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19 October, 2016  ▪  Denys Kazanskyi

New Donetskites

How generations shift in the electoral field of the former Party of Regions clans

The word "Donetskite" took on a negative meaning in Ukraine as the Donetsk clan led by former Donetsk Oblast Administration head Viktor Yanukovych became stronger and started to aspire to power. Over the years, this negativity only accumulated, and by the end of 2013 the adjective "Donetskite" (not to be confused with a "resident of Donetsk") was almost a swear word.

However, since the start of the war in the Donbas, the word, strangely enough, has almost disappeared from use. It lost its relevance as Donbas natives lost their power and fled Ukraine en masse. A different, previously unknown word – "separ" [separatist] – replaced it.

So have those whom we called Donetskites really disappeared? Indeed, after the crushing defeat of the Yanukovych clan and the start of the war in the Donbas, the authority of people from the region plummeted. But they did not go anywhere, only retreating into the shadows for a short time before starting a new march on Kyiv. Although Ukraine does not control Donetsk and Luhansk at present, the Donetskites have stayed put and still play an important role in political life.

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As before, the richest citizen of Ukraine is Donetsk oligarch Rinat Akhmetov. The Opposition Bloc (OB) faction in parliament is financed by him and contains people loyal to him. The co-leader of the OB, by the way, is Akhmetov's long-time partner Borys Kolesnikov, also one of the wealthiest Ukrainians, who still has a business in occupied Donetsk. Veterans of the "Donetsk Movement", such as YukhymZviahilskyi, and the Luhansk clans of Nataliya Korolevska, Minister of Social Policy under Yanukovych, and Yuriy Boiko, ex-Minister of Energy under Yanukovych, are also present in the party.

Today, these people are actively thinking through their plans for a return to power. And, admittedly, they are doing everything right. At the very least, Opposition Bloc poll numbers are rising.

However, leading roles in today's Ukraine are being occupied not by veterans of the Party of Regions, but by a new wave of Donetskites. Relatively young, as far as politicians go, they are people from the Donbas that previously played bit parts or were totally obscure. They are currently rapidly gaining strength and influence, and under certain circumstances will even be able to force out their older counterparts in the future.

The new Donetskites are usually not associated with the Opposition Bloc and represent the new political forces that emerged after the 2014 revolution. A classic example of the new Donbass generation is 40-year-old Vitaliy Khomutynnyk, who Ukrainian journalists call the "rising star of the Ukrainian oligarchy".

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Just recently, several investigations devoted to Khomutynnyk have appeared in the media. Each of them recorded a sharp increase in the MP's influence and revenue since the triumph of the Maidan. Vitaliy Khomutynnyk hails from Makiyivka, Donetsk Oblast. He became leader of the Party of Regions youth organisation in 2001 and was first elected to parliament in 2002. At that time, Khomutynnyk was only 26 years old and remained in the shadow of his elder and more influential colleagues. His name was almost unknown in Ukraine.

However, Khomutynnyk's influence grew over the years. After the collapse of the Party of Regions (PoR), where the MP carved out a career for himself, it increased even further. In 2014, the Makiyivka native put himself up for election in a majority constituency of Kharkiv Oblast and won. In the opinion of local journalists, he was able to achieve such a result thanks to the support of Kharkiv Mayor Hennadiy Kernes, who moved to new party Vidrodzhennia (Renaissance) after the collapse of the PoR and led it to victory at local elections in 2015. In this party, a leading role is played by Vitaliy Khomutynnyk himself, who is a member of its political council and leads the parliamentary group of the same name. It is known to be associated with oligarch Ihor Kolomoiskyi.

In 2014, Khomutynnyk officially declared an income of US $293 million. Despite the fact that he has been an MP for the last 14 years. In addition to these millions, he also has a yacht and a private jet, as journalist Khrystyna Berdynskykh discovered not too long ago.

This sudden prosperity came to Khomutynnyk for good reason. When the Donetsk clan lost power, the young "Regional" made friends with Ihor Kolomoiskyi. Today, Khomutynnyk is in business with the oligarch. In addition, the man from Makiyivka is most likely involved in customs fraud. Recently, journalists managed to photograph the screen of his phone, which showed messages to another of Kolomoiskyi's men – ex-Governor of Odesa Oblast Ihor Palytsia. They mentioned suitable amounts for bribes.

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New Donetskites have also appeared in the president's orbit. In the Petro Poroshenko Bloc (PPB) faction today, there are several former "Regionals" from Donetsk Oblast. The most odious is Oleh Nedava, who has been linked to crime boss Yura Yenakiyivskyi (Yuriy Ivaniushchenko). Interestingly, Nedava is a majority constituency MP elected in a constituency not controlled by Ukraine. At the elections, he represented Vuhlehirsk, now captured by the militants.

According to numerous sources, Nedava continues to represent the interests of tycoon Yuriy Ivaniushchenko in Ukraine. Recently, People's Front MP Tatiana Chornovol stated to journalists that Nedava is helping Ivaniushchenko to retain control over the 7th Kilometre Market in Odesa.

Another influential "Regional" in the past and now a member of the PPB is Kramatorsk resident Maksym Yefimov, former deputy on Kramatorsk City Council. At the 2014 elections, Yefimov was victorious in the first-past-the-post Kramatorsk constituency. Then he joined the PPB parliamentary group. Curiously, despite remaining a member of that faction, he is essentially in charge of another party in Kramatorsk – Nash Krai (Our Land). The latter is mainly composed of former PoR members, but is controlled by the Presidential Administration. Poroshenko is trying in this way to pick up some of the former PoR electorate. And local elections in 2015 showed that Our Land did indeed manage to steal away some support from the Opposition Bloc.

This summer, another representative of Our Land, Stakhanov native Serhiy Shakhov, won a by-election in Luhansk Oblast. However, he only managed to do this thanks to massive electoral fraud. Almost all Ukrainian media outlets wrote about the numerous violations in majority constituency 114, but the Central Election Commission turned a blind eye, as tradition demands.

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Shakov's patron in parliament is his old friend Artur Herasymov, who is close to Poroshenko. In 2012, Herasymov attempted to be elected in one of the majority constituencies in Horlivka, where he positioned himself as a member of "Shakhov's team". Shakhov himself ran in Luhansk Oblast. Both lost to representatives of the Party of Regions, who it was virtually impossible to compete with at the time. However, a few years ago the finest hour of "Shakhov's team" came after all.

Things are not so rosy for those who it is now customary to consider fresh-faced Donetskites. For some time, young Yevhen Murayev from Kharkiv, who began to gain popularity after Yanukovych's downfall, was seen as the new figurehead and rising star of the former "Regionals". Nevertheless, after a while he left the Opposition Bloc faction and announced the creation of a new party project alongside another ex-Regional Vadym Rabinovych.

Obviously, in the future a phenomenon like an entire party of people from the Donbas will have no chance of success in Ukraine and will once and for all become a thing of the past. Today, we can already observe how the natives of Eastern regions are dispersing into various parties and projects. Moreover, if Luhansk and Donetsk are not reintegrated into Ukraine in the near future, the Donetsk-Luhansk clans will finally lose their former might and will no longer be able to lay claim to power.

Translated by Jonathan Reilly

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