UK & World News

  • 17 April 2014, 1:12

Tanks Doing Stunts Mask Fear In Ukraine

We arrived in Slavyansk to find an armoured personnel carrier (APC) performing stunts outside the mayor's office in the centre of town, to cheers and applause from the crowd.

The lead vehicle was flying a Russian flag, another: "Donbass self-defence."

At first they were greeted as heroes. 

A couple of hundred people gathered to watch, many bringing their children with them, posing for photos in front of tanks and APCs.

Some had brought flowers, which they laid on the vehicles, while others shook the men's hands and said "well done".

But not everyone here supports what is happening here. 

Several people approached us to make it clear that these men do not speak for all of the residents of Slavyansk.

One man told us he was sad to see the military hardware.

"Nobody wants this," he said.

Another woman, pushing a baby in a pram, said they were afraid to walk around with the children.

"They say they are peaceful, but we can't see any peace here," she said.

One of the APCs is parked around 20 metres from a children's playground.

There are masked men, carrying loaded automatic weapons, within sight of the children's swings.

But families are still coming to the playground, and life seems to be going on as normal, all around.

You have to negotiate two checkpoints to get into the town.

But once you get into the centre, people are still going to work, going to the shops, taking their children to school.

It does not feel like a town under siege.

But the situation is precariously poised.

As we filmed, a report came through on the activists' radios of a sniper near the outskirts of town.

They piled onto one of the APCs and roared off towards it - hardly the behaviour of professional soldiers - and clearly enjoying the attention.

But the Ukrainian Army position is 25 miles outside the town and it would not take much here to spark a very dangerous confrontation.

 

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