Hugh Barnes


24 March 2022

Digital Army

Also queuing at the border post was Alex Sokol, a 46-year-old human resources manager at a Ukrainian bank. He’d been skiing in the Pyrenees when the Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, and he cut short his holiday to return home, even though he had no military background. ‘I have only seen weapons on TV,’ he said. ‘It’s better to give weapons to people who are experienced. But there’s lots of other things I know how to do. So I will do them, to help my country.’ One of the things he knew how to do was bulk purchasing. He’d left his skis in Andorra and flown to Poland with body armour in his luggage.

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15 March 2022

In Kharkiv

At the traffic lights on Sumy Street, in the centre of Kharkiv, a convoy of Russian tanks and armoured vehicles marked with a white letter ‘Z’ turned left towards Freedom Square. One of the largest squares in Europe, it’s home to Derzhprom, or the Palace of Industry, a spectacular constructivist building made up of towers and skyways that was photographed by Robert Byron in the late 1920s, and praised by Béla Bartók as a mix of Manhattan and the Bauhaus. There’s a black-and-white photograph of a Soviet T-34 tank parked in front of the Derzhprom during the Battle of Kharkiv in 1943.

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9 March 2022

In Zaporizhzhia

On Saturday, 5 March, I was arrested in Zaporizhzhia, in south-east Ukraine, for trying to get close to a nuclear power plant that had just been shelled by Vladimir Putin’s invading army.

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11 April 2014

In Donetsk

Most informed sources in Ukraine and Russia believe that the annexation of Crimea was planned and carried out by the siloviki (former KGB and security service officials close to Putin), and not by the foreign policy elite (including the foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and defence minister, Sergei Shoigu), whose influence has been waning since Putin veered to the right in the wake of the 2011-12 anti-government protests. A senior figure in the Yeltsin group told me that Putin is using the Ukraine crisis to cleanse the elite and to consolidate his support with the non-metropolitan public at large. It is no coincidence that the last few weeks have seen the Russian authorities cracking down on liberal and internet media. A former intelligence officer told me that influential members of the president’s inner circle, such as Sergei Ivanov, Nikolai Patrushev and Igor Sechin, view the confrontation with the United States and European Union as a good thing for Russia, an opportunity to make a long-advocated turn towards China.

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