Eastern Ukraine: Labour And Community Organising Near The Front Line

From the Marxist blog, People And Nature:
Workplace and community organising continues in eastern Ukraine, a few kilometres from the front line. Pavel Lisyansky of the Eastern Human Rights Group sent this report.

A meeting was held today [25 December] of representatives of workplace collectives in Svetlodarsk, 4 kilometres from the front line [near Debaltsevo in Donetsk region]. The attendees were mostly public sector workers (doctors, teachers, municipal services employees), small business people, some employees of the Uglegorodskaya power station and pensioners. […]

On the agenda for discussion were the large number of breaches of human rights in the so-called “grey zone”, i.e. in Svetlodarsk. Originally the event had been scheduled to take place in the Svetlodarsk town council building, but the local authorities were afraid of holding such an event and at the last minute refused to provide use of the building. So we met in the large hall of the Svetlodarsk town hospital.

The concrete issues raised included: constraints on free movement; corruption at the road blocks; deliberate increases in the prices of food products and medicines by the city’s small businesses; law enforcement officers exceeding their powers; and discrimination against local residents by particular law enforcement officers.

In brief, the situation is this: There are no cash machines working in Svetlodarsk. Prices for food products and medicines have been hiked up. The fare from Svetlodarsk to Artemovsk [a place where cheaper goods might be found] (20 km) is not at all cheap – 100 hryvna. [And besides,] the tax authorities do not allow food products outside of specified norms to be brought in from other towns.

Miners at Kriviy Rih. Photo from Observer Ukraine
Miners at Kriviy Rih. Photo from Observer Ukraine

As the business people (who attended the meeting) explained, the increase in prices mainly reflects the additional logistical costs of corruption at the road blocks and the traffic police checkpoints (for deliveries from Kharkov). At the end of the day, it’s the residents of Svetlodarsk who pay for all this. [As a result] there is social tension in the town. There is no dialogue between residents, the business people, the military and the local authorities.

All the information about breaches of human rights and crimes is being documented and included in an appeal to Artur Palatny, a member of parliament, and Valeriya Lutkovskaya, the ombudsman of Ukraine. We are starting to get to work. […]

Update: on 28 December, a few days after sending this report, Pavel Lisyansky reported that workers at the Svetlodarsk hospital, who were owed 11 months’ back pay, received the wages they were owed. Activism brings results!
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There is a mythical limit on the import of food products to Svetlodarsk by local residents. I have found some circumstantial confirmation of this. It seems that Svetlodarsk is being confused with the territory that is not under [Ukrainian state] control [i.e. the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk republics].

We tried to resolve this question, but I didn’t get sufficient support. Some people say, “well there’s no official ban”. Others say, “you’re human rights activists, you sort it out, it’s not for us to do”. And others: “we just don’t know what you’re talking about”.

A family that lives in Svetlodarsk bought the carcass of a pig, so as to be well-stocked with meat – and they were not allowed into the town, on the grounds that their purchase exceeded the norms. They had to make a huge detour through fields – and don’t forget that they are mined – in order to get their foodstuffs home.

Let me remind those who have forgotten: Svetlodarsk is Ukrainian territory! Citizens of Ukraine live here, the workers of the Svetlodarsk power station are here, so are schools, kindergartens and the hospital. This town is no different from any other in Ukraine. […]

■ My apologies to readers, and to Pavel, that it has taken a little time to get this translated. Better late than never. Below are some links to other information in English about social and labour struggles in Ukraine. GL, 20 January 2016.

Kriviy Rih miners prepare to strike – from the Observer Ukraine blog
Ukraine: activist perspective (reports on various social movements)
Ukraine Solidarity Campaign (based in the UK)
Two years after Euromaidan: repression of public protest returns – by the Centre for Social and Labour Research
Ukrainians’ life ratings sank to new lows in 2015 (news story about a Gallup poll)
The voice of non-militants: the experience of women in eastern Ukraine by Nina Potarska

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