier legacy, as evidenced by a plaque on the squat brick building that houses the SBU.

It commemorates Volodymyr Rybak, a local politician who was kidnapped by masked separatists while trying to re-fly the Ukrainian flag in the nearby town of Horlivka. His body was later found in a river near Sloviansk.

Walking past the memorial yesterday, a local resident Serhiy Nikolevich said that even locals who cheered the separatists in 2014 have since changed their minds. “Nobody here is now screaming for Putin to help us like they did in 2014,” he said. “Instead, we’re all just waiting for something terrible to happen.”

Names in this report have been changed. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd. 2022)

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]

https://www.independent.ie/world-news/europe/whoever-started-it-has-to-answer-to-god-41826409.html “Whoever started it must answer to God”

Fry Electronics Team

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