At the headquarters of the Vostok Battalion on the outskirts of Donetsk, the rebel in command was ordering an attack on 30 Ukrainian soldiers and two fighting vehicles in a nearby town. “Shoot to kill,” he said, speaking with a subordinate over one of three mobile phones he carries. “What negotiations? If they wave a white flag, then of course that’s different.”
The commander, a Russian army veteran – who like all the men in the battalion is known only by a nickname (“Major”) – told his deputies to assemble 40 men and tank-busting weapons. A few minutes later, a soldier ran in with six rocket-propelled grenade launchers. Throughout the day, fighting vehicles and lorries loaded with armed men roared in and out of the base.