Society

Donbas Conflict: Future of Frontline Cities

Toretsk center crush

Toretsk is a city located close to occupied Horlivka. In summer of 2014, it was made free of illegal armed groups. Although, unlike the liberated Slovyansk or Kramatorsk, Toretsk did not become a peaceful settlement but turned out among the cities “on the conflict line.” Of course, this does not boost its development. However, the combined efforts of the local and central government, pro-active civil society, can turn this around.

In summer of 2014, during the retreat of illegal armed groups from Toretsk, the city council building was gutted.  By hostilities, shells and mines still hit the water supply line located between Toretsk and Horlivka. Because of this, the city often lives without drinking water. There are also coal mines in Toretsk, which are on the verge of closure due to unprofitability, but continue to provide jobs and currently support the community budget.

Toretsk crash buildingLocals often cite a core issue – the state still does not distinguish Toretsk and other cities on the conflict line from the peaceful communities of Ukraine, and often even complicates the conditions of frontline life.

According to Serhiy Vynnyk, a local development expert and former deputy head of the Toretsk Civil-Military Administration, the Toretsk community growth, as well as other communities on the conflict line, is hampered not only by war, hostilities and related business risks. There are also many legal obstacles, or vice versa, the lack of clear procedures that affect potential growth. For example, the Tax Code exempted land users from land taxes for four years. It seems to be an incentive for business, but frontline Toretsk did not receive compensation from the state budget. But 20 million uncollected hryvnias is good money for the city.

What are the biggest problems in Toretsk?

Water supply crisis

Water is what people think about all the time. According to Serhiy Vynnyk, during six war years, the Toretsk water supply system was stopped more than 20 times, for the longest – almost a month. The lack of a water supply backup source is a core threat to sustainable community development. The existing water supply system Horlivka – Toretsk is in an emergency.  Water losses level reach 50%. Besides, a water supply line site of 4 kilometres is located directly in the zone of active hostilities, plus 500 meters of pipes need immediate replacement.

The coal industry crisis

A local expert believes that the city’s economy is declining. The coal industry crisis is the second huge threat to the community. An unsystematic approach to mine closure can result in catastrophic environmental and social consequences. And the industry reforming should be as transparent as possible and carried out with the participation of town’s community delegates.

Besides, Serhiy Vynnyk singles out the problem of the lack of jobs. “People need to work and feed their families, and while we are procrastinating, young people leave the city. Unfortunately, we have to state the stagnation or even gradual degradation of the frontline settlements economies. And these trends need to be changed without delay if we do not want to turn the frontline zone into a wild field,” a local expert said.

Vynnyk believes that a system of monitoring and analysis of the frontline communities’ problems implementation will help a lot. “There is no clear program, strategy from the state and regional administration. If we don’t have a plan, how we get out of the pit? And these strategies and plans will work only if the frontline communities themselves are involved in their development. And we have to take part in the process of drafting those laws and bylaws that concern us,” Vynnyk states convincingly.

The local elections issue in Toretsk

Former Deputy Head of the Toretsk Civil-Military Administration Serhiy Vynnyk believes that local elections should be held throughout Ukraine, including the controlled territory of Donetsk region if it is possible from the view of security. In his opinion, the next local elections are the final stage of forming the communities level. While without elections frontline settlements will be left in the old model with unclear status.

Currently, in many cities and towns of the frontline territories, local elections did not take place in 2015. Military-civil administrations have been not set up either. So, their local councils have been operating for almost 10 years. Consequently, there are problems with quorum during local council meetings, deputies and officers’ motivation. The actual law “On Civil-Military Administrations” significantly hinders the communities’ development, such administrations cannot fulfil the own powers of local councils. Their capabilities in communal property and land management are also significantly limited. Then, the local expert does not understand quite clearly how one planned to form district councils of new districts (sub-regional level) without local elections.

“After all, residents of frontline settlements should be able to take and bear responsibility for their communities, to grow up as a civil society,”  Vynnyk concluded.

However, despite Toretsk’s problems, the town tries to grow. In particular, a new CNAP was built in Toretsk, local public organizations create bright paintings on the walls of depressive buildings, and the city has a pretty decent central square.

Denis Bigunov, project “On the line of conflict.. Photo by the author

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