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Kiev’s blockade and stranglehold of Donbass

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Donetsk, Eastern Ukraine -- It is snowing in Donetsk almost every day now. And it is bloody cold outside. But what creeps up to the people of this city is not so much the cold. It's this one, certain feeling that grabs them more and more these days. It is fear. The Donbass region of southeast Ukraine is facing a humanitarian catastrophe of unprecedented proportions. The madness never ends and the next round has begun.

There are people, like the father of a 17-year-old who has survived the bombardment of the school sports field [that killed two students and injured four others on Nov. 5, BBC News story here], who almost despair of the situation. A widower with five children and a job as a taxi driver, his future is a single contrast -- black. There are the inhabitants of Makeevka, Gorlovka, Donetsk and many other places standing in front of the ruins of their homes and in front of their dead. The continued systematic destruction of infrastructure and housing and living areas of the civilian population and even the daily deaths have become a cruel normality in the Donbass. There are ordinary people who are forced for months, always finding new ways to survive. And they find them. "Yes, we might starve, but we will not surrender one inch."

Note by rabble blog editor: “We are getting very, very close to a humanitarian catastrophe in Ukraine”. -- Michael Bociurkiw, spokesperson for the Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, speaking at a public forum in Ottawa on Oct. 30, 2014. The forum was organized by the Danyliw Research Seminar on Contemporary Ukraine and the Chair of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Ottawa.

No money, no life

As if all this were not enough, Kiev tightens the stranglehold. The premeditated collapse of the banking and monetary system in the Donbass by the Ukrainian side since November 28, 2014 now puts the population in the disputed territories under another threat. Pensions and wages have not been paid for months. Now the people themselves can no longer access the money that they may have had as savings in bank accounts. It is simply not currently possible to get money. It is another act of ignoring the agreement in Geneva in April about initiating a dialogue between Kiev and the Southeast. It is the conscious “making” of a humanitarian catastrophe. The war is more and more waged not only against the people’s militia but also against the simple and peaceful population -- older people and children.

Electricity, water and heat as a weapon

Days without water or heat in the apartments in Donetsk are part of everyday life. The cat-and-mouse game is going on and on. The Ukrainian army has bombed civilian targets in addition to also target water and wastewater plants, supply lines and heat and power plants to mutate the already tough winter into an additional killer. Repair teams of the DNR and LNR try always -- partially risking their lives even under continuous attack -- to repair the damage as quickly as possible. Kiev’s energy ministry has now intensified the pace. It has ordered a stop to work in its 252 state-owned enterprises and institutions in the area of combat operations in the Donbass region as of 28 November. This was announced by the Ministry on its website on November 27. As if that were not enough, managers were instructed to forward proposals for evacuation of their holdings, including employees, assets and documents "to get out of the zone of the special operation into areas that are under control of the Kiev authorities."

Hospitals are operated by volunteers

In fact, there should not be any medical care of the sick and injured in the Donbass, because there are no paid salaries for medical staff and no medicine can be purchased. On the one hand, there are insufficient supplies of medicine in Donbass -- only the now-permanent Russian convoys bringing urgently needed medicine. On the other hand, existing medications cannot be purchased due to lack of money. Nonetheless, there IS medical help and the hospitals are working at the limit. This is thanks solely to the will of the doctors and nurses who go to work every day -- doing what they can to help, even without the prospect of payment -- just to not let their people down. It is the strength of their hearts and loyalty to each other that lets them do all that.

The delivery of goods and food from other regions of Ukraine to the Donbass should, in the opinion of Ukraine’s leaders, be a thing of the past. There is increasing evidence of a total blockade of all entry and exit roads to and from the Donbass towards Western and Central Ukraine. Kiev tightens the stranglehold and separates the Donbass, thus in effect divides itself. The fact that the cities are still continously bombed and a separation is exacted from the rest of Ukraine by Kiev's own hand may seem surprising at first glance. But it’s not about the people -- it is about the country. Kiev would be reluctant to give up the land. The Donbass must remain part of Ukraine, so they think in Kiev, but as mostly empty -- ethnically cleansed.

But this will not work. It will not work because of the people living here who say, "Yes, we will starve. Yes, we will freeze. And yes, we are going to die. But we will not surrender one inch." And those who say that do not wear uniforms and carry weapons. It is the simple people of the Donbass. They are not to be underestimated in their will to survive.

See also: Two civilians killed in shelling in east Ukraine rebel city, Reuters, Nov. 27, 2014

Mark Bartalmai is a German journalist and photographer. This article was originally published on the author's website on November 29, 2014. To read more of his reports from southeast Ukraine, to see his photos, and to contribute financially to his work, visit his website.

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