Wednesday

21st Feb 2018

Feature

Ukraine far from normal, despite EU-brokered ceasefire

  • Captured Russian tank on show in Kiev (Photo: Christopher Bobyn)

Kramatorsk; Myronivsky; Semenivka; Svitlodars: Few in Europe have heard of the minor towns on the Kiev-controlled side of the contact line in east Ukraine.

But events and feelings here bear import for the future of a conflict which is reshaping Europe’s post-Cold War security landscape.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Tsvitarnaya hasn't left her apartment in five years (Photo: WFP/EU/Pete Kiehart)

Heavy fighting mostly stopped in September, following a new ceasefire deal, in Paris, between France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine.

The accord included decentralisation of power from Kiev to regional authorities in local elections, which took place last Sunday (25 October).

The developments, including Russia’s new front in Syria, have prompted hope in EU capitals the Ukraine war will be, at least, frozen, and, at best, resolved, allowing Kiev to focus on pro-EU reforms instead.

Different story

But the convoy of Ukrainian grad rocket launcher systems heading from Kramatorsk to the front line on Tuesday tells a different story.

Kramatorsk, an industrial town not far from rebel-held areas, has also landed a government contract to start making mortars in its machine-building factory next year.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian military checkpoints dot the main road to Debaltseve, a stronghold of the Russia-controlled rebel forces.

The Ukrainian army is digging in amid uncertainty on what comes next.

The road to Debaltseve is a snapshot of a conflict briefly suspended in time: trenches; armoured vehicles; idle artillery pieces; and soldiers, with machine guns, standing around.

The medical clinic in Semenivka, which was hit by Ukrainian shells during fighting last year, is still in ruins.

A favourite spot for visiting journalists and international observers, it has also become a symbol of the ongoing problems.

Closer to the contact line, locals report recent shelling despite the Paris deal.

Vera Gregorevna, who lives in Svitlodarsk, an industrial town in the region, told this website on Tuesday "there was shelling four to five days ago". Another resident said shells hit the town on Monday.

From Svitlodarsk, the road continues until the final Ukrainian checkpoint before enemy positions.

Here, it turns towards Myronivsky, a town less than 3,000 metres from trenches manned by pro-Russia fighters.

Ghost zone

For her part, Natalia Tsvitarnaya, a 58-year old who lives in her second-floor apartment in what is now a ghost town, longs to go back to a life free of violence and poverty.

Before the conflict, Myronivsky had a population of some 8,000 people. But most have fled due to near-constant shelling over the past year.

Tsvitarnaya called it "a dying city of pensioners”, with just four families now living in her entire apartment block.

She hasn't left her flat in five years, after losing her leg to diabetes.

But she recalls a past when she had a job at the local concrete factory and, later on, as an accountant.

Despite her self-imposed isolation, she also found companionship in Anatolia Usholik, a 60-year old former miner, whom she met through an ad in a local newspaper.

Myronivsky is, technically, under Kiev's administration, but its proximity to fighting puts it in a grey zone.

People like Tsvitarnaya spend most of their time watching Russian state TV.

The Kiev government pays meagre pensions, with NGOs and the UN forced to step in with food vouchers. Tsvitarnaya gets €42 a month from Kiev. All of it, she says, will go on winter heating.

The local elections, held almost everywhere else in Kiev-controlled Ukraine on Sunday, skipped Myronivsky.

Government officials say it’s because of security concerns and because almost no one lives there any more.

But if the vote had been held, Kiev and its pro-EU agenda might have gotten short shrift.

Hearts and minds

Tsvitarnaya, for one, speaks fondly of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, describing him as “charming”, “a strong president”, and as someone “who can manage a huge country”.

“I’m in favour of Lenin, Stalin, Brezhnev, and the USSR”, she told EUobserver, listing former Soviet heads.

"I would prefer that this city be in the DNR”, she added, referring to the self-proclaimed, Russia-controlled Donetsk People’s Republic, just next door.

For his part, Victor Andrusiv, the deputy chairman of the Donetsk Regional State Administration, a Kiev-controlled local authority, told this website the EU-brokered vote was premature because the conflict has distorted political opinion.

“If you ask me, it was not a good time to have elections [anywhere]”, he said.

He blamed the steady diet of Russian TV propaganda for pro-Russia feeling in the region.

He also defended Kiev’s efforts to restore normality.

He admitted that the government is struggling to repair war damage.

But he said everyone has electricity and running water and that the most needy qualify for heating subsidies: “Nobody dies from hunger or cold”.

The man from Lviv

Andrusiv is a young and well-educated civil servant from Lviv, a town near Poland, and a bastion of nationalist, pro-Western sentiment.

He was posted to Kramatorsk, the seat of the Donetsk Regional State Administration, in July.

He says its main task is to reduce unemployment. But another task is to remove traces of the old Soviet regime which Tsvitarnaya remembers so fondly.

Before Russia invaded last March, there were some 25,000 statues of Lenin in Ukraine.

The Donetsk administration has torn down 46 of them this year alone. Just two are left in the area under its control. But they’ll be taken down next week.

“You could easily make Soviet films here. You don't even need decorations”, Andrusiv said of the Kramatorsk cityscape.

He said he would have been conscripted into the Ukrainian army. But his administrative skills saw Kiev send him to east Ukraine to establish its authority by civilian means.

Andrusiv and Tsvitarnaya are both nationals of post-revolutionary Ukraine.

But their diametrically opposed politics show how the conflict has aggravated divisions in Ukrainian society.

When EUobserver asked Andrusiv if he ever wants to visit Russia, he joked: “Yes. But in a tank”.

Ukraine local elections leave voters bitter

Less than half of all eligible voters turned out for local elections in Ukraine amid growing disillusionment with the slow pace of reforms and an economy in free fall.

EU warns Turkey over 'threat' to Cyprus

The European Commission called on Ankara to refrain from doing "damage to good neighbourly relations", after Turkish vessels stop a rig from reaching a gas drilling zone.

News in Brief

  1. Tusk: EU budget agreed before 2019 elections 'unrealistic'
  2. Commission fines car cartels €546m
  3. Juncker: 'nothing' wrong in Katainen meeting Barroso
  4. Juncker appoints new head of cabinet
  5. MEPs decide not to veto fossil fuel projects list
  6. Factory relocation risks drawing Vestager into Italian election
  7. Irregular migration into EU drops to four-year low, says Frontex
  8. Macron's new migrant law faces opposition in parliament

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.European Free Alliance Joins MHRMI to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  2. International Climate ShowSupporting Start-Ups & SMEs in the Energy Transition. 21 February in Brussels
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism Year to Promote Business and Mutual Ties
  4. European Jewish CongressAt “An End to Antisemitism!” Conference, Dr. Kantor Calls for Ambitious Solutions
  5. UNESDAA Year Ago UNESDA Members Pledged to Reduce Added Sugars in Soft Drinks by 10%
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsUzbekistan: Investigate Torture of Journalist
  7. EPSUMovie Premiere: 'Up to The Last Drop' - 22 February, Brussels
  8. CESICESI@Noon on ‘Digitalisation & Future of Work: Social Protection For All?’ - March 7
  9. UNICEFExecutive Director's Committment to Tackling Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region 2018: Facts, Figures and Rankings of the 74 Regions
  11. Mission of China to the EUDigital Economy Shaping China's Future, Over 30% of GDP
  12. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.Suing the Governments of Macedonia and Greece for Changing Macedonia's Name

Latest News

  1. MEPs bar WMD and killer robots from new EU arms fund
  2. Canete gets EU parliament pension while still commissioner
  3. Bank of Latvia sends deputy to ECB amid bribery probe
  4. We are not (yet) one people
  5. Intellectual property protection - the cure for Europe's ills
  6. Eastern states push back at rule of law conditions on funds
  7. Katainen explains: My friend Barroso did not lobby me
  8. A European budget: securing a prosperous future for Europe

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformBeyond the Errors in the War on Terror: How to Fight Global Militarism - 22 February
  2. Swedish EnterprisesHarnessing Globalization- at What Cost? Keynote Speaker Commissioner Malmström
  3. European Friends of ArmeniaSave The Date 28/02: “Nagorno-Karabakh & the EU: 1988-2018”
  4. European Heart NetworkSmart CAP is Triple Win for Economy, Environment and Health
  5. European Free AlllianceEFA Joined the Protest in Aiacciu to Solicit a Dialogue After the Elections
  6. EPSUDrinking Water Directive Step Forward but Human Right to Water Not Recognized
  7. European Gaming & Betting AssociationGambling Operators File Data Protection Complaint Against Payment Block in Norway
  8. European Jewish CongressEJC Expresses Deep Concern Over Proposed Holocaust Law in Poland
  9. CECEConstruction Industry Gets Together to Discuss the Digital Revolution @ the EU Industry Days
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Relations in the New Era
  11. European Free AlllianceEnd Discrimination of European Minorities - Sign the Minority Safepack Initiative
  12. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Diversity Shouldn’t Be Only a Slogan” Lorant Vincze (Fuen) Warns European Commission

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformWhat Can Christians Learn from a Global Islamic Movement?
  2. European Jewish CongressEJC President Warns Europe as Holocaust Memory Fades
  3. European Free AlllianceNo Justice From the Spanish Supreme Court Ruling
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Solutions for Sustainable Cities: New Grants Awarded for Branding Projects
  5. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersOresund Inspires Other EU Border Regions to Work Together to Generate Growth
  7. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  8. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Calls on EU to Sanction Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Expel Ambassadors
  9. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement and Same-Sex Couples in Romania – Case Update!
  10. EU2017EEEstonia Completes First EU Presidency, Introduced New Topics to the Agenda
  11. Bio-Based IndustriesLeading the Transition Towards a Post-Petroleum Society
  12. ACCAWelcomes the Start of the New Bulgarian Presidency