In Ukraine

Original NPR headline: American charity helps to repair war-ravaged music school in Ukraine

By David Welna, ‘Morning Edition’, on National Public Radio (United States), Aug 17, 2016 (transcript below, read the transcript or listen to the audio at the weblink)

Fixing up the school is part of an ongoing battle for the hearts and minds of a people whose ethnic ties are with Russia but whose military and leaders identify with the West.

[See below a commentary from DONi Press responding to the following NPR report. –New Cold]

Renee Montagne, host of NPR Morning Edition: And now a story about music and conflict in eastern Ukraine. Along the border, where tensions with Russia run high, an American charity is helping to rebuild a music school. This kind of Hearts and Minds project is part of a U.S.-led effort to support Ukraine against Russia’s incursions. NPR’s David Welna visited the music school, traveling there with Ukrainian troops.

David Welna, NPR reporter in Ukraine: Along Ukraine’s line of separation, Donetsk, just to the east, is controlled by pro-Russian rebels. On this side, controlled by Ukraine’s army, lies the town of Krasnohorivka. At its center stands a two-story, white stucco building, pockmarked with bullet holes. That’s where this story begins, outside Krasnohorivka’s war-ravaged music school.

Awaiting the Ukrainian army SUV that’s just pulled up, it’s the school’s diminutive, black-haired director, Ina Vertsanova.

Photo on Aug 3, 2016 NPR report with caption reading 'A Ukrainian officer explains the placement of, and security for, one of the radio transmitters provided by Spirit of America'

Photo on Aug 3, 2016 NPR report with caption reading ‘A Ukrainian officer explains the placement of, and security for, one of the radio transmitters provided by Spirit of America’

ANDRII MARTYNOV: “Good day. It’s very nice to see you here again. I am very, very glad to see you.”

JIM HAKE: Looking good.

WELNA: Senior lieutenant Andrii Martynov interpretes for the school director. She, like everyone else here, speaks Russian. Vertsanova is especially welcoming to an American in this group Jim Hake. He visits the school regularly.

HAKE: The school is looking really good.

MARTYNOV: (Speaking Russian). Not yet, but we have done something, a lot of work.

INA VERTSANOVA: (Speaking Russian). MARTYNOV: “Very special thank you for windows. It’s a very good start.”

WELNA: Hake knows director Vertsanova because Spirit of America, the charity Hake founded, donated funds to replace windows blown out two years ago by pro-Russian separatists. Inside, we climb past falling plaster to a second-floor auditorium. Waiting for us there, a 5-year-old girl with big brown eyes – she’s dressed all in pink, a big, white bow crowns her head.

VERTSANOVA: (Speaking Russian). WELNA: The director tells us the girl’s name, Iretchka. Iretchka, Director Vertsanova informs us, has come to perform a song about a big, white stork on a rooftop.

IRETCHKA KARCHINKA: (Singing in Russian).

WELNA: The little girl sings along to recorded music in Russian.

IRETCHKA: (Singing in Russian).

WELNA: In September, if all goes well, Iretchka Kharchinka will begin classes here along with nearly 100 other students – that is, if the school gets repaired in time and it’s not attacked again. Spirit of America, which Hake founded as a response to the 9/11 attacks, has donated some $200,000 to projects in Ukraine. The charity is not a neutral player. Its main mission, he says, is to help advance American foreign policy objectives in hotspots like Ukraine.

HAKE: I think you look at what Russia has done in launching the war here, and to stop that kind of aggression, you have to take a side. And that’s what Spirit of America is doing here in Ukraine, working with our troops and diplomats to support the Ukrainians on the front lines of this struggle.

WELNA: There’s been another key player in rebuilding Krasnohorivka’s music school – the Ukrainian army.

COLONEL OLEKSEI NOSDRACHOV: To show those people who are on occupied territories that there is some positive activity.

WELNA: That’s Colonel Oleksei Nosdrachov, head of the army’s department of civil military cooperation. Krasnohorivka’s music school, he says, is that front-line town’s moral center of gravity, which is why helping rebuild it has also been a trust-building exercise.

NOSDRACHOV: It definitely bolstered the attitude and support from locals to the Ukrainian armed forces and the Ukrainian government in general.

VERTSANOVA: (Speaking Russian). WELNA: Back in her office, school director Vertsanova pours cups of tea. She thanks Jim Hake for the $17,000 Spirit of America donated for the school’s windows and its badly shelled roof. That help, she says, has proved crucial.

VERTSANOVA: (Speaking Russian) “We wanted very much to open that school. We didn’t have a lot of support from local authority. And only because of your support, now it is possible to open.”

GEOFFREY PYATT [U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine]: It is a unusual response to an unusual circumstance.

WELNA: Geoffrey Pyatt is the American ambassador to Ukraine. This U.S. charity’s role in the battle between East and West that’s playing out in Ukraine, is relatively small, he says, compared to the more than $600 million in non-lethal aid that Washington sent.

PYATT: We have welcomed the work that Spirit of America has done here, precisely because it compliments so well what we’re doing in official channels.

WELNA: Spirit of America’s Hake says his aim is reassurance.

HAKE: By helping that school, we can help show the Ukrainians that America and Americans can actually be a force for good and that Ukraine and Ukrainians are also there to help.

WELNA: And to send this message – that the world to the west has not forgotten this fratricidal war nor the nearly 10,000 lives it’s taken. David Welna, NPR News. Krasnohorivka, Ukraine.

Related readings:

* American charity backs military radio station in Ukraine, by David Welna, National Public Radio, Aug 3, 2016

‘An information war is underway on Ukraine’s troubled eastern flank, with pro-Russia radio and TV dominating the airwaves. But with key help from an American charity that makes no claim to neutrality, Ukraine’s military now has its own FM radio station for its troops on the front. The reach of Army FM is limited, but Spirit of America’s Jim Hake is determined to change that.’

On the front lines in eastern Ukraine, a U.S. charity goes to war–with music, by Julian E. Barnes, Wall St. Journal, May 27, 2016

… Lt Col. Oleksandr Gvozdkov, a Ukrainian Army officer, identified the school — and the Russian-speaking Ms. Vertsanova — as an important symbol of national unity and resilience for the community. But, he said, with the Ukrainian government straining under the cost of the war, there was little money to support the school.

And that is where Jim Hake and his nonprofit group Spirit of America came in, providing money to rebuild the roof and windows. Mr. Hake’s main project in Ukraine is support for the military’s Army FM project. But while working on Army FM he learned about the school…

*  The main page of Spirit of America’s website reads, “Learn more about America’s troops in the world’s toughest places and how you can help.” Among the choices of where donors can donate are purchases of military equipment for unnamed destinations. “Everything we do is in response to critical needs identified by American soldiers and diplomats in Ukraine.”

While NPR does a puff-piece about winning hearts and minds in Donbass, the Ukrainian forces bombard the people

By Christelle Néant, published in French in DONi Press, August 16, 2016. Translated to English by Tom Winter for Fort Russ, August 17, 2016

Translator comment: NPR reports, “Fixing up the school is part of an ongoing battle for the hearts and minds of a people whose ethnic ties are with Russia but whose military and leaders identify with the West” Ukraine loses the hearts and minds with every cannon, mortar, and artillery burst.

After another night saw hundreds of Ukrainian army bombings against the People’s Republic of Donetsk, we go to Dokuchaevsk, south of Donetsk, to see the damage from the recent shelling of the city.

Resident of Dokouchaevsk in southern Donetsk examines her house hit by Ukrainian shelling in mid-August 2016 (Doni Press)

Resident of Dokouchaevsk in southern Donetsk examines her house hit by Ukrainian shelling in mid-August 2016 (Doni Press)

As we seek our way to the first house, we encounter two OSCE vehicles. Naively we first think they are going to the same place and we decided to follow them. But unfortunately we discover they are actually going to Dokouchaevsk hospital, so we continue on by ourselves.

We arrive first Shorsa street where a house was hit two days ago. The house belongs to an old lady living alone, who shows us the damage. Fortunately for her, the home was hit by small arms, possibly a BMP (the lady suspects 30 mm calibre). But it was enough to break through the roof of her house, the ceiling, and put a hole in a wall. We ask the lady if the OSCE observers came to see the damage, and the answer was no.

While we go outside to see the damage from the outside, two artillery blasts were heard, followed by an exchange of fire with light weapons. It’s daytime, early afternoon. Today the Ukrainian army decided not to wait until nightfall to commit their misdeeds, right under the nose and beard of OSCE observers who are in the neighborhood. We will see in their report tomorrow if they publish information about the this, or if they will be as if they had heard nothing.

We then leave for a second address, another house hit last night by a mortar which went through the roof. When we arrive, the house offers a nightmarish vision. All that remains of the roof are a few beams. Everything else was burst apart. Inside is even worse, the plaster of the ceilings fell in, and one room has only the sky above the walls.

One of the occupants of the house was there that night, when at 2:20 a.m, a shell, probably 120 mm, came through the roof in the room next to the room where he slept. The man was unharmed. A true miracle.

Again we ask if the OSCE came to see the damage, and the answer is no.

Not showing up at the bombed sites to find the facts seems to have become the OSCE norm, and then I wonder on what basis there is for their famous daily reports if they don’t come to observe anything.

In both houses visited, it is obvious the direction the firing came from: the Ukrainian positions that are opposite. But without direct observation of the OSCE will be impossible to prove these crimes before the international community. It is therefore time the OSCE decided to do their job, before being discredited.

Watch DONi news video. Click here or click the screen:



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