The ugliness of war makes getting at the truth no easy matter. In the fighting in eastern Ukraine, the pro-Ukraine media is blaming all abuses on anti-Kiev insurgents and pro-Russia media is demonizing Ukrainian government forces. The intense information war, with the media and social networks spewing all sorts of horrific myths and falsehoods, has buried rather than clarified the truth in a calculated attempt to prove that this side is righteous and that side is evil.
So, if you want to find out what really happened, you need to be there, speak in
detail to witnesses, carefully document casualties and destruction, examine shell entry points and fragments. When we read news reports about alleged civilian casualties from the July 2 aerial strikes in the Luhansk region of southeastern Ukraine, about 15 kilometers away from the Russian border, we hit the road straight away.
Ukrainian authorities denied responsibility for the attacks that hit the villages of Luhanskaya and Kondrashevka. They tried to blame the attacks on Russia first, suggesting that the villages were hit from a Russian jet, which sounded rather ludicrous as the region is controlled by pro-Russia insurgents. Then, they said that people died and homes were damaged as a result of insurgent fire from GRAD multiple rocket launchers. The latter version did not seem too credible either.
Before entering Luhanskaya village, we made a quick stop in Luhansk itself. Numerous media sources and bloggers claimed that fighting between Ukrainian forces and insurgents was in progress, but in fact the city seemed quiet, even sleepy, small children riding their bikes in the streets, shops and cafes bustling with customers. When we arrived at the local administration, however, this illusion of normalcy vanished immediately. Since April, insurgents have occupied the administration building, reportedly holding numerous captives in its basement. In the lobby, lots of men in fatigues with Kalashnikov assault rifles and combat knives were being waved through by security guards next to a sign, “Give up your weapon at this entry point.” Next to that sign, a picturesque poster featured two large photographs of a prominent journalist from Novaya Gazeta, Russia’s leading independent paper, describing her as an “enemy” and “provocateur” who was supposedly on the way to the region and had to be stopped.