Workers Take to Streets to Calm Tense Ukrainian City

One would like to think that this event happening right now in Mariupol, Ukraine, is important, that it means something, something good not only for the Ukraine, but for “humanity,” the fact that men can take their destinies in their own hands and by their own work fashion a better future for themselves. It’s that thinking that made the events in Tahrir and Tiananmen Squares so striking and exciting and truly memorable, although as perhaps in the present instance, fleeting.

Tiananmen Square  in 1989            Tahrir Square in 2011

Here is the article, taken from the Times (after Jill Abramson):

Workers Take to Streets to Calm Tense Ukrainian City

By ANDREW E. KRAMERMAY 15, 2014


A mill workshop at a plant in Mariupol, Ukraine, on Thursday. Credit Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

MARIUPOL, Ukraine — In what could represent a decisive turning point in the Ukrainian conflict and a setback for Russia, thousands of steelworkers fanned out Thursday over the city of Mariupol, establishing control over the streets and routing the pro-Kremlin militants who seized control several weeks ago.
By late Thursday, miners and steelworkers had deployed in at least five cities, including the regional capital, Donetsk, though they had not yet become the dominant force there that they are in Mariupol, the region’s second largest city and the site just last week of bloody confrontations between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian militants,.

The workers are employees of Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man and a recent convert to the side of Ukrainian unity, who on Wednesday issued a statement rejecting the separatist cause of the self-styled Donetsk People’s Republic but endorsing greater local autonomy. His decision to throw his weight fully behind the interim government in Kiev could inflict a body blow to the separatists, already reeling from Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s withdrawal of full-throated support last week.

Wearing only their protective clothing and hard-hats, the workers said they were “outside politics” and just trying to establish order. Faced with waves of steelworkers joined by the police, the pro-Russian protesters have melted away, as has any sign of the Donetsk People’s Republic or its representatives. Backhoes and dump trucks from the steelworkers’ factory dismantled all the barricades that had been erected.

Metinvest and DTEK, the two subsidiaries in metals and mining of Mr. Akhmetov’s company, System Capital Management, together employ 280,000 people in eastern Ukraine, forming an important and possibly decisive force in the region. They have a history of political activism stretching back to miner strikes that helped bring down the Soviet Union. In this conflict, they had not previously signaled their allegiance to one side or the other.

It was still too early to ascertain whether the separatists would regroup to resist the industrial workers, though none were to be found in and around Mariupol on Thursday, not even in the public administration building they had been occupying.
“We have to bring order to the city,” Aleksei Gorlov, a steelworker, said of his motivation for joining one of the unpaid and voluntary patrols that were organized at the Ilych Steel works. Groups of six or so steel workers accompany two policemen on the patrols. “People organize themselves,” he said. “In times of troubles, that is how it works.” Workers from another mill, Azov Steel, took one side of the city, while the Ilych factory took the other. Both groups were trying to convince longshoremen to patrol the port, Mr. Gorlov said.

The two steel mills fly Ukrainian flags outside their headquarters, though, like so much else in Ukraine, the lines of loyalty were muddled. At least a portion of the police in the city had mutinied on Friday, leading to a shootout with the Ukrainian national guard, which killed at least seven people.

The chief executive of Ilych Steel, Yuri Zinchenko, is leading the steelworker patrols in the city. He said the company had remained on the sidelines as long as possible, while tacitly supporting unity with Ukraine by conveying to workers that a separatist victory would close export markets in Europe, devastating the factory and the town.

The Ilych Steel Works, a grimy scene of mid-20th century industrial sprawl, is one of Ukraine’s most important factories, producing five million tons of slab steel a year. About 50,000 people work in the steel industry in Mariupol, a city of 460,000. So far, 18,000 steelworkers have signed up for the patrols, Metinvest executives say.

“There’s no family in Mariupol that’s not connected to the steel industry,” Mr. Zinchenko said in an interview at his desk, decorated with a miniature Ukrainian flag. He said he had negotiated a truce with local representatives of the Donetsk People’s Republic, but not the group’s leaders.

Mr. Akhmetov’s statement spelled out the daunting problems for the regional economy, and his assets, should the Donetsk People’s Republic win its struggle with the Kiev. “Nobody in the world will recognize it,” he said in a videotaped statement. “The structure of our economy is coal, industry, metallurgy, energy, machine works, chemicals and agriculture and all the enterprises tied to these sectors. We will come under huge sanctions, we will not sell our products, cannot produce. This means the stopping of factories, this means unemployment, this means poverty.” Russia itself exports steel, so has never been a significant market for the region’s output. Residents welcomed the steelworker patrols for bringing an end to chaos and insecurity. They said that masked men had robbed four grocery stores, a store selling hunting rifles and a jewelry store, and had burned down a bank.

The crowds of pro-Russian protesters who had jeered and cursed Ukrainian soldiers last week were nowhere to be seen.
The Kiev government was forced to rebut reports that the police chief had been found hanging dead in the town. He had indeed been kidnapped by gunmen and severely beaten, but he was eventually rescued, the Interior Ministry said.
“There are a lot of idiots with guns in my city,” Aleksey Rybinsev, 38, a computer programmer who said he welcomed the new patrols, though he feared they might yet develop into another informal militia group. “I haven’t seen a policeman all day. I didn’t see them, and I didn’t want to see them.”

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