Up

Vyacheslav Likhachev: "The current situation has a cumulative depressive effect" 12/19/2018 13:02:00. Total views 137. Views today — 0.

Vyacheslav Likhachev is coordinator of the documentation department in the Vostok SOS charitable organization. The task of his team is to record the facts of violation of international humanitarian law and human rights in a broader sense.

The things Likhachev speaks of are not obvious to many even by the end of the fifth year of the war, although they are extremely important – not only for the people whom the war directly or otherwise relates to, but for the whole country as well. Therefore, we asked him to voice some of the findings and considerations, and even to hold for us a kind of "FAQ" on the nuances of international humanitarian law.

The conversation began with a listing of typical violations of human rights in a combat zone, which include violation of the freedom of movement. Therefore, the first question was obvious.

— Is the line of demarcation a violation of the freedom of movement?

— The state may restrict the rights of citizens in special situations, for example, in the event of natural disaster, or in the case of military situation, like ours. But these restrictions must occur, firstly, within the framework of the law, and secondly, they must be justified and proportionate. On a formal level, prior to the beginning of this year, the mode of crossing the contact line, of course, violated the freedom of movement.

The fact is that before the adoption of law on the peculiarities of state policy in relation to the occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, better known as the law "on reintegration" or "de-occupation of Donbass", the mode of crossing the line of demarcation was regulated by the SBU orders. Meanwhile, both the Constitution and law on the freedom of movement say that the restriction of movement of citizens on the territory of Ukraine can be carried out only by law.

That is, strictly speaking, everything related to the crossing of the contact line before the beginning of this year was illegal and was a violation of human rights. The anti-terrorist operation was not entirely legal in many of its aspects, if to be completely honest.

However, we are not interested in empty criticism, such as the fact that the state illegally restricts the movement of citizens on the territory of Ukraine. I mean not only a personal point of view, but some consensus developed by the Ukrainian human rights community. We are interested in monitoring how this happens, recording violations of the existing order and forming proposals for improving the situation.

For example, we consider the existing limit of value of goods that people can transport to the occupied territory to be very low. After all, Ukraine is interested in having a person come to Sievierodonetsk or Kramatorsk to buy a laptop, and not to Rostov or Voronezh. According to the existing order, a person with a newly purchased laptop is being detained and fined, the laptop is being withdrawn. This is an irrational and unjustified order. We consider it correct that the state does not formulate a list of goods allowed for transportation through the entry/exit checkpoint, but limit some final list of prohibited ones. And so on.

We certainly do not like the number of existing entry/exit checkpoints. There is only one checkpoint operating in the Luhansk oblast (only in pedestrian mode).

We have questions about the procedure for paying pensions to citizens of the occupied territories. Well, let them be paid on the territory under control, because we do not have a mechanism that would allow them to pay on the uncontrolled one (although such mechanisms are needed to be developed for at least non-transportable pensioners). It seems obvious to us that pension payments should not be tied to the status of a displaced person. The legal system itself provokes people to register as internally displaced persons when they are de facto not. That is, it turns out that people are cheating the state, because the state has formulated such rules for them.

Everything connected with physical identification and possible loss of a pension due to the loss of the status of a displaced person is completely unnecessary and logically unreasonable.

— What is your position in the dispute between the parties on the opening of new entry/exit checkpoints in the Luhansk oblast?

— We understand and support the logic of Ukrainian party in this dispute. There is a prepared from Ukrainian party entry/exit checkpoint in Zolote, which has been ready for more than two years and which has not been opened in pass mode, because the other party is not ready to open it.

There are a number of assumptions why they are not ready to open it, but in any case, the demands that the de facto authorities of the occupied territory put forward in order to open this entry/exit checkpoint are being discussed for two years already. Among them are preparation of another entry/exit checkpoint in Shchastya and disengagement of the parties in the area of Stanytsia Luhanska. I understand why both requirements are problematic for the Ukrainian party: the point is peculiarities of geographical location of these settlements.

In general, we know where it would be possible to open a checkpoint at a compromise point. But it is not our task to give such recommendations. Our task is to formulate the agenda and remind the authorities that Ukraine is interested in having more entry/exit checkpoints.

The Luhansk oblast needs vehicle entry/exit checkpoint. Pedestrian checkpoint with a temporary wooden construction on top of the destroyed bridge near Stanytsia Luhanska is completely inadequate.

— How likely is opening of new entry/exit checkpoints?

— The possibility of opening new entry/exit checkpoints depends on the dialogue with that party. In my opinion, in the next year-year and a half, one can hardly expect any real progress in this matter until the situation with the government in Ukraine stabilizes.

There is a need for new entry/exit checkpoints, and it will be, if the general policy towards residents of the occupied territories is not changed. The overwhelming majority of those who cross the line of demarcation are pensioners. If you even change the procedure for paying pensions, their flow will be less.

— One way or another, it is my understanding that the negotiations are deadlocked.

— They were deadlocked about a year and a half ago. The whole "Minsk process" was deadlocked. Everything that was happening the last year and a half concerned the exchange of prisoners, which also occurred a year ago, and before that – a year earlier. Now, according to the information we receive, Russian party is not ready to discuss anything with Ukrainian party, because Russian party is waiting for election of the next president.

— Ukraine is more vulnerable in this situation, because Ukraine has legitimate power, which has to react in one way or another to internal and external pressure.

— Ukraine is more vulnerable like any democracy compared to the totalitarian regime. There is a civil society in Ukraine, to the demands of which it is necessary to respond, as well as to the position of international community, to which the escalation of the conflict is extremely undesirable.

In general, Russian party is not interested in maintaining links with Ukrainian party among the residents of the occupied territories. But Ukraine is interested in this. Ukraine must meet the needs of these people, even if everything is done on that side so that its steps are minimally effective or do not take place at all.

— Have you had any attempts to cooperate with representatives of the "republics"?

— It is pointless. We have connections with the International Committee of the Red Cross, OSCE Special Monitoring Mission and Monitoring Mission of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, which work here and there, and this is an intermediated channel of communication with the other side.

For example, when we receive information about the loss of people, we report to the International Red Cross and OSCE SMM. We do not receive feedback, but we know that they check our information, try to gain access to people, if they can be found, and communicate with their close relatives. We consider our task accomplished at this stage.

Sometimes we ask people who cross the entry/exit checkpoint in one way or the other, whether the medical center is equipped there, whether there are ambulance, toilets, sun-awning and hot tea in winter.

— Do answers of people who cross the line of demarcation also get into some reports?

— We need this information, rather, for our own understanding of how people spend four-five hours waiting in a queue. We do not set ourselves the task to monitor the observance of human rights on the other side on a systemic level, because we understand the absurdity of the way a question is put.

"The current situation has a cumulative depressive effect"

— Does the situation change on the other side, on our side, in the buffer zone, or has it been frozen since 2015?

— Many things are changing. These processes take place a little differently in the Luhansk and Donetsk "republics".

There is a more systematic process of building quasi-state institutions in the Donetsk "republic". For example, a person is provided there with a "lawyer" in the event of detention, and this is at least a communication channel for relatives. There are "courts". When a man goes to colony after the "investigation", there is no longer any systematic violence as before, although he was beaten and tortured during the "investigation". From the Ukrainian point of view, the colonies there are still places of unlawful deprivation of liberty, but these are still not basements of 2014-2015.

These processes go on more chaotically in the Luhansk "republic" in virtue of some diversification of the power center and common mess.

There are two contradictory impressions regarding the changes that are taking place in the territory controlled by Ukrainian government. On the one hand, sometimes it seems that nothing changes. For example, queue at the Stanytsia Luhanska entry/exit checkpoint does not change. Destroyed housing is not being restored. If we go into details, there are changes — both positive and negative.

To start with a good one: from this year, Ukraine has de facto regained control over the territories that were formally under its control in the so-called "grey zone".

Yes, this was accompanied by a somewhat inadequate propaganda campaign about "liberation" of the next settlements or part of the settlements, but for the residents of these settlements, something has changed since. Mobile branch of the bank begins to arrive. People have a physical opportunity to withdraw their pensions, for which they previously had to get somewhere outside the village with no transport. A school bus began to pick up children from some places to the nearest schools. Let it not sound as victorious as in the reports of the press service of the Joint Forces Operation, but repairmen can now come to these settlements to repair power lines. Representatives of the service of civil-military cooperation – who really help the local population in many issues, and are very constructive, can now work there.

The head of the civil-military administration finally appeared in Zolote, which is being liberated piece by piece, after the two-year absence – that is, the front-line city was without authority and budget for two years. There are questions to the activities of new head of the Zolote administration, but still this is no longer the situation of absence of Ukrainian authority at all.

The second thing we can say is: slowly and badly, with questions about the efficiency of distribution of funds, but the infrastructure is being repaired: more in the Donetsk oblast and less in the Luhansk.

At the same time, it cannot be said that something is changing for the worse. But there is a feeling of deterioration. It arises from general fatigue and some irreversibility of the processes taking place. Primarily, this is due to socio-economic situation. If, let us say, people from a small village are used to sell their cucumbers, grown in greenhouses, in Luhansk or Pervomaisk, and now they do not have such an opportunity, then this situation in the fifth year is not the same as in the first year. Or take the life of villages that were associated with a particular mine which no longer works or on which the miners are not being paid. When this situation lasts for years, it has a cumulative depressive effect.

The armed hostilities have a cumulative effect as well. People are dead tired, they do not see anything else, they do not understand when it will end, they have the impression that they are not needed by anyone, that they are all abandoned. Some settlements still do not have Ukrainian television and radio. Some people did not choose authorities in 2014, and, most likely, will not choose it in 2019.

It turns out that people living in the territory under control near the contact line are still largely not integrated into Ukrainian economic, political, social and information space. In this sense, the integration of the already liberated part of Donbass is an ambitious challenge itself.

— Are there any alternative ways to organize voting on the front-line territory?

— The ability to choose local authorities in the region is limited by the existence of civil-military administrations. Сivil-military administrations, by the way, were introduced temporarily by law, until the end of anti-terrorist operation, but for no more than three years. The anti-terrorist operation ended in just about three years, but when changes related to the "reintegration" legislative package were made, this clause about limiting the term of civil-military administrations was removed. The work of the military-civil administrations was, in fact, indefinite, although they were a provisional measure for the period of active hostilities.

What prevents to hold elections in the controlled territory of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts besides the fear that people will vote for the "wrong" political forces, personally I do not really understand.

— The Parliament of Abkhazia, for example, exists in the form in which it was elected in 1991, because the entire population of Abkhazia no longer has the opportunity to elect a new one, and with participation of only a part of the population, the parliament will be considered illegitimate. It is my understanding that the restrictions in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts are due to the same considerations.

— In the law, they are justified only by considerations of security and specifics of management of the territory of Anti-terrorist operation and Joint Forces Operation. It seems to me that the main point here is practical convenience. With the formation of a clear hierarchical structure of civil-military administrations, it turns out that one person manages the regional budget, so the problem of parallel authority of regional administrations and regional councils, which exists throughout Ukraine, is solved in the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.

The issue is not in the personality of heads of civil-military administrations. They may be more or less effective. The issue is that the decisions on allocation of the budget are being made by one person, and this is always a high risk of corruption and insufficient competence. Moreover, there is no cooperation between the branches of government, system of effective control and community participation in the formation of local governments and decision-making in the region.

— Is there a community as such?

— The war gave a strong impetus to the formation of local civic engagement, and in some sense, the community is being formed before our eyes. Active citizens are pro-Ukrainian, and the state is just interested in supporting them. But in reality, this does not happen everywhere, because the state often sees only troublemakers in them and, on the contrary, puts spokes in their wheels.

Do you think that the recent decision to actually block the elections in the united territorial communities in the Donetsk region is not dictated by any terrorist threat?

— I think yes. And judging by what is happening, the parliamentary and presidential elections of the next year will not be held in a large part of the controlled territory of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Also "for security reasons", but with a political estimate, because the people of these regions do not have much sympathy for the ruling president and parties of the current government. Meanwhile, even one or two percents of votes in the presidential election can guarantee, or not guarantee, the access to the second round, and ultimately, become decisive.

"Seven of 31 schools we drove by were shelled over the past year"

— What is the extent of ensuring access to education for children from the front-line territories by the Ukrainian party?

— This year, we had a special study on the state of schools in the 15-kilometer zone along the line of demarcation. We drove by 31 schools – a little less than half of all schools in this area. It can be said that all schoolchildren of the front-line territory have access to education today, what is actually not so banal, because the situation was like this not in all settlements a year ago.

A more or less normal educational process takes place in schools, which are somehow provided with everything necessary. All school buildings in the front-line territory were damaged during the hostilities, mostly in 2014-2015. However, seven of the schools we drove by were shelled over the past year.

Those schools that were not completely destroyed were rebuilt sufficiently to conduct full-fledged classes. But, let us say, in Krasnohorivka, there are five schools in two buildings with two shifts and classes divided by cabinets. Another building is being restored there; at the same time, they want to de jure liquidate two schools, because there will be enough three by the number of students. Children from the bombed out school in Stanytsia Luhanska study in different premises, including premises of the district newspaper, although this situation is not typical in general.

To talk about the negative – the restoration was predominantly superficial and emergency, and many schools require major repairs, even due to the general deterioration and motion of the ground because of constant detonation. I am not an engineer, I cannot assess how justified these complaints are, but we were constantly told about it.

The restoration was carried out at the expense of international humanitarian organizations, charitable foundations and private sponsors to a greater extent, not so much at the expense of state. The same can be said about the furnishings, provisions of equipment, sports equipment and stationery.

In fact, the state of inventory and educational material in many schools is better today than it was before the war thanks to humanitarian organizations. The same can be said about the training programs, because volunteers and psychologists often come to such schools. Of course, there is a great need for psychological help for children, but it is being covered today. Strange as it may sound, many people told us that it was a blessing in disguise.

— Are there enough teachers?

— No. There are not so many work places in the front-line settlements, so they hold down their jobs at school, but the outflow of teachers was still significant. Technically, all the subjects are being taught, but including by non-specialists in relevant subjects. And this is not only when a math teacher gives lessons of physics, but also when a history teacher gives lessons of physics, and good, if it is not a physical education teacher.

There are schools where people teach without pedagogical education, receiving it distantly. Furthermore, the average age of the teaching staff is pre-retirement or retirement. That is, these are people who did not leave, because they are unable or unwilling, but there is a natural decline among them for other reasons, and this decline is not being compensated, because young people do not go to work in such schools.

There are programs to support young doctors in some settlements and districts, because health care facilities have the same problem. It would be good to launch a similar program in support of young teachers in the region.

— Where do you think this whole dynamics leads?

— The catastrophic socio-economic situation of Donbass has developed not only in connection with the war and not in the past five years, but in recent decades and has been supported artificially by the Soviet Union, and then by independent Ukraine. When we talk about the restoration of Donbass, this expression itself seems to me wrong, because it is impossible to recover the situation that was five years ago, and there is no need to do it, because it was unhealthy. It is quite obvious that it will be bad for a long time, and this is connected not only with the war.

In general, one can observe in Donbass the same processes as in Ukraine at large, only exacerbated by the population's fatigue from fighting and devastation and difficult situation in the economy. Yes, we have a tendency towards limiting freedoms. Yes, the active part of population is dissatisfied with the actions of the authorities and, to be honest, some social activists behave themselves inadequately. There is a feeling of disappointed expectations and general heavy psychological atmosphere.

But if the formation of a right political system at the local level does not occur in the Donbass, which is still going on in the rest of Ukraine one way or another, and moving to a new level with local government reform, a total alienation between the population and authorities will be formed there.

"Unfortunately, Putin will not go to The Hague"

— How do you document the war crimes?

— In practical terms, it is referred, first of all, to the mistreatment of people who are at war. This applies to the circumstances of capture and treatment of prisoners, killing of surrendered prisoners, killing of the wounded, failure to provide medical assistance, ill-treatment in places of illegal deprivation of freedom and torture. With regard to civilians – we are talking about the treatment of people who have been "in the basement". This is what we record by interviewing people who come out of captivity.

Furthermore, we record shelling of civilian infrastructure facilities. There are some objects which, according to international humanitarian law, you cannot fire at in any case: these are facilities of health care, education and cultural significance. In addition, there are people who should never be subjected to shelling, for example, doctors and journalists.

When leaving Ilovaisk, from the point of view of international humanitarian law, the war crime was not in the fact of shelling the column itself, but in the deliberate shooting of medical cars, torture after being captured, killing of the wounded and failure to provide medical assistance.

We also record the use of indiscriminate weapons. Among other things, it applies to anti-personnel mines, booby traps and trip wires. Mining the territory around military facilities and positions is not a violation itself, but quite often, explosions take place on the territory of settlements, and this is definitely a war crime.

Ukraine has acceded to the Convention on the Non-Proliferation of Anti-Personnel Mines, but that party is a legal "grey zone", nobody recognizes it – that is, it is impossible to demand implementation of any international legal norms from it, isn't it?

— The question is who the "other party" is. We proceed from the assumption that Russia is the country exercising overall effective control over the occupied territory. Heedless of the fact that at the moment, there is no decision on this issue in any international legal authority.

The International Criminal Court, which is preliminarily considering the claim of Ukraine against Russia, considers the conflict in the Donbass to be interstate, at least since the summer of 2014. But the states are unimportant for the International Criminal Court, because it establishes personal responsibility. An individual lawsuit against the state may be filed to the European Court of Human Rights from the injured party. Although no decision has been made yet on the Donbass, there are precedents for making decisions on crimes committed in the territory of Transnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and the defendant is Russia.

The European Court of Human Rights is such that there are no blank spaces on the territory of Europe; some state extends its jurisdiction to any territory.

— What court do you apply to?

— We and our colleagues, united in the human rights coalition Justice for Peace in the Donbas, hand materials over to the International Criminal Court.

The International Criminal Court has existed for more than 20 years, and in fact, not a single case has been brought to a verdict before it. It was established as a permanent institution after two special international tribunals, for the countries of former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda. Based on the experience of these tribunals, it can be said that the consideration of the case there can last 10-20 years.

The International Criminal Court establishes a narrow circle of the highest-ranking officials of one or more of the warring parties, who are personally responsible for the war crimes. In particular, in the case of Yugoslavia, it was the former president and defence minister, but to a greater extent, it is all about the level of field commanders who ordered shelling of civilians, mass executions and so on.

The International Criminal Court extends its jurisdiction to three components of crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. From the point of view of our conflict, it is important to emphasize that the aggression itself is not a crime for the International Criminal Court.

Ukraine has some inflated expectations in relation to the International Criminal Court: as if we need to prove that we were attacked, and then Putin will go to The Hague. Unfortunately, no: it is necessary to prove that Putin directly issued criminal orders for the war crimes. This can be expected with regard to the section chief, which shot down Boeing, field commanders of the militants or leaders of the "republics" – those of them who will stay alive at the time of passing a sentence.

There is a preliminary investigation now. This means that the Prosecutor's Office of the International Criminal Court has not opened the case yet, it takes cognizance of evidence that the component of crime has place.

— Who does submit such materials besides you?

— All who are willing to give them – both the Ukrainian and Russian party, both official state institutions and non-governmental organizations.

So far, the Prosecutor's Office is interested in whether there are enough proven violations to assume that a crime that is subject to its jurisdiction has occurred. Only after this happens, it will open the case and will puzzle out the individual responsibility of specific criminals.

Why does it make sense to us? Few of the criminals will live up to court.

— The International Criminal Court continues to consider a case against crimes against humanity in Sudan. There was ethnic cleansing in Darfur back in the 1990s, then there was a civil war accompanied by crimes, which led to the secession of South Sudan. No verdict against the President of Sudan has been made yet, but at the behest of the International Criminal Court, Interpol issued a warrant for his arrest and – yes, he is still president of Sudan, but he can only travel to Damascus, Tehran and, probably, Beijing. This is quite a real fate of high-ranking Russian officials of the Ministry of Defence, but hardly of Russian president. And this should not be waited for twenty years, but just for some five years (laughs).

Appealing the International Criminal Court, of course, makes sense. Even at this preliminary stage, the Prosecutor's Office of the International Criminal Court annually reports annually on the work done, and this report influences political processes.

When the Prosecutor's Office starts accepting cases for consideration, it needs to understand whether there was an armed conflict and whether it was intrastate or interstate. The Prosecutor's Office considers situation in the Crimea and in the east of Ukraine separately. In the Crimea, it initially determined the conflict to be interstate. In the case of Donbass, it has established an interstate conflict between Russia and Ukraine since July 2014, and intrastate conflict – since April, but with a proviso that arguments that the degree of Russia's participation was sufficient to consider the conflict as interstate since April continue to be taken into consideration.

— Is there enough evidence?

— I have no special education in the field of international humanitarian law – of course, this will be decided by the Prosecutor's Office. But groups of several dozen armed people could not pass from the Crimea through the territory of the Russian Federation into the territory of the Ukrainian Donbass at least without the sanction of the Russian authorities. Especially, this applies to the groups consisting of Russian citizens and partially, although formally former at that time, but officers of the Russian special services. The question is not whether we have a written order from Shoygu to conduct this operation – it is enough to establish that this was not an internal Ukrainian conflict, that groups that came from outside participated in it. I think this is obvious.

I see significant importance of what is happening in the International Criminal Court for the internal Ukrainian agenda. We expect that the International Criminal Court will say that Russia was the aggressor and Ukraine was the victim, and we will punish the aggressor for the crimes he committed. Unfortunately, there were also quite a few violations of international humanitarian law by the Ukrainian party, especially during the period of intense hostilities of 2014-2015.

Although Ukraine has not ratified the Rome Statute, it recognized the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and pledged to recognize its decisions. And this is an important incentive for the Ukrainian party to look back at international humanitarian law during the conduct of hostilities. The Ukrainian party is interested in investigating and punishing its individual representatives for the crimes committed, because the International Criminal Court joins in when the country itself is unable to punish its criminals.

— Does this incentive work?

— Yes, but not enough. A full investigation was not into all crimes. Some battalions were disbanded, some violations were stopped in an informal way. There was a process against members of the Tornado Battalion.

This is very important, because the situation with torture, ill-treatment "in the basement" and extrajudicial executions is standard for places of unlawful deprivation of liberty in the occupied territory. The fact that people responsible for these crimes occupy quasi-state posts there and that the state considers it necessary to punish people for such crimes indicates different attitude towards international humanitarian law. This is very important for building the position of the world community towards Ukraine in this conflict.

Yes, Ukraine is not doing enough. Not only the Tornado Battalion is responsible for the chaos of the winter of 2015, but also the Chernihiv Battalion, from which no one was convicted. Perhaps, only the tenth of those involved from the Tornado Battalion, where the system of coercion to crimes was operating, was convicted.

— Does somebody interfere with your work?

— Starting doing it, I expected that the opposition would be stronger. In fact, we do not encounter systemic opposition.

— As well as systemic understanding, as I understand.

— You can say so. But over the past year, literally before our eyes, the military prosecutor's office has come to an understanding what international humanitarian law and war crimes are. Before that, the military prosecutor's office was interested only in the facts of Russian aggression. It gathered a lot of such facts, but this is not what the International Criminal Court will consider.

We have not come yet to the understanding that it would also be good for us not to fire at the facilities of civil infrastructure, or there is a gap between what comes "from above" and what happens at the positions. The war is a self-reproducing thing. If you look at the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission's reports, it is clear that we fire at the uncontrolled territory no less than they fire at us, and sometimes even more. And if we can talk that chaos and interest in destabilizing the situation are there, I cannot say the same about our party.

Our party is interested in stabilization and decreasing number of victims, we are under pressure from international partners. But at the lowest level, there are people who go to war in order to fight, often with personal injuries and personal motivation, they do not understand why they should be on the front line, if they are ordered not to shoot.

At the command level, a tradition has been developed not only of negation, but of keeping back: we always suppress the enemy's firepower, the other party violated the ceasefire so many times… In fact, there is a complete chaos on the line of contact with everyone shooting at each other. The situation is not very controlled and, perhaps, it is not trying to be controlled.

Summing up all that has been said, we should probably recognize that we should abandon the illusion of the imminent end of war and focus on what we can do in the situation that has developed today and which will last for more than one year.

— I am well aware of how painful it is to hear and how difficult it is for people who have left Donetsk and Luhansk to accept that they will never return to their city. But, of course, there should be no illusion that we are able to liberate the now occupied territory of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts by military means: we are not able to take on the Russian military machine.

Ukraine is interested in a complete cessation of hostilities, freezing the situation as it is, improving life in the already liberated territory and maintaining contacts with population of the occupied territories, which would keep them close to Ukraine.

This is an ambitious task itself requiring enormous resources. And, perhaps, we are interested in a larger influx of people from the occupied territories for a number of reasons, including economic ones: we need this population.

In fact, this is a talkie-talkie statement that we will not liberate the Donbass in foreseeable future. We need to proceed from the fact that the situation that exists now is for years and decades.

Interviewed by Yulia Abibok, OstroV