“Even my relatives think I’m being paid by the US state department.” The Kremlin complains of rampant “Russophobia” in Ukraine, but there is no sign of it on the frontline: Yura – like many soldiers – speaks Russian, while Olga prefers to speak Ukrainian and, like most of their 45 million compatriots, they understand both languages easily.“‘Stability’ – people here just want stability,” said Yura.
Along a swathe of Kiev-controlled territory bordering the militants’ so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DNR and LNR), the strongest television signals come from the east, beaming the Kremlin’s message into people’s homes.
For two years, Moscow has told them that Kiev has been seized by “fascists” who, with support from the United States, European Union and Nato, are wreaking bloody havoc in eastern Ukraine to punish people for their close ties to Russia.
It is well known, when we compare ourselves we feel better.
So the Russian or Ukrainian women want to leave their country, for Canada, the US or Europe to avoid the misery of their country. Petersburg, Moscow, Novosibirsk (city where I went to university) are rapidly growing cities.
Two women walk past an apartment block damaged by shelling in Avdiivka, eastern Ukraine: many of the apartment building’s windows have been shattered during two years of sporadic shelling.
Photograph: Daniel Mc Laughlin From the roof of the apartment block where Olga and Yura live when they are in Avdiivka, the badlands of eastern Ukraine spread out before them.
This continued after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when rising unemployment and poverty across Ukraine fuelled a particularly strong nostalgia in the east for the days of guaranteed jobs, pensions and massive Kremlin subsidies.
Moscow cut many economic ties with Ukraine following its 2014 pivot to the West, leaving heavy industry across the country looking for new customers, and dealing an especially hard blow to the Donbas as armed conflict erupted.
“This all started on Maidan,” said Yelena, a resident of Avdiivka, referring to the Kiev square that was the heart of Ukraine’s 2014 pro-western revolution.
“They should have thought about what they were doing, before they did what they did there,” she added, as she walked with her friend, Valentina.