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Donbas. Two years later

May 11, 2016 - Luc Maffre - Articles and Commentary

Shchastya school destroyed by the bombings 26.04.2016 Luc Maffre

After two years of war and almost 10,000 people killed, the conflict in Donbas is taking on a new dimension. Compared to the vast majority of Ukraine’s landmass, the small piece of territory held by the separatists remains impossible to access for most Ukrainians. The front line has become a new border and the vicinity’s population has no other choice but to deal with the everyday instability that comes with it. In the north Luhansk region, especially, the signs of war are still clearly visible and reconstruction has set waves of solidarity into motion.

A border without status

The front line in Donbas is the result of two years of war. This line might appear similar to a normal border between two neighbouring countries and the comparison is not completely irrelevant. But speaking about a border with inherent legal considerations is inaccurate; as a matter of fact, without international recognition or special arrangements, the border within Donbas is non-existent. In more concrete terms, the shootings from both sides establish a de factoborder. Officially, there is no ongoing war; the Ukrainian government instead mentions anti-terrorist actions taking place in its official discourse. However, on the ground it is still not possible to reach Donetsk or Luhansk from Ukrainian territory. Consequently, the best option is to land somewhere in Russia, generally in Rostov-on-Don, and then to reach the separatist territory from there. Finally, the war allows actions to take place and the line is often violated by soldiers in reconnaissance missions. This insecurity hangs over the region’s people who are forced to deal with this very volatile situation.

Waves of solidarity

Two years of conflict brought a lot of destruction among the north Donbas region’s buildings. Blocks of flats along the front line are severely damaged from the regular fighting. In this war context, Ukraine’s western regions have played a role in helping its eastern regions materially. Similarly, the Ukrainian volunteers’ ( or волонтери) work is no exception. From every part of Ukraine they gather and bring supplies to the soldiers, stopping in several parts of the country; they have given the Ukrainian military important logistical support since the beginning of the conflict. Apart from moral support, this distinctive feature reinforces a sense of solidarity. Furthermore, this solidarity goes beyond the national level; some NGOs have also provided support. In Stanitsa in Luhansk, a few kilometres from the city of Luhansk, UNICEF has sent school furniture. It is not unusual to spot children wearing backpacks with the UNICEF symbol. A little further away, the Shchastya (which literally means “happiness”) school was totally destroyed by bombings. Thanks to Lithuanian funding, the school will be rebuilt in the next few years. Finally, the Red Cross also participates through various types of aid, including agriculture.

Population and minorities

The nightmare of non-stop bombings has brought only one wish to the people living in this region: for a return to peace. On this land occupied by separatists and mercenaries, war is everywhere. Separated families are common, and soldiers are part of the big picture; on the road, block-posts appear one after another. For young people, the future is uncertain, but there is no doubt about one thing: the situation is better in the territory controlled by the Ukrainian government, while on the other side corruption and banditry are rampant.

Finally, the war in Donbas illustrates a new issue which is often ignored, namely, the question regarding minorities. In Ukraine, the Cossacks have been divided between those who support the government and others backing separatists (who are mainly present in Russia). Some of them have cut family ties since the beginning of the conflict. It is also worth noting that Ukraine has seen all kinds of mercenaries including Chechens and Ossetians, show up for the fight. Therefore, the war in Donbas is not limited to only to Slavic people, adding just another dimension to this conflict, one that has been taking place for over two years now.

Luc Maffre is a student at Warsaw University, currently finishing his master degree of political science.

All photos by Luc Maffre:

Cossacks soldiers fighting for Ukraine Shchastya 26.04.2016 Luc Maffre

Students of Shchastya school thanking Lituania for their new school 26.04.2016 Luc Maffre

Office of Cossack commander Shchastya 26.04.2016 Luc Maffre

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