Yesterday, the Donbass republics celebrated their third anniversary of independence. On May 11th, 2014, a referendum was held on the territories of the former Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine at which the overwhelming majority of the residents of Donbass voted in support of independence. Let us briefly consider what has been achieved in these three years and what losses Donbass has suffered.
Although the referendum on independence was held across nearly the entire territory of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, the jurisdiction of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics covers less than half of this territory. The Lugansk People’s Republic is especially “torn”, comprising only around a third of the former administrative space of the Lugansk region. This is the first and most serious wound incurred by the republics over the course of the conflict with Ukraine. As long as they have not regained those towns and villages occupied by Ukraine, the war will go on.
Over these years, the DPR and LPR have suffered other huge losses. Official UN figures suggest 9,470 killed on both sides (including Ukrainian soldiers and Donbass civilians). These figures, as well as the official Ukrainian casualty count for the Ukrainian Armed Forces, National Guard, and other security agencies, have long been recognized as understated. In early February 2015, an anonymous source in German intelligence stated that as many as 50,000 people have been killed in Donbass. Moreover, the source believes the official loss figures of the Ukrainian Armed Forces (1,200 people according to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense) to be understated by 10 times. My colleagues in the military circles of the LPR voiced very similar figures for Ukrainian losses to me in the summer of 2016 – no less than 30,000 killed UAF soldiers and officers, National Guardsmen, SBU officers, and Nazi battalion volunteers. I believe that the latter number is closer to the truth.
Unfortunately, losses among the civilian population have also been grossly underestimated. The people of Donbass have been killed by shelling and shooting by Ukrainian punitive forces. But huge losses have also occurred due to hunger and disease. No one even dares to give rough estimates of those who have died from starvation. But it is understood that these numbers are very high. Overall, the losses among the civilian population of Donbass are counted upwards in the tens of thousands of people.
Nevertheless, the main outcome of these three years is the fact that the republics have managed to maintain, albeit on a smaller part of their original territory, their independence. What’s more, the Donbass of summer 2014 (I first visited the LPR and DPR in June 2014) and the Donbass of May 2017 are two diametrically different entities. Instead of Cossack liberties, there is now a real state – not perfect, sometimes overly bureaucratic, but nevertheless fulfilling its social functions. The DPR and LPR have formed all the institutions of statehood – from their own armed forces to fully-fledged, working “peaceful” ministries and agencies. Citizens are receiving salaries and social benefits. Although the people of Donbass continue to live far from wealthy lives, the threat of mass starvation has passed. The main merit in this belongs to Russia which, although itself experiencing hard times, generously shares with Donbass. Comparing the prices of consumer goods (food, clothing, etc.) in Donetsk and Lugansk and in Ukraine, I was joyful to see that the prices of most goods in the republics are significantly cheaper. As for housing and communal services, they are cheaper by many times. For example, the cost of gas for consumers in the DPR and LPR is 7 (!) times cheaper than in Ukraine.
Since February of this year, a de-oligarchization campaign has been underway. It has only vague contours for now, but factories are working and workers are being paid. One wants to believe that the DPR and LPR will establish economic models more effective than Ukraine’s, but, of course, this is still very, very far off.
Finally, people in the republics of Donbass freely speak in their native Russian language and are not forced to honor such “heroes” as the Banderites and other Ukrainian Nazi collaborators. Donbass feels itself to be spiritually part of Russia.
Let us congratulate the people of Donbass on the third anniversary of their referenda on independence, and wish them speedy liberation of the occupied territories and a peaceful sky over their heads!
Originally published on fort-russ.com