Crossing the border to the DNR

Passing the border with Russia, in or out, leaves you with a stamp in your passport. The stamp is unique to the border crossing you passed through.* It can be Moscow’s Sherementovo airport or Saint Peterburg’s Pulkovo. When you travel to Crimea from Russia, however, you do not get a stamp – Crimea is seen as part of Russia. As for traveling to Russia by crossing the DNR-border, we also had to make do without a stamp.


It’s not allowed to film at the block post. Just a few hundred meters divide the positions of the Ukrainian army from the positions of the DPR army. This is the border crossing near the town of Debaltsevo. A place where less than a year ago a fierce battle was fought between the DPR and Ukraine forces resulting in capture of Debaltsevo by the Donetsk People’s Republic. The battle has been fought but the atmosphere is still tense. There are big concrete blocks, bunkers, sandbags and soldiers with Kalashnikovs standing on guard.

We would hear later about a woman that wanted to cross the contact line between the DPR and Ukraine. While doing so she was shot dead in between a DLPR and Ukrainian roadblock, supposedly by Ukrainian fire. Her body lay in no-man’s-land for several days before finally having been collected. The story was widely known in the area, but despite that, buses and cars were crossing every minute or so.

“All border crossings to Ukraine are located in ‘hot areas’. For example, in Zaitsevo, Marinka, Stanitsa Luganskaya.”, Yevgenia van Amerongen, owner of a travel company in Lugansk, explains. “There are two ways to go to Ukraine from the ‘Anti-Terrorism zone’: a legal one and a non-legal one.” In the first variant, it is needed to apply at Ukraine for the passage using a special website. However it’s only possible if one has a valid Ukrainian passport and it may be necessary to wait up till two weeks. “Only ‘pleasing Ukrainians’ can arrange for passage. If you are on a list of separatists, then you will not be allowed to pass. Consequently, the first legal variant is dangerous and not always possible.” **

The non-legal variant is traveling to Ukraine via Russia. “If a Ukrainian goes into Ukraine from Russian territory, then it’s legal. But if he comes to Ukraine from the territory of the LPR or DPR it is not legal.” Traveling via Russia means that a Ukrainian needs a valid domestic or foreign passport***. If due to war someone lost his or her passport or never owned one in the case of a child, then it is impossible to travel to Ukraine. This is also the case if the picture inside someone’s passport has not been refreshed at 25 or 45 years of age.

Ukraine sees crossing the border from Russia to the DLPR and to Crimea as a violation of its territorial integrity. Ukraine has therefore enforced penalties for crossing its border without permission. A famous example is when singer Yulia Samoilova was denied entry to Ukraine for traveling to Crimea without Ukraine’s permission. Samoilova was therefore not able to participate in the Eurovision Song Festival on behalf of Russia. (1) More recently Willy Wimmer, former Parliamentary state secretary of defence in German parliament, was banned entry to Ukraine for a period of five years. The reason was visiting Crimea via Russian territory. (2)

Ukrainians living in Donbass that want to travel to Ukraine are faced with similar problems. Van Amerongen explains what happens to a person going from Donbass to Ukraine via Russia. “If Russian customs gives this person a stamp in his passport upon entering Russian, then Ukrainian customs will punish this person with a fine of 1700 Hryvnias (57 euros) for illegally crossing the border.” One should remember that this sum is about equal to the average monthly wage in Donetsk.

Recently, the situation concerning DLPR citizens traveling abroad has somewhat changed. In February, the Russian Federation has recognized most official documents from the DNR, including passports. This means that those citizens owning a DPR or LPR passport are able to travel to Russia. Children that never owned a foreign passport before, or those people who lost their passports are now able at travel at least to Russia.

A line of trucks and cars signals the upcoming border crossing between Russia and DNR. “Normally it’s not that busy here”, our cab driver tells us. “It’s because of the holiday season.” Crossing the border, our passports were checked, vehicles inspected, asked what we would do in Donetsk. When it all checked out we were let through. We were in a different country all right, but the Russian border guards spared us a stamp in our passports.


*Please note: if you want to travel to Russia for the first time: remember to get a visa as well.

**An example of someone fearing to be on such a list is Elena, from an earlier article. She admitted not traveling to Ukraine for several years.

***In Ukraine and Russian there are two passports: a domestic passport and a foreign passport. In the case of traveling to Russia, a Ukrainian citizen can use either of them.

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Association Treaty with Ukraine is adopted by The Netherlands

Dutch senate has ratified the European Association agreement with Ukraine. The adaptation is controversial because Dutch voters rejected the treaty in a referendum last year in April. The vote will result in the permanent adaptation of the treaty in Europe.

With today’s vote the Dutch senate has adopted the European Association Treaty with Ukraine. Being the last EU-member state to have ratified the treaty, the vote implies that the Association Treaty will now permanently be adopted by all EU member states. Consequently, the treaty will obligate Ukraine to distance itself from the Russian Federation and move closer to the EU. The Dutch senate has voted in favor despite that the treaty has sparked the Maidan and consequently led to the civil war in Ukraine due to pro-western orientation of the Association Treaty.


The adoption of the treaty is controversial. Last year in April a referendum was held in The Netherlands in which 61% of the people who cast their votes rejected the Association agreement. In the months following the referendum most political parties vowed to accept the outcome of the referendum. Nevertheless, a majority of political parties has been secured in both houses of parliament.

The Ukraine referendum is not the first time that the Dutch government has chosen to ignore the results of a referendum. Back in 2005 voters rejected the proposed European Constitution. Though the Constitution itself was not adopted, it was replaced by a treaty similar in function as the original constitution but under a different name: The Treaty of Lisbon.

Low Turnout

With 32% the voters showing up to vote, the turnout was low. The low attendance resulted in criticism whether the result reflected the true will of the Dutch population. One of the reason for suggesting this was that many voters deliberately chose to stay at home in the hope that the mandatory 30%-voter threshold would not be met. Nevertheless, a poll done by Dutch TV station, RTL4, shows that even if all voters would have shown up, the result would have been a rejection of the treaty.(2) This suggests that a group of voters stayed at home expecting that the referendum result will not be respected.

Legally Binding

Despite the referendum not being legally binding most political parties did indicate to respect the referendum result. However Prime Minister Rutte did push forward the Association Treaty. But to meet with criticism Rutte has added a ‘legally binding appendix’ to the association treaty. The appendix is supposed to meet the main criticism of the no-voters such as to prevent Ukraine from becoming a candidate member state of the EU. Furthermore, the appendix further clarifies that the treaty does not permit Ukraine from receiving military assistance, funds or permitting Ukrainian nationals to work in the EU.

The claim of Prime Minister Rutte that the appendix is legally binding is rather questionable. During the debate about the appendix several members of parliament have expressed their concerns whether the appendix is indeed binding, pointing at the fact that Ukraine itself has not signed the appendix.(4)(6) Furthermore, the highest administrative court in the Netherlands, de Raad van State, writes concerning the treaty’s legal status: “About what the addition of the appendix in juridical term does and does not mean the appendix is insufficiently explicit.”(3)*

European Interference

The whole referendum has been overshadowed by influence from the European Union. In the months preceding the vote, president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker warned that a no-vote ‘might lead to a continental crisis in Europe’. Saying that Russia might pick the fruits of an easy victory.(1)

When asked in Parliament why the Dutch government had not yet decided on what to do with the referendum results (as is mandatory by law) prime minister Mark Rutte replied: “Because of the simple reason that the UK referendum is also taking place. Adding that our political taxation and also the first signals we received from our European partners is that we first want to have that out of the way.(2)

Dutch government and political parties also have been pressured by the EU and other EU member states. Dutch TV channel RTL 4 uncovered that both Juncker and chancellor Angela Merkel have pushed Dutch prime minister Rutte to come up with a solution to save the Association Treaty. The associated pressure resulted in a lot of phone calls and text messages from European politicians, employers organizations, foreign sister parties and famous politicians to influence the parties reluctant to vote in favor of the treaty.(5)


The EU-Ukraine Association Agreement has been a source of controversy ever since Ukraine’s former president Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign the deal. The act of Yanukovych not signing the treaty sparked protests on the Maidan square eventually leading to the over through of Yanukovych’s government. The strong anti-Russia sentiment of the protests would anger ethnic Russians in Ukraine. This anger resulted in a referendum in Crimea. In this referendum Crimeans would choose for Crimea to join the Russian Federation. The anti-Russian sentiments of the Maidan would also lead to the civil war in Eastern Ukraine.

Despite far reaching effects on the relationship between Ukraine and Russia and the controversy in Ukraine itself, Ukraine did ratify the treaty. More so, the ratification took place after the toppling of Yanukovych’ government but before any elections were held. The treaty will obligate Ukraine to synchronize its economies to European Standards (instead of Russian ones), but also to converge its foreign and defense policy with that of the EU. (7)

See also: Ukraine and freedom of press: are journalists allowed to write what they want in Ukraine?



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2 –ïne
“As soon as possible, why not the coming weeks? Because of the simple reason that the UK referendum is also taking place. And our political taxation and also the first signals we received from our European partners is that we first want to have that out of the way, thatis the 23rd of june. That has to be over with before people openly want to talk about this. This does not mean that behind the sences nothing can take place. But the official conversations in Brussels can only lead to conclusions, and what us concerns, as quickly as possible after the 23rd of june.
Tot slot Voorzitter, zo spoedig mogelijk, waarom niet de komende weken? Om de Simpele reden er dat ook het VK referendum speelt. En onze politieke taxatie en ook de eerste signalen die we krijgen van onze Europese partners is dat we dat eerst weg willen hebben, dat is 23 juni. Dat moet eerst voorbij zijn voordat men openlijk hierover wil spreken. Dat betekend niet dat er achter de schermen niets kan gebeuren, maar het openlijke gesprek in Brussel hierover kan pas tot conclusies leiden en wat ons betreft heel snel na 23 juni.

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7 – Art 4, Art. 10, Introduction.

* Please note: the translation I have proposed here has filled in the signal words. The part I have quoted in the text is: “Over wat het besluit in juridische zin wel en niet betekent is de toelichting echter nog niet voldoende expliciet.”


Picture in header:ïne#/media/File:Un-ukraine.png

Donbass and the freedom to write what you want

With the sound of a coffee machine at the background, we started our first interview with a local journalist, working in here since the start of the conflict. After the usual introductionairy questions we asked her the obvious question about freedom of press in the Donetsk People’s Republic: why don’t you dare to show your face on camera?


The airplane’s delay gave us only ten minutes to spare to get into our train, we found a replacement for the coach we would be traveling in when we arrived in Rostov. Everything went just fine until now, the most essential part of the trip: the border crossing with the DNR. Despite all the positive experiences with Russia the last year, the Russian stereotype of security officials saying “NJET!” was very much alive. The atmosphere was tense, would this be the moment that all the hard work of the last four months of preparation would prove in vain? The guard looked and he joked to his colleague: “Look they are worried! Better rattle your handcuffs.” – The joke broke the ice. Strange how relaxing that sound could be while waiting at a Russian border post. We were unaware how much trouble we were getting ourselves into at that very moment. Yet, just as much, we did not fully realize how much trouble we were being saved.

In 2015, a group of independent American and Lebanese journalists, would arrive in Donetsk. They were behind schedule, and such, were only left with three days to make their reports from Donetsk. A local journalist, Helga Green, met them. She recalls the meeting: “They travelled through Ukraine. First they came to Kiev.” And talking about their journey into Donbass: “They told me that, when they revealed their interest in visiting rebellious territories, they met with deep resentment on the part of the Ukrainian authorities.” The delay being caused by the subsequent ‘good deal of red tape and hindrances’ left them short on time. She adds “That is why most reporters come via Rostov.”

The story which surprised me most was that of Oxana Chelysheva, a journalist that has been living in exile fearing to return to her home country Russia. Not being able to travel via Russia, she had to take the Ukraine-route. If anything, I have would expected a Russian dissident to be gladly given passage by a country which so much struggles against ‘Russian aggression’, yet ironically, she writes: “While I could have been in Donetsk, all westerners went to Donetsk via the Russian Federation.”

Such stories played a large role in deciding to take the more expensive, more complicated, and longer route via Moscow, Rostov and finally Donetsk.* Yet, the route via the Russian-steppe, was met with much resent from people with strong mistrust in Russia and some western journalists alike. The former were sure to point out, rather fanatically, that by traveling to ‘Ukraine’s occupied territories’ via Russia, we were in fact violating the law. The above-mentioned journalists in turn looked at the route with much suspicion. Why travel via Russia, when you could travel via Ukraine? Indeed, even months after returning to the Netherlands, a major Dutch newspaper would still write about our chosen route with distrust: “Instead of traveling to rebel held area via Ukraine, like almost all journalists do, the two would choose a route via Russia.” (1)



Photo: Michel Spekkers

Back to the café: a pseudonym: “Elena”, and a picture of back of her head – that’s all you, as my reader, will have to make due. This was the reality of the DNR, she did not dare to show her face in fear of repercussions to her family. Elena was born and raised in Donetsk and now works there a journalist. She is employed in for a big news organisation in Russia. “In Ukraine live my close relatives”, she replies when asked why she did not want to show her face. “I am simply scared that if I will show my face and people will see this report that my family will get into trouble. They might be summoned by the SBU (Ukrainian secret service), interrogated. I do not want there to problems for them because of that.”

There is another reason for preferring to stay anonymous, she remains to be a citizen of Ukraine. “I would not like to travel over there and that they would hold me and say, here, we made up some kind of article about separatism and terrorism and would imprison me.”

Another journalist we talked to is Katya Katina. She tells us she wanted to enlist in the local militia, but instead of fighting, the former model was asked to make reports about the conflict. She was confronted that she does show her face, and was asked why other journalist do not want to reveal their identities. She thinks it might be because they might have families in Ukraine. “When I have interviews with soldiers in the DPR-army, the same problem.” She explains. “Lots of them have parents, they have families, they have on the Ukrainian territory and of course it is just a question of safety.”

“There are a lot of examples”, Elena tells us about journalists working in Donbass, but having problems in Ukrainian controlled territory. “There is in Ukraine a site called ‘Mirotvorjets’, they publish all information about all journalists and their relatives with passports, birthdates… And people, who have relatives over there, are being lured to come to Ukraine such that he can be imprisoned by pressuring their families.”


Snapshow of Mirotvorjets, this page shows the profile of Vladislav Zelenyj, foto of passport and adress included.

Katina gives a similar account when asked what might happen with soldiers or journalists if they reveal the identity. “Well I think SBU can take their parents or the wives and so on, you know they have all these inquiries.” She gives an example of what happened to a soldier some time ago: “We know already that such situations happened, when some soldier showed his face and the next day SBU guys came and they even took the families to the prison. So everything can happen, so people think about the safety of their relatives.”

While listening to the recording of the interview with Elena, one cannot help but notice how often we have asked her if she felt safe in Donetsk. But she keeps answering the same: she does feel safe to do her work here. She explains that she might receive comments, for example if she did not understood and reported something not completely correct. “But”, she says, “forbidding me to write something, that does not happen. I did not hear about such cases. Maybe it happened with other journalists, but personally, I did not hear about it.” It seems as if western prejudice of what is supposed to be happening in Donbass fades only slowly. “So you feel free to do your job?” we asked, as if checking that we did not hear something incorrectly, yet Elena again repeats herself: “In general, yes.”



* Another reason was that it was unclear whether Ukraine would choose to arrest me. As loyal readers know [link], I have visited Crimea the summer before by traveling there via Russia. The sentence for entering ‘Ukraine’s occupied territories’ illegally, could mount up to five years of jail time.

1 – De Volkskrant, 13 mei 2017, “Voor het karretje van de Russen”, by Bert Assink and Gerben van den Noorda.


Reporting from Donbass: We still need to get you to the airport

This was the same street I had seen on a video just a few days ago. One cannot help but wonder what makes that street so ghastly. Maybe even more then the destroyed houses was the ground. Only months and months later you realize what my subconscious had already long since figured out; a normal street has grass. But this one, deserted, allowed only for weed to grow wild in summer, leaving a comfortless picture of mud for winter and fall.

As far as trees were left, they were being cut. Where once the ground was flat, it now was heaped up in piles of dirt as long as the road stretched. This was the area around the Donetsk Sergej Prokovjev airport. The place where fighting was going on literally from the start of the civil war in Ukraine till the present day.


Nothing could speak to the conscious mind of this more, then the constant stream of destroyed houses. Some had a just few tiles of the roof blown off, others, less lucky, lost their entire roofs. Some had no more need for doors as the whole front of the house was blown up.

“This used to be a very popular place to live”, Graham Phillips explained. A lot of people build their houses here. Now, only some people could be seen here and there, some stray dogs, that was it. Sometimes one could see the writing “ЗДЕСЬ ЖИВУТ ЛЮДИ” – “Here live people”, which was a starch reminder of the time that the fighting was going on, while people were still in their houses. In rare cases, one could see that the writing was changed to say: “Here live people with guns.” More ironic still, was that on some places, one could see the writing, probably from before the war: “For sale.”


“Are there still people living here”, I asked Phillips. “Yeah, yeah”, he replied. “Can we visit some of them?” and after a pause, thinking, he responded, “ Probably yes”, and while driving to the house to visit, there was the strange sight of a man, building a snow man amidst the ruins, together with his daughter. They still lived here, but this despite their situation, the man waved at us and greeted us with a smile.

The family we visited, consisting of a pensioned miner and his mother, farther up on the road, was located at the edge of the village at the airport. One of their houses, seemingly, without too much damage, the other had an improvised roof made from United Nations relieve packages. Just a few weeks ago, this was one of the places where Patrick Lancaster delivered aid with his fund: aid packages, some food, including a chicken.

After having been shown the house, we were invited for tea. “Yes”, I said, just a quick cup of tea and on our way again. But this wasn’t The Netherlands, where one is lucky when one is offered a cookie to go with your coffee, this is the Russian world. While just having been explained that they need to come by from about 30 euro’s a month, we were served a dish called ‘Golodetsk.’ We silently knew that it was made from the same chicken Patrick brought these people just days before.

“There”, the pension’s mother pointed to area not under DNR control, “There are the fascists! The bandarites!” Without other income, the two were forced to keep living in their damaged house as moving was impossible. Only a month ago, their side house’s roof was blown off by a mortar, while it was just was repaired by another mortar strike some more time ago. It was the third time a mortar hit their residence. For the first one landed right in their kitchen, with the pensioned mineworker being right in the next room. The shell failed to explode.

A few days later, having just finished an interview, we were on our way back to our hotel. While all of a sudden, we heard a bolt of lightning. Yet there was no flash. The sound came from the airport, and all of the sudden, realizing what is was, the taste of Golodets was back in my mouth.

Disinformation as a Weapon in Hybrid Warfare

A recently held talk given in The Hague gives insight in the way Russian media, press statements and other forms of information, are perceived in the west. Among the speakers part of the conference was Mark Laity, Chief Strategic Communications (1) at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE). His talk gives insight in how Russian’s press statements and media strategy are perceived in NATO.

‘Disinformation is launched for a reason, it has a goal’, says Marc Laity, Chief Strategic Communications at SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) at NATO. ‘Hence, publishing of a certain piece of information is linked to a certain event and made to influence certain players.’

To explain the Russian view of information warfare, Mister Laity refers to a well-known article written by General of the (Russian) army, Valery Gerasimov. Laity places stress on the fact that ‘Information Conflict’ is placed in between the non-military and military measures and stretches from the beginning of a conflict to its end. Hence the ‘information conflict’ is being fought if only a potential military threat is present. “We needs to stop thinking that there is war and there is peace.”, Laity concludes from this. “Informational confrontation does not a ‘pre’ to an invasion, but is a permanent state.”

As an example of the working of Russian disinformation Laity uses the recent publishing of radar data by the Russian government. While the Dutch Joint Investigation Team (JIT) just published its report claiming the responsibility of a separatist operated BUK-system. The Russian released radar images allegedly shows that the missile could not have been fired from the site indicated by the JIT. The result is that anyone viewing the events at home is puzzled what account to believe.

A similar example is giving about Crimea. Initially president Putin said that the soldiers appearing from nowhere all over Crimea were not Russian. However, at a later moment in time he would admit that, indeed these men were Russian soldiers. The result of initial denial is that western powers, not knowing who these soldiers are. Because western countries do not possess a picture of what exactly is happening, they are to postpone their reaction until it is too late.

The above cases are used by Laity to demonstrate that parties are paralyzed by the multitude of information. For example, governments do not know what is going on and therefore incapable of taking serious measures. While at home, using the mistrust in governments, one might lead to discredit the fact in total, not being able to know what is true and what is not. Resulting in a reaction, as Laity put it, “God, I do not know! Stuff it!”

‘So what is NATO doing?’ was a reaction from the audience. ‘Does NATO have a counter strategy?’ Laity responds by saying that there are insufficient resources at a tactical level. To demonstrate this Laity refers to supposedly Russian ‘troll farms’, organizations in Russia solely dedicated to making comments on forums and spreading pro-Russian information. ‘Russia has a clear idea what to do, but in the West we do not’. Laity adds that before NATO formulates any strategy, NATO should have a clear idea what the Russian strategy actually is.

The moderator of the conference adds an interesting remark to Laity’s strategy. He states that Russia’s attempt to influence public opinion is a 24h industry and that the West is insufficient in combatting this. Adding that ‘We in the west only come up with propaganda on a project basis like in Iraq.’ This last remark put into perspective some of Laity’s words. Indeed, the west also makes use of propaganda and while discussing Russia’s attempt of ‘disinformation’ this is often forgotten. When certain information of Russian origin is referred to as disinformation does not automatically make it as such. Indeed the Chief of Strategic Communications at SHAPE, might well have his own reason to spin certain information in a certain way. While discussing Russia’s information strategy, Laity suggested that much Russian information is incorrect. While in fact (if not the vast majority), a significant part of information of Russian origin is different information (but true), and from a different perspective.

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Russia now recognises passports from DNR and LNR (EN/NL)

When talking about Donbass only seldom does one hear how people’s lives are affected by that the countries they live in are not recognised. The recent recognition by Russia of passports and other documents published in Donbass looks like at a step forward for many living in the area. This article searches to describe some of the effects of the recent decision by the Russian Federation (RF). The article further attempts to describe the geo-political context in which RF has made her decision.

Voor Tekst in Nederlands, zie onder.

Look at a map anywhere in the world, and one would see that the territories of Donbass are part of Ukraine. However, Ukraine has little to say what is happening in the territories controlled by the DNR and LNR: these are de-facto independent countries, with its own police, own government and own documents. But these documents are handed out by a country no other country in the world recognises. The recent signing of a presidential decree by Russian president Putin changes this situation, at least in Russia.

Before the decree many people in the DLNR* were dependent on to their Ukrainian passports. Without them it is impossible to travel abroad to, say Russia. If one does not possess a Ukrainian passport because one might have lost it in the course of the war, one cannot leave the country. The dependency on a Ukrainian passport is even bigger when one realises that many people chose not to travel domestically when going to the Ukrainian controlled territory. Evgenia van Amerongen, a manager working at a bus company, explains the difficulties:

 “One needs to make the crossing via the line of separation (between Donbass and Ukraine – SB), the crossing goes via checkpoint of DNR/LNR and Ukraine. All these posts are located in ‘hot areas’. For example Zaitsevo, Marinka, Stantisija Luganskaya.”

Because a large number of people want to avoid risking their lives they chose to travel via Russia and hence need a Ukrainian travel document. This situation changes now the Russian Federation has decided to recognise passports from the Donbass, even letting residents from the Donbass travel without the need of a visa.

“If a child is born in the LNR, how does one receive a birth certificate?” Van Amerongen adds continuing on documents which are not recognised. “The parents need to go to Ukraine and provide a document from the hospital where the child was born. But the hospitals are in the LNR and Ukraine does not recognise these documents. Hence, there is a child, but it does not exist juridically.”  There are similar situations when someone dies: a Ukrainian citizen that dies in Donbass, might judicially live forever. Though the Presidential decree does not change anything about the situation in Ukraine, it does help to deal with associated legal issues in the Russian Federation.

A similar situation exists for students. Just two weeks ago students studying in Lugansk or Donetsk were never assured whether the degree for which they are learning would ever be worth something. Only recently the ministry of education of the RF temporarily recognized diplomas from the DLNR*. This previous measure still puts students in limbo whether their diplomas would recognized the next year. “Before certificates of education were recognized by Russian universities, due to a decree of the Ministry of education.” Sana Samoylenko, a student at the University of Lugansk explains. “the decree was be signed for a year, so every next year the Ministry of education would extend it.” The new decree removes this doubt. Samoylenko: “Now students are assured that their certificates of education will be accepted, without fear that the previous decree of Ministry of education does not extend.

Next to educational papers, vehicle registration papers are also accepted from the DLNR.

Geopolitical context

It goes without a doubt that Russia’s decision to recognise documents from the DLNR will not be welcomed in the west. Indeed, Ukrainian President Poroshenko has gone so far as to say that the decision ‘is proof for Russia’s occupation of the Donbass.‘

Though, the presidential decree by no means is a recognition of the DNR and LNR. (The decree refers to them as ‘territories of the separated regions of the Donetsk and Lugansk Oblats of Ukraine: «территории отдельных районов Донецкой и Луганской областей Украины») But, nonetheless, the Russian Federation will have understood that the decision should have counted on little sympathy and understanding from the western world.

The decision comes days after a tweet written by Donald Trump on Wednesday. In this tweet Trump states that Crimea was taken by Russia from Ukraine.


The tweet follows a statement made by US press secretary Sean Spicer a day earlier. According to Spicer “President Trump has made it very clear that he expects the Russian government to deescalate violence in the Ukraine and return Crimea.”

Russian Federation’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Maria Zakharova answered these statements by saying on Wednesday that “We do not return our territories. Crimea is a territory of the Russian Federation. – That’s all.”

Later die week, on Saturday, Putin would sign the above mentioned decree, recognizing all associated documents upon signing the decree. The following Monday Dmitri Peskov, spokesperson of the Russian President would explain the signing as a humanitarian gesture. Pointing to regular blockades of the rebel-controlled areas by Ukraine.

The timing of the measure seems to indicate that the measure is intended (amongst others) as a signal to the Trump administration that RF will not give back Crimea, nor will it cease its help towards the Donbass. Rather, quite the contrary, Russia might even intensifies its bonds with Donbass when Washington questions Moscow’s territorial claims.

But whatever underlying motives, and whatever opinions diplomats might have on Russia’s recent decision, for those living in Donbass Russia’s recognition of DLNR papers will somewhat ease their lives.

*DLNR : Abbreviation for Donetsk and Lugansk People’s republics.

Rusland erkent nu paspoorten uit de DNR en de LNR

Wanneer er wordt gesproken over Donbass wordt er maar zelden genoemd hoe mensen hun levens worden beïnvloed doordat hun land niet is erkent. De recente erkenning van Rusland van paspoorten en andere documenten uit Donbass lijkt een stap voorwaarts te zijn voor velen die in het gebied wonen. Dit artikel hoopt een aantal effecten te beschrijven van de recente beslissing van de Russische Federatie (RF).  Ver hoopt dit artikel een geo-politieke achtergrond te geven waarin de RF haar beslissing heeft genomen.

Kijk naar een kaart op een willekeurige plaats in de wereld en je ziet dat Donbass een onderdeel is van Oekraïne. Echter, Oekraïne heeft maar weinig invloed in de gebieden die gecontroleerd worden door de DNR en LNR: het zijn in feite onafhankelijke landen met haar eigen politie, overheid en haar eigen documenten. Maar deze documenten zijn uitgegeven door een land dat geen enkel ander land in de wereld erkent. Het recente ondertekenen van een presidentiele verordening van de Russische president Putin veranderd deze situatie, althans in Rusland.

Voor de verordening waren veel mensen in de DLNR* afhankelijk van hun Oekraïnse paspoorten. Zonder deze paspoorten was het onmogelijk om naar het buitenland te reizen, naar Rusland bijvoorbeeld. Als men niet beschikte over een Oekraïens paspoort omdat men het tijdens de burgeroorlog kwijt was geraakt, kon men de DLNR niet uit. De afhankelijkheid van een Oekraïens paspoorts is zelfs nog groter als men bedenkt dat veel mensen er voor kiezen niet intern gaan het door Oekraïne gecontroleerd territorium te reizen. Evgenia van Amerongen, een manager die werkt voor een busbedrijf, legt de moeilijkheden uit:

“Men moet de oversteek maken via de scheidingslijn (tussen Donbass en Oekraïne – SB), de oversteekt verloopt via een controle post van de DNR/LNR en Oekraïne. Al deze controle posten bevinden zich en ‘instabiele gebieden.’ Bijvoorbeeld Zaitsevo, Marinka, Stantisija Luganskaya.”

Omdat een grote hoeveelheid mensen hun leven niet willen riskeren, kiezen ze ervoor te reizen via Rusland en dus hebben ze een Oekraïens reisdocument nodig. De situatie is veranderd nu de Russische Federatie besloten heeft paspoorten uit Donbas te erkennen, inwoners uit Donbas kunnen zelfs reizen zonder visum.

“Als een kind is geboren in de LNR, hoe kan men dan een geboorteakte krijgen?”, voegt Van Amerongen, sprekende over de niet erkende documenten, toe. “De ouders moeten naar Oekraïne en daar documenten laten zien van het ziekenhuis waar het kind is geboren. Maar de ziekenhuizen bevinden zich in de LNR en Oekraïne erkent deze documenten niets. Dus, er bestaat een kind, maar juridisch bestaat het niet.” Een soortgelijke situatie bestaat als iemand komt te overlijden: een Oekraïense burger die sterft in Donbass, kan juridisch voor altijd blijven doorleven. Hoewel de presidentiele verordening niets veranderd aan de situatie in Oekraïne, helpt het wel om te gaan met de geassocieerde juridische zaken in de Russische Federatie.

Een soort gelijke situatie bestaat onder studenten. Slechts twee week geleden waren studenten die studeerden in Lugansk of Donetsk er nooit van verzekerd of de graad waarvoor zij leerden ooit iets waard zou zijn. Slechte recentelijk heeft het ministerie van onderwijs van de RF tijdelijk diploma’s uit de DLNR erkent. Maar deze maatregel gaf studenten nog geen duidelijkheid of de diploma’s ook het volgende jaar nog erkent zouden zijn. “Voorheen waren onderwijs certificaten erkent door Russische Universiteiten, dmv een verordening van het ministerie van onderwijs.” Legt Sana Samoylenko uit, een student aan de Universiteit van Lugansk. “De verordening was ondertekent voor een jaar, dus ieder komend jaar zou het ministerie van onderwijs het moeten vernieuwen.” De nieuwe verordening haalt deze twijfel weg. Samoylenko: “Nu zijn studenten ervan verzekerd dat hun certificaten worden geaccepteerd, zonder de angst dat de vorige verordening van het ministerie van onderwijs niet zou worden voortgezet.”

Naast onderwijs certificaten, worden voertuig registratie uit de DLNR nu ook geaccepteerd in Rusland.

Geopolitieke Context

Het behoeft geen betoog dat Rusland heft beslissing om documenten uit de DLNR niet welkom worden geheten in het westen. De Oekraïense president Poroshenko heeft zich al uitgelaten dat de beslissing van Rusland “bewijs is van Rusland haar bezetting van de Donbass.”

Hoewel de presidentiele verordening geen erkenning is van de DNR of de LNR. (De verordening refereert naar hun als ‘het territorium van de afgescheiden regio’s van de Donetsk en Lugansk oblasts van Oekraïne.) Toch, moet de RF hebben begrepen op maar weinig sympathie kon rekenen vanuit de westerse wereld.

De beslissing voor erkenning komt slechts dagen naar een tweet die geschreven is door Donald Trump of woensdag. In deze tweet schrijft Trump dat de Krim door Rusland is afgepakt van Oekraïne.

De tweet volgt een verklaring die eerder die dag is gemaakt door Sean Spicer. Volgens Spicer: “President Trump heeft het heel duidelijk gemaakt dat hij verwacht dat de Russische overheid het geweld in Oekraïne de-escaleert en de Krim terug geeft.”

De woordvoerder van het Russisch ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken, Maria Zakharova, beantwoorde deze verklaring door op woensdag te zeggen dat “We geven ons territorium niet terug. Krim is een territorium van de Russische Federatie. – Dat is alles.”

Later in die week, op zaterdag, ondertekende Poetin de eerder genoemde verordening die alle geassocieerde documenten erkent zodra de verordening is ondertekend. De daarop volgende maandag heeft Dmitri Peskov, woordvoerder van de Russische President, de verordening uitgelegd als een humanitair gebaar. Wijzende op de reguliere blokkades van het door rebellen gecontroleerd gebied in Oekraïne.

De timing van de maatregel lijkt te wijzen dat de maatregel o.a. bedoeld is om een signaal te geven naar de Trump administratie dat de RF de Krim niet zal terug geven, noch zal het haar hulp naar Donbas stoppen. Daarvoor in de plaats het tegenovergestelde, Rusland intensifieert haar banden met Donbas toen Washinton Moscow territoriale grenzen in twijfel stelde.

Wat de onderliggende motieven ook mogen zijn, en wat de diplomaten ook mogen vinden van Rusland haar recente beslissing, voor degenen die leven in Donbas, zal Rusland haar erkenning van DLNR documenten, hun levens iets makkelijker maken.

*DLNR : Een afkorting voor de Volksrepublieken Donetsk en Lugansk.


Thoughts on Fake News

It has always been a mystery to me, how one has even been able to write the beastly propaganda during the First World War. How could a person believe that devils were fighting on the opposite side? How could a war break out seen as so senseless today, while seen as so justified back then?

Even more incredible to me was the thought that such a thing would ever happen again, at least, here in the free west. The west, that values freedom of expression so highly. – But that changed today.

Facebook has banned today, the channel RT, from posting justifying its action with the fight against ‘Fake News’. Even though the decision has no been reversed, it is a frightening discovery. The perception is such, that news coming from Russia is seen as untrue, is meant to disrupt, to paralyse, instead that it is seen as a conflicting yet parallel look at the world.

So much work I have done in order to understand better a country which is fear by so many, to understand her language, her culture and politics. But unfortunately, it seems that all this work has proved itself in vain; even willing to understand and talk the language no longer seem to be innocent affairs and would bear witness that I am a ‘Kremlin-propagandist.’

The fear that is housed within me for war, not only with Russia and the west, but worldwide, is stepping more and more firmly into reality. I dream of peace, but doing so I feel increasingly as a child, that is incapable of understanding the world.


Dutch Below


Het is voor mij altijd onbegrijpelijk geweest hoe men ooit de beestachtige propaganda heeft kunnen schrijven ten tijde van de eerste wereld oorlog. Hoe kan een mens geloven dat er duivels e.d. strijden voor de tegenovergestelde zijde? Hoe kan een oorlog uitbreken om niets en deze zo breed zijn uitgemeten en gerechtvaardigd zijn

Nog ongelofelijker was voor mij, dat zoiets ooit weer zou gebeuren, althans, hier in het vrije westen. Het westen dat de vrijheid van meningsuiting zo hoog koestert. Dat is verandert, vandaag.

Facebook heeft vandaag de zender RT verboden te posten onder het mom van het gevecht tegen ‘Fake News’ (vals nieuws). Hoewel inmiddels de beslissing is terug gedraaid, is dit een schikbarende ontwikkeling. De perceptie is zo, dat nieuws komende uit Rusland onjuist is, bedoeld is te verstoren, te verlammen, in plaats het te zien als een conflicterende doch parallelle kijk op de wereld.

Zo veel werk heb ik de afgelopen jaren verzet om een land beter te begrijpen dat zo velen vrezen, om de taal te leren, haar gebruiken en politiek. Maar laas, lijkt al dit werk nu vergeefs; zelfs willen begrijpen en de taal spreken blijken geen onschuldige zaken meer te zijn en zouden getuigen dat ik een ‘kremlin-propagandist’ ben.

De angst die ik al jaren heb voor oorlog, niet alleen tussen Rusland en het westen, maar wereldwijd, treed steeds fermer de werkelijkheid binnen. Ik droom van vrede, maar voel mij dan steeds meer als kind dat de wereld niet begrijpt.

Maria Zakharova’s statement on us being held

Translation of Maria Zakharova’s remarks about our detention:

Nederlands beneden / Dutch below.

Translation : Anastasia Karkdijk

“Another subject. A large number of comments on the arrest of the Dutch journalists at Schiphol airport on 7 January appeared in Russian mass media sources. As you know they were returning home from their trip to the crash site of the MH17 airplane (Boeing that belonged to Malaysian Airlines and crashed in 2014). The journalists were preparing the materials for a documentary about the catastrophe, and we got a request to comment on this. What can I say? We’ve really seen the news reports where it was said that the journalists have collected the parts of the crashed plane and body parts of the supposed victims of the crash. As it emerged, all the above mentioned parts are still located at the crash site and is not being examined by the collaborative investigation team under the direction of the Public Prosecution Service of the Netherlands. What does “as it emerged” mean? We have known it from the very beginning. Though more than two years from the moment of the catastrophe we’ve been constantly repeating that the extremely important parts of the crashed plane have not been removed from the site for the future examination by the investigation team. Now it is being brought to light by the journalists, including the journalists of the country that took the lead in the investigation. But it is of concern that this information will not reach the general public in the Netherlands, in Europe because we are afraid that these materials might be censored. But I really hope that this will not happen. I would like to continue and say that the extreme anxiety of the official Hague concerning the evidence of the inconsistency of work performed by the investigation team can be traced more and more in this episode. The signs are becoming clear that they fear that their work will be seen as not effective enough, and now the Dutch party is ready to put the handcuffs on their own journalists who are only trying to unravel the truth performing their professional duty. What about the freedom of speech?” (13-01-17)
BE AWARE! The translation has been done as good as possible according to the ability of the translated. Translation is not completely on point, especially the pieces between the []




Vertaling van de verklaring van Maria Zakharova naar aanleiding van onze aanhouding.

Vertaling van de verklaring van Maria Zakharova naar aanleiding van onze aanhouding.

“Nog een thema. Op Russische massamedia werd bericht gegeven over het vasthouden op 7 januari op vliegveld Schiphol in Nederland van twee journalisten. Zoals u weet zijn zij naar hun vaderland terug gekeerd nadat zij de crash-site hebben bezocht van het neergestorte verkeersvliegtuig van de Maleisische luchtvaartmaatschappij, de Boeing. Zij hebben materiaal verzameld over het maken van een documentaire over deze tragedie. Wij hebben hier verzoeken over ontvangen hierover commentaar te geven.

Ik kan zeggen dat wij inderdaad hebben gezien dat deze journalisten zijn vastgehouden en dat de correspondenten enkele elementen hebben verzameld van het vliegtuig. En eveneens een deel van het lichaam wat behoorde tot een van de slachtoffers van de catastrofe. Het blijkt dat dit alles zich nog steeds bevindt op de plek van de tragedie en dat het niet onderzocht is door onderzoeksgroepen waarmee het OM in Nederland mee samenwerkt.

Wat betekend dat ‘het bleek dat’. Voor ons was het direct duidelijk, vrij gesproken, vanaf het moment van de tragedie tot, meer dan twee jaar later, praten we over fragmenten, erg belangrijke fragmenten, die niet zijn gezien door de onderzoeksgroepen. Nu blijkt het, inclusief voor journalisten van het land dat het hoofddeel van het onderzoek op zich heeft genomen. Maar er is de angst dat deze informatie niet zal worden gebruikt in Nederland en Europa, omdat … wij een grote angst hebben dat dit materiaal gecensureerd kán worden. Deze angst bestaat. We hopen dat dit niet zal gebeuren.

In de huidige episode is een nervositeit van Den Haag te zien naar ieder willekeurig bewijs (het aantal daarvan neemt steeds toe) van het onvermogen van het onderzoek. (het idee is dat ze dat niet goed hebben gedaan) Daarom is de angst wel terecht dat hun handeling inderdaad niet volledig effectief kan blijken. (dat ze het onderzoek niet volledig gedaan hebben.) Nederland is nu bereid zijn eigen journalisten tegen te houden die hebben geprobeerd de waarheid te vinden volgens hun professionele plicht. (Ze heeft dat zeg maar met handboeien beschreven, maar de betekenis is dat ze jullie proberen tegen te houden). Maar hoe zit het dan met de (vrijheid van) meningsuiting?.

In de huidige episode is een nervositeit van Den Haag te zien naar ieder willekeurig bewijs (het aantal daarvan neemt steeds toe) van het onvermogen van het onderzoek. (het idee is dat ze dat niet goed hebben gedaan) Daarom is de angst wel terecht dat hun handeling inderdaad niet volledig effectief kan blijken. (dat ze het onderzoek niet volledig gedaan hebben.) Nederland is nu bereid zijn eigen journalisten tegen te houden die hebben geprobeerd de waarheid te vinden volgens hun professionele plicht. (Ze heeft dat zeg maar met handboeien beschreven, maar de betekenis is dat ze ons proberen tegen te houden – noot van de vertaalster). Maar hoe zit het dan met de (vrijheid van) meningsuiting?” (13-01-17)
LET OP! Vertaling naar vermogen zo goed mogelijk gedaan, maar helemaal scherp is het niet. Vooral delen tussen []



On the Confiscation of our Material

On Saturday, while arriving on Schiphol, we, Michel Spekkers and Stefan Beck were held by Dutch police and interrogated. During the interrogation, not only material of the MH17 was taken from us, also our laptops, telephones, SD-cards and camera’s. We lost all material shot in Donbass, including material recorded with anonymous sources. In this article we present an overview what happened, both before and after that day.

For Michel Spekkers’ account please visit:

Collecting the material from MH17

Our stay in Donbass mostly focussed on showing how people in the region experienced the conflict, their attitude towards Ukraine, Russia, Donbass. It was only on the last day of our stay that Michel Spekkers went to the MH17 crash-site together with local journalists. What he found there was shocking; it seemed as if the whole region was never thoroughly searched as pieces of the plane could still be found everywhere.

Moreover, not only was the material found in fields, where it might have been incidently overlooked by previous searches, it was also found still lying around in a shed formerly used for wreckage storage. However, this material was never collected. More so, even some material which might very well be human was abandoned by previous investigations.

vladislav-zelenyj© Vladislav Zelenyj:

Above: Shed where part of the MH17 material was discovered.

The tragic reality seems to be that the pieces lying in the area would be left there to weather away. Hence, any evidence about what happened to flight MH17 still present in the area would never be collected. Hence, Michel Spekkers has decided to film the location of all material, record them on GPS and some of it he has taken back to The Netherlands for investigation, something that, unfortunately, would never have happened without doing so.

Initial reactions from the Dutch Prosecuting service in public channels

The Dutch Prosecuting Service (OM), a party responsible for the investigation into the MH17, initial responded with the following comment in Omroep Brabant (A Dutch local news channel):

“Dat daar nu nog steeds van alles gevonden wordt, is logisch”, aldus een woordvoerder van het Landelijk Parket van het Openbaar Ministerie. “Het toestel kwam in een groot gebied terecht, waar het nu nog steeds onrustig en onveilig is. Dat maakt het bergen erg lastig.”

(From: )


“That there are still pieces being found over there, is logical.” Says a prokesperson of the Dutch Prosecuting Service. “The plane came down over a large area, where is is still unquiet and unsafe. This complicates retrieving the wreckage.”

We deem this statement as incorrect. First of all, during our stay in Donbass, we experienced the whole situation as rather quiet. Indeed, it might have been different in the past and there is still fighting going on near the front, but in cities there is very little going on. Locals told is that it has been a year since Donetsk itself was shelled and one should know that the MH17 crash-site is even father away from the front than Donetsk is. Also, there were no hostilities at all while Spekkers visited the crash-site.

The second statement, that pieces came down over a large area and there, for almost impossible to collect them all, does indeed make sense. However, pieces were also found in sheds, where the material was already collected and never retrieved. Amongst them were possible human remains.

Initial contact with authorities

It was never made a secret that material of the MH17 was taken with us. Indeed, it was even posted on twitter. Authorities therefore contacted Michel Spekkers and asked him to hand it over in either the Dutch embassy in Moscow or at Schiphol Airport. During the contact the police made clear they needed the material for investigation. More so,  they claimed that the handover would be voluntarily. Being such, there should also be a possibility to refuse. We have told authorities that we agreed on a rendezvous.

Arriving in Schiphol and Interogation.

Because of a disagreement about carrying a possible human remain, it was decided that Beck would leave the plane without Spekkers. Noticing Michel might be arrested Beck started filming the gate. However Beck never has seen Spekkers come out of the gate.

At the baggage retrieval, Beck noticed that the rucksack of Spekkers was incorrectly checked-in under his name by ground staff in Moscow. This is despite that his own suitecase, which was too heavy, was paid by him and we have the receipt to prove. Judging that his own luggage was not check in under his own name, he took out Michel his rucksack. A call by Michel, who was waiting under the supervision of the authorities, urged Beck to hand it over to Michel. But, before this could be done Beck was already stopped by police and brought to the interrogation room.


Receipt for paying for excess weight of Beck’s suitecase. Payment is made by Stefan Beck

The people interrogating Beck identified themselves as police. Eventhough, they showed a police card which supposedly showed their family names and initials, the interrogator was very much worried that his face might have been caught on camera. Also, the name used by the interrogator to introduce himself, Bert, did not correspond with the initials on the police pass. The interrogator also claimed to be married while not wearing a wedding-ring.

Both Spekkers and Beck were asked to unpack their bags and show all content they were carrying with them. During the conversation it was incorrectly said to Beck that Spekkers has agreed to voluntarily hand over the material. Beck knew, that, despite Spekkers was not against this, he also had not yet agreed on this.

Why did authorities took material from us?

During the interrogation, it was claimed that this material was needed for the MH17 investigation. Not before arriving was there ever any question about handing this material over. Nor was it ever asked to hand the video or photo material voluntarily. It was taken from Beck without any question whatsoever.


List of confiscated items of Stefan Beck

Of all material collected (see the above list) even Stefan Beck his Nokia 2630 was taken from him. Because, as was claimed, it might contain picture or recordings of the conversation or images of the crashsite.

Despite publicly announcing that MH17 material was taken with us, and that we were detained even before leaving customs, some media still claim that we were smuggling the material.

Anonymous Sources

We again want to stress that we fear for the safety of the people who we interviewed. The vast majority of our material was not about MH17, but about how people toughed about the area. Amongst the interviews, were people that did not want to have their faces shown and that might be identified via our material. By voice, photo’s or recordings.

The perception that these people are at risk, is generally not shared in the west. Therefore we would like to draw attention to the following. The photographer which travelled with Spekkers to the MH17 site, Vladislav Zelenyj, himself is a good example of this: because of his work in Donbass, he has been labelled a terrorist and pictures of him (including his passport!) are displayed at a website that categorized Journalist which are perceived as pro-DNR. The website can be found here:

We are very much afraid that a similar fate await some of the people which we interviewed.


Screenshot of Mirotvorets’ page about Vladislav Zelenyj, a photo journalist traveling with Spekkers to the MH17 crash-site.




Dutch Authorities confiscate MH17 material of journalists

All of the material collected by Michel Spekkers and me about the #MH17 crash in Donbass (Lugansk, and Donetsk) and other material, for example street interviews, has been confiscated by the police upon arrival to the Netherlands. The material includes images of annominous sources.
Also, material has been confiscate of the MH17 itself. The Dutch Public Prosecution Service (OM) claims that it itself could not collect this material because the region where the plane has crashed is too dangerous. However, during our stay in the area we noticed that this was not the case.

Another claim of the OM is that it is impossible to collect all the material of the wreckage because it has been spread over such a large area. It should therefore be impossible to fin dit all. This is a valid claim, however the OM also neglects to collect material which is collected in warehouses.

The incorrect reasoning of the OM and the confiscation of the material (including image material), gives rise to doubt about the auditability and reliability of the investigation.