Donetsk, Ukraine

By Marko Djurica

“You have got to meet the Mexican,” said Wolf.

“Who is the Mexican?” I asked.

“He is our boss, you can ask him about this barricade, come with me.”

Wolf was dressed in a green uniform without any insignia. “Donbass” – the eastern Ukrainian region where pro-Russian separatists seem to be increasingly gaining control – had been written on his green helmet in permanent marker.

His face was covered with a balaclava and he wore black boots and a black flak jacket, into which he had tucked a small baseball bat. He spoke great English and didn’t look more than 30 years old.

A masked pro-Russian protester poses inside a regional government building in Donetsk

As we approached a massive, eleven-story, Soviet building we passed stretches of barbed wire with old tires and various construction materials piled up behind them. I saw a poster that read: “The Mexican’s League” in orange letters. This was his barricade.

On March 3, a couple hundred pro-Russian demonstrators stormed the Donetsk regional government building after clashing with police who were guarding the main entrance. They successfully entered through a side door, and in the end made it to the second floor where the parliament sits. Unrest continued to spiral in Ukraine and the following month separatists declared a “People’s Republic of Donetsk”.

The confrontation began because the local population, made up mainly of Russian-speakers, seek less influence from Kiev over their region. Kiev and the West have accused Russia of being behind the upheaval, Moscow denies it. Now, two months after the initial attacks, demonstrators are inside the regional government buildings and masked men stand at the barricades.