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On a minefield: how Ukrainians live near the frontline in Donbas

Miners area

There are dozens of settlements along the frontline in Donbas – cities, villages and towns, where hundreds of thousands of people continue to live despite the war. They have been living under military conflict for six years.

Some call this area a “grey zone,” but locals do not think so. They want to live and develop their communities. However, some obstacles prevent frontline cities from overcoming war effects of war and developing. Volodymyr Vesyolkin, the military-civil administration head of the urban-type settlement Zaytseve, near the occupied Horlivka, spoke about the most pressing problems and possible “growth points” for the frontline cities.

Volodimir Vesolkin expert

Volodymyr Vesyolkin is a former businessman from Horlivka. Before the Russian aggression in Donbas, he headed Zaitseve village. He performed a legally elected village head responsibilities until the first days of May 2014, when it became clear that being a Ukrainian Village Head in Donbas was life-threatening. Then Vesyolkin left Horlivka, Zaitseve, lost his business and house, and, in June 2014, as Zaitseve Head, volunteered for the Artemivsk police battalion of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine to defend Ukraine. In October 2016, he returned to his native Zaitseve as the local Military-civil administration Head.

Zaitseve

Zaitsevo is located on the very frontline. Vesyolkin calls it a line of deterrence and repulse of Russian aggression. A part of Zaitseve was occupied, a part was mined, and the battle positions of the joint forces operation were located in the third part. The Mayorsk checkpoint, which leads to the occupied Horlivka, is located in the village.

Administrative and territorial uncertainty

In 2016, the Verkhovna Rada’s Resolution added four streets of Horlivka to Zaytsevo. The state increased Zaitseve’s area. But its boundaries turned out to be unavailable for development and approval because the village is located on the very frontline. This is one of the main problems for Zaitseve, which its Head described at once.

“The area has been registered, but the actual boundaries cannot be established. I even went to the state cadaster in Kyiv but received the refusal everywhere. This is impossible to do because cadaster’s workers have to go to the site and determine the boundaries of the settlement. And how to do it, if a part of the land is mined, a part has no access, a part is occupied, and the others are equipped with combat positions?”  Vesyolkin asks.

He says that if to go to the auction, or to take the roads on the balance sheet, there is a need to show settlement boundaries, but the village does not have them.

“I was in the Verkhovna Rada on administrative reform issues. According to the long-term plan in the fall of 2020, Zaitseve is to become a part of Svitlodarska OTG, but, again, it is unclear how to establish the boundaries under the conditions of its unavailability. After all, any movement on the frontline leads to the fire from enemy positions, ” he continues.

Private transportation on the frontline

For many years, self-employed persons have been transporting residents from the occupied to the controlled territories of Ukraine in private cars and vice versa. The passengers are usually “retired tourists” and those who travel across the frontline in different matters. Volodymyr Vesyolkin is convinced that this area could and should be introduced into the legal field so that people could earn a pension and pay a single tax to Zaytseve’s local budget.

These people have an income and feed their families, but do not legalize their activities since they are not socially protected in either terms of future pensions nor in terms of conflicts with law enforcement, which creates significant corruption.

“And there is a situation under which we officially do not have transportation, but in fact, we do have for all the six years. We need have to allow people to legalize this small business and socially protect them,” the VCA Zaitseve Head explains.

Volodymyr Vesyolkin says that there were attempts to leave small carriers without work earlier by official transferring this route to an influential carrier, traditionally close to the government, which would carry out the transportation of people at a fixed price. However, Vesyolkin is worried that this will deprive ordinary people of income sources for their families and lead to an increase in social tensions and even greater outflow of able-bodied families from communities on the frontline.

It happens sometimes when the authorities try to create monopoly conditions for big business carrying transportation from KPVV, it leads to open confrontation. But as of today, there is a competition that gives people the right to choose whose transportation services to use.

“We need to bet on a small entrepreneur, let him legalize, and not give such directions to big companies. This will create conditions when locals can feed their families and pay a single tax to the village budget of our community and make contributions to the pension fund,” the Zaitsevska VCA Head said.

Business – benefits

Volodymyr Vesyolkin believes that the state should create preferential conditions for legal entities and allow the registration of enterprises offices in such settlements as Zaitseve. He believes the creation of such “office hubs” for legal entities and businesses in frontline communities would increase tax revenues in frontline communities, and make them more economically viable and competitive, even under ongoing conflict.

The problem of abolished land tax for an industry

Another problem, according to the VCA Zaitseve Head, is that the state exempted industrial enterprises in the frontline zone from the land tax. But it is the tax that went to the local budget. As a result, frontline communities’ local budgets do not receive significant funds.

Mined agricultural fields

Some of the fields in Zaitseve remain unmined still, even a few kilometers away from the frontline. However, the VCA Head believes that most of these lands could be de-mined and used for their intended purpose, as farmers are ready to cultivate them even under the current conditions.

International economic assistance

International organizations provide grants for small business development, under the term of private entrepreneur obtaining official status. However, according to Vesyolkin, some people refuse such grants because if they accept them they will not be able to receive humanitarian aid from the same international organizations.

“I try to carry out explanatory work with people, to convince them that humanitarian aid is not eternal, though the business will provide them with a permanent income for the future. Unfortunately, the most active people have left. However, some continue to be active, ” he said.

Why is the number of private entrepreneurs in Zaitsevo growing?

Vesyolkin says that after the Mayorsk checkpoint operating went live, many people started their own business in Zaitseve. Next to KPVV, small architectural forms were set up, where the entrepreneurs propose buying different goods and services to people, who are crossing KPVV. The VCA set up three large trade counters near the KPVV. They can be used by locals for free. People here sell vegetables, fruits, milk and other goods that they have grown or produced in their households. The only condition is that people keep these places clean and tidy. Thus, the local administration tries to create appropriate infrastructure for business.

“With the Donetsk Regional State Administration and Oschadbank regional branch assistance, we managed to open an Oschadbank stationary branch in Zaitsevo at 100 meters from KPVV. After that, two private shops, a pharmacy and a canteen opened next to the bank’s branch, Volodymyr Vesyolkin says. “The opening of a bus station is in progress to legalize ticket sales. The ‘Delivery” service is expected to be opened in the near future. Thus, we develop the infrastructure, there is work for residents and we receive more taxes in the community budget. My main goal is that people from the occupied territories who receive a Ukrainian pension spend as much as possible on the territory controlled by Ukraine ”

Zaitseve needs CNAP

Vesyolkin believes that Zaitseve desperately needs to open his inpatient CNAP, which, in his opinion, will significantly improve the people lives from the occupied territories. The VCA Head says that this will contribute to Zaitseve’s economic development directly and indirectly, as people will use Zaitseve’s services and buy goods from local entrepreneurs from their households.

The medicine

“In terms of medical care, our system works quite well. The village is regularly visited by doctors – both ours and from international organizations,” Vesyolkin said.

However, according to him, unsurprisingly, the elections to the newly created OTG may become a threat. He believes that under the conditions of the actual conflict, the influence of Russian propaganda and the socio-economic crisis, a big part of the local population can elect anti-Ukrainian people to the newly created OTGs. And this may threaten the territorial integrity of Ukraine, further unleashing of anti-Ukrainian sentiment in the frontline town and the occupation of even bigger part of the Donetsk region. Now, according to Vesyolkin, he provides the full range of democratic consultations and interaction of the VCA with the public.

Denis Bigunov

The material is prepared within “On the frontline” project

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