Security Situation In Eastern Ukraine Is Unpredictable

In some of the towns where pro-Moscow militants have occupied government buildings, it is clear that someone is giving orders. In other places, a state of near chaos reigns.

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Ukraine's deputy Prime Minister says an Easter truce is over. The government is re-launching what it calls anti-terrorist actions. Ukraine intends to clear buildings in the east occupied by pro-Russian militants. Russia has a different view of this situation, and today Russia called for Ukraine to remove its troops from some of its own territory. The Russians demand the Ukranian forces abandon the region where pro-Russian groups are active. Now, in one of those contested towns the government says two bodies were found. They were allegedly tortured and one of them was a local pro-Ukrainian politician.

The town is called Slavyansk and its one of the places visited by NPR's Eleanor Beardsley.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: When we set out for the town of Slavyansk a few days ago, we were forewarned of the checkpoints and road blocks. And we were ready for the pro-Russia armed masked men we knew were occupying the administrative building. They were actually well-organized and polite. The next day we head to Yenakiieve, the home town of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted by massive protests in Kiev in February.

I'm standing in the center of Yenakiieve and my first thought is it's grim. A huge metal works factory dominates the center of town with belching smoke stacks. Yanukovych made his name in this industrial city climbing the ladder of Ukrainian politics. We've come to find out if he's perceived as a hero or a corrupt leader.

Fifty-two-year-old Sergei Temkin says that Yanukovych is a product of the Ukrainian system.

SERGEI TEMKIN: (Through translator) He's not the first one. We've had a lot of kind of people like Yanukovych. For these 20 years in our country, poor people became more poor, rich people became richer.

BEARDSLEY: In the town's central plaza, beside the statue of Vladimir Lenin, city worker Svetlana Manuhita is planting roses.

SVETLANA MANUHITA: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: Oh, you're an American, she said smiling, did you bring NATO with you?

MANUHITA: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: Manuhita says the handsome Yanukovych was a wonderful president and she will support him forever. And the millions of dollars he allegedly stole from the Ukrainian people - all lies, she says.

Leaving the square, we head up to the town hall, which turns out to be occupied.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BEARDSLEY: The mood here is different. There are no sandbags or guns, but there is no organization either. A motley crew of inebriated young men is in charge here.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: They're playing patriotic music and want to know why we're there. When a distinguished looking elderly gentleman emerges from the town hall, we want to talk to him.

FEODOR IVANOVIC: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: Eighty-three-year-old Feodor Ivanovic knew Yanukovych and begins to tell us about him.

IVANOVIC: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: But the guys guarding the building want to stop the interview. Ivanovic continues.

IVANOVIC: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: But now the young men turn up the music until my translator, Zhenia, and I can no longer hear Ivanovic.

That's the Russian national anthem, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Yes, it is.

BEARDSLEY: What does he think of this town hall, they're turning up the Russian national anthem?

Ivanovic tells us Ukraine should be united and for everyone. And with that we quickly leave town hall.

There is a lawless, uncertain feeling in Eastern Ukraine right now. Combine that with a depressing industrial landscape and poverty, the feeling is dark. It can also feel absurd at times.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: We stop at Viktor Yanukovych's former school, a gleaming American-style building in the middle of a poor neighborhood of peasant huts and rutted unpaved roads. Inside, an officious administrator tells us we can visit but we must first get approval.

I love it. We have to get permission to see the school from the occupied building that we just fled.

We decide not to risk it and instead head off to look for Yanukovych's boyhood home.

Is that it, Zhenia? It is?

The house and roof are rotting away. There's not much to say, it's an abandoned house and there's a dead dog and trash in the yard. Oh, god.

(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)

BEARDSLEY: Nobody is in.

Seventy-eight-year-old neighbor Galina Ivonovna remembers Yanukovych.

GALENA IVANOVNA: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: Yes, we were proud of him, she says. He wasn't a bad man, just a little weak. If he'd have been more manly, none of this would have ever happened.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Donetsk.

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