All of these statements are based on my extensive time reporting in Donbass, DPR and LPR. All of these statements are substantiated by my extensive video reportage from Donbass, which can be found on my YouTube channel.
- Life in Donetsk, centre, on the surface, whatever you read or hear, actually looks like life in Donetsk pretty much as it would have been before the war. And I know, because I was in Donetsk before the war, in 2012. Actually life in most all of the towns and cities of the DPR looks much as it would have done. Here’s a look at the town of Enakievo, around 50km from Donetsk –
- Of course, over 18 months of war there mean there are some differences – not every shop is working, not everyone has returned home, meaning fewer people, and an understandable lack of tourists, international visitors. And new flags – the Donetsk People’s Republic (have a look at October’s Flag Day below) –
- While there’s no shelling – in the centre of Donetsk, at least, there are sometimes events connected to war – the killing of a commander in Donetsk a few weeks ago by sniper, the recent imbroglio involving the Troy battalion. Even when you’re on the scene, it can sometimes hard to ascertain the exact details, in the murk which exists when active war halts, factions jostle for position in a still establishing set-up, and some just find it hard to shake behaviours associated with a war footing or adapted to being demobbed.
- With war footing somewhat de-escalated, and freer passage at blockposts, some ‘pro-Ukrainian‘ provocateurs / saboteurs have clearly been able to enter the city, with recent vandalism and attacks on the Lenin statue in the city’s centre.
- The mood among people there towards Ukraine, is, with little exception, negative due to the shelling of Donbass by Ukrainian forces. However, it’s also tinged with sadness – many you speak to will express real regret about not being able to visit relatives in parts of Ukraine, having fallen out with relatives in parts of Ukraine due to the war. See these sentiments expressed in this report, from July of 2015 –
- Relationships with the DPR are varied. Some wish for the DPR to be part of a Novorossiya, others Russia itself, some a self-standing state. Some lament the fact that bank machines still don’t operate, and passports can’t be issued, that children are born in an, as yet, unrecognised republic, matters such as house sale and purchasing, weddings, are still further grey areas, with certain documentation needing to be routed through Ukraine.
That said, across the board, after coming up for 2 years, people have got used to the DPR and, with few exceptions, accept it. There is actually a lot of positivity, and patriotism towards the DPR – many people will tell you that they love, are proud of their young republic, there are youth organisations, young people have the DPR flag on phones, backpacks, t-shirts. (see below for photos) Have a look at this recent video from a Gorlovka bus stop, and Donetsk centre, to get a sense of the mood.
- Most things are working – water, electricity, internet, phone signal, shops, restaurants, municipal services such as libraries, buses, streets are cleaned, bins emptied. Banks don’t work, there are no car dealers operating, McDonalds is of course long shuttered, of course there’s no airport. But in general, most things are working, and working pretty well – the problem of petrol has been solved, you can buy everything you need, people are opening shops, and businesses.
- Life is going on – in Gorlvoka, for example, 18 babies were born in the last week!
- There’s a working parliament in Donetsk, in operation for 18 months, organised and orderly. Have a look at it yourself –
- Festivities are marked – every town in the DPR had a Christmas tree, with a large-scale turn-out for the opening of the 20 metre-plus Donetsk one, with many expressing sentiments it was the ‘best yet’ in the city – a drone look at that here –Meanwhile a look at a recent Donetsk food festival here –
- It’s not all Donetsk, the DPR’s capital city and undisputed centrifugal force – have a look at this video of a dance class from formerly war-ravaged Ilovaisk, putting on a concert in formerly war-ravaged Debaltsevo –To go back a bit, this was a folk festival from the town of Torez , some 70km from Donetsk, in summer –
- Everything’s on the rouble, by the way, it’s been that way for over 6 months, it’s entirely accepted. Prices of things are generally a bit higher than Russia, for example petrol is 42 roubles per litre in DPR, versus around 34-35 in Russia. But petrol has actually come down, from near 60 roubles at times last year, and prices in shops have generally stabilised, though remain expensive in relation to generally low DPR salaries.
- It’s true that certain Ukrainian news sites are blocked, the more extreme ‘pro-Ukraine’ ones, but most actually aren’t.
- Don’t think that local people are ‘piped’ non-stop Russian media. There are several well-established local channels, mostly fronted by local, young journalists – Novorossiya, Union, 1st Republic, Oplot, there’s more – watched by a lot of people in the area.
- DPR leader Alexander Zakharchenko enjoys a high level of popularity in the DPR. True that he does tend to walk around with armed guards, but Zakharchenko is actually pretty approachable, and friendly (see video here). As for press conferences – no issues there, pitch up with standard journalistic accreditation (easy to obtain), and you can ask him literally anything, including ‘inconvenient’ questions –
- There’s cultural life in DPR – cinemas, theatres, the circus, long open for business in Donetsk and across the DPR.
- Life in the frontier settlements of the DPR is, as in the case of Spartak here, just about as bad as it gets – people living in ruin, with no water, electricity –
- There’s no question that some parts of the DPR still need humanitarian aid. I’d give a special mention to Patrick Lancaster here, for all the work he’s doing on that front –
- The situation with work is getting better, but there’s a long way to go. Municipal functions – hospitals, police, schools, the service sector (below a video of Donetsk garages in operation) are working. But the economic blockade of the DPR area means that the firms able to offer the professional employment which would attract back many of those young professionals who left, are yet to materialise –
- It’s not exactly war or peace – there was real war by any definition, in 2015, guns blazing, territory changing hands, Donbass under relentless shelling.It’s not been like that for a while now, so you can’t exactly describe it as ‘war’….
- But try telling those whose homes have been hit by Ukrainian shelling – as still happens with regularity – there’s ‘peace’ –
- Russia helps, with humanitarian aid still arriving, and Russian finance funding restoration across the DPR, here the restitution of a Debaltsevo kindergarten below (video to come on that). There’s a lot of gratitude for the help, and goodwill towards Russia, along with a feeling that Russia could do more. A lack of real trade between the DPR and Russia means the DPR having to sell its coal to Ukraine, for example, for a fraction of its worth.
- The actions of the EU and US in relation to Donbass – their supporting of the Ukrainian military – are deeply unpopular in the DPR. Have a look at this recent video where Donetsk residents respond to my being from the UK –
- People in the DPR want peace. I recently filmed a series of interviews asking DPR residents for new year messages, the first response, almost across the board, was peace. Here, Donetsk children release balloons in a New Year event, spelling out ‘Peace’ –
- But not peace at any price. To spend time in the DPR is to understand any notion of its returning to Ukraine is absurd. When Ukraine took new territory in Donbass in summer of 2014, the early phase was marked by witch-hunts for ‘separatists’ or ‘separatist supporters’. Across the DPR, people feel comfortable with openly expressing their support for the ‘young republic’ as its known.The DPR – you can dislike it, and in Ukraine indeed they do, or like it, and no question it’s a transitional time there, but it’s here to stay. I asked for a few photos of people showing DPR colours on social media, and in a few minutes, this is just a sampling of the response –