The Russian-Ukrainian hostilities in Donbas has been going on for more than three years and is a major factor affecting the lives of people in the uncontrolled territory of Donetsk region.
Everyday life of Ukrainian citizens and social processes in this territory require careful study to form relevant state policy that would help to preserve ties with of uncontrolled territories residents and facilitate their future integration into Ukrainian common political, informational, cultural, economic, and historical space. An analytical group of the NGO “Donetsk Institute of Information” (hereinafter - DII) summed up the results of 2017 for the territories which are under the “DPR” control.
The main trend in 2017 was the strengthening of ties between uncontrolled areas and the Russian Federation and a significant weakening of ties with the “big” Ukraine. This is observed in the following:
• the “DPR” organization is increasingly consolidating and forming a monolithic management structure in separate districts of Donetsk region (hereinafter – SDDR (ORDO));
• representatives of the “DPR” are trying to indirectly influence Russian state policy;
• the “DPR” group began expansion to the territory controlled by the “LPR” (which controls separate districts of Luhansk region – hereinafter SDLR (ORLO)) and intensified its influence there.
Integration into Russian society. On February 18, 2017 President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin signed Decree No. 74 “On the recognition in the Russian Federation of documents and license plates of vehicles issued to Ukraine's citizens and stateless persons who reside in certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.” .
So Russia began to recognize the documents issued by the “DPR” group. In 2017 residents of Donetsk and Luhansk regions received preferences in Russia to extend the migration status - now they do not need to leave the territory of Russia.
An expected official recognition of SDDR (ORDO), controlled by the “DPR” group, by the Russian Federation, or even integration into it, were not justified. The leaders of Donetsk separatists, supported by Russia, have announced that this process is of phased and gradual nature. Media Monitoring of Donetsk Institute of Information showed that at present the topics related to the Russian Federation do not occupy a leading place in the media controlled by the “DPR” organization2.
The beginning of the election campaign, the aggravation of political struggle and the further monopolization of power. On October 18, 2017 the election campaign started in an uncontrolled territory. The leader of the “DPR” group, Oleksandr Zakharchenko, after the congress of the “Donetsk Republic” public movement, not registered in Ukraine, stated that he will participate in the 2018 elections2. Unilateral elections are not envisaged by the Minsk agreements.
At this congress, the head of the so-called People's Council of the “DNR” Denis Pushylin was dismissed from the position of the head of the executive committee of the movement. Zakharchenko said that Puschylin should focus on the Minsk negotiations, on the work in the so-called “People's Council of the DPR”, which he heads, and decide on the integration of the SDDR (OPDO) into the Russian Federation.
Pushylin's position in the movement was taken by the director of Donetsk Music and Drama Theatre Tetiana Volkova, who is close to Zakharchenko. Pusylin, as one of the most popular leaders of the SDDR (OPDO), could potentially be Zakharchenko's contestant.
The “Donetsk Republic” movement is the ruling one in the uncontrolled territory of Donetsk region and has a majority in the so-called “People's Council of the DPR”.
Zaharchenko's statement on his participation in the elections launched an informal election campaign and intensified the covert political struggle within the group. At the moment, it is not about the possibility of holding free and democratic elections in the militarized area of the SDDR (OPDO), controlled by the “DPR”, but even the need for formal elections is a serious organizational challenge for the Zakharchenko’s administration.
Individual groups will use the elections as a right time for promoting their own interests and putting pressure on self-proclaimed power. It is also an opportunity for paramilitary groups in the structure of the “DPR” opposed to Zakharchenko to screen the forcible takeover of the power.
Oleksandr Khodakovskyi, the head of the “Patriotic forces of Donbas” movement, the field commander of the “DPR” group, who directly warns the local administration from repeating the Luhansk scenario, declared his intention to take part in the elections .
The public conflict between the group of the so-called MP of the People's Council of the “DPR” Pavlo Hubarev and the self-proclaimed minister of inland revenue of the “DPR” Oleksandr Timofeev became acute. Hubarev accuses Zakharchenko's “minister” in systemic pressure on business .
On the eve of the elections, all the groups within pro-Russian separatist forces try to satisfy their own interests, expecting that the government will make concessions for the sake of political calm during the elections in 2018.
The system pressure on media continues. In June, the blogger Stanislav Aseiev was arrested by the “DPR” representatives . For every recorded external of illegal detention of a journalist or blogger in an uncontrolled Donbas territory, there are 4-5 more cases that the public does not know about .
In the conditions when independent media and bloggers are almost unable to work in an uncontrolled territory, the self-proclaimed government has increased pressure on its own media and the “DPR” supporters disloyal to it. In November, the father of the “DPR” “Novorossiya” TV channel editor was kidnapped in Donetsk.
The TV channel is controlled by the group of Pavlo Hubarev. Also, for criticism of the “DPR” leadership the journalist Roman Manekin, who publicly opposes the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and whose activities are aimed at strengthening the SDDR (ORDO) as a “separate state”, was abducted and imprisoned for more than a month.
The economy cross over to Russia. On March 1, 2017, the representatives of the “DPR” introduced an external management at the enterprises of the uncontrolled territory, which had previously worked in the Ukrainian legal field. The reason for these actions was the blockade of freight railways through the demarcation line, which started in January of 2017 by separate activists and representatives of registered Ukrainian political parties and forces.
In response, by Decree of the President of Ukraine No. 62/2017 "On the decision of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine dated March 15, 2017,’On urgent additional measures to counter hybrid threats to the national security of Ukraine’”, the movement of goods through the demarcation line within the Donetsk and Luhansk regions was temporarily suspended.
The so-called “external management” of the “DPR” was introduced in 43 enterprises - mainly the enterprises of the metallurgical and coal-mining industries, which were closely connected with the Ukrainian economy. Most of these enterprises are part of Rinat Akhmetov “SCM” company structure. After the capture of the enterprises, they were restarted only partially.
Some enterprises of the metallurgical industry started to work at reduced capacity. Anthracite coal from captured mines is partially sold on the markets of third countries and countries of the European Union . But this was not enough to stop the deep economic crisis in the uncontrolled territory.
All large industrial enterprises, where the so-called external management was introduced, are run by a Russian-based enterprise, “Vneshtorgservis”, which is exempt from taxation in the territory controlled by “DPR” . This enterprise became another independent centre of Russian influence in the SDDR (ORDO).
Strengthening political influence on neighbouring territories
The “DPR” has begun political expansion on neighbouring territories and tries to influence Russian policy. The “DPR” has increased its influence on the political situation in the territory controlled by the “Lugansk People's Republic” illegal group. The leadership of these two formations was in a state of permanent covert conflict because of the shady product deliveries from the territory controlled by the “DPR” to Luhansk. In November 2017 the “DPR” representatives in the role of “peacekeepers” took an active part in the events related to the power shift in Luhansk. After Plotnitskyi, the former “LPR” head, has escaped to the Russian Federation, Leonid Pasechnik, head of the local “MGB” (the so-called Ministry of State Security), was appointed to this position. Anatoliy Antonov, the “DPR” “MGB” representative, took the position of Luhansk “MGB” head.
● The Ukrainian authorities should strengthen efforts to preserve the ties of citizens residing on an uncontrolled territory with the Ukrainian space (politics, economy, cultural ties, etc.).
● The economic blockade of uncontrolled territories contributed to their integration into the Russian Federation. It is necessary to avoid the restrictive actions as much as possible or gradually mitigate them, if this does not affect the safety of citizens.
● The territory controlled by “DPR” remains a dangerous place for the work of journalists and public or political activists who want to freely convey their message to the audience. Representatives of the Ukrainian authorities should focus on recording and documenting such cases of human rights violations and join forces to report the monitoring results to the general public.