Ukraine: Militia Controls A Million Weapons
At the end of a completely anonymous road on the outskirts of the eastern Ukrainian town of Artemivsk is the village of Paraskoviyevka.It has two claims to fame: one of the few still functioning salt mines in the region, and, more importantly, the largest cache of weapons in Europe – over a million of them and they are under the control of separatists.
Outside the gates of the mine, a cluster of tents mark the pro-Russian checkpoint guarding the entrance to this enormous supply of weapons.
The militia say they started guarding the mine in March when efforts were made to move some of the weapons. They say they will not allow anyone to get their hands on them.
But military experts and government sources in Kiev have warned that such a ready supply should not be guarded by groups who wish to separate from the country.
The storage facility was created in the 1950s by the Soviet Union.
About 150 metres below ground and stretching horizontally for kilometres the weapons age back to World War Two but in the 1990s huge numbers of Kalashnikov machine guns were stored in the facility as well.
The men guarding the store say the conditions underground are dry and perfect for storage.
They say that the armaments, particularly the newer ones, are in perfect working order.
“If anyone got in there they could arm everyone in Ukraine,” a masked separatist told me.
He added: “There are rifles, machine guns, heavy weapons and millions and millions of rounds of ammunition. We are here to stop the forces of the west and anyone else for that matter from getting their hands on them.
“For certain the fascists from Kiev won’t get them.”
The real point of this is that there is absolutely nothing anyone can do to take control of the store from the pro-Russia group.
Soldiers at a nearby camp are powerless here; their authority has gone and do nothing to move the blockade outside the mine.
To a degree this is a perfect microcosm example of what is happening across the east of the country.
Government institutions and police stations in virtually all the main towns and cities have fallen to the pro-Russia militia.
It is an extremely well-organised takeover. Armed and masked men arrive and disarm police before moving to town halls and regional buildings.
At gunpoint, they impose their authority before civilian activists move in and start building barricades.
Asked who the enemy are, the usual reply is “Fascists from Kiev”.
The truth is there isn’t a fascist horde wending its way out here.
It is a myth that has been propagated by self-appointed regional leaders with the help of Russian media, whose reporting of events is watched by most people here.
And it is a cross between hysterical warnings of armageddon and comic manipulation of facts and events; comic if people were not dying as a result, which they are.
This is getting increasingly nasty and once again there is nothing anyone can do about it.
In Donestsk, where pro-Kiev supporters have staged rallies of support, people have been beaten senseless and in one instance knifed to death by pro-Russian thugs.
The police do nothing to stop the attacks happening and, worse, there is more than a suspicion that they are in cahoots with the mob.
I have seen riot police clad in full protective gear hugging men who minutes earlier were beating an old man.
The Kiev administration admits its forces in the east are not able to intervene or are failing to do their jobs.
But the police themselves say they are getting no orders or guidance from Kiev.
Even if they don’t like what is going on here, and many admit they do, they have no intention of taking a beating, or worse, by stick-wielding groups and armed masked men.
From Kiev, they are warning of an imminent invasion by Russian forces and have put their troops on full alert.
But these soldiers are in truth utterly incapable of resistance to an army, or, as we have seen, even a militia.
Eastern Ukraine is drifting away and it seems there is nothing anyone can do to stop it – just like Crimea.