UKRAINE: For over eight years, separatists supported by Moscow have controlled the southeastern Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, generally known as Donbas.
The central government of Ukraine regards the republics as being under “terrorist control”.
Both declared independence from Ukraine following an unofficial status referendum in 2014.
However, Russian President Vladimir Putin only recognized them during the invasion of Ukraine, paving the way for Russian forces to be stationed in the rebel-controlled territories that make up nearly a third of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as the separatist Georgian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, have been recognized by Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Syria.
The main issue is whether or not Russia would recognize them within their existing borders.
What are the causes of separatists in the region? Since 2014, what has kept these areas alive?
Donetsk and Vladimir Lenin
The main centre in Donetsk, the city of the namesake breakaway territory in southeastern Ukraine, is still dominated by a 13.5-meter-tall statue of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin.
After breaking away from the central government in 2014, the Moscow-backed separatist leaders of Donetsk and nearby Luhansk restored the constitution adopted by Lenin’s successor, Josef Stalin.
This constitution mandates the death sentence for a variety of offences, making the separatist “People’s Republics” – as well as totalitarian Belarus nearby – Europe’s only capital punishment hotspot.
The “republics” are thought to have grown into authoritarian statelets akin to North Korea after over eight years of existence.
Foreigners have a difficult time entering the locations. Ukrainians may only visit if they have family in Donetsk or Luhansk, and they must first travel into Russia, which takes approximately 30 hours and costs $100, and often entails paying officials. Residents must have a residency registration from the Soviet era.
Secret police and “loyal” inhabitants in the statelets watch every conversation, phone call, and text message.
Dissidents and businessmen who refuse to “give” their riches to the “needs of the People’s Republic” have been imprisoned without trial in “cellars” or dozens of makeshift concentration camps.
Stanislav Aseyev, a publicist kidnapped in 2017, was imprisoned and tortured in jail for over two years until separatists traded him and scores of other detainees in 2017.
According to rights groups and eyewitnesses, tens of thousands more were tortured and abused in the “cellars.”
According to an international human rights advocate, the horrific human rights violations in Donetsk and Luhansk are significantly worse than those in Russia today.
History of Donestk and Luhansk
In 1795, just after czarist Russia conquered Crimea and eastern Ukraine from the Crimean Khanate, a predominantly Muslim vassal of Ottoman Turkey, Englishman Charles Gascoigne constructed a metal workshop in what is now Luhansk.
Years later, in 1869, Welshman John Hughes established a steel plant and a coal mine in what is now Donetsk, and the city was named after him until the Soviet era – Hughesovka or Yuzovka.
The czarist government’s determination to harness the vast coal and iron ore reserves of what is now eastern Ukraine resulted in the establishment and fast growth of both cities.
Thousands of ethnic Russians settled in the region as a result of Communist Moscow’s support, making metropolitan areas almost entirely Russian-speaking.
Foundries, chemical, and power facilities littered the landscape, while coal and mines expanded deeper close to hillocks formed of discarded ore.
Donetsk’s political heyday began in 2010, when its native Viktor Yanukovych was elected President of Ukraine, bringing with him a posse of his friends to Kyiv.
They attempted to seize control of Ukraine’s politics and economy, but instead sparked months of unrest that began in November 2013 and culminated in February 2014, when the Ukrainian parliament voted to depose Yanukovych.
In Ukraine, the protests are known as the Revolution of Dignity, while Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to refer to them as a “coup.”
The region was known as Novorossiya – or New Russia – during the czarist era, and the Kremlin used the moniker when declaring the “Russian Spring” or “liberation” of Russian-speaking territories in eastern and southern Ukraine in 2014.
Pro-Russian rallies and uprisings in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-biggest city, and Odesa, the country’s main Black Sea port, however, were unsuccessful.
Thousands of Russian volunteers, on the other hand, went to Donetsk and Luhansk to aid separatist groups, while many residents cheered the “Russian Spring.”
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