The Donetsk People’s Republic is an area of Eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists. The 10,000-square mile territory, roughly the size of Maryland, sits around the Ukrainian city of Donetsk, which has a population around one million people with a Russian-speaking majority.
The unrecognized nation is now at the center of a controversy surrounding Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was shot down and crashed in the DPR near the Ukrainian-Russian border. Reports from the region allege that separatists are to blame for the incident, which killed all 295 people about the passenger plane, including 23 Americans.
Here’s what you need to know about the DPR:
1. DPR Troops Are at the Wreckage
Representatives of the Doetsk People’s Republic are on the ground at the crash site and are reportedly keeping reporters back. According to Al Jazeera, the pro-Russian separatists have acquired the so-called black box, which records flight data and is used by investigators.
— Andrea Chalupa (@AndreaChalupa) July 17, 2014
Despite these reports, Russian news outlet Interfax claims that rumors of DPR troops interfering with the crash site operations were inaccurate.
2. The DPR ‘Left’ Ukraine in April 2014
On April 7, 2014, pro-Russian rebels took advantage of the chaos in Eastern Ukraine and seized the city of Donetsk, fulfilling a decade’s long struggle to create an independent people’s republic. Around one month later, on May 11, the People’s Republic of Donetsk held a referendum in which the vast Russian ethnic majority voted to secede from Ukraine.
3. The DPR Recently Shot Down Ukrainian Aircraft
Since July 12, at least four Ukrainian military aircraft were shot down by near the Ukrainian-Russian border. Rebels in the Donetsk People’s Republic claimed responsibility for the attack, although many believe Russia may have been involved.
The Associated Press quotes the Ukrainian Defense Minister, Valeriy Heletey, as saying that the rebels did not have weaponry capable of shooting an Antonov-26 at cruising altitude and that Russia may have fired the rockets.
The Malaysia Airlines flights shot down on Thursday was reportedly struck at cruising altitude: 33,000 feet.
4. DPR Prime Minister Alexander Borodai Is Cosy With Moscow
Alexander Borodai became the Prime Minsiter of the DPR on May 15, 2014. Vice News identifies him as a man who is close to Moscow, often calling for Russian military intervention in Eastern Ukraine. Vice also says that although his requests have not been acknowledged, Russian weapons have been streaming into the region.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Borodai, a Russian man, was instrumental in Russia’s annexation of Crimea earlier this year and that he is in close contact with Russian authorities, often returning to Moscow.
5. No One Has Taken Responsibility for the MH 17 Crash
Both Ukraine and Russia are pointing fingers at each other as they attempt to assign blame for the deadly crash. The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. intelligence has confirmed a surface-to-air missile was fired at the jet.
The Ukrainian government says it has proof the Russian military is implicated in the attack, citing the weaponry necessary to take down a plane at 33,000 feet.
Meanwhile, Russian news agency RT is claiming that Ukraine may have been attempting to shoot down a Russian plane carrying President Vladimir Putin.