by Yuliya Rashchupkina
Until the beginning of 2014, I used to think of war in abstract terms. I understood wars as armed conflicts, which happen within and between countries with a high level of political violence, poor governance structures, and long histories of instability. Starting from the beginning of 2014, the political situation in Ukraine drastically changed. And war, from being an abstract term, turned into a real-life experience for my family, friends, former colleagues, and for myself.
The hostel where I used to live during my undergraduate years became a living space for mercenary fighters from Russia during the summer months of 2014. One of my former roommates and her husband, a local activist and journalist, were held captive by separatists for more than two months. My parents now live about 30 miles from a war zone in a small town, which is under the control of the Ukrainian government. The town which used to have a population of little more than 20,000 residents, currently faces huge challenges of accommodating people running from the epicenter of war zones. The local hospital where my mom used to work deals with hundreds of wounded and displaced people on a daily basis. Several mass funeral ceremonies for unidentified Ukrainian soldiers killed during the war were also held in my native town.
Two of my aunts now live in the territory of the self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics (LNR and DNR). The DNR-controlled city, where one of my aunts lives, follows Moscow time and broadcasts only Russian TV channels. The self-proclaimed governments of DNR and LNR created a new Tax Law and work to enforce a new tax collection system on local residents in order to meet, as they claim, the basic needs of their residents. With the help of international donors and the networks of international NGOs and hundreds of local volunteers, some humanitarian aid gets delivered to the Ukrainian-government controlled areas in East Ukraine. The humanitarian aid trucks from Russia reach out to war-torn parts of East Ukraine. However, as witnesses report, military supplies to the pro-Russian separatists fighting in Ukraine also gets through trucks with so-called humanitarian aid from Russia.
Any war is a wrong exercise in force and it is the most vivid example of people’s failure to reach agreement in a civilized human manner. And yet, the Ukrainian government and the international community did not manage to prevent the outbreak of war in Ukraine. Thw Russian invasion of Ukrainian territory has not resulted in holding Russian state leaders accountable.
In violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, on March 2014, Crimea seceded from Ukraine and became a part of the Russian state. Even though the so-called referendum on Crimea’s secession from Ukraine was an attempt to legitimize and legalize it as an expression of the right to self-determination of the population of a certain area it failed to be so. Before the referendum, pro-Russian forces and the Russian military took control of the Crimean Peninsula and Russian military planes landed in Simferopol. The referendum procedure was held in a hasty manner and international monitors could not enter the peninsula to observe the referendum. The Crimean Tatars, activists and journalists who openly opposed Russia’s actions in Crimea, faced harassment and intimidation; some activists and minority representatives had gone missing.
The tension in east Ukraine escalated during the late winter – early spring season of 2014. The majority of the population of east Ukraine easily accepted political games orchestrated by local government leaders backed by Russian government representatives and supported the ideas of getting independence from Ukraine and establishing closer political ties with Russia. As one of the residents of the Lugansk region blogger Olena Stepova commented in a recent interview to Gordon source, “TV in Donbass extensively broadcast Russian channels. People saw on TV that Putin flies with cranes, Putin dives, Putin dives out – a beautiful picture of the dawn and greatness of the mighty country. And residents of Donbass towns, who felt unnecessary in their home country and were often hinted that they were outcasts, believed that are needed in Russia after annexation of the Crimea.” Illegal movement of warfare through southeastern border cities of Ukraine with Ukrainian border guards turning a blind eye to smuggling significantly contributed to triggering the conflict.
A cyclical pattern of violence has started as news on civilian casualties, demolished buildings, and ruined lives from Ukraine continue to shape the political agenda for international and national events. For people who live under constant fire and rocket attacks in war-torn areas of Ukraine, the conditions of the peace agreement, as well as the number of parties involved in the process of negotiating a peace agreement lose any importance. And people look forward to the establishment of the actual, real peace besides papers, political promises, or agreements.
Yuliya Rashchupkina is a PhD student in the Global Governance and Human Security Program at UMass Boston. She is from Ukraine, where she was born, raised, studied, and worked. She has previously worked with Ukrainian NGOs on human rights and community development programs (primarily in East Ukraine). Her research interests are the discourses and practices of international development coordination and the ways in which climate change gets mainstreamed as an issue in international development.