War and Peace in the Lugansk People’s Republic: Fort Russ’ Popov visits frontline – Part 2


June 21, 2017 – Fort Russ – 

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

“Thanks for help, Russia! – Lugansk”

Continued from Part 1  

The socio-economic situation in the Lugansk People’s Republic

I spent most of my trip in Alchevsk and Stakhanov and paid one visit to the capital of the unrecognized republic, Lugansk. I also managed to visit a number of industrial enterprises which belonged to Ukrainian oligarchs until March 1st when they were transferred to external management by the republic.

Allow me to share my everyday impressions that so vividly catch the eye upon travelling the republic. The LPR’s cities give off at once both a sense of purity and a sense of destruction. This paradoxical combination distinguishes the whole LPR, especially the cities close to the front such as Stakhanov, Pervomaysk, etc. Many homes on city streets are riddled with damage caused by Ukrainian artillery bombardments, as are city roads. Overall, the state of city and country roads is horrendous. In some place, repairs are being done and even new roads are being laid, but this is probably an exception to the rule. It was pleasing to see, however, that active restoration work is nonetheless ongoing. Not only are roads being repaired, but the holes in houses’ walls from artillery shells are being sealed. Especially noticeable is the progress in window and glass repairs. Practically all homes’ in the above mentioned towns’ windows have been broken during shelling. Now a number of homes are shining with new windows. Finished windows are purchased in Russia and installed by local contractors for the city’s residents absolutely for free. According to my friends from Lugansk, the funds for such are being provided by Russia. 

Ever since Ukraine refused to fulfill its social obligations to Donbass, including by refusing to pay out pensions despite the fact that the people of Donbass had created Ukraine’s national wealth and paid in their contributions to the Pension Fund, Russia has stepped in and accepted responsibility for taking care of the Donbass republics’ social security. Installing windows in homes is only one of the many manifestations of Russia’s humanitarian aid for the residents of Donbass. Russia, for example, has also taken upon itself the costs of gas for the DPR and LPR’s population (Ukraine refuses to cover these costs). As a result, gas is seven times cheaper for a Donbass republic resident than in Ukraine or even Russia. 

LPR families with young children receive a monthly humanitarian aid package from Russia including baby food and hygiene products. What’s more, public charity foundations are also working to help those in need. I personally visited one humanitarian aid distribution point in Stakhanov and was present during the distribution of food and clothing from Tatyana Dremova, the widow of Ataman Dremov. This woman’s fate reminds one of the fate of the Decembrists’ wives and might even form the basis for a movie. A director by profession well-established in civilian life, Dremova left prosperous St. Petersburg and followed her husband to a Lugansk at war. After her husband’s death, Tatyana took up coordinating assistance for the needy, primarily families with young children, and works on the side as a journalist for local media. 

Back during the days of the Russian Empire, Donbass, a significant part of which is made up by Luganshchina (the greater Lugansk region), was a coal mining and industrial region. For 150 years, a unique people formed here, a kind of dynasty of miners and large factory workers (first and foremost metallurgists). Mutual aid is traditionally strong and socialist ideas are popular in Donbass. This is a people which has become accustomed to hardship and, at the same time, remains unquestionably hardworking. My Lugansk friends say that within six months or at most a year after peace is concluded, not a single remnant of the recent war will be left in LPR cities. The people of Lugansk will rebuild – there is no questioning that. 

In front of my very eyes, people worked on cleaning up, repairing roads, weeding, etc. At the same time, the eye is also caught by how extremely neglected the Ukrainian authorities left Lugansk’s cities’ infrastructure for 23 years. Ukraine did not invest anything in developing them, hence why many Donbass cities look like architectural monuments of the USSR. 

There is also something to be said of the work of public services maintaining urban infrastructure. Public service workers are, without exaggerating, war heroes. Heating or electrical supply network workers restore damaged power supply systems literally under Ukrainian artillery fire. Without their work, the cities of Donbass would have become dead piles of metal, concrete, and inhabiting them would be impossible. Meanwhile, the wages such workers earn are scanty by Russian, European, or American standards. Yet they toil on, repairing the scars left first by Ukrainian negligence and now by Kiev’s bombs. 

I heard similarly delightful praise from veterans of the Lugansk militia when I asked about the firefighters and First Aid services that work even when Ukrainian artillery shells are flying overhead. For example, during a particularly heavy bombardment of Stakhanov, not a single rescue operation was halted despite the mortal danger posed to the lives of doctors and nurses. In the Lugansk People’s Republic, only the most persistently spirited doctors remain. Those weaker in spirit have already left for Russia or Ukraine. I find it difficult to point to any other people or region capable of competing with Donbass in spirit and endurance.

Unfortunately, however, far from all that I saw in the socio-economic sphere of the republic bodes optimism. The hardworking people of the LPR are still experiencing work shortages. The external management program launched on March 1st deprived the Ukrainian oligarchs of their properties in the LPR. Thus, Ukraine will no longer receive taxes that go straight into the “war budget” against the Donbass republics. In the LPR, however, unlike in the Donetsk People’s Republic, for uncertain reasons the external management program has not been taken to its logical conclusion. Earlier, Ukrainian oligarchs’ enterprises did not pay taxes into the LPR budget, but did pay salaries to their employees. Thus, to a certain extent a kind of necessary socio-economic minimum was maintained. It is a kind of paradox that the DPR took under its control 43 large and medium factories and on the whole successfully managed to restart their production. The quantity of Ukrainian oligarchical property in the LPR is much less but, nevertheless, production has stalled at these enterprises. Factories are idle and a huge number of workers and engineers have been deprived of work. An example of this is two fairly large factories with around 5,000 workers and engineers each, the Alchevsk Iron and Steel Works and the Stakhanov Ferroalloy Plant. Of course, the social consequences of these enterprises ceasing work would be much more dire if not for Russia’s help, yet their remains hope that in the near future the stoppages and errors will be eliminated and the external management program exemplified in the DPR will be matched in the LPR. On this note, I plan to collect statistical material for another article on the socio-economic development of the Donbass People’s Republics

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That being said, the main impression of my trip around the LPR encourages optimism. Neither the Lugansk People’s Republic’s soldiers nor civilians intend to surrender despite the serious difficulties and shortcomings in domestic policy. Lugansk is determined to claim victory. I hope that in the near future we will see some interesting economic experiments in creating a socially just society out of the ashes of the war in Donbass. 

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