Sunday, January 29
Укр Eng
Log In Register
7 March, 2020  ▪  Denys Kazanskyi

The march of dis-integration

The self-proclaimed republics in occupied Donbas are changing their rhetoric about returning to Ukraine and are more actively imposing the attributes of a statelet...

Despite the regular promises of Ukrainian officials about peace in the Donbas and the planned reintegration of ORDiLO, the beginning of the new year saw the occupied territories take the opposite tack. Not only are Russia’s proxies not preparing to get closer to Ukraine, but they are actually doing everything possible to eradicate all things Ukrainian in the territories they control.

In the first few days of January, Russki Mir, which means both Pax Russiana and Russian World, ushered in the New Year for residence of the occupied Donbas in a highly original manner. Already at the end of December, the militants had announced that curfew would be lifted between January 1 and 8, 2020, but the good news was swiftly followed by bad as a new form of terrorizing began against ordinary Ukrainians. Holders of Ukrainian passports and license plates faced a real round-up: anybody without a “DNR document,” which means the vast majority of those living in ORDiLO, were suddenly being picked up on the streets by patrols and taken to local police stations to be interrogated. Frightened residents found their cell phones being checked for content and their fingerprints were taken. The only answer they received to any questions was that a Ukrainian passport was no longer considered a valid identifying document in the pseudo-republics. Everybody had to get a DNR/LNR document instead.

For ORDiLO residents, this came as a complete shock. There had been absolutely no warning about this change, and most of them had never applied for a proxy passport, seeing no purpose to doing so. And, even those who had actually applied for one were waiting months to get it because the pseudo-republics’ bureaucracies worked badly and were slow. This meant that even individuals who were actually loyal to the militants found themselves in an impossible situation and were also labeled “unreliable.” 

RELATED ARTICLE: Dead Souls: The people’s census

One member of the “public chamber of DNR,” Oleksandr Bolotin, posted an audio recording with a woman from Donetsk who explained that she simply had not been able to get a “DNR passport” in time, yet she was stopped in the street and taken go the police station. “On January 5, a police patrol came up to me and asked for my passport. I showed it but they rudely grabbed it from my hands and shoved me and three other people into their car. They took us to vulytsia Shchorsa to the district police station, harangued us for three hours, took our fingerprints and photographed us. What’s going on, anyway? What kind of crime is it that I have a Ukrainian passport but I don’t have a DNR one? I showed them the text message saying that I was in the electronic queue [to receive a “DNR passport”] for July 14, but it made no difference. This just undermines trust in the ‘republics,’” the woman complained.

ORDiLO social nets were abuzz with similar stories during the holiday period. The proxies themselves confirmed by phone that they planned to detain everybody in the streets who doesn’t have a “DNR passport.”

All this raised a huge wave of anger and negativity in the occupied territories. Even those Ukrainians who basically support the militants and would like to see ties with Ukraine severed once and for all were angry, not so much by the round-up but by the fact that it had started without any warning. “I don’t disagree that residents of the republics should have a local passport, but why couldn’t people be warned in advance, let them know a year before?” an angry resident of Makiyivka wrote in a local public forum. “Everybody knows how long the lines are to get documents, and lots of people haven’t applied only because they don’t want to deal with the red tape, and suddenly they’ve decided to declare us all illegitimate without any warning. What is this? Are they going out of their way to upset people?”

The Donetsk Aborigine telegram channel, which is linked to the one-time “speaker” of the “DNR parliament” Andriy Purgin, wrote that the round-up began because residents of ORDiLO were in no rush to get a “DNR passport” voluntarily. And so, the argument went, it was necessary to force them through outright terror.

RELATED ARTICLE: Portrait in dirty grey

A similar “surprise” awaited owners of cars with Ukrainian license plates rather than “DNR plates.” The DNR highway patrol stopped such cars on the road, impounded the vehicles and issued the owners huge fines. Even a DNR inspection sticker didn’t help. The situation was complicated further by the fact that many Ukrainians from the rest of Ukraine came to ORDiLO for the holidays to visit family, and they are obviously not residents of the “republics.” But this fact made no difference to the militants. All drivers with Ukrainian plates were rolled, regardless.

And in a flash, the Russian proxies found themselves with a new source of revenue. Overnight, special paid lockers for “D/LNR plates” appeared at line of contact crossings. Of course, no one can drive on Ukraine’s roads with such plates, and so those who regularly travel in and out of the occupied territory generally managed exclusively with Ukrainian plates until the last minute. Now all of these people have been put in an impossible situation by the militants and have had to immediately change their Ukrainian plates for “republican” ones whenever they drive into ORDiLO. Now, fortunately, these plates can be stored at the crossing point. According to locals, the price is RUB 50 a day, which is about UAH 19 or less than a dollar.

All these developments suggest that Russia will continue to turn the territories snatched from Ukraine into unrecognized statelets along the lines of Abkhazia or Transnistria. Chances are that these sudden steps at the beginning of 2020 were driven by the fact that Vladimir Putin was unable to get President Zelenskiy to agree about reintegrating ORDiLO. It’s clear to everybody there won’t be any “special status” in the Ukrainian Constitution and so they have decided to build the latest eternally unrecognized geopolitical misunderstanding.

What supports this interpretation is also the sudden change in rhetoric among the ORDiLO propaganda press. Where it once dedicated flash mobs to Zelenskiy and asked him to acknowledge the Donbas’s choice, blaming any shelling of their territory on the “ambitions activities” of some “radicals” bent on “deliberately discrediting Zelenskiy,” since the new year, a squall of negativity of a very personal nature has been unleashed on the Ukrainian leader. Now Russia’s proxies are accusing him of “genocide” and “crimes against Donbas,” and are preparing to organize something along the lines of a tribunal against him in absentia.

All these developments point to the fact that the much-promised “peace in the Donbas” of Zelenskiy’s election campaign remains a long way off. To just stop shooting or “agree to meet halfway” is not happening. Halfway has proved too little for Putin and so the indefinite war continues and is likely to continue for a long time yet.

RELATED ARTICLE: Opinion under occupation

The complete ceasefire by the end of 2019 that was agreed at the Normandy summit, like its many antecedents, never happened. And Russia’s proxies have managed, in just half a year, to turn the new Ukrainian president into the same “fascist scourge” as his predecessor. 

For now, it looks like Plan B for occupied Donbas has kicked in, that is, Ukraine’s already-announced building of a wall if Russia did not compromise on the reintegration of ORDiLO. And although Zelenskiy stated in December that this was the least of all possible options, Ukraine really is not being left with any other choice.


Translated by Lidia Wolanskyj

Follow us at @OfficeWeek on Twitter and The Ukrainian Week on Facebook

Related publications:

Copyright © Ukrainian Week LLC. All rights reserved.
Reprint or other commercial use of the site materials is allowed only with the editorial board permission.
Legal disclaimer Accessibility Privacy policy Terms of use Contact us