Letters From Donbas. Part 6. Nadia Nadezhdyna, sociologist, Snizhne, Donetsk region

An elderly woman pulls a cart with firewood near the Donetsk airport in November.

An elderly woman pulls a cart with firewood near the Donetsk airport in November.

In telephone conversations, my friends and I try to avoid answering any questions. You can feel the constant fear that people have of the new authorities, and life in this city is far from easy.

Even before the new authorities came, this city was depressed and dependent on state subsidies. The only successful businesses here were the Snezhnyansky Machine-Building Plant, a local branch of the Zaporizhzhya firm Motor-Sich, and the Zarya mine. Pensioners make up most of the adult population. And as it turned out, those retirees ended up forming the main social basis for the separatist movement.

Payments to those dependent on the state budget were chronically in arrears. Local authorities tried to make the payments by taking short-term bank loans. After Russian forces entered the city in early June and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk personally ordered local accounts blocked, residents seemed condemned to a hungry death. And in Snizhne, this happened more quickly than in other towns in the region.

In September, when the cease-fire was signed, local pensioners traveled en masse to Ukrainian-controlled territory to reapply for their pensions. However, in November, the government announced a complete financial and economic blockade of the territories within the zone of the antiterrorism operation (ATO). They stopped paying pensions and other social benefits to all except those designated as displaced. All the bank machines were shut down, as was Sberbank. This led many pensioners to despair. There were sufficient groceries and other goods in the stores and at the market, but they couldn’t buy anything because they had no money.

Over the last couple of weeks, anger has been mounting among the elderly and miners.

And this anger is directed at both the authorities of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR) and Yatsenyuk’s government. Some angry reactions were provoked when several buses carrying miners were barred from traveling to Zaporizhzhya, in the zone controlled by the Ukrainian military, to pick up their salaries from banks there, where they had been sent months ago. They were stopped at a Ukrainian military checkpoint.

There is a lot of talk about the “checks” of trucks with foodstuffs at Ukrainian checkpoints. And there is some evidence about “confiscations.” A businessman named K. spent 40,000 hryvnyas ($2,500) in Dnipropetrovsk on supplies for his store. But he was detained and forced to hand over all his cargo to a distribution center.

Ukrainian authorities, too, are heavily criticized. Pensioners often complain about the huge lines to register in the areas controlled by Ukraine and about the bribes it takes to get service without queuing up. In Kharkiv, for instance, one pensioner waited his turn for two weeks before “settling matters” through people he knows.

There is talk that dozens of people have died of hunger and about a dozen have committed suicide. I won’t name any names. A couple of weeks ago, medical workers were speaking about 54 people dead and five who committed suicide. (Editor’s note: RFE/RL was unable to independently confirm these figures.)

Huge lines of pensioners form in front of the former office of Privatbank, all seeking financial help from the DNR. It works like this: You take a coupon for assistance at the social-security department and then you bring your coupon and get money. There is no information about how many people are served each day. Sometimes lines form outside the city at branches of Sberbank or Ukrpochta as rumors spread that they are handing out money.

People talk all the time about the shelling around the city. DNR representatives are tight-lipped about the reasons for the shelling and who exactly is doing the shelling, and this silence creates panic. People speak of columns of Russian military vehicles passing through the city. But for the most part, people are afraid to express their views openly.

Medical workers are unhappy that teachers and artists received money, but they didn’t. Social workers still haven’t seen a kopeck. But most pensioners are still hoping for Russian pensions and for the DNR to be admitted into the Russian Federation. And so they give their moral support to the DNR.

Source: Radio Liberty

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