War Reporter Explains How Ukraine Became A 'Post-Apocalyptic' Nightmare

Ukraine flag protestVasily Fedosenko/ReutersA black ribbon is attached to a flag, which combines EU and Ukrainian flags, to mark a day of mourning for the victims of clashes between anti-government protesters and Interior Ministry members in Kiev February 22, 2014.

A journalist who spent nearly two years in eastern Ukraine before the war hit has written for Mashable about the stark differences he noticed when he returned to report on the conflict-ridden area.

Christopher Miller wrote about how he arrived in Artemivsk in 2010 as a Peace Corps volunteer and met many welcoming, hospitable people who were intrigued by life in America.

But by the time he went back this past May, the place had completely changed. He wrote:

When I returned in May, it felt like a different country. Blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag had been replaced with black, blue and red of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ and the area  suddenly seemed like a more violent, merciless version of itself.

…  People who had once warmly welcomed me into their homes now shut the door in my face. ‘Americans support the neo-Nazis in Kiev!’ one former acquaintance shouted at me before spitting at my feet.

A rebel who knew me from Artemivsk — his younger sister had been my student — told me it was fine for me to return. ‘But,’ he said, his finger resting on a Kalashnikov trigger, ‘if I suspect you’re working as a spy, I’ll shoot and kill you myself.’

Artemivsk is no longer under rebel control as it once was, but some pro-Russia separatists still populate the area.

Other cities in eastern Ukraine have it worse.

Ukraine Russian Separatist Donetsk AirportShamil Zhumatov/REUTERSA pro-Russian separatist fires an automatic grenade launcher from his position during fighting with Ukrainian government forces near the Sergey Prokofiev International Airport in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, October 9, 2014.

Miller wrote that “to say it looks post-apocalyptic is not a stretch.” He described seeing dead bodies in bombed-out areas, tanks lying upended on the streets, and farmland being destroyed by rockets.

Ukraine Donetsk ShellingShamil Zhumatov/REUTERSSmoke rises near Donetsk Sergey Prokofiev International airport after shelling occurred in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, October 1, 2014

After pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February amid protests in Ukraine’s capital Kiev, the new government that took his place didn’t reach out to eastern Ukraine, making many in the region feel slighted, Miller wrote. This eventually led to the region becoming a stronghold of pro-Russian separatists.

Here’s how the country was split as of November:

Russian President Vladimir Putin hasn’t admitted that Russia is arming the rebels, but the separatists do have the support of Moscow.

In a December news conference, Putin said Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine were volunteers and couldn’t be called mercenaries because they were not paid (besides the special forces taht annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea). He also blamed Kiev for starting the conflict.

Ukraine crimeaREUTERS/Vasily FedosenkoWomen talk as they take a walk with a child in a pram while armed men, believed to be Russian servicemen, follow them outside a Ukrainian military base in Perevalnoye, near the Crimean city of Simferopol, March 14, 2014..

Kiev, meanwhile, says Russia is supporting the separatists and has 10,000 troops on the ground.

Estimates put the number of dead at about 4,000 since fighting broke out between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels in April.

Read Miller’s full account of how eastern Ukraine has changed >

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