'When the shelling stops, the traitors will be punished'

'When the shelling stops, the traitors will be punished'


9 May 2022 at 22:51
'When the shelling stops, the traitors will be punished'

A clash of loyalties is dividing opinion among residents in Bakhmut - a town on the front line in eastern Ukraine's Donbas region.

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Sometimes it slips out as a whisper. More often, it is hidden behind euphemisms and shrugs - and carefully ambivalent replies. And then, once in a while, a fiercely pro-Russian sentiment is simply blurted out, like the crack of a gunshot, here in the rolling green hills of the Donbas.

"This is Russian territory. Ukraine is the occupier here," said a man in overalls, standing with a group of council workers. They had been clearing weeds in Bakhmut - a Ukrainian town currently within easy earshot of Russian artillery.

And the man was not alone in his apparent contempt for Ukraine's territorial integrity. Beside him, 65-year-old Yelena merely couched her views in more ambiguous terms.

"I don't know Putin personally, so I can't tell you what I think of him. But I don't see Russia as the enemy. We all lived together in the Soviet Union. So, let's see what happens [if Russia occupies the town]," she said.

The notion that Ukraine stands resolutely united in opposition to Russia's invasion may hold true for much for the country. But here in the Donbas, there is a large ethnic-Russian minority, a painful history of eight years of separatist conflict with Russian-backed militias and - particularly for an older generation - a powerful nostalgia for the USSR.