Humanitarian Aid and War in Donbass: Sober Reality and Hope for the Future

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November 24, 2016 – 

By Eduard Popov for Fort Russ – translated by J. Arnoldski –

On the morning of November 24th, the 58th humanitarian convoy from the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations arrived in Donetsk and Lugansk. The convoy included over 40 white KAMAZ trucks which have become symbols of Russia’s aid to the republics of Donbass. The cargo delivered to the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics included medicines, baby food, and cereals. 

It is reported that the unloading of the convoy has been successful and the convoy is now heading back in the direction of the Russian border. 

The first humanitarian convoy of Russia’s emergency ministry was sent to Donbass in August 2014. Overall, the humanitarian situation in the Donbass republics requires very detailed analysis and coverage. In this article, I will merely point out a set of dynamic problems and changes in both of the people’s republics of Donbass that have taken place over their brief time of existence. Let us examine several aspects in particular. 

Now, in the 21st century, there is a real hunger problem in the center of Eastern Europe. Not a threat, but a reality. Western and even Russian media have hushed up this topic in order not to shock public opinion, but the fact remains that the Ukrainian army’s constant shelling of towns and residential areas in the Donbass republics and the cessation of pension and benefit payments have left many people in the region literally without bread or earning potential. 

Perhaps hundreds of thousands of people have been saved from death by humanitarian assistance. Such aid has come from local entrepreneurs – for example, during the winter of 2014-2015, a businessman in the Lugansk People’s Republic fed around 500 elderly people in one of the republic’s districts. It also comes from private donors from various regions of Russia ranging from Siberia to the Urals and from Dagestan and Ingushetia (which the author of these lines was involved in), as well as from abroad. For example, I personally received aid from Switzerland and indirectly from other countries in Europe. 

Of course, the largest volume of aid has been provided by the Russian state, which took responsibility for the lives and health of millions of Donbass’ residents who were doomed to death by starvation by Ukraine. However, due to a number of objective difficulties (fighting, the collapsed government apparatus, and even criminal corruption among the authorities of the Donbass republics), a large number of people in Donbass have, unfortunately, died from hunger. Just how many is unknown, but the number is high. Many dozens and even hundreds of thousands have at one point or another teetered on the brink of survival and starvation.

The Ukrainian authorities have refused to bear any responsibility for the population of what they believe to still be the Ukrainian territories and population of the former Donetsk and Lugansk regions. Ukraine deprived them, either entirely or partially, of any source of income. Pensioners stopped receiving even the meager money that makes up Ukrainian elderly pensions, and low-income families with young children and the disabled also stopped receiving benefit payments. This is despite the fact that the population of this region, which belonged to Ukraine for 23 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, regularly paid into the Ukrainian budget. The Donetsk region was even one of the leaders in terms of volume of interest contributions. This means that Ukraine has committed social robbery against tens, if not hundreds of thousands of its own citizens. 

Donbass residents’ bank cards have also been blocked, which cancelled the savings they had in Ukrainian banks. The situation is even harsher with salaries. The workers of enterprises or public institutions registered in Ukraine have, as a rule, received their salaries, but scandals periodically arise in which Ukrainian managers don’t pay their Donbass workers. The same institutions that were registered by the legal authorities of the DPR and LPR have been left on their own. 

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The initial period of the republics’ existence was especially difficult. War and humanitarian disaster in Donbass explain the mass flow of refugees from the region, most of whom fled to neighboring Russia. According to the rough estimates of the Russian emergency ministry, between May and August of 2014, Russia accepted more than 1.5 million refugees. 

The situation has since improved. Today, residents from both republics working in budget-accounted organizations regularly receive salaries in Russian rubles. As a rule, salaries are not very large, and the source of payments mostly comes from taxes and trade revenues. The economy of both republics is gradually coming to life, especially in the DPR. In all respects, the LPR finds itself in an unenviable second place, in particular due to the low quality of the administrative apparatus.

The scourge of Ukraine, corruption, has also been inherited by Donbass, especially the LPR. This has had a real impact on the humanitarian situation in the republics. Unfortunately, some “heroes of Novorossiya”, including some of those widely famous abroad, are known to the residents of the republics as successful businessmen in creating conditions for the theft and sale of humanitarian aid. 

A similar situation exists on the other side of the trenches. The Ukrainian government is thoroughly riddled with corruption. But there is one exception here: the social situation of servicemen in the DPR and LPR is a whole level better than the situation of UAF soldiers and officers. This is not only because the fighters of the Donbass republics’ armies are fighting for their homes and for a just cause, but also because they are better fed and treated. They are the elite of their people, while Ukrainian soldiers in the ATO zone are openly despised and punished even in Western Ukraine. The military elite in the republics of Donbass is overall a whole level or two more professional and morally qualified than the civilian elite. This is not surprising, since many of Donbass’ politicians and managers are yesterday’s Ukrainian bureaucrats or financial schemers. 

This is only a cursory and far from complete review leaving out concrete figures and meticulously documented evidence. I hope to, at a later time, develop a more document-based material on this topic.

In conclusion, allow me to say the following: there is no longer the threat of starvation or mass deaths from malnutrition, cold, or disease in Donbass. This is largely the merit of Russia and its humanitarian missions. 

But the main threat remains, and this threat is called Ukraine. The main humanitarian threat to Donbass is Ukrainian bureaucrats who have settled in the state apparatus in the DPR, and especially the LPR, and are working for the benefit of only their pockets or, perhaps, on Ukraine’s orders. The massive embezzlement of humanitarian funds by these bureaucrats and pseudo-politicians has led to the disappearance of hundreds of thousands and maybe even millions of dollars which could have been used to save the lives and health of thousands of people in Donbass. The most egregious symbol of this is the corruption and unscrupulousness of those figures who sold humanitarian aid gathered in Russia on the markets and in the stores of the DPR and LPR. Cans with stickers reading “Humanitarian aid not for sale!” were traded and sold in both republics.

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After the external enemy, Ukraine, will be beaten back or, even better, destroyed, then the internal enemy can be judged. I hope that both victories are not too far off. 

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