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In Shadow Of Approaching Truce, Bloodshed Boils Over In Ukraine's East


Now, to eastern Ukraine, where the war is supposed to be on hold. A cease-fire agreement between the Ukrainian government, rebels in the east, Russia and other European leaders was said to take effect at midnight local time. Earlier today, I spoke via Skype to Max Seddon. He's a foreign correspondent with BuzzFeed News in the eastern city of Donetsk. He told me that there had been shelling inside the city of Donetsk earlier in the day, and that many people there aren't holding out hope for a lasting cease-fire.

MAX SEDDON: People are extremely pessimistic about it, and it's hard not to agree with them. It doesn't necessarily look like the cease-fire is really going to hold up at all. The first cease-fire from the earlier Minsk agreement back in September was really a nonstarter because neither side actually ceased firing the entire time. And this one, judging by how things are going at the moment, may not even be that successful. It's hard to see them suddenly stopping just like that when the differences are so out in the open between all the sides.

RATH: And given what they're going through, those conditions, how are people in Donetsk holding up?

SEDDON: People are really surprisingly resilient here. One person told me that every time they're shelling - and his apartment building is near where the shells are landing - everyone goes out into the stairwell, and they get out bottles of wine. They pass around food. And he said before all this happened, I only knew about four people in my whole staircase. Now, I know all 80 of them, and I know all their pets' names.

The people who are the victims of the fighting in Donetsk right now the most are the vulnerable, the poor and the elderly, because they have nowhere to go. That's a large part of the reason why they're here. And they don't have any money because Ukraine has been carrying out an economic blockade of the rebel-held territories since the end of last year.

RATH: You wrote this week about how many people in eastern Ukraine are feeling alienated from the central government for a variety of ways in which they've been handling the conflict. Can you help us understand that?

SEDDON: Well, at the heart of this, it's really very simple. And this is something that neither the Ukrainian government nor a lot of ordinary Ukrainian people really seem to realize, is that if you shell somewhere where people live with artillery and you enact an economic blockade - make it very difficult for them to live their lives - they're not going to like you. People here really blame Kiev for everything.

There's a lot that you hear - everyone in Ukraine thinks that the people here have been brainwashed by Russian TV. And while Russian TV is still very influential here, a lot of the people that I spoke to said that Ukrainian TV had been just as influential in making them dislike the Ukrainian government, because as they see it, it downplays the civilian casualties from Ukrainian shelling and because they're treated as these - on Ukrainian TV - as these kind of retrograde thugs, lowlifes holding back Ukraine from becoming a progressive European country.

RATH: So Max, what do those raw feelings tell you about the prospects for lasting peace in Ukraine?

SEDDON: People here are so angry at the Ukrainian government that even if Ukraine magically took hold of the whole region, and all the separatists and all the Russian soldiers left tomorrow, which obviously isn't going to happen anytime soon, it would still take years, if not decades, to get the people here back on side. The people here don't necessarily want to become part of Russia at all or even become an independent country. The vast majority of them don't, but they do not see a way. I've had so many people say to me that they just can't live with the Ukraine in its current form. Because as they see it, Ukraine has bombed them, cut off all their livelihood and spat on them. And that's going to be a huge problem - the problem of reconciliation for Ukraine for decades.

RATH: Max Seddon is a foreign correspondent with BuzzFeed. He joined us from the city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. Max, thanks very much.

SEDDON: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.