Despite hard times, the occupeid territory held New Year celebrations. They were not as gorgeous as they had been before the war, still a bit more pompous than a year before. Lenin square (the main square of Donetsk) was decorated with a Christmas Tree, as it had always been decorated before the war. Crowds gathered in the centre again, but their thoughts were hardly devoted to festive tables.
“Blockade”, the horrible word which separatists (and Kyiv MM that support them) use to make Ukrainians feel guilty is hardly seen at markets and in shops. It is possible to buy food and not only Russian-produced. Some chains offer Ukrainian goods as well. It is not surprising if you remember that “Roshen” (company which belongs to the President of Ukraine) freshly-made sweets were on sale in Donetsk shops at the beginning of 2015. It is obvious that other producers did not want to lose their maket and found the way to supply their goods to the occupied territory.
As for prices, they had not been very inviting before the holidays, but on the New Year's Eve they became sky-high. Mostly, prices for fruit and vegetables were raised, but Christmas Trees became several times more expensive than a year ago as well. A more or less good one cost 800-1000 Russian rubles.
By the way, speaking about currency. It is widely known that Donetsk shops shifted to Russian rubles some time ago. Local currency exchange points buy hryvnyas at the exchange rate of 2.60 (you get 260 rubles for 100 hryvnyas) and sell them at the exchange rate of 2.80. It is hardly possible to find Ukrainian hryvnyas in Donetsk now, as for Euros and dollars, the exchange rate is similar to the average one in Russian banks.
By the way, despite all “DPR authorities” promises, the bank system is not functioning. Of course, it is possible to conduct some simple operations, like paying utility bills in the so-called “republican bank”, but if you need international money transfer, forget it.
Wandering abound the city you may still come across a strange piece of past life realia — an ATM. It is nothing more than a sad reminder about how the city used to live before the war. ATMs are harly seen under a layer of dust and some of their displays are covered with a web of cracks. As for payment terminals, they function quite well in Donetsk.
Going back to currency questions, it should be noted that the locals have not got used to the main drawback of the ruble — a big amount of coins. It is especially uncomfortable for public transport drivers. In particuler, they complain that sometimes they get a Ukrainian five-kopiyka coin instead of a Russian five-ruble one. Last summer it was still possible to pay the fare in hryvnyas, but now there is no alternative to Russian currency.
As for gas problems, it was a nasty surprise for the residents of Makiivka and a part of Donetsk when heating suddenly disappeared at the very beginning of 2016. The local authorities were not very inventive and used their usual cliche for such instances: a group of enemy diversionists that operated on the territory of the “republic” was to blame. However, no one explained how those diversionists managed to get to the stations which supply gas if those infrastructure objects are restricted areas. Later, gas supply to residential houses was restored, but even those areas which had avoided that problem felt what cold weather meant. At good old times radiators used to be warmer...
Since 2014 problems in the sphere of public utility have become a usual part of Donetsk life and the residents have got used to water or electric power supply shortages. It is more difficult when these problems happen simultaneously, not in turns. During the armed hostilities period the authorities used to explain that those problems occured due to the war, but now, during a relatively stable truce, absence of such amenities are an unpleasant surprise. Fortunately, mobile connection works stably: MTS and Life operators are still popular among Donetsk residents, instead of Kyivstar, which had disappeared from the territory, “local authorities” established “Phoenix”, their own mobile orperator (though it covers only the territory of the self-proclaimed “republic”).
Cultural events are booming despite all the hardships. Both theatres (the Drama Theatre and the Opera House), the “Cosmos” Circus, several cinemas and the Philarmonic hall work. The repertoir in each of these establishments is specific, though quite varied. So, if you are tired of propaganda flows on “Oplot” TV channel, you can go to the theatre or the Philarmonic Hall. This may distract you from the war and even help you learn something new.
It is not difficult to find books in Ukrainian in Donetsk bookshpos today. Actually, I have not seen any considerable changes in the selection of books for sale there. The only difference is books about positive features of the “Russian world” and “DPR” in particular. By the way, I did not come across the book by Vladimir Kornilov under the title “Donetsk-Krivoy Roh Republic: The Assassinated Dream”. Probably, the modern reader is not intelligent enough for its global specualtions.
However, the most important observation which I made was a big number of people in the streets even when it is -20 degrees. A rare and surprising thing was also the fact that local cafes in the city centre were crowded even on working days. The logical thing here is to ask where do they get money from? On the other hand, the city was always full of people who were ready to leave several hundred rubles in a cafe with friends and the source of their income remains secret.
Another aspect the author of these words paid attention to is local mass media. When I was going by taxi I heard a radio programme of one of local stations. There was a social issue ad about supporting those who protected the “young republic”. The author was exploiting the eternal theme of fathers and sons, trying to make the listeners compassionate. Namely, they were speaking about their separation. The ad was quite good so I made a conclusion that local advertising agents had found a special textbook somewhere.
Donetsk TV is a whole issue. It is fully occupied by “Oplot”, “Yunion” and “First Republican” channels, but the quality leaves much to be desired. As for regional TV, it is even regressing.
Advertisement attracted my attention again. Besides disgusting parodies of Russian propaganda, local channels advertise the “republic's” own producers. In fact, if you look around, you will see how many goods the miners' region (as the Donbas is often called) produces, it is especially true about alcohol and tobacco. Their quality, though, again, leaves much to be desired. A young man died as a result of vodka poisining in one of Donetsk suburbs in October 2015, but it is unlikely that this horrible fact will stop those who like hard drinks.
“Konty”, a once powerful confectionery plant looks abandoned. It does not produce candy any more, one of local manufecturers makes goods with the same names as “Konty” did. Locals hope that big business will come back to the city but it is hardly possible.
Sometimes one can come across signs in Ukrainian in Donetsk but they are gradually disappearing. Today, the city looks more like hundreds of provincial Russian towns than like a powerful regional centre and one of corner stones of Ukrainian economy.
There are less servicemen in the streets but they still remind about the specificity of the time. The only good thing is that the ceasefire is more or less obeyed and locals can sleep peacefully in their beds. Still, the question which everybody asks is how long will this fragile ceasefire hold? And if it is obeyed for a long time, what will happen to the Donbas in the future? Unfortunately, mentally the locals have got used to the chaos which has been happening in Donetsk for the last two years. Stockholm syndrom is setting in...
Danyil Yasnyi, Donetsk, for “OstroV”
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