Ukraine's military is making a comeback against pro-Russian separatists in the east

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: And now about that trip to eastern Ukraine you probably won't be taking. The conflict there continues. This weekend, Ukrainian forces retook several eastern towns from pro-Russian rebels including the stronghold of Sloviansk. The BBC’s Olexiy Solohubenko has just returned from the region and I asked him are the tides in this battle-torn country beginning to turn?

Olexiy Solohubenko: I think the tides are turning militarily. I think this is a very, very important turnaround for the Ukrainian Army. And I think for the Ukrainian society, the one that supports the Ukraine idea, supports the sovereignty of Ukraine, it's quite a big shift in terms of mood, in terms of operations on the ground, and in terms of actual achievement of the army. I think what they’ve done this time is not just recapture several cities, including the city of Sloviansk - a very iconic place for the pro-Russian rebels - but also forcing quite a large number of rebels, together with their military commander, Igor Strelkov, who is a Russian citizen, basically to flee. I think the casualties might have been quite substantial even though we cannot confirm it, but they now move to Donetsk and I think this is the next challenge because Sloviansk was a city with a population of about a hundred thousand. Donetsk is a million plus. It's a very, very large place. So when I say "militarily", it is an important turnaround. It's not the end of the story yet.

Werman: From what you saw, Olexiy, when you were there, what evidence did you find that the pro-Russian citizens and locals in places like Luhansk and Donetsk are still supporting the rebels?

Solohubenko: I don't think that we can talk about the widespread support. Over the weekend,the rebels in Donetsk, for instance, called for a mass rally. It wasn't quite a mass rally. I thinks several thousand people gathered, but this was nothing compared to the previous levels of support. And I spoke to a couple of people inside Donetsk actually. The key concern is not so much the possible attack, they don’t believe that there will be a mass strike by Ukrainian forces on the city, but the lawlessness and the lack of security in the city. In Sloviansk itself the interesting thing that's happening I guess is that right behind the Ukrainian troops there were truckloads of food, water.

Werman: Does that suggest there's a lack of food and water in these places?

Solohubenko: In Sloviansk in particular, because it was under siege by the Ukrainian forces for quite a long time, there was a problem with food supplies.

Werman: So in Sloviansk they're trying to bring in food and water. I hear that Ukrainian security officials are saying they want to blockade Luhansk and Donetsk. I mean what does that mean?

Solohubenko: Well, that means a similar situation to what happened in Sloviansk. I think they said that the peaceful civilians can leave and they would open the corridors for them, but the rebels had two choices - one is to lay down their arms and surrender or the earlier proposal from President Poroshenko was that they can leave to Russia if they want. For the civilians I think it's quite different because from what I hear from people on the ground it was next to impossible to buy rail tickets because there was a limited service and many people didn't have enough money and also some of the bridges around Donetsk had been blown up. So options are very, very limited for the civilians to leave.

Werman: Do you think things are going to shake out to the point where all of these alliances will be very clear and that the truly Ukrainian part of the country will be unified?

Solohubenko: Well, I think so, but I think it will never be the same. Because If you look at the logic of what President Putin wanted to achieve just seven months ago when he managed to convince the then Ukrainian President not to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union, he wanted to bring Ukraine closer to Russia, to make it a more friendly state, to push it back from going West toward Europe, towards the United States. As a result of the annexation of Crimea and what was going on in eastern Ukraine with direct involvement and indirect involvement of the Russian Federation, I think the result is the opposite. Ukraine is more patriotic, more nationalistic if you want, and it’s much more anti-Russian. I think those friendly relations and open borders, absolutely free penetration of Russian media, Russian newspapers, Russian television into Ukraine, I think those days are gone. I think Ukraine will be much more cautious and I think the feelings are hardened on both sides of the border. In Russia I think the attitude toward Ukraine has also become much more negative. So whatever you think of Mr. Putin as the great strategist, so far the strategy has backfired quite badly because you don't have a friendly nation on your doorstep.

Werman: Olexiy Solohubenko with the BBC just back from Ukraine speaking with us from London. Thank you.

Solohubenko: Thank you.