‘There is a clear plan of action’: Eastern Ukraine prepares for invasion | Ukraine

If the Russian tanks massed a few tens of kilometers away begin to move to the Ukrainian border, Oleh Synehubov will receive a phone call and immediately begin to implement a crisis plan.

“There is a clear plan of action,” Synehubov, the Kharkiv region’s governor, said in an interview Monday at Kharkiv’s imposing Stalin-era administrative building.

He was speaking just an hour before Russian television broadcast footage of a Russian Security Council meeting, during which Vladimir Putin triggered recognition of breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine and made threats thinly veiled from a major war against the rest of the country.

Kharkiv, a largely Russian-speaking city of nearly 1.5 million people, is just 20 miles from the border with Russia and is seen as one of Putin’s top possible targets.

In 2014, the Kremlin’s initial plan after the Maidan protests in Kiev – quickly abandoned as unrealistic – was to make Kharkiv the capital of a state in eastern Ukraine.

Now, in the Belgorod region, just across the border, TikTok videos and satellite images show Russian armored vehicles and troops moving ever closer to Ukraine. At the first sign of “abnormal” activity on the border, Synehubov said, an operation will be launched to warn locals of an impending Russian attack.

Map of Eastern Ukraine

“There will be announcements on TV, radio and the internet, messages on cell phones, sirens will sound, patrol cars and fire trucks will drive through town with loudspeakers telling people what do,” he said.

Special measures would be taken at military sites and other strategic locations, and efforts would be made to evacuate places such as nursing homes and schools. The exact plan, whether orders for people were to find the nearest bomb shelter, or whether an evacuation would be triggered, would depend on the type of invasion, he said.

“If it’s an artillery attack, then clearly everyone has to go to bomb shelters, if it’s a full-scale invasion, we’re already in an area of ​​military action and there would be an evacuation.”

Synehubov said he hoped the plan would never be implemented, noting that the regional government was trying to carry on as normal, with the local parliament sitting on Thursday to determine the budget.

But Monday’s Security Council meeting, followed by Putin’s angry speech, seemed to make the prospect of war a little sharper.

On Tuesday, Putin said Russia would support the territorial claims of its proxy states in eastern Ukraine, two-thirds of which are currently controlled by Kiev.

This scenario involves cities like Mariupol, Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, where in 2014 local separatists and their Russian backers briefly took control, but were later retaken by Kiev.

Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, two towns north of Donetsk, were among the first places to be captured by groups of angry locals, coordinated by shady Russian agents, in late spring 2014. Today, these are proudly Ukrainian cities, filled with yellow – blue flags.

In Mariupol, where pitched battles took place in the streets in May 2014 between separatist partisans and Ukrainian forces, oligarch Rinat Akhmetov and others poured cash to rejuvenate the industrial city’s Soviet atmosphere .

In other places, however, life is still difficult and exacerbated by conflict. Many young people have left: fleeing for a safer and better life either in Russia or in other parts of Ukraine. Places like Zolote, on the Ukrainian side of the front line, look like ghost towns, characterized by empty and dilapidated buildings, muddy roads and a sense of desperation, while the nights are often punctuated by the noise of the artillery.

“Ukraine needs to do a lot more to show people that we really want to give them opportunities,” said Iryna Vereschuk, deputy prime minister responsible for the reintegration of separatist territories.

Beneath the surface, there are still people, especially among older generations, who say they would welcome a Russian takeover.

“I don’t think a lot of people have changed their minds since 2014, I think it’s just buried deep below the surface. If the Russians came, a lot of people would greet them with flowers,” said a resident of Kramatorsk, 52, who declined to be named.

But the percentages have changed: some of those who supported the separatists in 2014 later left for Russia, while others changed their minds after seeing the miserable existence in the breakaway republics in recent years.

Oleksiy Vukolov, a Ukrainian army commander responsible for the front in the Lugansk region, estimated that about 30% of the local population on the Ukrainian side of the lines had “separatist feelings in their heads”, he said. declared.

The one thing everyone agrees on is that no one in the region wants another conflict. Putin, while promising to “defend” these people, promises just that.

If Russian forces move against Mariupol, Kramatorsk and other cities in Donbass, this could be Putin’s pretext to launch a major war against Kharkiv, Odessa and perhaps even Ukraine’s capital, Kiev.

There, local leaders are adamant that the city, with a large student population, would stand firm against a Russian invasion.

Outside Synehubov’s office, a Ukrainian flag hangs on the wall in a display case: it was rescued from the building in 2014 when it was briefly seized by separatists. It then circled the front line and is now proudly on display.

Although many people in Kharkiv would like to see Ukraine and Russia have good relations, Synehubov said opinions had changed dramatically since 2014.

“At the time, in Kharkiv, people didn’t understand what was happening in Kiev, what was happening in Donbass, and the Russians were waging a very big information war. Now there is a unified opinion that Kharkiv is a Ukrainian city and it is part of Ukraine. The things that happened in the Crimea, in the Donbass, it just can’t happen here.

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