The log on the rails and the ruin of Donbass economy
We come late in the evening on the redoubt ‘Zaparozhye’ in Bakhmut. We don’t know anyone from blockade activists and the only man, which telephone we have is in three hundred kilometers from here. Everyone from us knows about blockade of the railway connection only by hearsay, from colleagues, whose biggest part wasn’t on the scene and treat ‘blockaders’ predominantly negatively. We were warned that there are no almost anyone at the redoubt: ‘few alcoholics are walking’. The evening doesn’t promise to be pleasant.
We find nearly two dozen of men of different age and different professions except few alcoholics. They are from different cities. I didn’t find drunk there or at other redoubts, according to commanders’ words they have strict dry law. Six people guard the perimeter of camp and railway road, few people are warmed by a fire burning in an iron barrel, the rest are resting in tents.
We were met with some distrust, but, in common, friendly enough. They don’t too much trust to journalists, but also don’t banish. We are acquainted, talk about different things. There are demobilized soldiers of volunteer battalions, civil volunteers and activists among ‘blockaders’. Locals also could be met during a day on the redoubt, but at night – only visitors. Some come there for a few days, some spent there a month a going to stay till the win. They call victory the implementation by Ukrainian power of three of their demands: release of all prisoners of war, the termination of any trade with the occupied territories and the adoption of a law defining the status, controlled by militants, the districts of Donbass. One of the main speakers of the protesters, MP Vladimir Parasyuk sure that to negotiate about Ukrainian prisoners of war release must Rinat Akhmetov himself: ‘If he could deal about work of his enterprises there, so he can to deal about the release of prisoners’. According to Parasyuk words, Akhmetov’s people tried to communicate with the blockade HQ, offering compromises. But HQ will be ready to negotiate only after fighters will release not less than 20 prisoners of war without any additional conditions.
Protesters blocked here in Bakhmut the railway branch, on which on February 2 cargo trains from the occupied Gorlovka to Lyman and back went. I’m noting with the surprise that there is only enough to fasten a pair of logs to the rails with the wire to stop supply on the enterprises of one of the most rich people of a country. The locomotive stands near this barrier. Its engine permanently works and machinist and assistant are dutying in it. The path is free to Horlovka’s side, but ‘blockaders’ ban to locomotive to go. They say that if there’s a try to start moving contrary to the ban, they’re going to throw a locomotive with Molotov cocktails. But, after two days after successful police operation to unblock cargo train in Zolote, the statements of Bakhmut ‘blockaders’ will sound not so ex cathedra.
Here and in Krivoi Torets only cargo trains, crossing the Line of Contact, don’t skip. Intraregional passenger trains smoothly run on both branches. Activists don’t interfere to transport blockade and movement of coal trains, which is mined on controlled part of Donbass. For example, cargo trains from Toretsk free go to Konstantinovka.
Following the prevailing in the circles of Kiev intellectuals opinion, I was waiting for unanimous critic of blockade by locals. And was really wondered, when I didn’t hear any cutting commentary in the address of protesters. Nearly third part of locals, with whom I managed to communicate, expressed their support to blockade. Bakhmut, Toretsk, Lisichansk public activists are almost unanimous in this support. But, to my surprise, also representatives of such groups, which directly affect the negative consequences of blockade, were talking about the necessity of it. For example, some railwaymen in Bakhmut and Krivoi Torets, recognizing that as a result idle time and salary cuts are waiting for them, they, nevertheless, called trade with occupied territories unacceptable. There are more opponents of blockade, but I didn’t catch hate to the protesters in their commentaries.
Sympathetic locals come on redoubt in the afternoon. They bring clothes, food, instruments, take part in camp arrangement, keep watch, communicate with ‘blockaders’ visitors. Some of local activists in Bakhmut are even more radical than non-resident protesters. They have own indicator of absence of changes and sabotage of reforms. It’s their mayor, ex-member of Party of Regions Aleksei Reva, who rules the city 25 years.
We see how cars with cargo are coming to redoubts. Sleeping bags, shovels, firewood. We’re getting acquainted with IDP family from occupied part of Luhansk region. They are owners of a little cafe, which prepares food for ‘blockaders’. Everyone explains owns participation with desire of soon end of war and changing of state management systems, which didn’t happened yet after Euromaidan.
Actions of protesters violate up to three Criminal Code articles. To understand how local policemen react on this continuing crimes, if cases on these facts are opened, we tried to meet with acting as head of Bakhmut Police Department Jury Popov. He refused to comment the situation, sent us to Mariupol, to PR-center of Donetsk region police.
We’re going to South outskirt of Toretsk from Bakhmut. Here, at Krivoi Torets station, protesters blocked the movement on railway branch from occupied Yasinovataya to Konstantinovka. To get to remote redoubts – ‘Bohdan’ and ‘named by 16th battalion’ is not so simple. Police and National Guard pays particular attention to everyone, going in this direction. Journalists are delicate category, our data is only written in the notebook and reported ‘upstairs’ about coming of the film crew. The procedure is more long that at other ATO block-posts, but we hadn’t any special problems. Biggest part of blockade activists confirm that they are carefully inspected. Military and police rewrite the identifiers of the phones and take photographs with passports.
Two days before our coming there was attack on the redoubt in Krivoi Torets. Nearly fifty young men in civic clothes and medicine masks came against fifteen protesters according to their words. ‘Blockaders’ confirm that attackers were not local, they were brought and then taken away on the buses.
Having started a fight near the camp, assailants tried to hijack the train, ‘arrested’ by protesters on February 10. They didn’t manage to do it – blockaders didn’t allow. Three activists, defending the redoubt, have suffered damage of varying severity. People sure there that attackers were hired by the police authorities. Casualties didn’t apply to police, they don’t believe in the objectivity of the investigation.
Semenchenko and Parasyuk are frequent guests at redoubts. They try to be main speakers and generously give comments to journalists. But, according to my feelings, to call them blockade leaders is either incorrect either to call in winter 2014 trio of leaders of those times opposition ‘Euromaidan leaders’. As it was with those, this one are endured by protesters for lack of other representatives of their interests in the parliament and the government. The coordinator of redoubt ‘Named by 16th battalion’ with the callsign ‘Silver’ explains us that participants of blockade don’t have formal leaders and clear hierarchy, all decisions are made collectively by the blockade headquarter.
We meet at this day in Avdiivka with CEO, a member of the Akhmetov holding ‘Metinvest’, coke plant Musa Magomedov. He offers us to look on blockade from a different angle. Left without cheap raw materials from ‘Metinvest’ mines, working on the occupied areas, the enterprise (from which, without exaggeration, the destiny of 20 thousand city depends) has already for today reduced production volumes on 20%. It brought, in its turn, to proportional reduction in production volumes and at the main consumer plant of the Avdeevka coke shop – the Mariupol metallurgical plant of ‘Ilich’. The alternative raw materials are three times more expensive and makes the plant’s products uncompetitive. While enterprise is continuing to operate at a loss, production volumes will reduce more. Interruptions in the supply of electricity are also influence on an enterprise productivity. Now the factory gets it from Zuev power plant, which is under control of ‘DPR’ fighters, who’s revenging for blockade, preventing repair of power lines, feeding coke manufacture.
First 200 from 4 thousand of plant workers were sent to unpaid leave and this process will continue. Stock strength of factory will be enough on a several months. After that, if supply doesn’t renew, it could be laid up. In case of coke plant stop Avdiivka will quickly turn into a ghost-town. Magomedov doesn’t believe in the success of negotiations with blockade leaders, considering, that they are interested in ‘owns PR’, but not in Avdiivka, Mariupol inhabitants and Ukrainian citizens, left on occupied territories, fate.
We come on redoubt ‘Bohdan’ on the outskirt of Horske next day after policemen found explosives under the bridge in dozen of meters from ‘blockaders’ tent. The territory around redoubt was cordoned off in the morning of March 4. According to blockade activists words, a few dozen of armed by machine guns cops have made it. The movement on automobile bridge between Horske and Zolote was blocked. ‘Blockaders’ confirm that policemen referred to the anonymous appeal of locals about mining the pillars of the motor bridge and directed strictly to a place where they found a box with explosives and ammos. The message about mining directly doesn’t mention on the website of Luhansk police, but there is a referral to some information, which was checked by investigative group by inspecting the area near the bridge and tents.
Some moments in the message of the police press-service require clarifications, but there is nobody to ask questions – the Head of PR center of the regional department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs suggests us to read once more attentively published on the official website post and the Head of Popasnaya police dept. Says that to comment this situation was forbidden by prosecutor. Not in a last turn, because of stubborn silence of policemen the version of protesters sounds more convincingly. They claim that explosives on the area near redoubt were thrown up by guardians of order themselves.
This become a base to search of a camp. During it policemen didn’t find any illegal, but took advantage of the confusion of the blockade activists and towed a detained train to the depot. But, ‘blockaders’ didn’ consider it the defeat and say that ‘kidnapping’ by policemen a train doesn’t harm the goals of the blockade.
The thing is that to recover railway communication on this site is impossible without holding of canvas – some time ago one-and-a-half-meter piece of rails was cut in two hundred meters from redoubt by unknown. HQ blockade representatives, smiling mysteriously, deny their involvement in this action, saying that it was done by ‘sympathizing to them unknown patriots’. This makes an unbiased observer to doubt in their honesty as well as in the honesty of policemen.
Railway branch, going from occupied Luhansk to Schastie stays unblocked. Krasnodon coal is delivered on it to Luhansk thermal power station. The volumes of carrying are small, comparing with other railway branches and the only fuel consumer is the power plant, giving energy to unoccupied North of Luhansk region.
That’s why there is no plans to block this branch – the stop of station could become the catastrophe for the region. So Lisichansk blockade HQ says. Vladimir Parasyuk is not so categorical: he considers that blocking is possible and this scenario is discussed by protest leaders.
Few days spent with supporters and opponents of trade blockade of Donbass didn’t make me to stay on one of the positions. We heard strong arguments from both sides. Could blockade, bared a number of serious problems in the sphere of economy and energy security, catalyze reforms and contribute to form relevant government strategies or it brings the country to collapse – it depends on possibility of conflict sides to compromise and to be ready to act in the interests of all the society.
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