KIEV, Ukraine – Donetsk is steeling itself for a siege as troops encircle separatists who’ve pulled back to the biggest city in Ukraine’s conflict zone after months of bloody unrest.
I feel it will be the end of Donetsk soon – all life will stop, said Oleksandr, 32, after hundreds of pro-Russian insurgents rode battered tanks past hoards of onlookers in the regional capital of almost a million people. He now fears a devastating blockade similar to the one that ravaged Slovyansk, the nearby stronghold the fighters abandoned last week. He’s not hanging around to see how it pans out.
We’ll lose water, electricity and phone connection, said Oleksandr, a manager at a food-distribution company who declined to give his last name for fear of reprisals from the rebels. I plan to leave as soon as I can.
The deadly struggle for control of Ukraine’s easternmost regions is coming to a head, with most separatists holed up in Donetsk and Luhansk, 90 miles away, and the army vowing to tighten the net around them until they surrender or are killed.
The government says it has curbed the insurgents’ supplies from Russia, which denies assisting them and wants Ukraine to back off. The conflict has already cost hundreds of lives.
While the military has not sent forces into the two cities – hubs for the metals and coal-mining industries that dominate Ukraine’s border regions with Russia – it is blockading them and may deploy special forces. The insurgents doubt the army’s ability to pen them in and say they’ll go on the attack.
Up to 100,000 inhabitants have fled Donetsk in recent weeks, the mayor’s office said. The flow of people leaving has jumped several times since the separatist influx, said Dmitry, 23, who works in the local auto industry and declined to give his last name for fear of reprisal.
People are scared the city will be bombed, he said. Planes bombed the Petrovka region nearby this week, and my friends saw craters 13 feet wide on the road. Kiev says it’s not bombing anyone, but people have stopped believing the official line.
The regional governor’s office has warned people not to argue with separatists and to steer clear of their hideouts. Starting July 5, Donetsk began limiting water supplies to residents to a daily five-hour window, the mayor’s office said.