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Donetsk People's Republic
Donetsk People's Republic
Anthem: Glory to the Republic ("Славься республика")
Location of Donetsk People's Republic in Europe (dark green)
|Status||Unrecognised state. Recognised by United Nations General Assembly Resolution 68/262 as part of Ukraine|
and largest city
|Official languages||Russian, Ukrainian|
• Prime Minister
• Chairman of the People's Soviet
|Independence from Ukraine|
|7 April 2014|
• Declaration of Independence
|12 May 2014|
|Time zone||UTC+3 (Moscow Time)|
The Donetsk People's Republic (DPR or DNR; Russian: Донецкая Народная Республика, tr. Donetskaya Narodnaya Respublika, IPA: [dɐˈnʲɛtskəjə nɐˈrodnəjə rʲɪˈspublʲɪkə], Ukrainian: Донецька Народна Республіка, romanized: Donets'ka Narodna Respublika) is a declared people's republic and proto-state in the Donetsk Oblast of Ukraine recognised only by the partially recognised South Ossetia and Luhansk People's Republic.
It receives humanitarian and military backing from Russia. Ukraine is at war with the DPR and Luhansk People's Republic (LPR) and has designated it as a terrorist group. It was part of the unrecognised Novorossiya confederation with the LPR until 20 May 2015, and since February 2015, has postured itself as the successor to the historic Donetsk–Krivoy Rog Soviet Republic. Along with the Luhansk People's Republic and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, the Donetsk People's Republic is considered by Ukraine one of three temporarily occupied territories of as a result of Russian military intervention.
The DPR was nominally founded by the Donetsk Republic separatist organisation, which was banned by Ukraine in 2007. On 7 April 2014, a group of rebel militants who were occupying the Donetsk RSA building and the City Hall buildings declared the creation of the DPR. Occupation of government buildings spread throughout Donetsk Oblast over the next week.
On 11 May 2014, status referendums were held in Donetsk and Luhansk, where separatist leaders claimed that a vast majority of participants voted in support of the establishment of the People's Republics. On 24 May, the two separatist republics signed an agreement confirming their merger into a confederation called Novorossiya. Between April and July 2014 some parts of Ukraine's Donetsk Oblast were brought under the control of the Donetsk People's Republic; however, the Armed Forces of Ukraine regained many of these areas in its early July 2014 post-ceasefire government offensive during the War in Donbass. This offensive led to the Donetsk People's Republic controlling only the areas near the city of Donetsk.[full citation needed] In the pro-Russian forces August 2014 counter-offensive the Donetsk People's Republic, with the help of Russian troops and arms, gained territory again.
The DPR and the Ukrainian government estimate that over 50% of the total population of Donetsk Oblast, around 1,870,000 people, live in DPR-held regions. Although the rebels do not control most of Donetsk Oblast in terms of area, they hold major cities like Donetsk, the capital, and Horlivka.
Since February 2017, Russia has been recognising identity documents, diplomas, birth and marriage certificates, and vehicle registration plates which have been issued by the DPR; and has said that it will continue to do so until a "political settlement of the situation" in separatist-controlled regions, based on the Minsk II agreement, is reached.
The region is also known in English as Donbas(s). Etymologically, these names are adaptations of the Ukrainian name of the river Donets. The word itself is a portmanteau formed from the Donets Basin (Ukrainian: Донецький басейн, translit. Donetskyj basejn; Russian: Донецкий бассейн, Donetskij bassejn), which refers to the river Donets that flows through it.
In May 2014, Lucian Kim of Slate reported "the Maidan protest, characterised by the Kremlin as a Western-sponsored armed coup, is being crudely imitated in towns across the Donetsk region. "If the guys on the Maidan could revolt, why can't we?" has been the pro-Russian supporters' motto ... ".
Similar attempts to seize the Regional State Administration (RSA) building had been occurring since pro-Russian protests began in the Eastern and Southern regions of Ukraine in the wake of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution. Pro-Russian militants previously occupied the Donetsk RSA from 1 to 6 March, before being removed by the Security Service of Ukraine. According to Ukrainian authorities, the seizure of RSAs are part of "a script which has been written in the Russian Federation" to destabilise Ukraine and bring in Russian troops executed by "about 1,500 radicals in each region who spoke with clear Russian accents".
Regional public opinion
In a poll conducted by Kiev International Institute of Sociology in the first half of February 2014, 33.2% of people polled in Donetsk Oblast believed "Ukraine and Russia must unite into a single state".
According to a poll conducted by the Institute of Social Research and Policy Analysis, 66% of Donetsk residents viewed their future in a united Ukraine, 4.7% supported separatism, 18.2% supported joining Russia, while 31.6% wanted a united Ukraine with expansion of autonomy for Donetsk region, with only 18.6% in support of the current status A second poll conducted 26–29 March 2014 showed that 77% of residents condemned the takeover of administrative buildings, while 16% supported such actions. Furthermore, 40.8% of Donetsk citizens support rallies for Ukraine's unity, while 26.5% support rallies which are pro-Russia.
While support for regional independence was low, only a third of polled Donetsk inhabitants identified themselves as "citizens of Ukraine", preferring instead "Russian-speaking residents of Ukraine" or "residents of Donbass".
The Kiev International Institute of Sociology released a second study with polling data taken from 8–16 April 2014. 18.1% of Donetsk Oblast residents supported the recent armed seizures of administrative buildings in the region, while 72% disapproved of the current actions. Roughly 25% in the Donbas region said they would attend secessionist rallies in favor of joining Russia. Most in Donetsk believed that the disarmament and disbanding of illegal radical groups was crucial to preserving national unity. 12.4% were in favor of Ukraine and Russia uniting into a single state; 27.5% in Donetsk were in favor of regional secession from Ukraine to join Russia, 38.4% support federalisation, 41.1% supported a unitary Ukraine with decentralisation of power and broadening of rights of regions, and 10.6% supported the current unitary state.
On 15 June 2015, several hundred people protested in the center of Donetsk. The protesters, mostly from the Oktyabrskiy region of the town, called on the military command to remove "Grad" launchers from this residential area; such launchers have been used to fire at Ukrainian positions, provoking return fire and causing civilian casualties. A DPR leader said that its forces were indeed shelling from residential areas (mentioning school 41 specifically), but that "the punishment of the enemy is everyone's shared responsibility".
In a poll conducted in August 2015, with 6500 respondents from 19 cities of the Donetsk Oblast, only 29% supported the DPR and 10% considered themselves to be "Russian patriots".
Denis Pushilin, the self-proclaimed chairman of the republic, said that he did not envision the Donetsk People's Republic becoming an independent state, instead preferring to join a renewed Russian Empire.
11 May independence referendum
On 7 May, separatist rebels in Donetsk and Luhansk said that they would proceed with the referendum that was held 11 May, disregarding Vladimir Putin's appeal to delay it. "The referendum will take place as planned. The ballots have been already arrived at the polling stations," said Vasily Nikitin, from the press service which is organising the referendum in Luhansk.
The referendum organisers claimed that 89% voted in favor of self-rule, with 10% against, on a turnout of nearly 75%. The results of the referendums were not officially recognised by any government, including those of Ukraine, the United States, the countries of the European Union, and Russia. Germany and the United States stated that the referendums had "no democratic legitimacy", while the Russian government expressed "respect" for the results and urged a "civilised" implementation.
On the day after the referendum, the People's Soviet of the Donetsk People's Republic proclaimed Donetsk to be a sovereign state with an indefinite border and "ask[ed] Russia to consider the issue of our republic's accession into the Russian Federation". It also announced that it would not participate in the presidential election which took place on 25 May. In response, "the Kremlin called for dialogue between the government in Kiev and the south-east regions of the country, suggesting that a Crimea-style annexation of the region for Moscow is not on the cards."
On Sunday, 6 April 2014, between 1,000 and 2,000 pro-Russian rebels attended a rally in Donetsk pushing for a Crimea-style referendum on independence from Ukraine. It was claimed by Ukrainian media that the proposed referendum has no status-quo option. After which, 200 separatists (according to Igor Dyomin, a spokesman for Donetsk local police, about 1,000) pro-Russian rebels stormed and took control of the first two floors of the building, breaking down doors and smashing windows. The administration headquarters were empty, with only guards inside, as government officials would not work there on Sundays. The separatists demanded that if an extraordinary session was not held by officials, announcing a referendum to join Russia, they would declare unilateral control by forming a "People's Mandate" at noon on 7 April, and dismiss all elected council members and MPs. The people who voted within the RSA were not elected to the positions they assumed. According to the Russian ITAR-TASS the declaration was voted by some regional legislators; however, there are claims that neither the Donetsk city council nor district councils of the city delegated any representatives to the session.
The political leadership initially consisted of Denis Pushilin, self-appointed as chairman of the government, while Igor Kakidzyanov has been named as the commander of the "People's Army". Vyacheslav Ponomarev became known as the self-proclaimed mayor of the city of Sloviansk. Ukrainian-born pro-Russian activist Pavel Gubarev, an Anti-Maidan activist, a former member of the neo-Nazi Russian National Unity paramilitary group in 1999-2001 and former member of the Communist Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine, proclaimed himself the "People's Governor" of the Donetsk Region. He was arrested on charges of separatism and illegal seizure of power but released in a hostage swap. Alexander Borodai, a Russian citizen claiming to be involved in the Russian annexation of Crimea, was appointed as 'Prime Minister'. On 6 April, the group's leaders announced that a referendum, on whether Donetsk Oblast should "join the Russian Federation", would take place "no later than May 11th, 2014." Additionally, the group's leaders have appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to send Russian peacekeeping forces to the region.
On the morning of 8 April, the 'Patriotic Forces of Donbass', a pro-Kiev group that was formed on 15 March earlier that year by 13 pro-Kyiv NGOs, political parties and individuals, unrelated to Donetsk Republic organisation who proclaimed independence and seized the council, issued a statement on its Facebook page, "cancelling" the other group's declaration of independence, citing complaints from locals, a move that was generally interpreted by Ukrainian media as coming from the pro-Russian party. Their announcement stated that they would quash the potential state's establishment, cancel the referendum, and, on their part, stated that the declaration is illegal. Rebels reportedly gave up some weapons too. Despite this, the Donetsk Republic organisation continued to occupy the RSA and declared themselves the legitimate authority, and upheld all previous calls for a referendum and the release of their leader Pavel Gubarev.[a] In the afternoon of 8 April, about a thousand people rallied in front of the RSA listening to speeches about the Donetsk People's Republic and to Soviet and Russian music.
According to an article from the Kyiv Post on 10 April, most of the protesters were aged 50 or older, while inside the RSA building, many of the occupiers are younger but from other cities like Mariupol, Kherson and Mykolaiv. The occupiers include both men and women. According to "Novosti Donbassa", unstated number of Russian citizens, including one leader of a far-right militant group, have also taken part in the events. The OSCE reported that all the main institutions of the city observed by the Monitoring Team seemed to be working normally as of 16 April. On 22 April, separatists agreed to release the session hall of the building along with two floors to state officials. The 9th and 10th floors were later released on 24 April.
On the second day of the Republic, organisers decided to pour all of their alcohol out and announce a prohibition law after issues arose due to excess drinking in the building.
On 30 April, Donetsk Republic chairman Pushilin flew to Moscow and held a press conference.
On 7 May, Russian president Vladimir Putin publicly asked pro-Russian separatists to postpone the proposed referendum in order to create the necessary conditions for dialogue. Despite Putin's comments, pro-Russia militants calling themselves the Donetsk People's Republic said they would still carry out the referendum. The same day, Ukraine's security service (SBU) released an alleged audio recording of a phone call between a Donetsk separatist leader and leader of one of the splinter groups of former Russian National Unity Alexander Barkashov. Barkashov's following is believed to be in sharp decline since the beginning of the 2000s (decade).
In the call, the voice said to be Barkashov insists on falsifying the results of the referendum, that he had communicated with Putin, and that it cannot be postponed. Yuri Vendik of the BBC noted that a 5 May post on Barkashov's social media page recounted a phone call from "our brothers and comrades-in-arms in Donetsk" that sounds exactly like the SBU intercept. Barkashov later confirmed that he was in Donetsk during the alleged taping, and has stated that his group was organising volunteer troops to fight "the vicious Kiev junta." SBU stated that this tape is a definitive proof of the direct involvement of Russian government with preparations for the referendum.
Ukrainian authorities released separatist leader Pavel Gubarev and two others in exchange for three people detained by the Donetsk Republic.
The DPR has cultivated relations with European far-right and nationalist politicians and writers, including French far-right MEP Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, Italian nationalist Alessandro Musolino, German neo-Nazi journalist Manuel Ochsenreiter, and Emmanuel Leroy, a far-right adviser to Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front.
The DPR also gets support from western European left wing and communist parties. An antifascist so-called solidarity movement, "Bristol Ukraine Anti Fascist Solidarity", was created in the U.K which gives support to the DPR, also in Spain, Germany, Sweden and Italy there has been open support for the DPR in some communist groups and parties. In these countries, several demonstrations and protests has been held by anti-fascists to show support for Donbass. In Sweden, the pro-separatist movement "Donbassföreningen" was created by, among others, veterans from several communist parties. The DPR international militia volunteers from western Europe are mostly Spanish and Italian communists but also groups of Israeli feminists whose open statement is to "fight fascism" has also travelled to the DPR and joined the militia groups.
On 15 April 2014, acting President Olexander Turchynov announced the start of a military counteroffensive to confront the pro-Russian militants, and on 17 April, tensions de-escalated as Russia, the US, and the EU agreed on a roadmap to eventually end the crisis. However, officials of the People's Republic ignored the agreement and vowed to continue their occupations until a referendum is accepted or the government in Kiev resigns. Following the agreement, the Security Service of Ukraine continued to detain Russians entering the country with large amounts of money and military gear.[needs update]
Peace proposals and stalemate
On 12 February 2015, the DPR and LPR leaders, Alexander Zakharchenko and Igor Plotnitsky, signed the Minsk II agreement. In the Minsk agreement it is agreed to introduce amendments to the Ukrainian constitution "the key element of which is decentralisation" and the holding of elections "On temporary Order of Local Self-Governance in Particular Districts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, based in the line set up by the Minsk Memorandum as of 19 September 2014"; in return rebel held territory would be reintegrated into Ukraine. Representatives of the DPR and LPR continue to forward their proposals concerning Minsk II to the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine. In an effort to stabilize the ceasefire in the region, particularly the disputed and strategically important town of Debaltseve, in February 2015 Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called for a UN-led peacekeeping operation to monitor the compliance with the agreement achieved during the Minsk peace talks.
On 31 August 2015, the Verkhovna Rada read the amendments in the Ukrainian construction required by Minsk II for the first time with 265 deputies voting for the amendments. But since then, it has not voted for the required second reading needed to implement the change in constitution. Passage of the amendment in this second reading requires an extended majority of 300 of the Rada's 450 seats, something that The New York Times has described as "all-but-impossible" (since all nationalist parties would vote against the amendments).
In March 2016, the DPR began to issue passports despite a 2015 statement by Zakharchenko that, without at least partial recognition of DPR, local passports would be a "waste of resources". In November 2016 the DPR announced that all of its citizens had dual Ukrainian/Donetsk People's Republic citizenship.
From April to July 2014 the unrecognised republic controlled most of Ukraine's Donetsk Oblast stretching from the city of Mariupol in the south on the Azov Sea north to Sviatohirsk and Sloviansk near the border with Kharkiv Oblast. However, much of this territory has been brought under control of the Government of Ukraine in the early July 2014 post-ceasefire government offensive and the area under the control of the rebels has been mainly reduced to Donetsk city. In an August 2014 pro-Russian counter-offensive the Donetsk People's Republic, with the help of Russian troops and arms, gained territory again. In the February 2015 Battle of Debaltseve DPR gained again territory. Meanwhile, the Azov battalion and the National Guard of Ukraine captured previously DNR controlled territory near Mariupol for the Ukrainian Government. These battles were the last significant change of territory in the War in Donbass.
(According to a November 2014, separatist estimate, which is roughly in line with the estimate of the Ukrainian government) in November 2014 over 50% of the total Donetsk oblast population, around 1,870,000 people, lived in separatist controlled territory. Although the rebels do not have control of most of Donetsk Oblast, this number is relatively high since the DPR has been controlling major urban areas and cities like Donetsk and Horlivka. As of 17 June 2015, it is estimated that around half of the people living in separatist controlled territory are retired pensioners.
The first full Government of the Donetsk People's Republic was appointed on 16 May 2014. It consisted of several ministers who were previously Donetsk functionaries, a member of the Makiivka City Council, a former Donetsk prosecutor, a former member of the special police Alpha Group, a member of the Party of Regions (who allegedly coordinated "Titushky" (pro-Viktor Yanukovych hooligans) during Euromaidan) and Russian citizens. The system of government is described by its deputy defence minister Fyodor Berezin as aiming to build as military communism.
On 4 September 2015, there was a sudden change in the DPR government, where Denis Pushilin replaced Andrey Purgin in the role of speaker of People's Council and in his first decision, fired Aleksey Aleksandrov, the council's chief of staff, Purgin's close ally. This happened in absence of Purgin and Aleksandrov who were held at the border between Russia and DPR, preventing their return to the republic. Aleksandrov was accused of "destructive activities" and "attempt to illegally cross the border" by the republic's Ministry of Public Security. Russian and Ukrainian media commented on these events as of yet another coup in the republic's authorities.
- Head (acting): Denis Pushilin
- Prime Minister (acting): Alexander Ananchenko
- Deputy Prime Minister: Alexander Borodai
- Minister of Defence: Vladimir Kononov
- Deputy Defence Minister and Defence Spokesman: Eduard Basurin
- Minister of Justice: Ekaterina Filippova
- Minister of Income and Fees: Alexander Timofeev
- Minister of Construction: Vasily Rassadnikov
- Minister of Health: Viktor Kuchkovoy
- Minister of Education and Science: Igor Kostenok
- Minister of Youth, Sports and Tourism: Mikhail Mishin
- Minister of Transport: Semyon Kuzmenko
- Minister of Labour and Social Policy: Olga Malinovskaya
- Minister of Finances: Ekaterina Matyushchenko
- Minister of Emergencies: Alexei Kostrubitsky
- Minister of State Security: Andrey Pinchuk
- Minister of Interior: Oleg Bereza
- Minister of Foreign Affairs: Vladimir Krupskii
- Minister of Communication: Viktor Yatsenko
- Minister of Economic Development: Evgenia Samokhina
In 2015, Russian media reported that the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs' website listed the DPR's vice-minister of defence, Sergey Velikorodny, as wanted in Russia for criminal offences. On 12 May the page was removed without explanation. Velikorodny originally fled to Crimea and then joined Igor Girkin's militia en route to Donetsk. In March 2015 another minister of the republic, Oleg Bugrov, was arrested in Saint Petersburg, officially for economic crimes but the official reason was questioned by independent media in Russia.
On 1 October 2018, the Donetsk People's Republic had allegedly abolished the office of Defence Minister.
Parliamentary elections of the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics were held on 2 November 2014. People of at least 30 years old who "permanently resided" in Donetsk People's Republic the last 10 years were electable for four years. Ukraine urged Russia to use its influence to stop the election "to avoid a frozen conflict". The European Union and the rest of the world did not recognise the elections. Russia on the other hand stated at the time that it "will of course recognise the results of the election"; Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that the election "will be important to legitimise the authorities there". Ukraine held the 2014 Ukrainian parliamentary election on 26 October 2014; these were boycotted by the Donetsk People's Republic and hence voting for it did not take place in Ukraine's eastern districts controlled by forces loyal to the Donetsk People's Republic. Russia's foreign minister stated that the Russian Federation will respect the election; however, it was clarified that while the Russian Federation respects the election it does not mean that Russia is planning on recognising the results.
On 2 July 2015, Donetsk People's Republic leader Aleksandr Zakharchenko ordered local DPR elections to be held on 18 October 2015 "in accordance with the Minsk II agreements". According to Zakharchenko this move meant that the DNR had "independently started to implement the Minsk agreements". Zakharchenko assured "the elections will take place 'on the basis of Ukraine's Law on temporary self-rule status of individual districts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions' in so far as they are not at variance with the constitution and laws of the DPR". The 2015 Ukrainian local elections were set for 25 October 2015. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko responded (also on 2 July 2015) that if this Zakharchenko initiative to hold local DPR elections was upheld this would be "extremely irresponsible and will have devastating consequences for the process of deescalation of tension in certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions". (On 6 July 2015 the Luhansk People's Republic (LPR) leader (LPR) Igor Plotnitsky set elections for "mayors and regional heads" for 1 November 2015 in territory under his control.)
On 6 October 2015, the DNR and LPR leadership postponed their planned elections to 21 February 2016. This happened 4 days after a Normandy four meeting in which it was agreed that the October 2015 Ukrainian local elections in LPR and DPR controlled territories would be held in accordance to the February 2015 Minsk II agreement. At the meeting President of France François Hollande stated that in order to hold these elections (in LPR and DPR controlled territories) it was necessary "since we need three months to organise elections" to held these elections in 2016. Also during the meeting it is believed that Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to use his influence to not allow the DPR and Luhansk People's Republic election to take place on 18 October 2015 and 1 November 2015. In the weeks and days before 6 October the election campaign for the planned local DPR election of 18 October 2015 was in full swing. In this campaign 90% of the advertising was done by Donetsk Republic.
On 18 April 2016, planned (organised by the DPR) local elections were postponed from 20 April to 24 July 2016. On 22 July 2016 the elections were again postponed to 6 November 2016. On 2 October 2016 the DPR and LPR held "primaries" in were voters voted to nominate candidates for participation in the 6 November 2016 elections. Ukraine denounced these "primaries" as illegal. On 4 November 2016 both DPR and LPR postponed their local elections "until further notice"; head of the DPR Zahkarchenko added that "In 2017, we will hold elections under the Minsk agreements, or we will hold them independently."
Political parties active in the DPR include Donetsk Republic, the Communist Party of the Donetsk People's Republic, Free Donbass and the New Russia Party. Donetsk Republic and the Communists endorsed Prime Minister Alexander Zakharchenko's candidature for the premiership in 2014. In these elections the Communists were banned from participating independently because they had "made too many mistakes" in their submitted documents.
In the internationally unrecognized elections held by the People's Republics in 2014, Donetsk Republic gained a majority in the DPR People's Soviet with 68.53% of the vote and 68 seats. Free Donbass, including candidates from the Russian-nationalist extremist New Russia Party, won 31.65% of the vote and 32 seats.
Problems of governance
OSCE monitors met with the self-proclaimed mayor of Sloviansk, Volodymyr Pavlenko, on 20 June 2014. According to him, sewage systems in Sloviansk had collapsed, resulting in the release of least 10,000 litres of untreated sewage into the river Sukhyi Torets, a tributary of the Seversky Donets. He called this an "environmental catastrophe", and said that it had the potential to affect both Russia and Ukraine.
The DPR imposed martial law on 16 July.
As of May 2014, the Ukrainian Government was paying wages and pensions for the inhabitants of the Donetsk People's Republic. The closing of bank branches led to problems in receiving these, especially since the National Bank of Ukraine ordered banks to suspend financial transactions in places which are not controlled by the Ukrainian authorities on 7 August 2014. Only the Oschadbank continued to function in territories controlled by the DPR, but it also closed its branches there on 1 December 2014. In response, tens of thousands of pensioners have registered their address as being in Ukrainian-controlled areas while still living in separatist-controlled areas, and must travel outside of separatist areas to collect their pensions on a monthly basis.
In October 2014 the Donetsk People's Republic announced the creation of its own central bank and tax office, obliging residents to register under their Donetsk People's Republic and pay taxes to it. Some local entrepreneurs refused to register.
According to the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine a number of local mutinies are taken place due to unpaid wages and pensions, the Council claims that on 24 November 2014 the local "Women Resistance Battalion" presented to Zakharchenko an ultimatum to get out of Donetsk in two months.
Since April 2015 the DPR has been issuing its own vehicle number plates.
In June 2015, around 500 people protested in Donetsk against the war in Donbass and in support of the Ukrainian government.
On 24 December 2015 the Special Monitoring Mission of the OSCE in Ukraine reported that in the DPR, "parallel 'justice systems' have begun operating". They found this new judiciary to be "non-transparent, subject to constant change, seriously under-resourced and, in many instances, completely non-functional".
In July 2016 over a thousand of people, mainly small business owners, protested in Horlivka against corruption and taxes, which included charging customs fees on imported goods.
Law and order
In 2014, the Donetsk People's Republic introduced the death penalty for cases of treason, espionage, and assassination of political leaders. There had already been accusations of extrajudicial execution occurring.
Since 2015 a number of DPR and LPR field commanders and other significant figures were killed or otherwise removed from power, which was attributed to attempts by Moscow to increase the control over the region. This included Cossack commander Pavel Dryomov, commander of Private Military Company (ЧВК) Dmitry Utkin ("Wagner"), Alexander Bednov ("Batman"), Aleksey Mozgovoy, Yevgeny Ishchenko, Andrei Purgin and Dmitry Lyamin (the last two arrested). In August 2016 Igor Plotnitsky, head of LPR, was seriously injured in a car bombing attack in Luhansk. In September 2016 Evgeny Zhilin (Yevhen Zhylin), leader of a separatist "Oplot" unit, was killed in a restaurant near Moscow. In October 2016 a military commander Arseniy Pavlov ("Motorola") was killed by an IED planted at his house. In February 2017 a bomb planted in an office killed Mikhail Tolstykh ("Givi"). On 31 August 2018 DPR leader Alexander Zakharchenko was killed by a bomb in a restaurant in Donetsk.
The Republic has not been recognised by any state, apart from South Ossetia, which is also a state with limited recognition internationally recognised as part of Georgia. The parliaments of both entities signed a memorandum on cooperation on 10 April 2016.
President Aleksandar Zakharchenko of the Donetsk People's Republic signed the decree recognising Abkhazia and South Ossetia on 13 May 2015.
On 18 June 2016 the president of Abkhazia, Raul Khajimba, stated he appreciated Donetsk People's Republic's recognition of Abkhazia. However, he stated that recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republic by Abkhazia would be inappropriate as both are in talks with the government of Ukraine to grant them greater autonomy, not independence, as per the Minsk II agreement.
In September 2016, the Donetsk People's Republic opened a Representative Office in the Czech Republic which was dissolved in June 2017 by local courts. In December, another Representative Office was opened in Italy.
On 18 February 2017, President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian authorities to recognise identity documents, diplomas, birth and marriage certificates and vehicle registration plates as issued by the DPR (and the Luhansk People's Republic) until a "political settlement of the situation" in separatist controlled regions based on the Minsk II agreement is reached. The decision enabled people living in DPR controlled territories to travel, work or study in Russia. According to the decree, it was signed "to protect human rights and freedoms" in accordance with "the widely recognised principles of international humanitarian law". Ukrainian authorities decried the decision as being directly contradictory to the Minsk II agreement and that it "legally recognised the quasi-state terrorist groups which cover Russia's occupation of part of Donbas".
By late October 2014 many banks and other businesses in the Donetsk People's Republic were shut and people were often left without social benefits payments. Since then the territory controlled by it and the Luhansk People's Republic are under a de facto economic blockade from the Ukrainian authorities. Smuggling is widespread. Sources (who declined to be identified, citing security concerns) inside the DPR administration have told Bloomberg News that Russia transfers 2.5 billion Russian rubles ($37 million) for pensions every month. By mid-February 2016 Russia had sent 48 humanitarian convoys to rebel held territory that was said to have delivered more than 58,000 tons of cargo; including food, medicines, construction materials, diesel generators and fuel and lubricants. President Poroshenko called this a "flagrant violation of international law" and Valentyn Nalyvaychenko said it was a "direct invasion".
By June 2015, due to logistical and transport problems, prices in DPR-controlled territory are significantly higher than in territory controlled by Ukraine. This led to an increase of supplies (of more expensive products and those of lower quality) from Russia.
Mines and heavy-industry facilities damaged by shelling were forced to close, undermining the wider chain of economic ties in the region. Three industrial facilities were under Donetsk People's Republic "temporary management" by late October 2014. By early June 2015, 80% of companies that were physically located in the Donetsk People's Republic had been re-registered on territory under Ukrainian control.
A Donetsk People's Republic official often promised financial support from Russia, without giving specific details. Prime Minister Aleksandr Zakharchenko in late October 2014 stated that "We have the Russian Federation's agreement in principle on granting us special conditions on gas (deliveries)". Zakharchenko also claimed that "And, finally, we managed to link up with the financial and banking structure of the Russian Federation". When Reuters tried to get more details from a source close to Zakharchenko its only reply was "Money likes silence". Early October 2014 Zakharchenko had stated "The economy will be completely, if possible, oriented towards the Russian market. We consider Russia our strategic partner", according to Zakharchenko this would "secure our economy from impacts from outside, including from Ukraine". According to Yury Makohon, from the Ukrainian National Institute for Strategic Studies, "Trade volume between Russia and Donetsk Oblast has seen a massive slump since the beginning of 2014". Since Russia does not recognise the legal status of the self-proclaimed republic all the trade it does with it is on the basis of Ukrainian law.
Joining DPR military formations or its civil services has become one of the few guarantees for a stable income in the DPR.
DPR authorities have created a multi-currency zone in which both the rouble (Russia's currency) and the hryvnia (Ukraine's currency) can be used, and also the Euro and U.S. Dollar. Cash shortages are widespread and, due to a lack of roubles, the hryvnia is the most-used currency. According to Ukraine's security services in May 2016 alone the Russian government has passed 19 million USD in cash to fund the DPR administration as well as 35,000 blank Russian passports.
Since late February 2015, the DPR-controlled territory received its natural gas directly from Russia, which is opposed by Ukraine. According to Russia, Ukraine should pay for these deliveries while Ukraine claims it does not receive payments for the supplies from the DPR-controlled territory. On 2 July 2015, Ukrainian Energy Minister Volodymyr Demchyshyn announced that he "did not expect" that Ukraine would supply natural gas to territory controlled by separatist troops in the 2015–2016 heating season. Since 25 November 2015 Ukraine has halted all its imports of (and payments for) natural gas from Russia.
Donetsk People's Republic is setting up its own mobile network operator called Feniks, to be fully operational at the end of the summer of 2015. According to Kyivstar Feniks illegally uses equipment that they officially gave up in territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists on 5 February 2015. Prime Minister Zakharchenko on 18 April 2015 issued a decree stating that all equipment that Kyivstar gave up falls under the control of the separatists in order to "meet the needs of the population in the communication services". The Sim cards of Feniks display the slogan "Connection for the victory".
Mid-March 2017 Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed a decree on a temporary ban on the movement of goods to and from territory controlled by the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic; this also means that since then Ukraine does not buy coal from the Donets Black Coal Basin.
The Donestk People's Republic's main media outlet is the Donetsk News Agency.
An early March 2016 United Nations OHCHR report stated that people that lived in separatist controlled areas were experiencing "complete absence of rule of law, reports of arbitrary detention, torture and incommunicado detention, and no access to real redress mechanisms".
An 18 November 2014 United Nations report on eastern Ukraine stated that the Donetsk People's Republic was in a state of "total breakdown of law and order". The report noted "cases of serious human rights abuses by the armed groups continued to be reported, including torture, arbitrary and incommunicado detention, summary executions, forced labour, sexual violence, as well as the destruction and illegal seizure of property may amount to crimes against humanity". The November report also stated "the HRMMU continued to receive allegations of sexual and gender-based violence in the eastern regions. In one reported incident, members of the pro-Russian Vostok Battalion "arrested" a woman for violating a curfew and beat her with metal sticks for three hours. The woman was also raped by several pro-Russian rebels from the battalion. The report also states that the UN mission "continued to receive reports of torture and ill-treatment by the Ukrainian law enforcement agencies and volunteer battalions and by the (pro-Russian separatist) armed groups, including beating, death threats, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and lack of access to medical assistance". In a 15 December 2014 press conference in Kiev, UN Assistant Secretary-General for human rights Ivan Šimonović stated that the majority of human rights violations were committed in areas controlled by pro-Russian rebels.
The United Nations report also accused the Ukrainian Army and Ukrainian (volunteer) territorial defense battalions, including the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion, of human rights abuses such as illegal detention, torture and ill-treatment of DPR and LPR supporters, noting official denials. Amnesty International reported on 24 December 2014 that pro-government volunteer battalions were blocking Ukrainian aid convoys from entering separatist-controlled territory.
On 24 July, Human Rights Watch accused the pro-Russian fighters of not taking measures to avoid encamping in densely populated civilian areas." It also accused Ukrainian government forces and pro-government volunteer battalions of indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas, stating that "The use of indiscriminate rockets in populated areas violates international humanitarian law, or the laws of war, and may amount to war crimes."
A report by the OHCHR Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights that was released on 2 March 2015 described media postings and online videos which indicated that the pro-Russian armed groups of the Donetsk People's Republic carried out "summary, extrajudicial or arbitrary executions" of captured Ukrainian soldiers. In one incident, corpses of Ukrainian servicemen were found with "their hands tied with white electrical cable" after the pro-Russian rebel groups captured Donetsk International Airport. In January one of the self-proclaimed leaders of the Donetsk People's Republic claimed that the rebel forces were detaining up to five "subversives" between the ages of 18 and 35 per day. A number of captured prisoners of war were forced to march in Donetsk while being assaulted by rebel soldiers and onlookers. The report also said that Ukrainian law enforcement agencies had engaged in a "pattern of enforced disappearances, secret detention and ill-treatment" of people suspected of "separatism" and "terrorism". The report also mentions videos of members of one particular pro-Russian unit talking about running a torture facility in the basement of a Luhansk library. The head of the unit in question was the pro-Russian separatist commander Aleksandr Biednov, known as "Batman" (who was later killed) and the "head" of the torture chamber was a rebel called "Maniac" who "allegedly used a hammer to torture prisoners and surgery kit to scare and extract confessions from prisoners".
In September 2015, OSCE published a report on the testimonies of victims held in places of illegal detention in Donbass. In December 2015, a team led by Małgorzata Gosiewska published a comprehensive report on war crimes in Donbass.
Allegations of anti-semitism
Alleged members of the Donetsk Republic carrying the flag of the Russian Federation, passed out a leaflet to Jews that informed all Jews over the age of 16 that they would have to report to the Commissioner for Nationalities in the Donetsk Regional Administration building and register their property and religion. It also claimed that Jews would be charged a $50 'registration fee'. If they did not comply, they would have their citizenship revoked, face 'forceful expulsion' and see their assets confiscated. The leaflet stated the purpose of registration was because "Jewish community of Ukraine supported Bendera Junta," and "oppose the pro-Slavic People's Republic of Donetsk". The authenticity of the leaflet could not be independently verified. The New York Times, Haaretz, and The New Republic said the fliers were "most likely a hoax". France 24 also reported on the questionable authenticity of the leaflets. According to Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the leaflets looked like some sort of provocation, and an attempt to paint the pro-Russian forces as anti-semitic. The chief rabbi of Donetsk Pinchas Vishedski stated that the flyer was a fake meant to discredit the self-proclaimed republic, and saying that anti-Semitic incidents in eastern Ukraine are "rare, unlike in Kiev and western Ukraine" and believes the men were 'trying to use the Jewish community in Donetsk as an instrument in the conflict;' however, he also called the DPR Press Secretary Aleksander Kriakov "the most famous anti-Semite in the region" and questioned DPR's decision to appoint him.
At first the Donetsk People's Republic adopted a "constitution" which stated that the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate was the official religion of the self-declared state. This was changed with the promulgation of a law "on freedom of conscience and religious organisation" in November 2015, backed by three deputies professing Rodnovery (Slavic native faith), whose members organised the Svarozhich Battalion (of the Vostok Brigade) and the Rusich Company. The new law caused the dissatisfaction of Metropolitan Hilarion of Donetsk and Mariupol of the Moscow Patriarchate church.
Donbass has been documented as being a stronghold of Rodnovery, especially Russian Rodnover groups that are reorganising local villages and society according to traditional Indo-European trifunctionalism (according to which males are born to play one out of three roles in society, whether priests, warriors or farmers).
Donetsk separatists consider Christian denominations such as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kiev Patriarchate, Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and wider Roman Catholic Church, and Protestantism, as all being anti-Russian and see them as obstacles in the path of the separatist goal of uniting the region with Russia. To complement this emphasis on Orthodoxy against churches deemed "heretical" and anti-Russian, the separatists have been successful in enlisting the widespread support of many people in Donetsk belonging to the indigenous Greek Orthodox community. These are mainly Pontic Greeks settled in Donetsk and elsewhere in southern Russia and Ukraine especially since the Middle Ages, and are in the main descendents of refugees from the Pontic Alps, Eastern Anatolia, and the Crimea, dating to the Ottoman conquests of these regions in the late 15th century. There have been widespread media reports of these ethnic Greeks and those with roots in southern Ukraine now living in mainly Northern Greece fighting with Donetsk separatist forces on the justification that their war represents a struggle for Christian Orthodoxy against the forces of what they often describe as "schismatics" and "fascists".
According to Bishop Jan Sobilo, in Kramatorsk a Catholic chapel was fired upon and parishioners are afraid to attend worship services. Donetsk's Greek Catholic (Uniate) Church priest, Father Tikhon Kulbaka, states he received two text messages with explicit threats. Also, the address of his chapel and his phone number have appeared on pro-Russian websites. Another Catholic priest, Pawel Witek, was kidnapped for a day where he was interrogated and accused of being a "Polish sniper" sent by the Polish government. Members of a Gospel Church were forcibly dispersed at gunpoint by Donetsk insurgents on 23 May. A Protestant clergyman Sergiy Kosyak was held at the RSA building in Donetsk and interrogated, threatened, and beaten in a room marked "NKVD" for several hours by five men and one woman with clubs, batons, and whips. His injuries included a brain concussion. Kosyak stated that "religious intolerance is on the rise" and believed his religion was a motivating factor of the attack.
Patriarch Filaret also spoke about "numerous death threats against the Kiev Patriarchate clergy and believers" in the Donetsk areas controlled by the rebels. Jehovah's Witnesses have also faced widespread discrimination. By January 2015, rebel groups had taken possession of 14 Kingdom Halls in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Metropolitan of Donetsk and Mariupol, Illarion, has refused to take sides in the conflict. As of 29 August 2018, 16 Kingdom Halls were confiscated. On 26 September 2018, Jehovah’s Witnesses were officially labelled as "extremist", with their activities banned in the country.
Attacks on Romani people
Hundreds of Romani families fled Donbass. The News of Donbass reported that members of the Donbass People's Militia engaged in assaults and robbery on the Romani (also known as Roma or gypsies) population of Sloviansk. The armed separatists beat women and children, looted homes, and carried off the stolen goods in trucks, according to eyewitnesses. Romani have fled en masse to live with relatives in other parts of the country, fearing ethnic cleansing, displacement and murder. Some men who have decided to remain are forming militia groups to protect their families and homes. DPR Mayor Ponomarev said the attacks were only against Romani who were involved in drug trafficking, and that he was 'cleaning the city from drugs.' The US mission to the OSCE and Ukrainian Prime Minister Yatsenyuk condemned these actions.
On 10 June 2014, it was reported that armed militants from the Donetsk Republic attacked a gay club in the capital of Donetsk, injuring several. Witnesses said 20 people forced their way into the club, stealing jewelry and other valuables; the assailants fired shots in the club, and several people were hurt.
Prejudice against Ukrainian speakers
On 18 April 2014, Vyacheslav Ponomarev asked local residents of Sloviansk to report all suspicious persons, especially if they are speaking in Ukrainian language. He also promised that the local media will publish a phone number for reporting.
An 18 November 2014 United Nations report on eastern Ukraine stated that the Donetsk People's Republic violated the rights of Ukrainian-speaking children because schools in rebel-controlled areas teach only in Russian and forbid Ukrainian to be spoken by pupils.
The Committee to Protect Journalists said that separatists had seized up to ten foreign reporters during the week following the shooting down of the Malaysian aircraft. On 22 July 2014, armed men from the DPR abducted Ukrainian freelance journalist Anton Skiba as he arrived with a CNN crew at a hotel in Donetsk. Non-governmental organisations, such as Amnesty International, said that pro-government volunteer paramilitary battalions, such as the Aidar Battalion, Donbas Battalion, Azov Battalion often acted like "renegade gangs", and were implicated in torture, abductions, and summary executions. Amnesty International and the (OHCHR) also raised similar concerns about Radical Party leader and Ukrainian MP Oleh Lyashko and his militia.
Donetsk has also observed significant rise in violent crime (homicide, rape, including underage victims) under the control of separatist forces. In July 2015 local authorities of Druzhkovka, previously occupied by separatist forces, exposed a previous torture site in one of the town's cellars.
On 2 June 2017 the freelance journalist Stanislav Aseyev was abducted. Firstly the de facto DNR government denied knowing his whereabouts but on 16 July, an agent of the DNR's "Ministry of State Security" confirmed that Aseyev was in their custody and that he is suspected of "espionage". Independent media is not allowed to report from the "DNR"-controlled territory.
By the start of the 2015–2016 school-year DNR's authorities had overhauled the curriculum. Ukrainian language lessons were decreased from around eight hours a week to two hours; while the time devoted to Russian language and literature lessons were increased. The history classes were changed to give greater emphasis to the history of Donbass. The grading system was changed from (Ukraine's) 12-point scheme to the five-point grading system that is also used in Russia. According to the director of a College in Donetsk "We give students the choice between the two but the Russian one is taken into greater account". School graduates will receive a Russian certificate, allowing them to enter both local universities and institutions in Russia.
In April 2016 DPR authorities designed "statehood awareness lessons" were introduced in schools (in territory controlled by them).
- Donetsk City Council (and nine district councils of the city) distanced itself from the RSA occupiers and they stated (on 7 April): "The Donetsk city council and district councils continue working in the legal field. We see ensuring the vital functions of the city as our main task".
- The Independent Trade Union of Miners in Donetsk announced it would not support the pro-Russian separatist movement.
- Seven village councils, as well as the districts of Dobropillia Raion and Krasnoarmiisk Raion in Donetsk Oblast requested to secede to join Dnipropetrovsk Oblast. The councils intend to hold a referendum. Dnipropetrovsk governor Ihor Kolomoisky announced that local referendums would take place to allow for his province to administer and provide service to cities in Donetsk and Luhansk which wish to secede. A vote on joining Dnipropetrovsk is scheduled for 11 May to coincide with the secessionist referendum.
Political reactions in Ukraine
- Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko pledged revenge against pro-Russian separatists after 19 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in a rocket attack. "Militants will pay hundreds of their lives for each life of our servicemen. Not a single terrorist will avoid responsibility," he said.
- Republic of Crimea – Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Crimea, Rustam Temirgaliyev, expressed the hope that the Donetsk Republic (as well as other south-eastern Ukrainian regions) would form a 'Ukrainian Federation' and join the Union State.
- Canada – Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that the events are "strictly the work of Russian provocateurs sent by the Putin regime". Canadian foreign affairs minister John Baird described events in Ukraine as "brazen and co-ordinated actions" by Russia. He said: "I don't know who the Russian Federation thinks it's kidding when it tries to pretend that it has nothing to do with them," and that there are "very clear and disconcerting parallels between the developments in eastern Ukraine and those that took place before moved to annex Crimea." He said to reporters "there's no doubt, for a good number of weeks, provocateurs and frankly thugs have been crossing the border" into Ukraine.
- Russian Federation – On 7 April 2014, Russia's foreign ministry said that Ukrainian authorities keep blaming the Russian government for all its troubles and stated that "Ukrainians want to get a clear answer from Kiev to all their questions. It's time to listen to these legal claims". It also stated it was "carefully observing" events in the east and south of Ukraine, and again called for "real constitutional reform" that would turn Ukraine into a federation. In a 7 April opinion piece in The Guardian, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov wrote that it was the west, and not Russia, that was guilty of destabilising Ukraine and that "Russia is doing all it can to promote early stabilisation in Ukraine". The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a stern statement condemning the "criminal order" by Kiev for armed aggression against Donetsk, "The Kiev authorities, who self-proclaimed themselves as a result of a coup, have embarked on the violent military suppression of the protests,", demanding that "the Maidan henchmen, who overthrew the legitimate president, immediately stop the war against their own people, fulfill all the obligations under the Agreement of 21 February." Russian Federation formally distances itself from the DPR government and has not recognised it, but on numerous occasions Sergey Lavrov was making definite statements regarding its policy, e.g. deploying international peacekeeping mission in DPR.
- United Kingdom – British Foreign Secretary William Hague said there is no doubt that Moscow is behind the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine. "There can't really be any real doubt that this is something that has been planned and brought about by Russia," he said, adding that Russia was deliberately "violating the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine", and that "I don't think denials of Russian involvement have a shred of credibility."
- United States – US Secretary of State John Kerry said on 7 April 2014 that the events "did not appear to be spontaneous" and called on Russia to "publicly disavow the activities of separatists, saboteurs and provocateurs" in a phone call to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. A spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council claimed that the separatists appeared to be supported by Russia. "We saw similar so-called protest activities in Crimea before Russia's purported annexation," she said in a statement, adding: "We call on President (Vladimir) Putin and his government to cease all efforts to destabilise Ukraine, and we caution against further military intervention." US-Ukraine ambassador Geoffrey R. Pyatt characterised the pro-Russian militants as terrorists.
- Ukrainian-American Alexander J. Motyl, professor of political science at Rutgers University argues that Russia's direct and indirect involvement in the violence in eastern Ukraine qualifies as a state-sponsored terrorism, and that those involved qualify as "terrorist groups". Motyl also said in an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on 20 February 2014 that Ukraine would be "better off" without "those three problematic provinces -- the two in the Donbas — Luhansk and Donetsk — and arguably even the Crimea".
- Ethnic conflict expert Matthew Parish argues that the real cause for Russia pursuing the Donbass conflict is to destabilise Ukraine so that it cannot settle into the western sphere of influence.
- Russians in Ukraine
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