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'Luhansk Will Never Be The Same Again:' In Kyiv, A Blogger Reflects On His Native City

Thousands have fled the fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Thousands have fled the fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Amid the two-month occupation by separatist forces in the eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk and subsequent military campaign by the central government, thousands have fled for other parts of Ukraine. The United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that 10,000 civilians have been internally displaced after the occupation of Crimea by Russian forces and subsequent fighting in eastern Ukraine.

At least one-third of them are children, and some of them have been displaced twice after fleeing Crimea for the east, according to the UNHCR. Forty-five percent of them have settled in the center of the country, while 26 percent went to western Ukraine. As Maxim Eristavi writes in “The New Republic,” the problem is invisible since internally displaced people blend in easily in Kyiv. RFE/RL's Russian Service conducted an interview on June 6 with blogger and publicist Sergei Ivanov, who fled his native Luhansk and is now residing in Kyiv.

RFE/RL: Is there authority in Luhansk Oblast, or is it now complete anarchy?

Sergei Ivanov:
There is de jure authority. There is Goveror [Irina] Veryhina, the heads of security and all of the other bodies that regulate and guarantee the daily life of the region. However, their work is paralyzed by the de facto oblast under the control of the "People's Republic of Luhansk," which is recognized as a terrorist organization by the Prosecutor-General's Office. Therefore it is difficult to say that in Luhansk there is now Ukrainian rule. Luhansk Oblast is under the control of and is being internally occupied by terrorists, most of whom are Russian citizens, members of nongovernmental organizations of the Caucasian republics working for the Kremlin, and a motley of mercenaries. There are many criminal elements, especially the group named "the defenders of Donbas" who came from prisons. They took power simultaneously.

RFE/RL: Does the lawful administration remain in Luhansk or have most officials left the oblast?

They are in Svatovo and Starobilsk. There is a Ukrainian-speaking area north of Luhansk. It was there that the first of the self-defense units emerged. And the militants have not penetrated there because when they came and tried to put themselves in control of these regions, 700 guys with guns came and said, “you guys better not come here.” The Luhansk Oblast has strength in its ethnic makeup...there is an agricultural Luhansk and an industrial one. Industrial Luhansk, in general, is inhabited by an underclass, because the coal industry was systematically destroyed for a long time by businessmen from the Komsomol [Communist youth organization] and other people. And all of this was produced illegally: illegal makeshift mines and so on. Plus, the Russian zombie television channels are always on in the background. This created a huge underclass army. And in the north, everything is all right. There are farmers there, like in the Poltava or Khmelnytskiy Oblast. They work with the land, so they have other problems. And now, when they see robbery at gunpoint, robbery from Russian occupiers, mercenaries, and bandits of all kinds, they simply organize themselves to protect their children, their land, their crops, by which they survive.

RFE/RL: Is the antiterrorist operation, which has intensified in recent days, effective?

Of course. Only on June 6 they bombed two bases, where a sufficient number of terrorists were killed. We put our trust in a harder line. Anyone who brought illegal weapons onto the territory of Ukraine, must be wiped out because they are a terrorist. I think that this doctrine is no different from Russian or American ones, or the doctrine of any civilized country. And with the remaining people, it will take many years to restore their confidence in the state, which for many years discredited itself. Thank god that we are already on this path and Russia has this in store. I think that, considering the size of the country, in Russia all this will be much worse, harder, and more painful. I would not want this, but history shows.... You know how the revolution ended in Russia.
Sergei Ivanov
Sergei Ivanov

RFE/RL: We know that there are dozens, and maybe hundreds, of hostages in Donbas. In Luhansk there are also hostages in the building of the SBU [Ukrainian security services]. How many? Are some of them prominent people?

Virtually all of the notable people have been released. However, every day there are kidnappings. The day before yesterday 30 people were kidnapped and each one had a ransom. The average ransom was $5,000. This is similar to Chechnya under [Chechen leader Ramzan] Kadyrov. A quick and reliable way to make money. SBU employees continue to be held hostage. How the SBU surrendered will be sorted out in an investigation, but still two employees of the SBU are being held. And hostages are taken regularly. Euromaidan activists, who were not lucky enough to leave and hide themselves in time, were taken as hostages. They were only freed with money and personal connections.

RFE/RL: About how many residents were forced to leave the region?

According to official figures, 15,000 people left Donetsk. I think that the number is much larger, about three times that. From Luhansk 10,000 people left, but I think 20-25,000 people left Luhansk, judging by the fullness of the trains.

RFE/RL: Imagine that now Luhansk is freed from the "People's Republic," and returns to the former order and the old boring provincial life begins. Is this picture possible or will it not happen?

That scenario is impossible. Luhansk will never be the same again. I think that the only possibility for it to become a more or less stable place is with the militarization and construction of new army camps. All the old ones were closed down and the land sold. After our entry into NATO, there will a need for a NATO base close to Russia. This will be certainly strategic. Until Russia itself changes its rulers with more liberal ones and respects our foreign traditions, we cannot live in peace with her. We will be forced to become like Israel.

Myself and like-minded people support the introduction of an amendment to the 25th article of the constitution, which concerns the prohibition of revoking citizenship and deportation. We will revoke citizenship and deport people, who run with the tricolors [of the Russian flag]. If they want to go to Russia -- please. Allow them to live in Vynshny Volochyok or Chelaybinsk, where they will be accepted. Also, I think that we will need to start the construction of a wall. We have a lot of abandoned businesses: from the concrete blocks you could build a great wall with watch towers. And then, when Russia becomes a democratic government...maybe we'll start to converse with them in some way. Personally I see this as the future.

Sorry for the excessive radicalism. I have Russian parents, philologists. I was brought up entirely in Russian culture. With all due respect to the Russian people, whom I truly love and respect, I cannot understand or accept or forgive what Russia has done to us.
Based on an interview by RFE/RL’s Russian Service. Translated by Luke Johnson in Washington.