Dmitri Holodov faces a lot of rubble that was once his home. Bricks and scrap are all that’s left of it. “The whole house burned down within 15 minutes,” said the 41-year-old. For weeks, forest fires raged in eastern Ukraine and devastated entire settlements – as in Shevyerodonetsk. Holodov now sleeps in a glass greenhouse that survived the fire. His wife, two children and niece currently live with his sister. It has been more than three weeks since the fires, but cleaning will continue for weeks.
There is still a pungent smell of smoke in the air. “The compensation that the state gives us is not enough to rebuild these houses,” he says. He is entitled to 300,000 hryvnia, just under 9,000 euros. That’s why Holodov, who works for an internet and telephone provider, now has to sell the scrap metal from his house – for three hryvnia per kilo.
The Luhansk government blames everything on the security situation
“I don’t trust anyone in politics,” said Holodov. But this is not only due to the small amount of aid for reconstruction. Above all, it is due to the fact that the government denied him and a half million people from 18 communities near the contact line in Donbass in the regional elections ten days ago – officially for security reasons.
The fact that Holodov could not vote shows him that he is not considered a full citizen of this country. “They don’t treat us like humans,” he says.
Many Eastern Ukrainians who could still vote apparently think the same. President Volodymyr Zelenskyj and his party “Servants of the People” are the big losers in the local elections. And the pro-Russian party “Opposition Platform” of Putin’s friend Viktor Medvedchuk achieved great success. This means that in some cities men are returning to the politics once investigated for supporting separatist fighters.
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The decision not to allow half a million people to vote was justified by the military-civil administration of Luhansk with the security situation. In Levjerodonetsk, about 30 kilometers from the contact line, “provocations and acts of sabotage” were feared by pro-Russian forces. This information cannot be verified.
Therefore, Elena Nyschelskaja suspects politically motivated reasons. The local politician and activist says: “In 2014, we took part in the parliamentary elections in Shevyerodonetsk – barely three months after the city was liberated (note: separatists backed by Russia). I don’t see what has changed in terms of the security situation since then. “
After the fires, there is still a lot of cleaning in places like Syrotyne. Photo: Daniela Prugger
In fact, there has been a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine for about two months. The first to earn this name since the outbreak of the war in 2014. In the past six years there has not been much peace, according to the inhabitants of various settlements at the front.
“It’s a political decision,” says Nyschelskaya. “The president’s party didn’t have high opinion polls here in the region.” It seems that many voted for Zelenskyi to vote out last year, then President Petro Poroshenko. Today, they rely on the locally networked elites again, even if they are involved in corruption scandals or have been investigated against them for other crimes.
Many people in Donbass feel neglected by Kiev. Neither the hundreds of miles of newly paved and renovated roads, rebuilt bridges or the armistice can change that.
People are frustrated
Anton Kortyshko, 32, works in one of the largest chemical plants in the country. “Asot”, it is called “nitrogen”. In terms of area, it covers about half of Shevyerodonetsk. Kortyshko has been working at the factory for twelve years. The decline of heavy industry in Donbass began before the war began. But industrial exports have fallen dramatically since then. In the Luhansk region, they make up only six percent of the 2013 total economic volume.
When Kortyshko started at Asot, a job there was worth a lot. Today he has to maintain the machines from the 80s and 90s. It ensures that the ammonia, which irritates the mucous membranes, is stored safely. Four times a week in twelve-hour shifts. He makes no secret that he is afraid of his job: “You need a lot of experience to do this job well and safely.”
Kortyshko earns less than 500 euros a month, almost twice the average in the Luhansk region.
Kortyshko is also suffering from the effects of the forest fires. But his home in Syrotyne, four miles from Shevjerodonetsk, was only slightly damaged. 600 houses once stood here, of which about half have burned down. “My family is entitled to compensation, but we have not been told where and how to claim it. There is no information about this ”, says Kortyshko.
That’s why he’s frustrated. “I voted for Zelenskyi in the presidential election,” said Kortyshko. ‘But I am disappointed. Many people in this region feel the same way, they will turn to the pro-Russian opposition again. “