Some in Luhansk, including Gany, have relatives in Russia who tell them life is better on their side of the border. She now must make ends meet on about $100 a month in pension payments, she says — half of which goes to pay her rent. Her husband is dead. She held a variety of jobs in the old Soviet Union, from the BAM railway project in Siberia to a fish cannery in Kamchatka, but much of her savings vanished when the former superpower broke up.
She now fears persecution from Ukraine's new leaders, and is afraid to travel to other regions of the country.
In 2010, the year of Ukraine's last presidential election, Luhansk gave 89 percent of its votes to Viktor Yanukovych, a native of another town in the Donbas coal-mining region. The pro-Moscow president fled office last month after prolonged street protests and bloodshed in Kiev, and was succeeded by a government made up of politicians friendlier to the United States and European Union.
For some in the east, the regime change was not only blatantly unconstitutional, but a catastrophe.
"The West wants to put Hitler's Plan Ost into effect," said Zoya Kozlova, 54, a teacher of philology. That plan, if fully implemented, would have meant the enslavement, expulsion and extermination of most of the Slavic peoples in Europe.
Pro-Moscow forces in Luhanks already have a leader, self-styled "people's governor" Alexander Kharitonov, who is spearheading the drive for a referendum. "The people of Luhansk don't recognize illegitimate Kiev. We think that the government has been changed through a coup d'etat," he said. And Kharitonov said he hopes for assistance from Moscow to right that situation.
"The Maidan (the anti-Yanukovych protests in Kiev) showed us the police aren't able to protect us. Neo-Nazi groups that were created on the Maidan have spread throughout Ukraine. The police aren't able to protect us from them."
"The new government won't do it. So we think we have the right to ask our friend Russia to protect us," Kharitonov said.
Already, the Kremlin has made clear that it's closely watching developments. On Monday, in an official statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said lawlessness "now rules in eastern regions of Ukraine" and blamed the Right Sector, a grouping of far-right and nationalist factions whose activists were among the most radical and confrontational during three months of protests that led to Yanukovych's ouster.
"Without Putin's help, they will annihilate us," said Sergei Chupeyev, 69, a retired mining engineer from Luhansk. "We need to ask him for help, or tomorrow there will be fascists here."
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