Highlights of the expert discussion: what do we know about the conflict in Donbas and how can the near future of the region look like?

International civil society platform CivilM+ facilitates expert discussion about the conflict mapping in Donbass

Conflict alleviation efforts often require immediate action – assistance to the civilian population, development of dozens of new legal acts to address new realities… But in 5 years it is time to make a pause and reflect: what do we know about the conflict in and around Ukraine, what affects its development and how can  the near future of the region look like. Such reflection process was launched by the members of the CivilM+ platform, where DRA is one of the members, during the meeting of experts of the working group “Conflict Mapping” in Kyiv on May 29, 2019. During the discussion, the experts mentioned that Ukrainians formed their opinion about the conflict at the height of hostilities in 2014 and since then it has not changed: the majority of the population perceives the conflict as a war between Russia and Ukraine, only in the east of Ukraine people frame it differently. When it comes to negotiations, the population of southern Ukraine is most inclined to accept any compromises to achieve peace. Sociologists have not yet found an explanation for this trend.

At the same time, the majority of the population is not hostile to fellow citizens who have remained in non-government controlled territories. No less than half of the population is convinced that it is necessary to develop ties with people living in ORDLO, to provide benefits for admission to universities and material assistance for moving to the controlled territory.

Nevertheless, such social sentiment is not reflected in the state policy. The government is still reluctant to introduce the administrative procedure of issuing civil documents (passports, birth certificates), to improve movement across contact line and communication at the human level, or to develop programs for the reintegration of the population. This is particularly contrasted with the fact that, according to experts familiar with life in NGCA, the Russian Federation has launched many programs through which young people living in ORDLO can participate in various all-Russian competitions for talented children and athletes.

People living in NGCA see a lot of uncertainty and risks in the context of relations with the rest of Ukraine. First of all, they do not understand how the cooperation/ collaboration with de facto authorities will be defined legally and which groups of people will  be prosecuted criminally or administratively.  For example, whether a person who worked in the pension fund of the so-called DNR will be considered a criminal.

People engaged in small and medium business are very interested in the resolution of the conflict and reunification with Ukraine, but they also have considerable fears. For example, it is not clear to business whether entrepreneurs will be accused of financing terrorism if they have been conducting economic activities in non-controlled areas. Clarifying such issues, i.e. defining the main parameters of the transitional justice system, will open up opportunities for dialogue with NGCA residents.

Experts from Russia noted that the topic of the conflict in Donbas practically disappeared from the information space and appeared again only in connection with the decree on the simplified granting of Russian citizenship to the Ukrainians living on the territory of ORDLO. It was also noted that over the last past 5 years, popular support for the war in eastern Ukraine has halved.

Participants discussed social life in ORDLO. It was noted that among the religious organizations only the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate actively works in ORDLO. It openly declares that it provides humanitarian aid and its activities are not hindered by the de facto authorities. It was noted that civil society in ORDLO exists, moreover, there are signals that the de facto authorities may be more open to cooperation with international organizations. Currently active local civil society organisations are mainly concerned with humanitarian issues. The position of Russian civil society in the ORDLO territories is not unambiguous. Those Russian civil society organisations that are in opposition to the authorities have little or no access to the ORDLO territories. The activity of Russian public organizations loyal to the authorities (such as, for example, the New Scythians movement Dugin) is not systematic. They come to ORDLO, hold some events, but are not permanently located on the territory.

As a result of the experts’ work, a publication will be prepared that will analyze various aspects of the conflict and the main actors involved in it.

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