Translated by Ollie Richardson
Just thirty years ago Donbass was a rich region, where there was always a lot of work, but there were not enough workers. Today everything has changed: there is no work, people leave, and the industry is dying in front of its eyes. The correspondent Sabina Adler on the website of the German public broadcasting radio station “Deutschlandfunk” describes how the population of Donbass today lives on the territory controlled by Ukraine, and what the adopted law “On the reintegration of Donbass“ will bring to this region.
Sabine Adler visited Lisichansk, in the Lugansk region, where coal has been mined since 1795. Today, however, more and more mines stop working, although the coal can last another hundred years.
In Lisichansk, unlike other places, the mines were not flooded with water because of the fighting. However, the blockade led to serious consequences for the previously united Donbass. Spare parts for lifting devices came from Russia and from the territories now under the control of the LDPR. Today it is impossible to repair something that goes down under the earth and on the surface. The head of the mining union Vladimir Ivanishin gives examples: “Rubber belts are not produced in Ukraine, they make them in Kursk, i.e., in Russia, and we have no right to purchase them from there. Coal mining machines come from the Urals or from Tula, i.e., also from Russia. Engineering plants in Gorlovka and Druzhkovka produce Ukrainian equipment, but Gorlovka is completely destroyed, and Druzhkovka – partially. The blockade and the war cause us great harm”.
Because of the worn-out equipment, which is not modernised and can only be repaired, coal production fell by almost 20%, which also reduced income. Everywhere there is shortage of funds. The mine can’t pay for energy, contributions to the pension fund fell and tax collection in this region decreased, reports “Deutschlandfunk”. No improvement is in sight, says the local activist Eduard Shcheglakov: “20-30 miles separate us from the frontline. Fighting can break out at any time with renewed vigour. Who will come here with investments? Even Ukrainian investors do not come here.”
The recently adopted law on the reintegration of Donbass will change the situation of the inhabitants of Eastern Ukraine for the worse. The human rights organisation “Right to protect” is trying to help displaced persons and support the claims for damages as a result of the destruction of property. Activist and lawyer Darina Tolkach fears that now no one will receive compensation: “In the law only Russia is declared responsible for the damage caused by the war. For people this means that they must now send complaints to the Russian Federation via the Ukrainian court. How all of this is supposed to work isn’t explained by anyone”.
“Deutschlandfunk” notes that, under the new law, Ukraine will have three different zones: the occupied territory with the self-proclaimed people’s republics, the safe area – actual Ukraine, and a buffer zone, which will require special documents from the new command of the Armed Forces. This buffer zone will be established in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, where the population, although close to the occupied territories, nevertheless lives normally, like the rest of the Ukraine. “Now quasi-law will dominate in wartime,” said the lawyer Darina Tolkach.
In the preamble of the law on the reintegration Russia is called the aggressor, which gives pleasure to the majority of deputies of the Verkhovna Rada, if they voted “Yes”. And those who criticise this immediately become agents of the Kremlin. Darina Tolkach, however, openly stated: “This law is pure populism. This is a sign that the pre- election fight started, before the presidential election. Elections will be held next year. Points need to be scored. However, the people in the occupied territories still haven’t received pensions and owed salaries, which Kiev had to pay to them in 2014. This isn’t about reintegration, but only about the extension of powers of security bodies”.
Even without the war in Ukraine the mines often had accidents. Now at the enterprises of the mining industry of Lisichansk, located just a few kilometers from the frontline, there is no money even for the installation of underground roof supports. There is a growing risk of accidents and delayed salaries. That’s why union leader Vladimir Ivanishin sounded the alarm: “When there aren’t even conventional respiratory masks, work underground must be stopped. But where in this case should the people go? What should they live on? We haven’t extracted and sold enough coal, so salary arrears accumulated from December, 2015 to this very day, which amounts to 133 million hryvnia.” This is €4 million, says the article.
The miners are not to blame for the decline in coal mining. They worked more, and not less. Instead of descending to the bottom in a cage, they were forced to travel kilometer after kilometer, and some of the transporters went off-line, so coal is transported by trolleys. Many were not able to tolerate it, the majority left and went to the “aggressor” country – Russia, where there are jobs. And in the neighbouring Severodonetsk people flee the city’s chemical enterprises en masse.
“Before the war, in February 2014 we had 7,000 workers, today – 3500. People left for Russia or Europe, many retired,” said Valery Chernysh, the trade union boss of the “Azot” factory, part of the chemical group owned by the oligarch Dmitry Firtash, whose life is unlikely to be complicated by the problems of the chemical plant in Severodonetsk. There are a lot of problems. “Our region is no longer connected to the central Ukrainian power grid,” explains Chernysh. “This state of affairs has been going on for three and a half years. And we have to pay high prices for gas because now it comes not from Russia but from Europe.”
“If our businesses are able to work normally again, we wouldn’t go around the world with an outstretched hand. But Ukraine shows its citizens that they are not interested in this,” said Chernysh.
All trade union and public figures, as well as ordinary workers who spoke with the correspondent of “Deutschlandfunk” are sure that too many profit from war, so it will last for a long time. Kiev’s decision to ban all economic ties with the so-called people’s republics and Russia cause even greater harm than the war does – they all say this in chorus.
“The new law on the reintegration of Donbass divides, rather than unites. The law primarily benefits the President, because the actual declaration of a state of war in some regions allows the government to cancel the elections next year,” assured Darina Tolkach.
Does Ukraine hear Donbass – at least the territory it controls? It’s unlikely.
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