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Ties with civilians of the occupied Donbas: what to do with them

RESUME
The research revealed a number of factors which, directly or indirectly, in the near future or in the long run, will influence the process of setting up or maintaining ties with civilians of the occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
The research gives reasons to divide the factors into those which promote horizontal ties with the population of the temporary occupied territories and those which will undermine the ties. The analysis of the whole spectrum of the factors which are important from the point of view of their reintegration covers the problem of choice between the military way of ending the conflict and searching for compromises: people's readiness for agreements of various kinds within the framework of searching for a model of returning the territories under the control of Ukraine, for available and expedient for implementation forms of political and administrative governance on the territory, for overcoming myths and stereotypes which may take place in the society with respect to residents of the uncontrolled territory, readiness of the society for the post-conflict internal consolidation in principle irrespective of when and in what political form (in accordance to what political formula)  the reintegration would take place.

This analytical report contains the results of the research of the above mentioned issues in accordance with their importance for maintaining or setting up ties with residents of the occupied territory as a prerequisite for successful reintegration of these territories when and how (in accordance to what political formula) the reintegration will take place.

The research demonstrated the orientation to a peaceful way of solving the conflict in the form of and the search for possible compromises. In the majority of cases, ceasefire is considered to be a prerequisite and a condition for the beginning of the political resolution of the conflict. There is no alternative to it. Discussions within focus groups demonstrated readiness of citizens to discuss various forms of compromise to return the temporary occupied territory under the control of Ukraine. However, readiness for particular compromises and concessions, and their forms vary and may depend on personal attitude to the region, to the conflict and its consequences as well as people's social activity in general and their interest in socio-political processes.

The research revealed gaps in communication between government agencies and citizens with respect to the ways of resolving the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.  The situation is especially dangerous for the resolution of the conflict when citizens do not have complete information about the decisions of the government or understand them in the opposite way. For example, some participants of the survey interpreted the political slogans concerning the reintegration of temporary occupied territories as calls for separation of the temporary occupies territory from Ukraine.

The low level of focus groups’ awareness of the activity of the Ministry of Temporary Occupied Territories and IDPs causes concern. However, it is to become the provider of the state policy with respect to the conflict. More than that, it has been registered that the society does not trust state institutions, particular politicians and those who are engaged on the part of Ukraine in the process of peaceful settlement of the conflict in the East.

The factors that may contribute to keeping ties between Ukrainians are as follows:

* Demand to stop the active phase of the conflict,
* Successful implementation of system reforms at the national level,
* Refusal from biased information and more objective work of MM with issues concerning the Donbas,
* Absence of serious prejudice towards people living on the uncontrolled territory.

Respondents emphasized the necessity to provide humanitarian and socially oriented state policy with respect to people living on the uncontrolled territory. It may be in the form of campaigns, initiatives, projects, programs, etc. which demonstrate the openness of the state to maintaining ties with its citizens. The same policy of “engagement” aimed at wide-scale and diversified experience exchange between regions (with the stress on personal communication, not on the themes discussed) should be implemented with respect to the civilians of the controlled part of the Donbas. This is expedient for the territory not only because it itself was the place where the conflict took place in 2014-2015, but also because of the fact that communication between controlled by Ukraine and occupied territories is continuing, and thus this resource has not been employed in full and is a “bridge” to transfer particular messages to residents of the occupied Donbas via the channel of individual communication.

MAIN RECOMMENDATIONS

To power bodies:
* to intensify holding various events to establish social and cultural ties among citizens,
* to develop public policy which is humanitarianly oriented and socially open to residents of the uncontrolled territory; that will contribute to their engagement in social processes in Ukraine.

To the Ministry of Temporarily Occupied Territories and IDPs:
* to intensify communication with MM; to explain to journalists the terminology
* concerning the conflict resolution and to interpret the norms of international law,
to give up politicizing  the reintegration process.

To mass media:
* to present as much as possible objective and realistic information about the situation in the Donbas,
* to give up creating artificially and spreading myths and stereotypes about the region and its residents,
* to avoid generalizations, emotional or political evaluation in materials covering decisions of the state power concerning the reintegration of the Donbas or peaceful settlement of the conflict,
* to critically perceive politicians’ claims with respect to certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions during the election campaign.

RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

The method of focus-group discussion was applied. It allowed to analyze experience, motivation, concepts and views on particular issues of certain citizens of Ukraine. 12 focus group discussions in 12 localities of Ukraine were held within the framework of the research. The localities were selected to represent the diversity of the country as much as possible. In particular, the following localities were included:

Cities: Dnipro (Dnipropetrovsk region), Kramatorsk (Donetsk region), Starobilsk (Luhansk region), Rubizhne (Luhansk region), Ovidiopil (Odesa region), Koriukivka (Chernihiv region).

Villages: Oleksievo-Druzhkivka (Donetsk region), Paraskoviivka (Donetsk region), Holubivka (Luhansk region), Chervone (Lviv region), Myroliubivka (Kherson region).

96 respondents took part in the research. They were selected to represent different social groups. While selecting the sample, respondents’ age, occupation, and type of their locality were taken into consideration. Focus group research was conducted by GFK company March 27-April 1, 2018.

RESEARCH RESULTS

WHAT CONTRIBUTE TO PRESERVING AND RESTORING TIES WITH CIVILIANS OF THE OCCUPIED TERRITORY?

In general, the response to the proposition to assess the prospects of the territory reintegration is that people are ready to preserve or, with time, to restore ties with civilians of the occupied territory. Forms, tools, and conditions of returning the territory under the control of Ukraine may be discussed. However, the importance and possibility to preserve horizontal ties with ordinary citizens are not doubtful and are supported.

Preference of peaceful resolution of the conflict: the majority of respondents in all focus groups support peaceful way of the conflict resolution to avoid victims among civilians and infrastructure destruction. However, the respondents are doubtful concerning the success of negotiations on peaceful resolution of the conflict.

Odesa region, male respondent, 22 years old:
“They have been solving the conflict in a military way for 4 years and have failed.”

Donetsk region, male respondent, 32:
“Donbas is the most densely populated and the most industrial part of Ukraine. If to attack and advance, everything will be ruined, no infrastructure left. What will be won out?”

If the military way of resolving the conflict is applied, the respondents are concerned about the expansion of the conflict and the activity of the Russian Federation.

Donetsk region, male respondent, 36:
“Minus of the idea is that the military conflict will definitely make the aggressor to respond. That may aggravate the situation and expand the conflict.”

Readiness for compromises for the sake of peace: representatives of all focus groups express readiness for some compromises within the framework of pending agreements to resolve the conflict peacefully and to successfully reintegrate the uncontrolled territory.

The range of compromises was rather wide depending on the location of the focus group, from partial or complete amnesty for participants of the illegal military formations to special economic ties of certain areas of the Donbas with the Russian Federation.

The responses focus mainly on two issues.

The first one is amnesty for those who have not committed felony.

Kyiv, male respondent, 30:
“The mechanism has worked in a lot of conflicts: active participants constitute 10-20%; passive ones are much more numerous.”

The second issue is separate assessment of the responsibility of high-ranking officials and leaders of illegal armed formations.

Lviv region, male respondent, 57:
“Nobody will search for rank-and-files. The high-ranking ones must be punished in any case.”

Giving guarantees to use Russian in official situations in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions is regarded as a possible compromise. However, the dichotomy of using Russian in everyday communication and in official situations is preserved.

Chernihiv region, male respondent, 57:
“I think, if they want to speak Russian, let them speak even German, no difference.”

Concessions of the part of the Ukrainian side: restoration of paying out pensions to citizens of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and some specific features of local self-government which may be given to the territories.

A considerable part of focus group research participants, when speaking about the characteristic features of the special status, named some economic parameters. That describes the current processes of decentralization taking place in the country. Most often the respondents named the opportunity to use levied taxes, to set local tax credits for businesses, transparency of money usage, etc.

Kyiv, female respondent, 33:
“The major part of money should be left in the region which earned it; to give them more freedom. In the past, all the money went to the capital. Towns are in a bad condition there.”

Kyiv, male respondent; 20:
"Some people there get pension, some people not. There are people who consider themselves Ukrainians and paid taxes.”

It often happens that “the special status” is considered as a special economic status to restore the region after the war.

Kyiv, male respondent, 30:
"Special status may be given in the form of some economic privileges for local people to restore their region by themselves after the war".

Respondents from focus groups were more loyal to the interpretation of “the special status” as an economic model or regime than to its political interpretation.

Practically all focus groups do not support the idea of holding elections on the uncontrolled territory before the regaining of control over the border. The main reason for the negative attitude was the impossibility to hold elections on the occupied territory, absence of trust to the Ukrainian power because of the absence of Ukrainian MM broadcasting, influence of Russian propaganda, etc.

Lviv region, male respondent, 55:
 “Troops should be withdrawn. Then the election may be held.”

Loyal attitude to social workers who stayed to work on the occupied territory concerning their opportunity to work for state bodies and bodies of self-government; it is pointed out that there should be differentiation with respect to politicians, middle-rank officials, judges and representatives of law enforcement.

Thus, there should be constant or temporary limitations of opportunities to get particular positions or to be nominated for those who are in politics or had fulfilled such functions before the war and continued to fulfill them on the occupied territory.

Lviv region, male respondent, 65:
 “I think they should not be able to get to power for some period. As it was in the past: when people were tried, at the end of the sentence it was written that it was prohibited for the person to occupy some particular position for three-four years to check them.”

The idea to impose limitations for middle-level officials of self-government or power bodies, for those who work in medicine, education, utilities was not supported. In such cases, most often respondents connected their work on the occupied territory with inability to leave it, necessity to earn money to provide for families, or the need to work because of the professional oath of allegiance, etc.

Kyiv, female respondent, 33:
“There are rank-and-file people who work whoever the power belongs to. They continue working because they have to survive.”

Some respondents noted that there are people who work in education and teach subjects connected with Russian propaganda or separatists’ ideology. On the other hand, respondents mentioned the fact that doctors are to treat all people, without exceptions. Doctors were the least conflict-causing group of people from the occupied territory. The research results showed that there should be individual approach in assessing and investigating the activity of people and the necessity to prove the guilt of those who participated in what happened in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

The answers of respondents were various concerning the question how to prevent those who were active in illegal armed formations or are under the negative influence of the conflict from getting to law enforcement bodies and how to make local people trust law enforcement bodies partially formed from among representatives of other regions.

Focus group respondents offered a special procedure for selecting ordinary employees and another procedure for selecting CEOs with the possibility to confirm them later, by central power bodies of Ukraine. 

Kyiv, male respondent, 22:
“There should be scrupulous selection of psychologically healthy people. It is important to avoid mob law arranged by those who saw crimes in order not to commit crimes in response.”

Kherson region, male respondent, 43:
“It should be done the same way Russians did in the Crimea – our militaries, and policemen were replaced by theirs. No locals, only ours.”

Kyiv region, female respondent, 33:
“I am afraid that locals will treat negatively the people who will come to them from other regions. ‘Why have you come to my home?”

Positive or patient and neutral attitude to the idea of establishing contacts – discussions in focus groups show that, on average, there is positive, sometimes neutral (in few cases – negative) attitude to the idea of establishing active ties with civilians from the uncontrolled parts of the Donbas. Respondents from all focus groups demonstrated readiness to agreement; average residents of the uncontrolled territory are not treated with bias, negatively, or as “aliens.”

Kyiv region, female respondents, 35:
“Luhansk and Donetsk remind Kryvyi Rih or Dnipro. People were cheerful there. A small place with population of about 70 thousand people, those who did not go abroad for good because they were satisfied with what they had.”

Odesa region, female respondent, 28:
“In a news program on TV I saw a ruined house, an ordinary family just the same as we are. Maybe, some other people have heard that they are different. I haven’t. And there are rich kids here too.”

Absence of personal contacts or lack of information about the situation in the East may cause doubts about openness to contacts of the people living on the occupied territory. However, that does not prevent residents of other parts of Ukraine from demonstrating their readiness to try to establish contacts when the process of returning the region under the control of Ukraine has started.

There were no trends in any focus group to deny the possibility and the need to maintain or revive such ties. More than that, all focus groups were unanimous in the idea that there are no obstacles which cannot be overcome in the process of reviving horizontal ties. In other words, in general, positive attitude to such prospects prevails.

The presence of differences of Donbas residents (of those who are living on the occupied territory and on the unoccupied one) are not perceived as something exceptional as diversity is typical of the majority of the regions of Ukraine and is a strength, not a weakness.

Lviv region, male respondent, 58:
“People in France have differences too. However, their income is so high that they do not see any problem. Problems may be solved by them any moment.”

Kherson region, female respondent, 35:
“I have been to Vinnytsia, to Transcarpathia, to Kyiv. People are different, but hospitable.”

Close ties between residents of the occupied part of the Donbas and the rest of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, will definitely promote the future social integration and finding common language with residents of self-proclaimed formations.

It is important that the support of this idea was observed in focus groups held on the controlled part of the Donbas. The participants stressed that despite the long-term conflict, residents of both controlled part and the uncontrolled one do not divide people into “ours” – “alien” on the territorial principle. In general, representatives of localities on the controlled parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions express high level of readiness and wish to preserve ties with civilians of the uncontrolled areas.

Participants of all focus groups were unanimous that the desire for peace, economic development, and well-being may unite Ukrainians. The need to establish peace in the country was named as a uniting factor in all focus groups. Other factors are common statehood and the desire for economic stability.

Chernihiv region, 64-year-old female respondent:
“The war disunites us and everyone wants peace. This striving for peace strongly unites us all”.

Lviv region,  male respondent, 57 years old:
“Peace is of utmost importance”.

Donetsk region, male respondent, 32 years old:
“The thing which unites all Ukraine now is longing for the war to end and for economy to revive. This unites all Ukraine, I am 100% sure”.

Kyiv, female respondent, 20 years old:
“Nationality. When you come to another country, meet someone there and ask: “Where are you from?” -  “I’m from Poltava” - “Wow! And I’m from ...”

A 54-year-old female respondent in the Donetsk region answers the moderator’s question about what unites Ukraine in the following way: “Living in Ukraine. Ukraine must be a united country for everyone”. All the members of the group agreed with her.
Striving for economic stability is a very important factor which unites people.

Donetsk region, female respondent, 45 years old:
“Economic welfare, better living conditions, future for our children, healthcare and other things like that. However, people do not always know and understand how to reach this”.

Some respondents from Rubizhne and Kyiv said that “common public holidays” are a consolidating factor for the Ukrainians meaning such public holidays as New Year (both localities), Victory Day on May 9th (Kyiv), February 23 or Soviet Army Day (Kyiv), Christmas (Kyiv), Easter (Kyiv).

Some respondents in some regions of Ukraine named European integration as a consolidating factor for the Ukrainians.

Luhansk region, male respondent, 56 eyars old:
“European standards and building a European society in Ukraine can be a general unifying idea, not just blindly following the gay pride tradition”.

Lviv respondents said that Euro-2012 was a consolidating factor for all Ukrainians.

Odesa region, male respondent, 22 years old:
“European integration and the European Union both unite and disunite. Some people are for them, some are against. These ideas will bring some people together and provoke conflicts among others. Anyway, some people will agree and some will disagree with this. All these things... Some people want to be with Russia, some ones do not want to change anything at all”.

WHAT THREATENS PRESERVING AND RENEWING TIES WITH CIVILIANS WHO LIVE ON OCCUPIED TERRITORIES

Despite the fact that the majority of factors which will threaten establishing links with the civilians within the framework of deoccupation is not known and the political formulae of reintegration is not known either we can speak about those factors which threaten preserving these ties today and can deteriorate the situation in the future. 

Lack of trust into the authorities’ attempts to cease the conflict: in general, focus groups representatives have heard about the Minsk Agreements but are not aware of their details. Some research participants think that these Agreements are not efficient as they cannot provide stable ceasefire and implement instruments of peaceful conflict settlement.

Chernihiv region, male respondent, 64 years old:
“We get information about the captives’ exchange only”.

Luhansk region, male respondent, 27 years old:
“There are some pluses in peaceful talks: they do not shell that much, I do not hear shooting any more. This means that there are some pluses. Heavy machinery is not used as often as before on the demarcation line”.
Some respondents said during the survey that they were sure that the conflict parties were not motivated to end it.

Kyiv, female respondent, 33 years old:
“I believe this is artificial. Both sides benefit from the conflict. The beginning was a bit stupid and then a lot of people launched very successful business and now this is beneficial for many people”.

The status of certain Minsk talks participants does not satisfy some respondents. Some survey participants think that the acting Ukraine representatives in Minsk talks currently do not have enough authority to achieve success in this process. There is a popular idea that direct talks between the leaders of Ukraine and the Russian Federation with the involvement of influential international players can help solve the conflict. 

Chernihiv region, male respondent, 64 years old:
“They send this Kuchma. You (Poroshenko) are the President so you should go and agree about a solution".

There is a belief that concessions in the talks process will lead to splitting the country, some respondents are sure that the proposal of the “special status” of certain districts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, just as was done in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, an opportunity to have their own ministries, legislation, and being simultaneously subject to Ukrainian Constitution and laws can lead to splitting as this will create necessary conditions for further “official” annexation if those territories just as it happened in the Crimea.

Luhansk region, female respondent, 62 years old:
“I do not like this idea. If we give them so much independence, tomorrow they will follow the Crimean example, they will just join Russia”.

The fact that any concessions are taken as losses of the Ukrainian side and lack of progress in the process of settling down the conflict can later lead to another problem: low level of approval of all concessions including those which will not threaten Ukrainian sovereignty and independence. Thus, it should be noted that the public must be thoroughly informed about the necessity to compromise, though, of course, these compromises will be understood and approved of only when the talks rich the last lap. 

Political and media speculations, bad economic situation are among the factors which disunite the Ukrainians. Political activity of certain politicians was also mentioned by some respondents. Thus, politicians and “the policy” of the country were named among the disuniting factors in Kramatorsk, Oleksievo-Druzhkivka, Lviv, Odesa, Holubivka and respondents were sure that the idea of opposing the East and the West of the country  умовних was inspired by politicians and supported by media.

Lviv region, male  respondent, 62 years old:
“The language problem is used for manipulations, and people are cheated on by the authorities. These ones support some ideas, those ones do not. These ones are for and those ones against. Mass media present facts in a different way and this disunites people as well”.

Lviv region, female respondent, 57 years old:
“The authorities disunite us themselves. We are separated by the leaders, by their lies. One party lies against another party. This is what separates us”.
A 58-year-old female espondent answered the questions about what disunites the Ukrainians in the following way: “Those people who live far from this, they do not understand the terror and fear which are happening here. Though hostilities were not happening here for a long time, they ended quite quickly, we heard a saw a lot of things”.

Luhansk region, male respondent, 54 year old:
“Well, this poverty we live in here and lack of work places mean that each person is trying to make their living. The majority of my generation representatives in our region are working in Russia now. Their children are brought up by grandparents. I faced this when the issue of military enlistment office rose. People hear some patriotic speeches, they are patriots, children shout out slogans, there is a military college here. But will you go there or do the military service if your mother and farther who live in Russia feed you? And that’s that. This is what the geographical neighbour’s proximity means”.

Lack of information about the state “reintegration” policy and the activity of state institutions involved in this process are the next factor which disunites citizens and presents a serious obstacle for maintaining ties with the residents of occupied territories.

While being discussed the Law “On the peculiarities of State policy on ensuring Ukraine’s State sovereignty over temporarily occupied territories in Donetsk and Luhansk regions” was often named by politicians and journalists the Law on “reintegration” of uncontrolled Donbas territories. Despite the fact that the bullet points of the Law were highlighted in mass media, the research proves that the majority of focus group representatives understood neither the meaning of the term “reintegration” not the content of the document itself.

As a rule, participants of focus group research failed to explain what the term “reintegration” means and what place it occupies within the framework of the state policy regarding temporarily occupied territories. The extreme form of the term misunderstanding was the assumption that reintegration means full separation of the temporarily-occupied territories from the free part of Ukraine. Instead, a lot of participants had no idea either about the fact that the law had been passed or about the meaning of the term “reintegration”. 

Kherson region, male respondent, 45 years old:
“I do not know a lot about what this special status means, something about joining Ukraine again but having some perks, you see I do not know a lot about this, I have just heard that there has been a lot of fuss because of this reintegration. This is what we have heard but I do not know a lot about it”.

Donetsk region, male respondent, 46 years old:
“Raising, possibly, the standard of living to the European level, including the level of salaries”.

Donetsk region, male respondent, 32 years old:
“Well, reintegration — no one knows what it means. Half of the country does not understand what it means”.

Scarce focus group participants who were informed about the law expressed doubts that it would be efficiently applied on the occupied territories. These doubts were grounded on the general critical attitude do applying laws in Ukraine.

Lviv region, male respondent, 57 years old:
“They write a lot of laws here however, the majority of them are not used and they never will be. They are necessary for PR campaigns only”.

Those respondents who were informed about the law but perceived it critically had doubts that it would be possible to solve the problem by passing laws. Participants also expressed remarks that the laws was passed several years later that it had to and it would be impossible to solve the conflict on the occupied territories with the help of legislature.

Odesa region, male respondent, 35 years old:
“I want to say that if we... When the territory which is controlled by Ukraine is stably integrated into Europe and when everyone sees that life here is better, the Crimea and the Donbas will surely say that they want reintegration but if reforms which were supposed to take two years have been going on for four years and there is no progress what kind of reintegration can we speak about?”

The research showed that there is not enough information among respondents about the existence and activity of the Ministry of Temporarily Occupied Territories and IDPs. Only several participants were aware of the activity and tasks of the Ministry and some of its servants. Those respondents who were aware of some of the activities of the Ministry were quite skeptical about them.

Luhansk region, male, 56 years old:
“I do not have a lot of information about the activity of the Ministry. Well, what can I say? I do not know. There are a lot of questions, let’s put it this way. Energy supply to that territory, water supply. Where and how? There are a lot of questions. I am not aware of its functions and activity”.
Survey participants demonstrated that there is a demand for the national policy which would support national unity or actions which would synchronize the efforts for returning the occupied terrtiories and development of the territories which are controlled by the state. For instance, respondents living in the Donetsk region were concerned by the fact that there would be two “regions” after the end of the conflict between the states.

Some respondents living in the Lviv region were sure that the reintegration policy must be applied not only on the territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions but also on the territory of Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhzhya ones. In the respondents’ opinion, people living in those regions do not have enough information about the history of Ukraine or the specificity of the events happening there. 

Lviv region, male respondent, 57 years old:
“They should be shown and told about the facts they do not know about. A case similar to the one that happened to Darya happened to me in the Crimea. Wait a second. Svyatoslav from Dnipro asked: “Why do people in the West hate Soviet power so much?” He himself was a law enforcer. I was in the Crimea then. I told him: “Imagine a stranger coming to your house and taking away everything you have  just as Russians took away everything we had”. They know nothing, absolutely nothing about that”.

The demand for complex state policy is different in different regions of Ukraine but all respondents were sure that a complex work with citizens to avoid any kind of misunderstanding between them and the authorities and prevent negative social reaction should be conducted.

Active hostilities phase is also an obstacle for potential establishment of social and humanitarian “bridges” between average civilians living on occupied terrtiories, this idea was mostly expressed during discussions in Donetsk and Luhansk region localities controlled by Ukraine. Thus, though Ukraine cannot implement the ceasefire regime unilaterally this fact should be born in mind as respondents attach  a lot of importance to it and treat it as an absolute, having no alternative condition for renewing ties with residents of uncontrolled territories. The possibility of these ties renewal almost directly depends on the end or continuation of the war, according to the civilians’ opinion expressed during discussions. End of hostilities means for many respondents a possibility to quicken processes of overcoming social distance  between them and residents of uncontrolled areas:

Donetsk region, male  respondent, 57 years old:
“Well again, hostilities can hamper everything”.

Donetsk region, female respondent, 27 years old:
“If there is no war, reintegration will be very quick”.

Non-transparent and complicated economic policy concerning uncontrolled territories -  focus group participants treat the necessity of the economic blockade of uncontrolled territories differently however the majority of them believe that the existing one is not efficient.  A part of respondents think that it is illogical as Ukraine does not control a big part of its Donbas border with the Russian Federation and has not disrupted its economic ties with the aggressor country. The aims of the blockade are not clear to some respondents as despite the fact that it exists de jure, de facto there are a lot of channels for illegal trade. Besides, this situation undermines people’s trust in the authorities actions.

Some focus groups expressed an opinion that the current blockade only stimulates further integration of the uncontrolled territories into the Russian Federation.

Lviv region, male respondent, 65 years old:
"I think the blockade will not facilitate the peaceful solution. First of all, hostilities must end. Right now we are setting the occupied territories against us".

Chernihiv region, male respondent, 59 years old:
“If we are trading with the aggressor country, as we ARE trading... There is so much smuggling on both sides, they live on it, it will never be eliminated as it is so profitable”.

Lviv region, female respondent, 57 years old:
"Is there any blockade? I have another question about it. It hardly exists. If they show the Crimea on TV, you can see a lot of Ukrainian goods on sale. There are a lot of our goods on sale in Donetsk.What kind of blockade are you talking about? What are they blocking? Some MPs gathered there and did not let anyone in or out for several days. So what? They still bring coal from those territories. There is no blockade... If there were one everything would have finished during the first year".
Absence of stable ceasefire is the main obstacle on the way to renewing economic ties.

Odesa region, male respondent, 22 years old:
“I think people who remain there and do not get their pensions are Ukrainian citizens, they worked for our country for 40 years and currently they cannot get their pensions... therefore, they should get some explanation, the authorities should explain this to Ukrainian citizens and should provide them with at least minimal conditions for life. On the other hand, trading relationships with those companies which remain in the “DPR” and “LPR” is wrong are there is an ongoing conflict there”.

CONCLUSIONS

The way the Law “On the peculiarities of State policy on ensuring Ukraine’s State sovereignty over temporarily occupied territories in Donetsk and Luhansk regions” is presented in the media shows that authorities should avoid generalizations and explain in detail the content of documents and the consequences of their decisions.

Тhe term “reintegration” has often been used by politicians to underline the fact that the law discussed corresponds to the ideas of peaceful solutions and there is no controversy between this decision and the tasks outlined by the Minsk process. However, the way provisions and norms of the law were explained to the Ukrainian citizens was not clear enough.

The low level of recognition of the Ministry of Temporarily Occupied Territories and IDPs can be treated as a serious obstacle for successful reintegration of the programmes aimed at reintegration of temporarily occupied territories and internally displaced persons. The fact that communicating the basic tasks of the Ministry to public should be conducted in a more efficient way has become obvious.

Different forms of personal experience in communication between representatives of different regions were highly appreciated during discussions, those could be cultural or sports events, internal tourism or realization of different so-called applied practical projects which presupposed joint work of different regions representatives. There is a society demand for successful systematic reforms, improving life standards, increasing predictability of internal processes in the country (first of all, from the point of view of economic development).

Establishing contacts with either residents of occupied territories or the parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions cannot be accompanied by distorting information about the Donbas and its residents, using such cliches as “separatists” or “traitors”. Demand for unbiased highlighting of the processes in the Donbas and refusal from spreading in mass media myths about its residents are necessary conditions for restoring horizontal ties with the controlled and uncontrolled areas of the Donbas.

Tendencies to generalized accusations of separatism of the residents of controlled or uncontrolled Donbas territories were not observed during focus groups discussions which is highly important for the mentioned theme of preserving ties. Discussion participants from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions were sometimes more critical in the way they assessed themselves than representatives of other regions.

Politicians and mass media were named by focus groups members as the ones who created and artificially spread stereotypes about insurmountable differences between residents of different regions. In particular, the idea of opposing the East of Ukraine to the West which started in 2000 was mentioned.  Such accusations of mass media and Ukrainian politicians were mentioned in both focus groups that took place in the East and the ones that took place in the West of Ukraine.

Information

“The Kalmius Group” is an informal unity of Ukrainian analysts whose aim is to enhance state sovereignty on temporarily occupied territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The motivation of our group is clear and transparent to enhance the restoration of the territorial integrity of the country clearly and professionally. The name of the group derives from the name of the Kalmius Rives which unites free an temporarily occupied territories of the region and symbolises the hope of the citizens who live on both sides of the demarcation line for restoration of the peace  by ceasing the conflict between the states and restoring Ukraine’s territorial integrity, rule of law  and order on territories which suffered in the armed conflict.

April, 2018

The report was prepared by members of The Kalmius Group: Oleksandr Kliuzhev, Maria Zolkina, Oleksandr Dmitriyev, Oleksiy Matsuka, Vitaliy Syzov

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