By Elaina Barbieri
To those living in Donbass, Ukraine’s large eastern region, the sound of shelling is an unmistakable and inevitable soundtrack to their life. Mortar fire has rained down mercilessly since fighting erupted back in Jan. 2015 when the first ceasefire − established by the initial Minsk Agreements − came tumbling down in a sea of bullets and terror. Since Russia’s invasion and eventual annexation of Crimea in 2014, a peninsula given to Ukraine in the 1950’s, disputes between Ukraine and pro-Russian supporters have risen to an all time high even with peace deals constantly being negotiated. Ukraine’s first ceasefire with Russia had fueled hopes for a chance at peace − a possibility that became more and more out of reach as tensions bubbled underneath the surface of a war-torn Ukraine.
Whatever peace reached in Sept. 2014 (when the ceasefire was first established) snapped in January as underlying conflict spilled over into an all out clash of pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian government. The separatist struggle for critical Ukrainian territory led to the destruction of Donetsk airport and the small town of Debaltseve. Both of these points, now captured by the opposing Russians, held a large amount of territorial interest as they both proved to be main transportation junctions.
In efforts to combat the escalating violence in the east, leaders from Russia, France, Ukraine, and Germany had gathered in Belarus in early February to discuss a new plan in light of the first ceasefire’s failure, as reported by the Kyiv Post. The result was a proposal for both sides to retrieve their heavy weaponry from the front lines. It seemed that both sides were in accordance to the agreement, with the Ukrainian army claiming to have pulled back their machinery (despite no individual confirmation on the subject). Pro-separatists too have mentioned their willingness to compromise if the Ukrainian side equally follows the proposal. However, the continued fighting in the eastern region of Donbass reflects the weakness of the conflict’s second trial at peace. Both sides had cited that provocation from the opposing forces left them no choice but to take up arms in defense. Now, the second ceasefire seems to only promise more disappointment than its trampled ancestor.
The month of April has seen a stronger clash of the two groups than the first two months following the ceasefire. The recent fighting in Donbass, as analyzed by The Guardian, has centered itself in the Donetsk village of Shyrokyne, a village now completely ravaged by war. It is the stepping stone for the pro-separatists to capture Mariupol’s Azov seaport, which would mean a major defeat for Ukraine. The city itself reflects its other fallen brothers scattered through Debaltseve. It has become a ghost town − less than forty citizens remain in an area that was once populated by one thousand residents. Like those in similar areas of conflict, those who choose to stay do so because they have nowhere to go, are too elderly to retreat, or refuse to leave the house their families have always occupied. These people risk death daily, huddling in basements during constant shelling, an image reminiscent of World War II bombings and Cold War paranoia.
As those in the crosshairs of the Ukrainian/Russian clash continue to suffer, the ceasefire suffers with them. It has been all but formally stated that the second round of peace agreements has failed. Even quieter periods in the previous months have given way to resurged violence as pro-separatists make their way into the heart of Ukraine. As the second ceasefire crumbles in the hands of those who need peace the most, the question in most minds is no longer “How do you solve a problem like Ukraine?” but “Can you solve a problem like Ukraine?”