Slender Hopes

Putin’s Second Useless Ukraine Ceasefire

Putin, Poroshenko, Merkel, and Hollande worked through the night to reach a ceasefire agreement, but in eastern Ukraine nobody is sleeping easily.

02.12.15 5:50 PM ET

MOSCOW — On the night that leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine sat down to discuss a peace agreement for war-torn regions in eastern Ukraine, the city of Mariupol and its 400,000 people were shaken by the thunder and thuds of shells and mortar fire targeting the outskirts. It was the worst night in weeks, and a sleepless one for many families, especially in Vostochny district, which is the closest neighborhood to the front lines. Adults were terrified; children were traumatized.

There was, of course,  great hope for a real ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, but it will be days, or much longer, before anyone can be sure whether the agreement announced in Minsk on Thursday will hold up better than the protocol agreed in Minsk five months ago. That was supposed to bring a semblance of peace, too, but what followed was anything but.

After rockets hit Mariupol on January 24, killing at least 30 people and injuring over 100,  hundreds of children were left with serious psychological traumas. Ulyana Tokareva at city hall told The Daily Beast, "Our psychologists constantly receive calls. We are mostly worried about children ages six to eight who stop speaking or urinate in their sleep." After such traumas "many kids fall several years back in their development," she said.  There were four schools working every day in Vostochny district with about 800 children per school and four kindergartens, all in range of Grad rocket launchers. 

Would the ceasefire deal work this time? In Russia even liberal leaders believed that the West, particularly the United States, had gone too far with its threats. Mikhail Zygar, editor-in-chief of Russia's independent on-line Rain TV, said it was "quite a shock" for him to listen to Western leaders at the recent Munich security conference speaking of Russia as of an aggressor. 

He said he believed "Moscow never had a solid plan for Donbass," the eastern region of Ukraine, even if many in Moscow would like to see Ukraine fall apart.  "If the United Sates supplies weapons to Ukraine, their wish will come true," Zygar told The Daily Beast recently.

A prominent opposition leader, Vladimir Ryzhkov, insisted that Western leaders hinting that Putin was just as bad an aggressor as Hitler made a big mistake. "Putin does not tolerate when people insult him." But Ryzhkov, explaining Putin's motives for compromise, notes that "another year of war would mean thousands of casualties and more millions of refugees," and Putin "does not want to pay for destruction, for pensions and other Donbass costs."

Can a ceasefire deal work this time? Many human lives depend on that.

On a recent morning eight-year-old Alina from Vostochny district of Mariupol told The Daily Beast, that her "absolutely biggest dream" was the end of the war. That day Alina was taking her dog for a walk around a parking lot full of burned cars. She said she often woke up when she heard sharp or loud noises and rushed to hide in the basement. "My father said: 'It is not a bomb this time, just a car's backfire,'" Alina said.

Destruction, loss of loved ones, some 6,000 people killed many thousands more grievously injured physically and psychologically–the Ukrainians and Russians know well the consequences of this war: To prevent Europe from an even more disastrous and destructive conflict  Putin, Ukrainian Petro Poroshenko, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande gathered in Minsk this week. After the meeting, that lasted for over 12 hours through the night, the leaders managed to agree on ceasefire beginning midnight on February. Both Ukrainian an pro-Russian forces were supposed to move their artillery away from the current front line. Theoretically Valentine's Day would be the last day of combat.

Putin blamed Kiev for making the peace talks take so long. Speaking at a press conference after the meeting on Thursday, he said Kiev should have talked to the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. What was needed, he said, was  a constitutional reform that would protect the rights of people living in Donbass.

In Kiev, many felt pessimistic about the new Minsk agreement. One of Maidan activist, Poroshenko supporter and parliament deputy, Mustafa Nayyem, wrote on his Facebook page: "Obviously, this is the same ceasefire but with more difficult conditions for implementation than in September, 2014. I would have no illusions about the future–this is a temporary ceasefire."

Nayyem said that Ukraine should be insisting on getting more lethal weapons from the West so it can fight for full control over the country`s frontiers. "It is time to stop living with a victim's logics. " Nayyem added.

Ryzhkov disagreed: "The agreement is great positive news for Ukraine," Ryzhkov told The Daily Beast. "The country managed to gain control over its territory, hopefully over its border, too–at least on paper."

In Mariupol and many other cities and villages of eastern Ukraine, people hoped that now, at least, their children will be able to sleep at night.