The crisis in occupied Donbas has grown worse and worse. By the end of January, some very visible protests took place simultaneously in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. Small and micro business owners rose in protest against the new ‘tax code’ issued by Ihor Plotnytskiy’s people, which institutes a sizeable ‘tribute’ effectively making these businesses nearly unprofitable.
“The actions of the ministries of finance and taxes have led to today’s demonstration under the cabinet building,” wrote separatist, Anastasia Piatorikova, who opposes Plotnytskiy. “The main demand is to reduce the tax rate and to cancel the requirement for cash checks and receipts if a retail space is over 15 square meters. Since it is impossible to bring goods into LNR legally, rigorous accounting is unrealistic right now.”
The demonstration under the Luhansk Oblast State Administration (ODA) building, now home to the LNR ‘government,’ involved several hundred Luhansk residents protesting against the separatists and drew widespread attention across Ukraine. The LNR leadership also reacted—by threatening criminal charges against the participants.
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“I’d like to remind all those directly involved that any mass event must be approved by the interior ministry and the local council,” warned LNR ‘deputy interior minister’ Oleksiy Cherepovskiy. “Unsanctioned rallies are punishable by fines and criminal liability.”
Meanwhile, in Russian-held Makiyivka, MakiyivVuhillia miners were also hard-pressed. The association’s mines owed backwages and the debt only kept growing. On January 13, a strike began at the Kholodna Balka mine, when the first shift refused to go down and demanded their back pay.
Shortly, the DNR ‘minister’ showed up and persuaded the miners to work after all. Some got a portion of their owed wages in the form of a few thousand Russian roubles that same day. The most active strikers were fired, however, and the militants promised to punish the leaders, calling them “Ukrainian provocateurs.”
“On January 13, 2016, Makiyivka miners used social networks to stir up anger and start a strike,” DNR press reported. “At the start of the work day, a crowd gathered, including female relatives and former employees. They actively agitated the miners to disrupt production.”
Printed in the separatist paper Makeyevskiy rabochiy, the comments of Larisa Tolstykina, DNR ‘premier’ Aleksandr Zakharchenko’s chief-of-staff, were not music to Donbas ears, however. “All the Makiyivka mines have been operating on a subsidized basis for years,” she wrote. “Today, our challenge is to get our enterprises working on a break-even basis at minimal cost, because this branch is key for the city and the republic… There’s not a single industrial sector here today that is making money that might be used to help miners… MakiyivVuhillia and the branch ministry are working to resolve this problem. I know no one likes the process of reorganization and the layoffs it entails, but, sooner or later, we will have to go through it… The mines must conform to the laws of economy: extract, sell, earn.”
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Ironically, reforming the mining industry had been proposed by more than one Kyiv Government and international donors—and postponed endlessly.
After using leftist populist slogans to heat up the situation in the Donbas in the spring of 2014 and playing on widespread nostalgia for the Brezhnev years to take over the region, Russia’s proxies have brought rapacious, feudal bolshevism to the region instead. The Donbas proletariat now has to work for pennies—often completely without pay. Workers no longer have the right to strike: any organized protests are labeled “treason” and “sabotage,” while the organizers are likely to be imprisoned as “vermin” and “enemies of the people.”
Now occupied Donbas must live by the law, “those who don’t work, don’t eat” and everything that “doesn’t suit the market place” should die. In the early 1990s, the Donetsk elite showered Ukraine with curses. Now, the same Donetsk papers that once portrayed Kyiv and Western Ukraine as the enemy of Donbas are presenting miners as the enemy.
With the destruction of the Ukrainian state in occupied Donbas, the Labor Code has disappeared, as have human rights and freedoms—in fact, everything that the stalinists and communists liked to stigmatize and ridicule in Eastern Ukraine.
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In exchange for poverty and powerlessness, soviet people had achievements to celebrate—nuclear missiles, satellites in space and submarines. Occupied Donbas has only poverty and powerlessness—coupled with criminal chaos, lawlessness, and complete economic collapse. Instead of the ghost of Leonid Brezhnev, the ‘people’s republics’ have raised the ghosts of Lenin vs Stalin. Worse, there is no way to defeat them at the ballot box, now that elections have been cancelled there.
Follow Denys Kazanskyi at @den_kazansky