Amid intense fighting between Ukrainian troops and separatist rebels, the international airport in Donetsk has become a kind of post-apocalyptic microcosm of the shadow war playing out in eastern Ukraine. And on Friday, rebels claimed that they had finally seized control of the once-gleaming airport and defeated a band of Ukrainian troops who have become known as “cyborgs” for their freakish ability to stay alive.
Rebels have in the past claimed control of the airport, and it is possible their latest boast will also turn out to be a piece of false separatist propaganda. Video footage from the airport shows fighting continuing, but in a statement, rebel forces claimed to have effectively defeated Ukrainian forces. The Ukrainian military, however, has told the New York Times their troops are still defending the airport.
In theory, a Sept. 9 cease-fire agreement remains in place, but ongoing fighting and now a possible exchange of territory in Donetsk has long since exposed it as fiction. So it should be no surprise that this war — which most major powers refuse to describe as such — has left some of Russia’s regional neighbors trying to calculate how to respond if Moscow-backed separatists turn up in their countries.
This week, Lithuania unveiled what might be described as one of the more creative of such plans. Lithuania’s Defense Ministry will be distributing a manual that advises its citizenry on how to behave if Russian tanks stream across their borders.
“Keep a sound mind, don’t panic and don’t lose clear thinking,” the manual advises its readers, according to a Reuters report. “Gunshots just outside your window are not the end of the world.”
According to Reuters, the manual reads like a guide to low-level civil resistance. It urges Lithuanians to participate in demonstrations and strikes. The manual even tells workers to engage in a kind of passive sabotage to tank the economy and make life hard on the Russians by “by doing your job worse than usual.”
“The examples of Georgia and Ukraine, which both lost a part of their territory, show us that we cannot rule out a similar kind of situation here, and that we should be ready,” Defense Minister Juozas Olekas told Reuters.
Indeed, the ongoing fighting in eastern Ukraine has inspired thousands to take up arms in volunteer battalions, and the fear of facing a wider insurgency may have dissuaded Russia from launching a wider military campaign. Russian President Vladimir Putin once bragged that he could take Kiev in two weeks, but an all-out invasion would probably further swell the ranks of pro-Kiev volunteers.
By publishing this manual, Vilnius sends a clear message to Moscow: Our citizens won’t sit idly by either if Russian troops arrive.
ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images