Given a choice between a simple explanation and a complex one, I favour the former. So, in time of war, if a shell lands behind the lines of one side, I tend to believe that it was fired by the other side, rather than being ‘friendly fire’, a ‘false flag operation’, or anything else. This means that when shells hit Donetsk, I consider that the Ukrainian Army is probably responsible, and when shells hit targets behind the Ukrainian lines, the rebels are probably responsible. This Sunday, artillery struck the Ukrainian-held Mariupol suburb of Sartana, killing two civilians. The logic above makes me believe that the army of the rebel Donetsk People’s Republic is most likely to blame.
The locals seem to disagree, though. According to the Kyiv Post:
Local people at the scene, telling the Kyiv Post that the town had been shelled by the Ukrainian side, called on the media to ‘tell the truth.’ ‘If it had been the (Russian-separatist forces), they wouldn’t have left a stone standing here!’ said Natalia, a 43-year-old woman who was too afraid to give her full name. She blamed those who ‘danced on the Maidan,’ for the attack, adding that ‘the war will be finished and we will live in happiness as soon as the Ukrainian army is away from the Donbas.’ A dozen people around her supported her claims. Serhiy, 56, who also wouldn’t give his full name, showed a handful of shell fragments, saying they were from small-caliber mortar shells that couldn’t have come from separatist positions, as these were too far away.
The Kyiv Post’s Dzmity Halko adds: ‘I haven’t heard such embittered confidence that the Ukrainians are shelling them and that those who “danced on Maidan” are guilty of everything since the last time I was in the occupied territories last summer.’ When somebody asked ‘whether they didn’t think that it was just such aggressively pro-Russian sentiments that had brought war into the Ukrainian home, they flung insults at her. If there hadn’t been a large number of police in the village, it’s possible they would have beaten us up.’
This isn’t an isolated incident. In January and February of this year, rebel artillery devastated the town of Debaltsevo and the surrounding area during several weeks of combat. Yet when reporters entered Debaltsevo after rebel forces captured it, they found that the locals blamed the Ukrainian Army for the destruction. According to Business New Europe:
Town residents questioned by bne IntelliNews counter-intuitively blame the shelling and destruction of the town on the very Ukrainian forces that were ostensibly protecting the town – some perhaps out of confusion, others perhaps out of fear. According to [Debaltsevo inhabitant Sergei] Rudenko, the Ukrainian forces were responsible for shelling the town. ‘I saw with my own eyes how Ukrainian troops fired mortars which exploded within the town,’ he says. ‘And we saw in January and February when there was shelling every day how Ukrainian TV crews would be on the scene of any shell impact within minutes.’ ‘Everyone knows this in the town,’ he adds. ‘Ask anyone you want they will say the same.’ … Taxi driver Roman Maksimov, 31, who stayed in the cellar of a housing block during the shelling, tells bne IntelliNews a similar story: ‘Of course it was the Ukrainians that bombed here. … The Ukrainians wanted to make sure that not a stone was left unturned before they pulled out. And when they pulled out, we saw how their tanks fired on houses directly.’
It would appear that people who dislike the Ukrainian government and army believe that those institutions must be responsible for their suffering, regardless of any evidence to the contrary. But that begs the question of why they dislike the government and army so much. Sartana was ‘liberated’ from the rebels over a year ago. The Ukrainian authorities have had plenty of time to prove to its inhabitants that ‘Russian propaganda’ is false, and to win over their hearts and minds. And yet it seems that they have utterly failed to do so. A year of ‘liberation’ has left such a legacy of hostility that people yell abuse at journalists who dare to suggest that government forces are not to blame for their problems. This is a sobering thought.