Read the original text at politicalcritique.org.
Economic blockade of the territories beyond the control of Ukraine, conducted by activists of the “Headquarters of trade blockade against the invaders,” lasts for a month, and it is gradually becoming a key factor in Ukrainian politics. After cutting off the rail roads, used for delivering the strategically important resource, anthracite coal, from the Donbas mines to Ukrainian power plants and thermal power plants, the blockade has new challenges for country's energy independence, illegal enrichment schemes, and the fate of people who would primarily suffer from shut-down of companies.
So, as of December 15, the state railway monopoly "Ukrzaliznytsya" announced UAH 53.3 million shortfall. The politicians started seriously talking about a possible energy collapse if coal supply is not be restored in the near future. 15 February 2017, Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers introduced a "state of emergency in the energy sector." According to officials, Ukraine’s coal reserves are enough for 40 days.
Who benefits from Donbas economic blockade? Would it help to stop the war? Might it provoke the third Maidan or just hurt the residents living on both sides of the demarcation line? In order to find the answers, we talked with a direct participant of the blockade Olga Volina and human rights activist, organizer of the "Headquarters of unblocking of railway communication in Luhansk and Donetsk regions," Pavlo Lysyansky.
Olga has left Kyiv a month ago. She moved into a military tent at the border area of Donetsk region, which is controlled by Ukraine. Earlier, an active participant of the anarchist movement and Maidan protests, Olga joined the demobilized volunteer battalions fighters and members of ATO veteran organizations to take part in a trade blockade with uncontrolled part of Donbas.
At the moment, the participants of the economic blockade of the region have blocked three railway branches - two in Donetsk region and one in Luhansk. February 16, they have also set up a roadblock on the Luhansk highway. According to the reports of the blockade participants, for 4 weeks they stopped 20,160 waggons on Hirske-Zolote branch in Luhansk region, 12 000 waggons in Bachmuth area, and 37 440 waggons near Kryvyi Torets station.
Olga noted that they launched the blockade with only one purpose - to release Ukrainian soldiers held captive by unrecognized LPR/DPR insurgents, who have practically stopped all the hostages exchange schemes. She is convinced that precisely in this way, "Donbas" Battalion fighters, captured in Illovaisk, have been freed in December 2014. Ukrainian soldiers were released 10 days after blocking the road in the area of the Myrna Dolyna, however previously, the LPR/DPR militants refused to change the hostages as part of the official exchange programs. Therefore, the beginning of the trade blockade was provoked by the failure to comply with an ultimatum demanding the immediate exchange of war prisoners in the format of "all for all".
But the experience of the early days of the blockade, as well as analyzing the documents, made Olga reconsider the problem. "When we began to dig and delve the documents and permissions, issued by Ukraine’s Security Service, we understood that a war could be ended! It is not a question of two weeks or two months. This might continue for six months or a year, I cannot tell you. But this war could be ended simply by cutting LPR/DPR off from our money." As far as Ukraine does not have law "On the temporarily occupied territories" and refuses to recognize the status of the occupied region (as in the case with Crimea), Ukrainian Security Service is responsible for issuance of trade deals permits. Since the end of 2015, Security Service has issued about 62 000 permits for the import and 35 000 permits for export of goods to LPR/DPR.
"They sell and buy coal, timber, concrete, building materials, metal salts, acids... Everything! In addition to industrial products, they smuggle textiles, footwear, food, grain. We have also found out that Ukraine delivers safety fuse, gunpowder, springs, spare parts for locomotives and cars, detonators (to LPR/DPR – Ed.). Thus, Ukraine provides the occupied territories with weapons, which is later used for killing our own soldiers," says Olga. Referring to "Ukrzaliznytsia" officials statements, she does not exclude that Ukraine might be smuggling weapons, not only materials for its production,.
Olga Volina is convinced that refusal to supply Ukrainian thermal power plants with anthracite from the uncontrolled territories is the key factor that could bring the war to an end. Because without this resource, LPR/DPR would not have any ways to press on Ukraine. And the Kremlin does not actually need LPR/DPR without performing this “function.” Responsibility for possible blackouts and heat stoppage would fall to the officials and oligarchs. For three years, they have not modernized the enterprises and provided no opportunity to use the other kinds of coal.
At this point, she said, the oligarchs should disconnected from electricity and heating their own “castles,” instead of blaming the blockade participants of the energy collapse, and redirect their money to the regions in need, modernizing the old equipment. Another solution would be to re-equip Ukraine’s TPP and CHP for using natural gas - clean, but much more expensive energy, from which Ukraine has been rejecting for the last years in order to reduce dependence on Russia.
Contrary to the allegations that the Donbas blockade is beneficial for the unrecognized republics and that it would bring economic losses to Ukraine, Olga believes that after 3 years of the war the situation could not be worse already.
She presents two ways of development of the blockade movement. First, blockade movement will grow and eventually would be able to completely break off economic relations between Ukraine and the uncontrolled territories. In such conditions, the government of the unrecognized DPR/LPR will face mass actions of the locals because of economic collapse in the region. War will be complete. This scenario needs support, or at least non-interference of the authorities, Olga says.
Second scenario is that the authorities would them give the bum's rush. “And it would lead to Maidan. If they use force to evict the war veterans, who risked their lives for the sake of those politicians, the people will not forgive them this," Olga says.
Not all are optimistic about the outcome of the trade blockade. Pavlo Lysyansky, famous human rights activist and trade unionist, who often fought for labor rights of employees, said that representatives of labor collectives, whom this blockade put on the brink of survival, asked to comment on the situation. In early February, "Headquarters of unblocking of railway communication in Luhansk and Donetsk regions" has been created in order to de-escalate the situation and set a dialogue with the blockade participants. According to Lysyansky, "Headquarters" represents the interests of those whose voice in the political struggle around the trade embargo is not heard - workers of the enterprises and inhabitants of the region, who might soon lose their jobs and stay without electricity and heating. "We did not created this platform in order to raise the people or lead them to take down the blockade. It is negotiating platform to represent the interests of all parties to the conflict. "
Pavlo Lysyansky stated that currently, "Headquarters" represents 12 companies, including groups of Kurdyumivka clay factory (where around 400 people might stay without a job), Slaviansk and Shchastia TPPs, railway stations workers, as well as representatives of Mykolaivka territorial community, whose lives directly depend on the power plant. Pavlo Lysyansky is convinced that if talking about the whole region, dozens and even hundreds of thousands of people might suffer.
People, who live on the other side of the demarcation line, would be also in danger. First of all, blockade will affect the miners, mining anthracite. These people are devoid of any state subsidies and are fully dependent on sales volumes. A lack of sales and loss of job would be a good reason for the mobilization and joining DPR\LPR militants. "For example, infamous chieftain Kozitsin uses the message of the blockade for mustering labor collectives members in the army of militants. Two years of war passed, the most zealous already laid down their heads, and the people became more witty. No one wants to go for the front line. And they use this message to manipulate the local people."
Ukraine is dependent on anthracite coal, all mines for the extraction of which are by the other side of demarcation line. Of course, it is impossible to modernize all TPPs and CHPs at one time. Still Ukraine would have to take the coal somewhere. Blocking trade through railway communication with Donbas will only lead to creating more complicated schemes. For example, the same coal would come from Russia, through firms registered in Poland; they would be just re-registered in accordance with Ukrainian legislation.
According to Pavlo, his main goal is to establish a dialogue between all the parties. The first conversation took place during a protest by Mykolaivka residents (Horske-Zolote, Luhansk region). People asked to let a part of the coal for the needs of the Sloviansk TPP - backbone company of Mykolaivka. But they failed to agree. The second time the blockade participants come to him. It took place during a press conference with representatives of "Ukrzaliznytsia" Kurdyumivka and Sloviansk TPPs held in Lysychansk. 10 minutes before the beginning, about three dozen people in camouflage uniforms with the insignia of "Donbas" battalion entered the conference hall. The press conference was held in a tense atmosphere. Over and over again the audience shouted some slogans about treason. And after that, Pavlo says, they launched a campaign to discredit him.
He was inundated with threats, and it lasted until Facebook itself has blocked his page because of atypical traffic. And some regional mass media published information about Pavlo’s relationship with the "titushky," who were found near Bakhmut by the blockade participants. "I was receiving 30-40 messages in an hour that I will be killed or hanged. Many of these intimidations came from bots. Such a “campaign” could be bought for 100 000 UAH. In addition, they did very thoughtfully. They analyzed my work, I have been attacked for many times, and concluded that if they attacked me again, I would become some kind of “local hero.” That is why they took my pictures with real politicians from the opposition, and wrote that I was the commander of the "titushky". However, not single respectful online resource has reposted this information," said Lysyansky.
Pavlo Lysyansky is not denying that there are some ideological people among blockade participants, however, he tends to see a political trace in this story. "I have attended a meeting with the railway in Bahmut and saw four MPs from the "Samopomich". Do you think they came there as volunteers? They do not care about what is happening in Donbas and what would be the fate of the locals. Their electorate is in Lviv, and in such a way they are trying to mobilize this electorate after garbage scandals. "
Pavlo Lysyansky sees three ways to solve the situation. First, the government unblocks the rail links using power. Second, people would unblock the routs themselves. Today some opposition politicians call to form territorial battalions to ensure safety of the Donbas residents. Pavlo does not recognize the violent methods, so his third variant is to negotiate. And everyone should be heard.