Ukraine crisis: Striving for 'normality' in Sloviansk

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Media captionSloviansk resident: "I think that it should end in a peaceful way"

Pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Sloviansk are eager to present the city as still functioning normally even if certain subjects remain firmly off-limits.

Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, the city's self-proclaimed mayor, is not willing to talk about the fate of European military observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), who are being held in the city by pro-Russian activists.

In fact he emphatically rejects any attempt to discuss the matter in any detail.

All he will say is that negotiations are ongoing.

His spokeswoman Stella Khorosheva is a little less reticent - at least when it comes to talking about everyday life in the city.

"You can work as usual - no papers [accreditation] needed," she says. "It's all back to normal now."

'Forgotten' town

But it seems hard to detect any sense of normality when there are people with Kalashnikovs walking along Sloviansk's streets, some of them with their faces still hidden behind balaclavas.

Image caption The OSCE has called for the immediate release of 12 staff in Sloviansk, including five Ukrainians, who are being detained by pro-Russian insurgents
Image caption Roadblocks are now part and parcel of life in Sloviansk
Image copyright AP
Image caption Armed pro-Russian separatists make no secret of the fact that it is they who control the city
Image caption Life in parts of the city is carrying on as normal despite the presence of armed men

Their presence is incongruous alongside the city's main square which is alive with children playing, couples sitting on benches and older citizens having a walk or enjoying the spring bloom.

It was in the main square that we met Vitaliy, who runs a business renting out toy cars for children.

He said that his business has suffered since the town was overrun by pro-Russian activists. "I get at least two times fewer requests. Nobody comes to the main square anymore. Nobody actually goes into town, only if it is absolutely necessary," he said.

Accused of spying

Most of Vitaliy's friends prefer to get out of Sloviansk for the time being, and weather the crisis with relatives in surrounding villages or even Ukraine's other provinces. But he has nowhere to go.

Alexey - a trader at the city market - says that many shop and store owners have simply stopped trading. He has sent his mother to her home village and is thinking of moving there himself.

It is not difficult to see why he and others want to leave. The people of Sloviansk are living under a curfew - locals say that the pro-Russian activists have banned anyone from going out on the streets after 11.30pm.

The results of getting caught are unpredictable - some get away with a warning but it is equally the case that others could be detained and charged with spying.

Yegor, a taxi driver of 25 years, says that he does not work after 11pm. "There is nobody in need of taxi anyway," he says, "people prefer to stay at home."

If the threat of punishment at the hands of pro-Russian forces is not deterrent enough, taxi prices in Sloviansk have at least doubled. Local taxi companies said they had to raise their fares to remain in line with the rise in food and fuel prices.

Local residents say that schools remain open, although kindergartens are closed.

As the night falls in Sloviansk, the streets quickly become deserted, despite a warm evening.

It is only the roadblocks and barricades that become livelier. Those manning them burn fires and stop passing cars. And despite the darkness they still are still wearing balaclavas.

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