The “Third Path” for the Kharkov region

NEW – May 29, 2022

(The Transfiguration Cathedral of the city of Izyum is a masterpiece of the Cossack Baroque, the oldest surviving Orthodox churches of the Sloboda region, built in 1682-1684 at the expense of the elders of the Izyum Sloboda Cossack regiment. Photo: 2013, Dmitry Pavlenko’s personal archive)

The outgoing week was marked by the adoption of an important and truly historic document. On Wednesday, May 25, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin extended the effect of Decree No. 183 of April 24, 2019 “On determining for humanitarian purposes the categories of persons entitled to apply for citizenship of the Russian Federation in a simplified manner” to residents of the Zaporozhye and Kherson regions of the former Ukraine.

Now people from these regions can obtain Russian citizenship in the shortest possible time according to the same scheme that has been operating in the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics for two years. As of the end of January 2022, more than 720,000 citizens of the DPR and LPR took advantage of it.

The technical details of the implementation of this decree have yet to be worked out. But it is already obvious that this will be carried out according to the Crimean, and not according to the Donbass version. In the case of Donbass, the issuance of a Russian passport in a simplified manner was carried out if a person had a DPR/LPR passport – a kind of intermediate document certifying that a person belongs to these states. This created certain bureaucratic delays for many, which had to be overcome on the way to obtaining the coveted red little book. In addition, the procedure for obtaining a Russian passport itself took place on the territory of the neighbouring Rostov region of the Russian Federation. However, it is not yet fully known whether residents of the liberated districts of the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions will have to travel to neighbouring Crimea for Russian passports, or document issuance centres will be organised directly in these regions.

However, these are all technical nuances that absolutely do not affect the main thing – the process of the reintegration of the Zaporozhye and Kherson regions into Russia can no longer be reversed.

The absence of the Kharkov region in the document causes alarm and concern.

What is happening in the liberated part of the Kharkov region?

To date, only the eastern part of the region is controlled by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation: the Velikourluksky, Dvurechansky, Kupyansky, Shevchenkovsky, Borovsky districts completely, most of the Volchansky and Izyumsky districts, about half of the Balakleysky and Pechenezhsky districts, as well as a small part of the Dergachevsky, Kharkovsky, Chuguevsky and Barvenkovsky districts*. Taking into account the maximum centralisation of the Kharkov region and the absence of large regional centres in it (such as Melitopol or Berdyansk in the Zaporozhye region) competing with the regional centre, a fully-fledged Kharkov regional military-civil administration has not yet been created. Although, at the end of March it was reported that the Temporary Civil Administration of the Liberated Territories of the Kharkov region, headed by a former employee of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine and the LPR Vitaly Ganchev, began its work in Volchansk. But so far, this structure has not yet become, as in the case of Zaporozhye, a real alternative to the Ukrainian Kharkov regional military-civil administration, which exercises full power in the part of the region still controlled by the Kiev regime.

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It is worth noting that the absence of a clearly structured vertical of power in the liberated part of the Kharkov region has a very negative effect on the mood of the civilian population. There is such a situation that Ukraine has already left, simultaneously cutting off all communications, including payments of pensions and salaries, the banking system, electricity, even mobile communications and the Internet, and Russia has not yet fully entered this territory. Many people simply do not understand what will happen next. Those who have the opportunity, travel to the border areas of Russia or the LPR to catch a cellular connection or cash out money.

“There is electricity in Kupyansk, but there is no connection. They go to the Lugansk region both for communication and for medicines. There is enough food in the shops, but there is not enough medicine. There is practically no work. Those few who still receive a Ukrainian salary, go to cash out in Svatovo at minimum 20% of it: only cash is accepted in Kupyansk stores,” the “Our Kharkov” Telegram channel describes the situation.

It should be noted that the situation with the supply of electricity in the liberated areas of Kharkov region normalised on May 8-9, when Russian power engineers carried out power lines from the territory of the neighbouring Belgorod region of the Russian Federation. Nevertheless, the humanitarian situation in the Russian-controlled areas of the Kharkov region remains difficult.

In early April, units of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation left previously occupied territories in the Kiev, Chernigov and Sumy regions. And a month later, weak barriers of reservists from the DPR and LPR retreated from several settlements in the Dergachevsky, Kharkovsky and Volchansky districts of the Kharkov region, after which units of Ukrainian punishers entered there, who immediately began looting and cleansing. Against the backdrop of these events, many people who are loyal to Russia and the Russian army (and there are an absolute majority of such people in the Kharkov region) have a well-founded concern for their future if Russian troops leave their towns and villages for some unknown reason. After the massacres perpetrated by Ukrainian militants against civilians in Bucha, who were later passed off by Zelensky’s terrorist regime as “Russian atrocities”, no one has any illusions about what will happen if Ukraine suddenly returns.

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The Kiev authorities do not hide the fact that they consider all residents of the territories liberated by Russia to be “separatists” and “collaborators”, daily striking Izyum and other settlements that were not lucky enough to be relatively close to the front line. In addition, lists of “traitors” from among representatives of local governments and businesses cooperating with Russia are compiled on Ukrainian resources on the web. It got to the point that the SBU took hostage the 20-year-old daughter of the mayor of Kupyansk, Gennady Matsegor (who is accused of surrendering the city without a fight to the Russian military and cooperating with Russia) and blackmailing her father.

KPR, LPR or the return of the Sloboda region?

The absence of the Kharkov region in the decree of the President of the Russian Federation on the simplified acquisition of Russian citizenship by residents of the liberated territories of the former Ukraine is a frankly unfair step towards the Russian residents of Kharkov, who are now experiencing all the weight and hardships associated with military operations and the change of power in their region. It is necessary now to make it clear to the residents of the liberated eastern part of the Kharkov region that Russia has returned forever, and no one will abandon them not only for military reasons, but, above all, for humanitarian reasons.

Therefore, it is not necessary to wait for the liberation of the regional center (and in the light of the incessant Ukrainian shelling of the territory of the Belgorod region, the operation to expel the Nazis from Kharkov seems inevitable) in order to form a solid vertical of power in the part of the Kharkov region already controlled by Russia, which will take concrete and real steps to restore the region, primarily social and economic spheres, as well as its reintegration into Russia. Or, as an alternative step, temporarily attach them to the neighbouring LPR and DPR, subordinating local authorities directly to Lugansk and Donetsk. In a way, this process is already taking place, given that the Interior Ministry units of the Lugansk People’s Republic are serving in the Kharkov region.

There is also a third way – the most unlikely at the moment, but, according to the subjective opinion of the author of this publication, the most justified from a historical and economic point of view — the subordination of the liberated districts of Kharkov to the Russian Belgorod region. Perhaps with the prospect of a subsequent merger of Belgorod, Kharkov, and subsequently Sumy regions into a single Sloboda region.

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So, in the second half of the 17th-18th centuries, the territory of the modern Kharkov region belonged to the lands of the Izyum, Kharkov and Akhtyr Sloboda Cossack regiments. These were semi-autonomous military and administrative-territorial units, which by order of Tsar Pyotr I in 1719 were assigned to the Belgorod province. On March 1, 1727, by decree of the wife of the late Pyotr the Great, Empress Ekaterina I, an independent Belgorod province was formed, which the Sloboda Cossack regiments were subordinated to in civil terms (with a pause in 1732-1743) until the formation of the Sloboda Ukraine province with its centre in Kharkov in 1765. At the same time, the dual administrative subordination (military — to Kharkov, civil — to Belgorod) of some uezds — Miropolsky, Alyoshansky, Khotomlyansky, Saltovsky remained until 1779, when the Belgorod province was abolished, and its territory was divided between the Kursk, Orel, Voronezh and Kharkov governorates.

Interestingly, in the early 2000s, when the Kharkov region was headed by Evgeny Kushnarev and the Belgorod region by Evgeny Savchenko, an initiative was put forward to create a “Slobozhanshchina” euro-region – close cross–border cooperation between the two regions. After the “orange revolution” in Ukraine, the new Kharkov authorities, represented by the then little-known Arsen Avakov, preferred not to recall this idea. They returned to it only in 2011-2012, but practical implementation was limited only to simplifying the procedure for crossing the border by residents of the border areas of Kharkov and Belgorod regions (the author personally crossed the border several times in 2012-2013 under this agreement without filling out migration cards and humiliating inspections). After the 2014 Ukrainian coup d’etat, even this small achievement came to naught.

So, the “third way” we have indicated has a historical basis. And the residents of Belgorod region and Kharkov region are connected not only by a common past, but also by close cultural, economic and family ties, which even eight years of Maidan-like hard times in Ukraine could not destroy.

Today, as three or four centuries ago, the Russian Sloboda region has become a strategic outpost of Russia, from which the reunification and revival of Malorossiya begins.

*We give the administrative-territorial division of the Kharkov region as of July 1, 2020, before the “reform of local self-government” carried out by the Zelensky regime, within the framework of which 20 of the 27 municipal districts of the Kharkov region were abolished.


Dmitry Pavlenko

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