With pro-Russian rebels regularly taking over city administration buildings in eastern Ukraine, and Ukrainian soldiers on a mission to retake them, it might seem like local residents' lives would be upended. However, our Observer in Mariupol, where Ukrainian forces just retook the city hall following ten days of occupation by pro-Russians, tells us that this series of events has had surprisingly little impact on the population.
Mariupol city hall on Thursday.
Tom is not his real name. FRANCE 24 decided to keep him anonymous for security reasons.
People were slightly worried when the pro-Russians took over the town hall, as there were rumours that there would be a curfew put in place. But then life went on as usual. I live near the city hall, and it didn’t affect me at all. The university, which is located across the street from the city hall, stayed open, and students kept going to their classes; same with the nearby market. It really had no impact on people’s daily lives. You would see the pro-Russians guarding the city hall with baseball bats, but that’s it. It was easy to forget that there was anything going on.
After hearing that the city hall had been retaken by Ukrainian soldiers, I went to check it out today [Thursday]. There are armed soldiers all around the building. They haven’t taken down the barricades made up of tyres and sandbags that the pro-Russians had set up. A couple of curious people like me were milling around, but there was no tension.
Still, the city’s residents are somewhat divided in their opinions on soldiers retaking city hall. Some of them would rather the region join Russia, while others not at all, because they think the Russian system is too corrupt. However, people are able to debate the question civilly, in the streets, in the cafés. The fact of the matter is that it all stems from the same problem: the standard of living here is quite low, and people feel they don’t have enough economic opportunities. For most people, money, not politics, is the main concern. Many people work factory jobs, and while prices keep climbing, their salaries don’t. Every day, life becomes a little harder.
Ukrainian forces are currently trying to retake positions held by pro-Russians in several parts of eastern Ukraine. Also on Wednesday, Ukrainian soldiers repelled an attack on an army base in the eastern town of Artemivsk. And on Thursday, they broke through pro-Russian roadblocks in the city of Slovyansk.