From April 13 to April 17, 2015, I participated in a press tour to Donbas, the region in eastern Ukraine torn by armed conflict between Ukrainian military forces and local insurgency. The people of Donbas (the region includes the oblasts of Donetsk and Lugansk), rebelled last year against Kyiv’s imposed integration with the European Union and its new, official history and ideology based on extreme and exclusive Ukrainian nationalism.
Donbas has always been a predominantly Russian-speaking region, oriented culturally and integrated economically to Russia. When in February of 2014 the Euromaidan “Revolution” overthrew the elected President Victor Yanukovych, Donbas rejected this overthrow as well as the violence with which it was carried out. Donbas did not recognize itself in this West supported coup-d’état, which was celebrated in the Western and Ukrainian media as a popular revolt against a “corrupted dictator”. Donbas responded with its own protests and demands to hold a referendum on the future of the region. Kyiv answered these legitimate demands by launching an “anti-terrorist” operation against its own people in April 2014.
I saw first-hand these “terrorists” in Donetsk – people who before this fratricidal war were owners of small businesses, miners, university professors, engineers, security service officers, and so on. After Kyiv launched a war against them, they decided that they want to build something different from the oligarchic regime in Kyiv – a new state, free from corruption and nationalism. In Donetsk and in Lugansk, they have created new political entities with emerging governing structures—the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Lugansk Peoples Republic.
It is an enormous and difficult task. Ukraine has cut all the supplies to the rebellious region. Russia has not recognized the people’s republics politically, but it does provide them with humanitarian aid. I talked to these courageous people in Donetsk who, in spite of all difficulties, work every day to fulfill their dream. They have created their own banking system, the first old age pensions have been paid as of April 1, students are attending local universities, kids are in public schools, and destroyed infrastructure is being slowly repaired and rebuilt. Resources are scarce, but people of the DPR are doing the best they can under the circumstances.