Treat turns sour for Donetsk rebels who served Ukraine leader's sweets

Happy crowd turns furious on finding candy was made by Ukraine leader

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 June, 2014, 1:41am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 June, 2014, 1:41am

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has been fought in recent days with bullets, bombs and mortars. But in the latest outbreak of violence, the weapons of choice were chocolate, caramel and lemon-lime.

What started as a separatist publicity stunt on Sunday ended in an angry, gooey mess.

The pro-Russian rebel government staged a rally for children in Donetsk's Lenin Square to highlight what it claimed were indiscriminate Ukrainian army attacks on civilians. Under sunny skies, mothers and fathers and children flocked to the square to hear speakers rail against the "bloodthirsty Kiev junta".

At the end, there was a special surprise. A van pulled up and militants dressed in green camouflage hopped out. But rather than their usual assault rifles, the fighters were bearing candy boxes they said had been plundered from a warehouse.

Youngsters squealed with delight and parents rushed to claim their share. There was applause as happy children walked off bearing bags of sweets wrapped in blue, yellow and red plastic.

It seemed the Donetsk People's Republic, as the separatists are known, had won a victory in the all-important battle for hearts and minds. But in Ukraine these days, even a box of sweets is political.

Some in the crowd noticed that the treats were made by Roshen, a company owned by the Ukrainian tycoon known as the "chocolate king", Petro Poroshenko. He became the country's president-elect last month in an overwhelming vote, but rebel supporters blame him for the violence that has engulfed the country's southeast.

The mood turned in a flash from exultant to furious and the carnival became a mob.

"It's a provocation!" some in the crowd began to yell.

"The candy is poisoned!" screamed others.

"No to blood candy!" they chanted.

Shoving broke out. Mothers kicked the boxes, stamped the sweets with their feet and screamed at the militants. The militants screamed back.

"We wanted to give candy to children! That's all! What difference does it make where it came from?" shouted one exasperated fighter.

But it was too late. The crowd had turned. The fighters jumped back into their van and as it sped away, a father pelted it with a bag of candy.

Philosophical arguments broke out about whether rejecting the treats had been the right thing to do.

"We smoked German cigarettes during the second world war. What's the difference?" asked a kindly looking white-haired man with a mouth full of gold teeth.

"Poroshenko can't both murder us and feed us at the same time!" replied a woman in a tiger-print blouse as she smashed the boxes into tiny bits of cardboard.

The colourful wrappers flew about in the breeze. The caramel clung to the hot roadway.

Under the watchful gaze of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, who looms over his square in black granite, it was the workers who were left to clean up the mess.