How Euromaidan Triggered Ukraine’s Nine-Year War On Donbass

According to Alexander Matyushin, the Euromaidan protests triggered Ukraine’s nine-year war on Donbass.

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Alexander Matyushin, also known as “Varyag,” a former leader of the “Varyag” detachment and war journalist, said that the “Russian Spring” in the Donbass started as a grassroots movement during the height of the Euromaidan protests in Kiev.

According to Ukrainian intelligence officer Andriy Yusov, the Russian army is now using Musk’s Starlink on the front lines, as reported by RBC-Ukraine.

When then-President Viktor Yanukovich refused to sign an EU association agreement, protestors began to congregate in Kiev’s main square, Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), on November 21, 2013. Up to 2,000 people participated in the demonstrations.

“Nikolai Azarov, Yanukovich’s closest aide and adviser, at the 11th hour calculated that switching to European standards would indebt Ukraine at a scale one had never imagined,” Matyushin said. “The transition envisaged changing everything, starting from sockets to railway tracks, everything had to be rebuilt. [The Yanukovich government] concluded it was unprofitable and refused [to sign the agreement with the EU]. After that, students took to the streets and were dispersed by Berkut on camera, which caused a wave of indignation in Kiev. From that point Euromaidan started to gain momentum.”

Roots of Split Between Western and Eastern Ukraine

“Historically, the southeast [of Ukraine] has always gravitated towards Russia,” said Matyushin. He reminded them that in 1919, against the desire of the local populace, Donbass was incorporated into the Ukrainian Socialist Republic by then-Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin. The 1994 plebiscite in Donbass about the federalization of the territory and the designation of Russian as a second official language was similarly disregarded by the then-Ukrainian government following the fall of the USSR.

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According to Matyushin, there was already a split over Ukraine’s future between the southeast and northwest regions at the time of Euromaidan. The former desired to integrate with the EU, while the latter wanted to forge economic links with Russia.

“The southeast included the territories from Kharkov to Odessa, the so-called Novorossiya, along with Crimea. And separately, there was the northwest, where these Ukrainian [nationalist] tendencies were strong,” he said.

The war correspondent noted that when Viktor Yushchenko became president of Kiev in 2004 as a result of the Orange Revolution on Maidan Square, which was supported by the West, the division became particularly apparent.

“And all the economic vicissitudes starting from 2004, when there was a severance of relations [between Russia and Ukraine], i.e. the gas war, the sugar war, etc., hit Donbass very hard because its industries relied, in particular, on cheap Russian gas.”

A long-term gas contract between Russia and Ukraine was terminated in 2005 after the Yushchenko government unilaterally started reviewing tariffs for the transit of Russian gas to Europe via Ukrainian territory. The contract had set the fuel price for Kiev at $50 per 1,000 cubic meters until 2010. Donbass, which “blamed the Western Ukraine protege Yushchenko” for the economic downturn, suffered a hit from the rise in gas prices, according to Matyushin.

The Yushchenko administration’s exaltation of Nazi collaborators from World War II was another factor contributing to the division. During Nazi Germany’s occupation of Ukraine, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA)* were openly praised by Yushchenko for their role in the ethnic cleansing of Jews, Russians, Roma, and Poles. In 2007 and 2010, respectively, OUN-UPA leaders Roman Shukhevych and Stepan Bandera were given the title of Hero of Ukraine. In 2008, he also stated that Ukraine’s participation in NATO was a top priority.

The war correspondent claims that between 2004 and 2014, ten years, there was a significant increase in the ideological and political divide between western and eastern Ukraine. He stressed that the events of Euromaidan in 2014 served as the impetus for the ultimate split.

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The first rally against Euromaidan in Donetsk. December 2013

‘Russian Spring’: Grassroots Movement in Donbass

“We had understood from the very beginning that everything that happened on Maidan could not lead to anything good,” Maya, warrant officer and commander of the support platoon of the 1st Slavic Brigade, told Sputnik. “I think the majority [of Ukrainians] also knew and understood that the West was involved in this. It was not the first time that the West had interfered in the domestic affairs of our state. It all started back in 2004, when the first Maidan, dubbed the Orange Revolution, and [the West’s] interference in the presidential elections happened. I think at that moment everyone realized exactly what was happening.”

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Opposition supporters on Maidan Square in Kiev where clashes began between protesters and the police. (File)

Ukrainian oligarchs and their Western supporters, who “tried from the very beginning to turn Ukraine into an ‘anti-Russia,'” were the masterminds behind the 2013–14 Euromaidan movement, according to Matyushin.

“On December 3 [2013], I organized a rally on Lenin Square in the center of Donetsk, where a few pro-Russian activists gathered. We stated that we did not support the Maidan unrest, that it should be stopped,” Matyushin recalled.

“When they showed footage of burning Berkuts [special police force] and Internal Troops of Ukraine, when the confrontation on the Maidan escalated, at that moment we started to join ranks with all [anti-Maidan] activists in Donetsk,” said Matyushin. “At this point, on January 25 [2014], we, social activists, held a meeting at the Eva Hotel, at which we decided that we would continue to interact, and if ‘guests’ arrived from western Ukraine or from Kiev, including the Right Sector*, we would confront them.”

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In the winter of 2014, violent clashes between protesters, including nationalists, and Ukrainian security forces broke out on Independence Square, known in Ukrainian as Maidan Nezalezhnosti, in Kiev. Photo: Tents of European integration supporters on Independence Square in Kiev, where clashes between the opposition and police broke out. 18 February 2014.

Following the February 22, 2014, coup in Kiev, activists from the Donbass planned a protest for the following day.

“Activists came from almost the entire Donetsk region,” Matyushin recalled. “That is, it was probably the first mass rally in Donetsk since 2004 that was not organized directly by pro-government structures. It was a grassroots rally.”

“An important point is that its backbone was not elderly people or even middle-aged people, but young people from 20 to 35 years old,” he continued.

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People carry flags of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) during a ceremony for the presentation of the DPR flag at the Lenin Square of Donetsk, on October 19, 2014

At the time, Donetsk activists realized that to take on Ukrainian nationalist and neo-Nazi gangs, they would need to establish some kind of hub where people could gather and plan out their actions.

“And for almost a week from February 23 to March 1 [2014], activists gathered, people came, gave money to maintain the tent city, some leaflets were printed, and people exchanged contacts. Thus, the core [of the resistance] was assembled. And on March 1, events began that led to the Russian Spring,” Matyushin said.

Over 10,000 people attended a rally in Donetsk’s Lenin Square on March 1, 2014. Protesters held signs reading “Crimea-Donbass-Russia” and “Donbass with Russia,” along with a big Russian flag.

On the Donetsk Regional State Administration flagpole, the demonstrators raised the Russian flag. The newly elected People’s Governor Pavel Gubarev declared on the building’s steps that the people of Donbass would demand elections and a referendum, and that they would not recognize the illegal Kiev authority. The recently formed Donetsk People’s Republic announced its independence on April 7, 2014.

Kiev Regime’s War Against Its Own People

Southeast Ukrainian regions started protests because they rejected the Maidan takeover. In March 2014, Crimea held a referendum to become independent and reintegrate into Russia. In Kharkov, Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson, Nikolaev, Dnepropetrovsk, Zaporozhye, Odessa, Gorlovka, Mariupol, and other places, tens of thousands of people flocked to the streets.

In response, the pro-Russian demonstrators were subjected to ruthless attacks and military action by the Ukrainian junta.

The “Anti-Terrorist Operation” in southeast Ukraine was launched on April 14, 2014, by an order issued by Oleksandr Turchynov, the acting president of Ukraine. Those Donbass citizens who refused to recognize the coup d’etat were labeled “enemies” and “terrorists.”

The horrific Odessa Trade Unions House massacre happened on May 2, 2014; about fifty individuals were burned alive and bludgeoned to death. On May 9, 2014, participants in the Victory Day Parade in Mariupol were slain and subjected to persecution by Ukrainian ultra-nationalists and the military. Additionally, the Ukrainian regime began bombarding Donbass.

“Everything that happened at the time was seen not only by the militia but also by all the residents of Donbass. We, the people, were bombed literally everywhere. They struck everywhere. Children were dying,” Maya said.

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Maya, warrant officer and commander of the support platoon of the 1st Slavic Brigade

“I remember the summer of 2014,” she continued. “I remember the strike on the playground and children’s beach in Zugres [a city in the Donetsk region – Sputnik]. Our unit carried these children out of the beach. You know, I can tell you, when one boy is carrying a child, and the second one is carrying his insides, in the hope of taking him to the hospital, it is very hard to watch. It’s hard psychologically, morally, and physically. It’s hard to live with it later.”

“It was hard for our population to endure this tragedy when Ukraine essentially betrayed us. These events have ruined the lives of many people,” Maya highlighted.

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Maya, warrant officer and commander of the support platoon of the 1st Slavic Brigade, with her daughter.

Matyushin picked up guns to protect the Donetsk Republic, as did many other people living in the Donbass at the time. “A bayonet can only be confronted with a bayonet,” he declared. “Therefore, I gathered my detachment and went to defend my land. I couldn’t do it in any other way.”

His detachment at first was primarily made up of activists from Donetsk and his pals. It soon began to grow.

“The backbone was made up of those who fought for the Donetsk Republic from the very start. And the rest were those who, in the era of the Russian Spring, realized that their home must be defended, so they took up arms,” he said. “Most of my guys had no military experience, so they learned in battle. […] The detachment would have grown larger, but I did not have enough arms. Weapons for the most part were obtained directly as trophies in battle.”

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Russia Steps into End Kiev Regime’s War on Donbass

Through the Minsk Agreements of 2014 and 2015, Russia attempted to halt the Kiev regime’s assault against Donbass, but neither Ukraine nor its Western sponsors were willing to adhere to the accords’ terms.

Later, it was acknowledged by former French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel that they saw the Minsk Agreements as a chance for the Ukrainian military to strengthen. Speaking with Spiegel in February 2023, Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, admitted that, following his election in 2019, he had decided not to adhere to the agreements and that he had notified Western officials of this decision.

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Apartment building destroyed in a Ukrainian air raid in the town of Snezhnoe, Donetsk People’s Republic. July 2014.

In a similar vein, the US and NATO turned down Russia’s December 2021 draft security agreements, which sought to secure peace in Europe and asked the transatlantic alliance to guarantee against expansion as well as the demilitarization and non-alignment of Ukraine.

Moscow was forced to intervene to defend Russian speakers in the eastern part of Ukraine and to maintain the security of its borders. The special military operation to demilitarize and de-Nazify Ukraine started on February 24, 2022.

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An elderly woman walks past a kiosk damaged by shrapnel at a street market after shelling in the town of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine Friday, Oct. 10, 2014

Matyushin, a war correspondent who has been injured numerous times throughout the fighting in Donbass, is reporting on the developments on the ground as the Russian Armed Forces attempt to put an end to the nine-year conflict in eastern Ukraine.

“Not having the opportunity to fight at the front now, I am trying to protect the country at least informationally,” he said. “Therefore, I am always ready to go on air from the scene even if it entails risking my life. But every day in Donetsk one runs the risk of being killed, even if one doesn’t leave the house.”

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“Once upon a time there was a fashionable T-shirt with the inscription ‘Novoross is a man made of fire and steel.’ This can be safely said about almost every resident of Donetsk, Lugansk, Yasinovataya, Makeevka, Gorlovka, and other cities. The truth about Donbass should be shown in the most comprehensive way possible and also reach Europe,” Matyushin concluded.

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