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31 March, 2016  ▪  Denys Kazanskyi

Truly hearing the Donbas

Patriots from Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts strive to become an influential force

The longer talks on the future of the Donbas continue in Minsk, the more questions you can hear regarding the negotiating team. Questions arise to both the individuals representing Ukraine in Belarus and the country's tactics for the negotiations overall. People that come from the Donbas ask another very important and sensitive question: What about us? Shouldn't the fate of our area be discussed with us first? These people are patriots who were forced to leave the occupied territories and have been left on the outside of the process to discuss the region's future.

Unfortunately, all that remains for internally displaced persons from the Donbas to do today is to get angry in posts on social networks, which the author of this publication can personally confirm, as he was forced to leave Donetsk with his family when he was blacklisted by the militants. Under the statement "hear the Donbas", most still primarily have in mind the militants, the Party of Regions, Communists and the like. The voice of patriotic Donbas residents cannot be heard in Minsk. The Ukrainian Donbas is not party to international negotiations at all. Because of this, people around the world are probably not aware that this sort of Donbas even exists.

The longer talks on the future of the Donbas continue in Minsk, the more questions you can hear regarding the negotiating team. Questions arise to both the individuals representing Ukraine in Belarus and the country's tactics for the negotiations overall. People that come from the Donbas ask another very important and sensitive question: What about us? Shouldn't the fate of our area be discussed with us first? These people are patriots who were forced to leave the occupied territories and have been left on the outside of the process to discuss the region's future.

RELATED ARTICLE: The origins of Donetsk separatism

Unfortunately, all that remains for internally displaced persons from the Donbas to do today is to get angry in posts on social networks, which the author of this publication can personally confirm, as he was forced to leave Donetsk with his family when he was blacklisted by the militants. Under the statement "hear the Donbas", most still primarily have in mind the militants, the Party of Regions, Communists and the like. The voice of patriotic Donbas residents cannot be heard in Minsk. The Ukrainian Donbas is not party to international negotiations at all. Because of this, people around the world are probably not aware that this sort of Donbas even exists.

The situation is frankly absurd. It turns out that the Ukrainian constitution could be changed at the request of unelected criminals who seek to destroy the Ukrainian state and have been robbing and looting the Donbas for two years. And law-abiding citizens who lived in Donetsk and were patriots of their country, creating and building things instead of robbing supermarkets and car dealerships - nobody cares about their opinion.

What crosses the mind of a Kharkiv or Odesa resident who sees this? That it is more advantageous to be a separatist than a patriot in Ukraine. In the first case, you will be listened to and your requirements will be fulfilled. In the second, you lose everything and get an 800 hryvnia ($30) monthly allowance from the state as a refugee.

RELATED ARTICLE: Takeover of Luhansk SBU: early stages of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine

Of course, this situation must change immediately. The only people that can do this are Donbas residents, if they can force the state to listen to them. Some of those who were forced to leave their hometowns have already realised this. Right now, they are forming the Ukrainian People's Council of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts (UPCDO) to combine their forces. Donetsk journalist Stanislav Fedorchuk, who has been living in Lviv since 2014, believes that the organisation could eventually become a respected and influential player in the Donbas negotiations. It would let the Luhansk and Donetsk residents who do not agree with making concessions to terrorists have their voices heard.

"This is about creating a representative self-governing body that will work on the following tasks: carrying out a census of the Ukrainian Donbas including displaced persons, as well as those living on the front line and on free territory, in order to protect the rights and interests of these citizens; restoring the constitutional rights of the Ukrainian citizens who remained loyal to their state, unequivocally recognise the authority of the Ukrainian constitution and the fact that Russia has occupied the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, as well as Crimea; pooling the efforts of the most active citizens in order to gain influence in areas densely inhabited by IDPs and creating conditions for the election of representatives/spokesmen to public authorities (Cabinet, Parliament, Presidential Administration); influencing any diplomatic processes that involve the fate of the occupied territories, individually and as observers," said Fedorchuk.

He added that the idea of ​​creating such a body would be presented at parliamentary hearings on 17 February.

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"Initially, we plan to create an open internet platform through which future members of the UPCDO will be able to register (if they are registered in the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts or have a displaced person document). The next step will be to take it offline in the cities and towns where there are a sufficient number of activists. We want every UPCDO community to elect short-term representatives who will have the right to promote their interests at the oblast and local level. Subsequently, delegates should be nominated for an UPCDO meeting in Kyiv, where a common action plan with specific goals and objectives for 2016 and, at most, the first half of 2017 will be adopted after debates and voting. In addition, this meeting should delegate UPCDO representatives to the Cabinet, Parliament and Presidential Administration. As soon as this working group comes into existence, we will be able to talk about starting negotiations with government institutions on models and forms of cooperation.

Discussions on which legal form should be used to register the UPCDO are continuing. I, for example, believe that it should be a citizens' initiative that will not turn into some sort of social organisation. For example, the Crimean Tatar Mejlis is not registered as a legal entity, but that does not stop it from being a successful and respected representative of interests both domestically and abroad.

The biggest ambition that I would personally like to fulfil is to convert the atomised and dispersed communities of Ukrainian IDPs into a powerful social and political force that sees its future in the EU and is able to clearly define and guard Ukrainian national interests, as well as their own. Moreover, in my opinion, representatives of the Ukrainian Donbas should be an additional party in talks with Russia and the collaborators, since in such circumstances society can be sure that diplomacy is not taking behind the scenes and another political crisis will not be caused when more secret agreements between the negotiators are published," said Fedorchuk.

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Journalists, public figures and politicians who live in Ukraine have joined the organisation. The majority agrees that such consolidation is necessary and should have been started back in 2014.

But better late than never. The emergence of the UPCDO gives us hope that Ukraine will finally hear the Ukrainian Donbas, and the idea that only "separatists and provocateurs" live in Donetsk and Luhansk will be neutralised.

"We are no longer willing to put up with the fact that oligarchs, criminals, the accomplices of Russian aggressors and political bankrupts speak on behalf of the Donetsk and Luhansk Regions. The Ukrainian citizens of Donetsk and Luhansk who left the occupied territories should become a new social force that will effectively and efficiently champion Ukrainian interests regardless of their current place of residence. Civic organisations alone are not able to satisfy all the interests and rights of internally displaced persons, which is why we are announcing our initiative to establish the Ukrainian People's Council of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts as a representative body that can be joined by every citizen of Ukraine who has the status of an internally displaced person and is prepared to attest to the fact that he or she did not take part in the so-called referendum and collaborationist military formations.

We, Ukrainian citizens from the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, are now deprived of our constitutional right to have representatives in local communities and MPs in parliament elected under the majority voting system. However, neither the constitution of Ukraine nor other laws prohibit us from protecting our political, social and economic rights by creating self-governing public structures in our current places of residence, as well as forming elected bodies capable of representing our interests in the Verkhovna Rada, Cabinet of Ministers and Presidential Administration.

Accordingly, we should be a party of any international negotiations on the future of the occupied territories, in whatever format they occur.

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The Ukrainian People's Council of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts stands for the complete and unquestioning struggle against Russian aggression and declares itself to be a pro-European social and political force that will never recognise the violent occupation of Ukrainian lands. We are all aware that the best ally of Russian occupants is the political and economic corruption that in recent years gave them the opportunity to "buy" local authorities and representatives of law-enforcement agencies and the Security Service in the Donetsk Region, Luhansk Region and Crimea. Therefore, the Ukrainian People's Council of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts declares its readiness to fight corruption not only in the case of crimes against IDPs, but also against all citizens of Ukraine," the organisation's founders write in their manifesto.

One can only hope that this initiative really grows into something more than just fine words on paper and will tangibly influence Ukrainian policy on problematic areas in the east.

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