Beaminster student's terror in Ukrainian conflict

Student's terror in Ukraine conflict

BACK SAFELY: Edward Lawrence and Anna Pujol-Mazzini who have just returned from Ukraine

FIGHTING: Edward Lawrence with the Ukrainian nationalists they spent the evening with in Kiev

TAKEN: An armoured personnel carrier captured during the protests in Kiev

First published in News
Last updated

A WEST DORSET student was confronted by a gunman after getting caught up in the chaos engulfing Ukraine.

Edward Lawrence, 19, who aims to pursue a career in documentary-making said he wanted to gain first-hand experience of a conflict zone.

He travelled to Ukraine last week with fellow-student Anna Pujol-Mazzini, 18. The friends are studying at Bournemouth University.

The plan was to travel to Kiev and then move on to the east of the country where pro-Russian militia have taken control of large areas.

Edward, from Beaminster, said the idea was to ‘go out there and be on the ground and see what was going on’.

The friends had contacts in the UK, Russia and Ukraine to assist them and had contingency plans in place, including certain check-in time deadlines they had to meet or the alarm would be raised by fellow student Charlotte Morrison.

He said that in Kiev there were anti-Putin posters and European flags and there was a huge contrast in the city between it being ‘business as usual’ and the Euromaidan (pro-European) protestors’ presence.

He said: “It’s such a strong contrast, people doing their shopping and there’s a tank there.”

He said that everywhere they went in the capital, the people were very friendly and welcoming and wanted to talk to them about how the situation was being presented in the wider world’s media.

He said: “They are just normal people who want peace.”

They met with those in Independence Square and spent an evening talking to some right-wing groups there.

But it was after they left the capital when things began to go wrong.

They took a train to Kharkiv in the north of Ukraine, about 30 miles from the Russian border and spoke to locals there.

From there they were booked on a train to Donetsk in the south east but woke up late and missed the train. They tried to take another train or a plane but they had all been cancelled.

They decided to take a bus to Kramatorsk, a pro-Russia area close to Slavyansk, from where they could continue on to Donetsk.

The pair said they didn’t want to go near Slavyansk, but had a feeling that although they had been told the bus went to Kramatorsk, that it might go through the area. They decided to take the risk.

Edward said: “Slavyansk is a no-go area for westerners.”

He added they had heard stories of journalists being beaten up and detained and no western journalists had got into Slavyansk for two weeks.

He added: “I said we needed cover stories. We have memory cards – we need to hide them.”

They also had to throw away personal belongings and spare mobile phones.

“We realised there was quite a large risk we would get stopped and detained.”

He added: “It was terrifying but I felt as if it had to be done. Maybe it was slightly stupid.”

After passing through several Ukrainian government-held checkpoints, the pair got to 20km outside Slavyansk and encountered the first rebel checkpoint. A man walked out in front of the bus with an AK-47 and stopped it.

The doors opened and a man with a balaclava, pistol and machete tied to his leg got on.

He was asking for passports and approached Edward.

He said: “I thought I was going to die at that point. Anna thought I was a gonner.”

Mr Lawrence said the man looked at him, he looked back then turned away and pretended to nod off. When he opened his eyes the man was leaving the bus.

He said: “It was easily the scariest experience of my life but the most exciting too.”

The pair finally made it through to Kramatorsk, after going through several more checkpoints and then had to get the bus to Donetsk and from there the first overnight train to Kiev.

Mr Lawrence said he felt lucky to have been unharmed.

He said he would not encourage others to do what they did. But he said that the experience had only strengthened his resolve to document conflict as a profession.

He said: “All it’s done is make me want to do this even more.”

They got a lot of footage and are hoping to use it in the future.

The pair are planning where to go next, although Mr Lawrence said they might go somewhere a ‘bit more calm’.

He added it was ‘nice to be home’.

The trip was not connected to, or endorsed by the university, who tried to discourage the pair going, Mr Lawrence said.

  • You can follow Mr Lawrence on Twitter via @edlawrence365

Evolution of a crisis

In November last year the former president Viktor Yanukovych abandoned plans for closer ties to the EU in favour of closer ties to Russia.

This led to protests and eventually to his downfall. The Euromaidan movement saw pro-European protests across various cities including Kiev.

In February the Ukrainian parliament voted to remove the president from power with elections set for May 25. A temporary pro-European government was put in place.

In the aftermath, amid pro-Russian unrest, the Crimea crisis developed, including in areas of the southern and eastern Ukraine which had been pro-Russian and affiliated with the deposed president.

At the end of February pro-Russian supporters took over key buildings in Crimea.

A referendum was called to see if the region wished to join Russia and, although condemned by the EU, US and Ukraine, the vote was to join Russia.

On March 17, the Crimean Parliament declared independence from Ukraine and asked to join the Russian Federation, which took place a day later.

The EU General Assembly declared the referendum vote invalid and illegal and the EU and US have imposed travel and financial sanctions on Russian and Ukrainian officials.

In April, there was a burst of pro-Russian protests in eastern and southern Ukraine.

On April 25, eight international military observers were detained by pro-Russian separatists near Sloviansk, although one was later released on health grounds. Eight days later the rest were released.

The conflict continues between those wanting closer ties to the EU and those wanting closer ties to Russia.

Travel warnings

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to: Crimea, Slavyansk (Sloviansk), Kostyantinivka, Krematorsk and Horlivka – in the Donetsk region.

The FCO advise against all but essential travel to: the remaining parts of Donetsk region, Lugansk region, Kharkiv region and Odesa city.

Given the armed clashes, kidnappings and the ongoing seizure of buildings that have occurred there, the FCO advise against all travel to Slavyansk, in the north of Donetsk region.

You should take great care and remain vigilant throughout eastern and southern Ukraine. There have been violent clashes, including some fatalities, in the oblasts of Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Lugansk, and in Mariupol city.

Comments (6)

Please log in to enable comment sorting

7:45am Wed 7 May 14

cj07589 says...

What did he expect entering a conflict zone, a medal? The whole fiasco is mostly down to the rotten EU trying to acquire another third world despot by the back door. I hope Britain has the good sense to stay well clear, let the EU armed forced sort it out after all that's why we waste 57millions pounds per day we should at least get something useful back in return.
What did he expect entering a conflict zone, a medal? The whole fiasco is mostly down to the rotten EU trying to acquire another third world despot by the back door. I hope Britain has the good sense to stay well clear, let the EU armed forced sort it out after all that's why we waste 57millions pounds per day we should at least get something useful back in return. cj07589
  • Score: 15

7:47am Wed 7 May 14

Hawkstone says...

Much as I admire his enthusiasm for his career choice.....Ukraine..
.....really?
Much as I admire his enthusiasm for his career choice.....Ukraine.. .....really? Hawkstone
  • Score: 4

7:52am Wed 7 May 14

cj07589 says...

Hawkstone wrote:
Much as I admire his enthusiasm for his career choice.....Ukraine..

.....really?
Yes the mind boggles doesn't it?
[quote][p][bold]Hawkstone[/bold] wrote: Much as I admire his enthusiasm for his career choice.....Ukraine.. .....really?[/p][/quote]Yes the mind boggles doesn't it? cj07589
  • Score: 11

10:08am Wed 7 May 14

caz maz says...

Self cantered idiots! So what if they had raised the alarm no one is going to risk more lives to save them. Echo you are only condoning what these two have done by printing this RUBISH!
Self cantered idiots! So what if they had raised the alarm no one is going to risk more lives to save them. Echo you are only condoning what these two have done by printing this RUBISH! caz maz
  • Score: 5

10:30am Wed 7 May 14

trymybest says...

cj07589 wrote:
What did he expect entering a conflict zone, a medal? The whole fiasco is mostly down to the rotten EU trying to acquire another third world despot by the back door. I hope Britain has the good sense to stay well clear, let the EU armed forced sort it out after all that's why we waste 57millions pounds per day we should at least get something useful back in return.
So very right.
[quote][p][bold]cj07589[/bold] wrote: What did he expect entering a conflict zone, a medal? The whole fiasco is mostly down to the rotten EU trying to acquire another third world despot by the back door. I hope Britain has the good sense to stay well clear, let the EU armed forced sort it out after all that's why we waste 57millions pounds per day we should at least get something useful back in return.[/p][/quote]So very right. trymybest
  • Score: 5

12:07pm Thu 8 May 14

Paul Bridport says...

To cj07589, Hawkstone, caz maz and everyone else who is criticising these young people – perhaps it would be an idea to consider the facts before putting them down. Both Ed and Anna are studying to be journalists. Not the kind of journalist that titillates the likes of you by snooping around unfortunate celebrities trying to dig up dirt a la News of the World and Daily Mail; we’re talking the type of journalist that is brave enough to go to far flung corners of the world to report on conflict and civil unrest, to endure hardship and danger so that the world gets to hear The Truth of important international current affairs. Do you think that the likes of John Simpson and Jeremy Bowen cut their teeth looking through Katie Price’s bedroom window?? Both Ed and Anna have been through conflict training, learning how to deal with dangerous people and difficult situations as a journalist. There is, however, no substitute for being ‘on the ground’, and these two bright young students had the guts to get their hands dirty and to pursue the line of work that they are both so passionate about – going to the front line and reporting what they see. Perhaps one day they will be the person that is on your TV screen, you muttering your ‘Ooh isn’t that terrible’s and your ‘Ooh, shouldn’t be allowed’s as you sup your cocoa with one eye on the trash in your ‘Hello’ magazines.
To cj07589, Hawkstone, caz maz and everyone else who is criticising these young people – perhaps it would be an idea to consider the facts before putting them down. Both Ed and Anna are studying to be journalists. Not the kind of journalist that titillates the likes of you by snooping around unfortunate celebrities trying to dig up dirt a la News of the World and Daily Mail; we’re talking the type of journalist that is brave enough to go to far flung corners of the world to report on conflict and civil unrest, to endure hardship and danger so that the world gets to hear The Truth of important international current affairs. Do you think that the likes of John Simpson and Jeremy Bowen cut their teeth looking through Katie Price’s bedroom window?? Both Ed and Anna have been through conflict training, learning how to deal with dangerous people and difficult situations as a journalist. There is, however, no substitute for being ‘on the ground’, and these two bright young students had the guts to get their hands dirty and to pursue the line of work that they are both so passionate about – going to the front line and reporting what they see. Perhaps one day they will be the person that is on your TV screen, you muttering your ‘Ooh isn’t that terrible’s and your ‘Ooh, shouldn’t be allowed’s as you sup your cocoa with one eye on the trash in your ‘Hello’ magazines. Paul Bridport
  • Score: 8

Comments are closed on this article.

Send us your news, pictures and videos

Most read stories

Local Info

Enter your postcode, town or place name

About cookies

We want you to enjoy your visit to our website. That's why we use cookies to enhance your experience. By staying on our website you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more about the cookies we use.

I agree