Almost every sphere in the self-proclaimed “people's republics” of Donbas is affected by propaganda. Like any propaganda, it is called upon to solve a number of tasks aimed at praising one’s own successes and vividly demonstrating the hostile shortcomings.
The most popular postulate of propaganda is about cheap utility tariffs, though after rising by about 30% since September 1, this argument faded significantly. But there is a different one that the allegedly pre-war population is almost preserved in the self-proclaimed republics.
It is impossible to objectively establish the number of people living in the territory of “Donetsk People’s Republic.” Actually, “DPR” has partially acknowledged it, outlining on October 1-14 the first census.
However, this does not prevent the initiator of the census from posting information on the population of the "republic" on its website (every 2-3 months). According to the last data, as of July 1,274,783 people lived in the "DPR."
It is not clear how the calculation methodology is being conducted, although the “DPR” itself claims that “the calculation of the number permanent residents was made taking into account the administrative data obtained by the Migration Service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the Ministry of Justice of the DPR.”
However, most likely the records are kept according to a long-standing bureaucratic tradition - by mechanically rewriting data on persons registered in particular housing.
But nevertheless, it would be better to track the population of an individual town, on the example of which you can try to find out a more or less real situation.
We can take Horlivka as an example, which is officially the third town in terms of population in the “DPR” and is situated close to the border, which adds its own specificity and is related to the official “capital” – Donetsk city.
So, according to the “Statistics Service of the DPR,” as of July 1, 2019, 259,381 people live in Horlivka, which is only slightly less than its pre-war population, which amounted to approximately 267,000. This allowed the local "mayor" to declare that the number of people living in the city had almost reached the pre-war level.
However, I must say that this “achievement” looks doubtful, because according to the same “Statistics Service of the DPR” as of November 1, 2015, 270,196 people lived in the town, which exceeded the pre-war level, or the calculations of “republic’s statistics” were doubtful.
Working-class quarters die out
But contrary to the optimistic calculations of officials, "lower-level DPR civil servants" have their own views on the demographic situation in the city.
So, during a traditional meeting in the “DPR city administration” on August 28, one of the local officials, reporting on work on collecting debts for utilities, said that by personal inspection of debtors it turned out that up to 85-90% of debtors simply don’t live at the indicated addresses.
The official ranked the 5th quarter microdistrict as the most “depressed” are in the town. From one to three families live in multi-access multi-apartments of multi-storey buildings.
Local "head of the housing and communal services department" immediately has argued with this statement, assuring that the level of utility payments is 75% all over the town, so this is simply not possible.
Before 2014, before the outbreak of the hostilities, the average birth rate in the town was at least 40-45 babies per week. Such a failure can be explained by two main reasons - a decrease in the number of population, which proportionally led to a drop in the birth rate, or the reluctance to have children.
And in the local "Pension Fund" declares that the number of pensioners in “DPR” is about 75,000 people, although there were about 98,000 before the war.
No jobs available
If we speak about the specifics of both the “5 quarter” microdistrict and the Kalininky district of Horlivka town — local workers who are employed in the industry, traditionally reside these areas.
What makes a person live in the city? Of course, there are many reasons, but the key ones are the existence of living conditions, primarily infrastructure and work.
In the pre-war Horlivka, the main concentration of available jobs was the Stirol concern and four mines of the Artemugol coal association, where 10-12,000 residents of Horlivka were employed. Other large suppliers of jobs were small and medium-sized businesses - according to pre-war statistics, about 11,500 private entrepreneurs and 5,500 wage earners. Employees of the state institutions were numerous, for example, there were more than 5,000 teachers in the city.
Nowadays, more than a thousand people work at Stirol, but they suffer from permanent non-payment of salaries since the only working facility is a plastic tableware workshop.
Since 2015, the Artemugol mines have been operating in water hoisting mode, which also does not require large personnel.
The local industry is represented by a number of rather small enterprises such as Stirolbiofarm, the Horlivka Coke and Food Processing Plant, which employ, at best, several hundred people and are therefore clearly unable to replace the Stirol or Artemugol industrial giants.
There is nothing surprising that local workers’ districts became depopulated.
Business activity has decreased, as well as self-employed entrepreneurs and their employees. The situation in the public sector is relatively stable, this is barely the only sphere, where salaries are paid almost regularly, but there are differences, if teachers belong to the "middle class," then doctors, not to mention employees of other budget institutions, are in luck.
From half to two-thirds of the population has left in Horlivka
According to the locals, for example, local blogger Oleg Sychov, who is regularly recording videos about life in the town, estimates the population of about 200,000 people.
A survey of residents showed that the population of the districts depends largely on the geographical and material factors, residents of the downtown area are richer, and they are more remote from the hostilities.
Of course, inhabitants are unequally distributed, so this is difficult to calculate how many people actually live in the city, but at least 30% of the previous population of 267,000. According to the most optimistic estimates, the population of the city might be about 180,000 inhabitants.
Most likely, a similar "rule minus 30%" could be applied to all towns of self-proclaimed "DPR." Although the indicators might be even lower.
The higher official statistics, the higher corruption?
However, the increase in the population in the eyes of the authorities of the self-proclaimed “DPR” might play not only a propaganda role but also a material one – a chance to steal funds intended for “dead souls,” especially pensioners. Actually, the “DPR authorities” already have good experience in this, it’s enough to recall the number of veterans of the Great Patriotic War that grew by almost 3 thousand people in the “DPR” in 2016, when it turned out that every 50th resident of the “DPR” is a veteran war at the age of 90.
Finally, it is planned to spend 309 million Russian rubles, or 4,6 million USD, on conducting census this October.