In many regards, the social media posts appearing on forums devoted to life in the parts of eastern Ukraine that are controlled by Russia-backed separatist formations and surrounding areas focus on the same topics that worry people in other regions of that part of the world.
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Residents there actively discuss the problems of packs of wild dogs, rising prices of consumer goods, and what they see as the ineffectiveness of Russia’s Sputnik coronavirus vaccine in the face of the persistent omicron variant.
However, following weeks of reports that a Russian invasion could be imminent, and with more than 100,000 Russian troops massing across the border, people in these reaches of eastern Ukraine are naturally also worried that the conflict that has been simmering since major fighting was reduced following a February 2015 cease-fire deal could heat up once again.
The Kremlin denies any intention to invade its neighbor but has suggested that de-escalation is conditional on binding guarantees that NATO will never expand further eastward, especially to Ukraine, among other things.
“I’m so sick of these daily predictions,” one contributor wrote on the Russian social media site VK. “It’s fine for those who are sitting on a couch somewhere in Nizhny Novgorod or Krasnoyarsk far from our war to sit around and make predictions over beer and chips. But what is it like for us to read all this? We are like mice in a frying pan that are about to be put over the fire. And everyone is watching with interest. Over their beers and chips.”
A post on another forum seemed to capture the emotional stress that the region has been under.
“No one here believes in anything,” the user wrote. “Enough! Stop! People are sick of all this crap. And the most frightening thing in this situation is that we stopped being afraid. Even if something is true, we don’t believe it and we aren’t afraid.”
Also attracting attention was a recent statement by Denis Pushilin, the de facto head of the separatist-occupied part of Ukraine’s Donetsk region, in which he warned — without evidence — that Kyiv was planning “at any moment” to attack the region, known as the Donbas, and that everyone “should be ready for the worst-case scenario.”
“I thought we were already in the ‘worst-case scenario,'” one commentator wrote, apparently referring to the region’s years of isolation.
“And how would this be worse?” another user wrote about the purported attack. “How many years have we been marching in place, and they have been telling us that they’ll attack at any minute…? And nothing changes except the wrinkles on Pushilin’s face.”
Others expressed doubt about Moscow’s intentions in the conflict.
“Russia doesn’t need us,” one user wrote. “Russia only needed us before in order to get its hands on Crimea. Open your eyes!”
On a forum registered in the neighboring Luhansk region, users discussed proposals among Russia’s rulers to openly provide weapons to the separatist-controlled areas.
“Only those who live far from here could be happy to hear about a resumption of fighting,” one user wrote. While another countered sarcastically: “Yes — more weapons and more destruction! And then we can blame everything on America, Ukraine, China, and so on.”
One listener from Donetsk who identified herself only as Maria wrote that she and her family were trying to get on with life, despite the alarming reports.
“We no longer watch the news at all,” she wrote in an e-mail. “We have enough to worry about with day-to-day concerns and don’t have the time or the desire to think about geopolitics. From the outside, the situation in Donetsk seems calm. You don’t see any trainloads of military equipment or armed people walking around…. I don’t know the reason, but my family isn’t panicking. Maybe they are tired of being afraid — I don’t know.”
RFE/RL senior correspondent Robert Coalson contributed to this report.