12.02.2015 - Kyiv, Ukraine
As I walked down the streets of Donetsk, there was a tension in the air. Not surprising really, as the air had seen a barrage of artillery fire not moments prior. But for the citizens of Donetsk, it was life as normal.
Building shelled in Donetsk, much like many that I passed myself.
Eventually, I came to an elderly woman selling shoes on the lonely cold street. Even in a time of war, people need to do what they can to get by. I asked her if she felt safe. She stoically shook her head and stoically replied "no, no, neet anglaiski". But alas, even through her fears, she needs to work.
Praying For Peace
One place where people don't seem to be working all too well are in the diplomacy rooms of the peace discussions. The "Big 5" as they are known - Russia, Germany, France, Belarus, and of course the United States, have been trying to hash out a ceasefire initiative, but to little avail.
And while the world leaders have been blundering, rebel forces on the ground have only continued to be plundering.
The Russian-backed rebels hold a large swath of Ukrainian territory - unrecognised to the rest of the world. This includes the major Ukrainian cities of Donetsk, Rostov-on-Don, and Luhansk, as well as the province of Crimea - the only area which Russia has formally annexed.
Map of the current military situation in Ukraine.
Though the fighting has remained consistent and deadly, the borders have changed little since the opening of hostilities in the Spring of last year. For the most part however, few wonder why the Ukrainian government has been unable to force a decisive victory over the rebels.
For a starters, whereas Russia is providing ample covert support to the rebels in terms of high-tech armaments and combat-experienced special forces, Ukraine's backers (primarily in the West) are much more apprehensive about providing direct military aid to Ukraine's forces - primarily out of the fear that this will escalate to the extent that Russia is brought much more openly into conflict with Ukraine and other Western neighbours. This show of Chamberlainean appeasement by the likes of Merkel and Obama leaves the Ukrainian forces ill-equipped with outdated, Soviet-era equipment.
Pro-Ukrainian volunteers prior to deployment.
Another reason is that the rebels are holding on to a significant chunk of Ukraine's territory: upwards of 40% by most estimates. This includes much of Ukraine's Black Sea ports, as well as its only access to the Caspian Sea and many of its major Eastern cities. A major crackdown on a Ukrainian population centre such as Donetsk or Rostov-on-Don could provoke a major backlash against their presence in other, not-currently affected areas of significant Russian presence such as Odessa and Kharkhiv. It would also provide very real impetus for the eager Russian Federation to move in - perhaps formally annexing the vital region surrounding the Azov Sea.
Of course, though they could not step up and commit themselves to a military solution to the conflict, the united countries of The West have instead opted to increase sanctions on the Russian regime.
When pressed by The Daily Lyes on why they resort to throwing sanctions despite the proven track record of sanctions being useless, both the press offices of the White House and Downing Street refused to comment, instead spilling a load of babble about how they are committed to showing a strong response to Russian aggression. We did, however, receive a response from one Marianne Le Pen, who insisted that the measures in place were already severe enough and that this had absolutely no bearing to the funding her party has been receiving from the Russian Federation.
Well, that answers that one then.
A member of the pro-Russian Donbass insurgent tree-surgeon brigade.
At press time, a ceasefire discussion is still in the works. But as young businessman in Donetsk joked to me: don't hold your breath.