The AtlanticThe Atlantic

Impossible Choices in the Battle for the Donbas

By Nataliya Gumenyuk

24 Apr 2022 · 10 min read

Soon after Russia invaded Ukraine, Pavlo Kyrylenko and Serhiy Gaidai received phone calls from men they believed to be Russians, based on their accents. Kyrylenko and Gaidai, the governors of the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, respectively, were being enticed to defect. The pair—the top Ukrainian officials in parts of their country racked for years by conflict with Moscow-backed separatists—were offered the chance to join what the Russians were convinced would be their inevitable victory.

“This was before the phrase ‘Russian warship, go fuck yourself,’” Kyrylenko told me, sitting in the basement of a Donetsk regional-government building while an air-raid siren rang. “I didn’t have such an eloquent way to answer, so I blocked the number.”

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