Things haven’t been going so well for Ukraine’s military lately.
Over the past two weeks, pro-Russian separatists have occupied government buildings and set up roadblocks in a dozen cities across eastern Ukraine.
In Donetsk, protesters have barricaded themselves inside the regional administrative building with tires and razorwire, declaring it the independent “Donetsk People’s Republic.” They won’t budge, they say, until the “illegal” government in Kyiv steps down.
The flag of the so-called "Donetsk Federative Republic" waves above a barricade and a crowd gathered in front of the Donetsk regional administration building, held by pro-Russian militants, on April 8, 2014. (Alexander Khudoteply/AFP/Getty Images)
Ukrainian officials blame all of this on Russian operatives and have launched an anti-terrorism operation to contain the growing rebellion. But Ukrainian forces haven’t had much luck in recapturing the occupied buildings. As Mashable notes:
In several areas across the region Ukrainian troops defected to the Pro-Russian separatists, became trapped in strategic areas, or worse, forced to surrender and were taken prisoner.
These setbacks have motivated one Ukrainian billionaire to throw his money behind the country’s defense. Igor Kolomoisky, the staunchly pro-Kyiv governor of Dnipropetrovsk, is offering cash rewards to anyone who captures the following and hands them over to regional authorities.
- $1,000 for each machine gun
- $1,500 for each heavy machine gun
- $2,000 for each grenade launcher
- $10,000 for each “green man” (member of the Russian special services)
- $200,000 for each building liberated from the “Donbass” region militia.
Details were announced April 16 on the Facebook page of deputy governor (and fellow billionaire) Boris Filatov. According to Filatov, the mounting unrest is “a revolution of poverty” by “tired, desperate and unheard people”:
"The Yanukovich clique, who plunged our fellow citizens into the abyss of despair, today provokes their separatism, distributing stolen money and promising a future as part of a hostile neighboring state."
The bounties are meant as a counter-incentive, particularly in light of the Ukrainian army’s disastrous showing. Part of the problem is disorganization, coupled with low morale. A retired senior officer told the Daily Beast:
“The army has been poorly managed and neglected for years and the quality of overall leadership is questionable. We are sending them into a highly charged and complex situation which is being cleverly manipulated by Moscow.”
On April 16, 2014, local residents surrounded and captured a column of six armored vehicles outside of Kramatorsk. (BBC News/Facebook)
Specifically, Ukrainian soldiers deployed to the region must confront armed militants intermingled with civilians — without reinforcements, clear rules of engagement or in some cases, the stomach to shoot civilians.
A lack of resources only compounds the problem. Ukraine has around 6,000 active troops while Russia has over 1 million, including 50,000 amassed at the border alone. Equipment is run down and soldiers are poorly paid. Those who defected to Russia after Crimea’s annexation reportedly saw a fivefold increase in their salary, reports the Daily Beast.
But Kolomoisky’s offer is already seeing results. Mykhaylo Lysenko, the deputy chief of staff of the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast National Defense, told Radio Svoboda that bounties had already been paid for the detention of eight separatists — $10,000 each, or $80,000 total.
This is major progress. Just look at some of these setbacks suffered by the Ukraine military since this whole debacle began:
On April 13, Ukrainian forces attempted to regain control of the police station in Slovyansk but withdrew after an armed standoff.
On April 12, a group of pro-Russian militants captured the police station in Slovyansk, one of several seized in coordinated raids in the eastern region of Ukraine. According to Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, “The goal of the takeover was the guns” and 400 Makarov handguns and 20 automatic weapons were seized. The following day, a unit from Ukraine’s security services entered Slovyansk to regain the police station, but protesters had set up checkpoints on streets leading into town. After meeting stiff resistance and suffering casualties — including one officer killed and five others wounded — the soldiers withdrew to “regroup.”
In Slovyansk, a Lada was apparently seen chasing a Ukrainian tank.
The BBC reports: “Footage posted online purports to show pro-Russian activists in a Lada confronting a Ukrainian tank. The car's occupants pursue the tank across a field — apparently in the Donetsk town of Sloviansk — and instruct its driver to "turn the engine off".... The video, which cannot be independently verified, was uploaded on 14 April.”
On April 16, pro-Russian crowds captured a column of six armored vehicles outside of Slovyansk. The Ukrainian soldiers were sent home by bus.
Ukrainian forces recaptured an airfield outside Kramatorsk on April 15. The next day a column of six armored vehicles appeared in the town and headed toward nearby Sloviansk. A few kilometers outside of town, they were surrounded by a crowd of pro-Russian separatists that included Russian operatives. “The Ukrainian soldiers in the vehicles near Slovyansk mounted no resistance, allowing the partisans to mount Russian flags on the vehicles and drive them into the city, where they were greeted by cheering supported,” reported Voice of America. The troops were disarmed, fed, then sent home to Dnipropetrovsk by bus.
In Pchyolka, Ukrainian soldiers in armored vehicles were detained until they surrendered their ammunition.
The BBC reports, “In another incident, several hundred residents of Pchyolkino, south of Sloviansk, surrounded another column of 14 Ukrainian military vehicles. After the crowd was reinforced by pro-Russian gunmen, negotiations ensued and the troops were allowed to drive their vehicles away, but only after agreeing to surrender the magazines from their assault rifles.”
So, you know, any help they can get.