The dan­ger of want­ing to be boss

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Denys Kazan­skiy

What to ex­pect from “elec­tions” in Donetsk and Luhansk

ORDiLO, the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries of Don­bas, plan to hold elec­tions for the lead­er­ship of the two pseudo-re­publics, DNR and LNR on Novem­ber 11. The word “elec­tions” re­ally should be writ­ten in quo­ta­tion marks be­cause noth­ing re­sem­bling an elec­toral process is ex­pected to take place. The Krem­lin has al­ready pre­sented its pre­ferred can­di­dates as “act­ing heads of the re­publics,” so the “ex­pres­sion of the will of the peo­ple” will be lit­tle more than a for­mal­ity.

Still, ap­point­ing the new lead­ers of DNR and LNR can’t be ac­com­plished com­pletely qui­etly, at least for now. When Ihor Plot­nyt­skiy’s team was over­thrown and chased out, there were no more ri­vals in the way of the cur­rent act­ing boss, Leonid Pa­sich­nyk. In Donetsk, how­ever, the Au­gust killing of Olek­sandr Zakharchenko has led to an open strug­gle for his seat.

At first, Zakharchenko’s peo­ple tried to take over and within a few days one of the late bosses deputies, Dmytro Trapeznikov, took over as leader. How­ever, sub­se­quent events showed that Moscow was quite tired of the Zakharchenko boys and had de­cided to sweep it out of the lead­er­ship of the pseudo-re­pub­lic. Over the course of a few days, the “Zakhar’s” men lost all their po­si­tions in DNR and left for Rus­sia. In­stead, the Krem­lin ap­pointed a new han­dler in Donetsk, Denys Pushilin, who headed the “peo­ple’s coun­cil of DNR” prior to Zakharchenko’s demise.

Back in DNR, how­ever, not ev­ery­one was happy with this ap­point­ment. Af­ter the ex­plo­sion at the Separ Café and the ex­pul­sion of Trapeznikov and Alek­sandr “Tashkent” Ti­mofeyev from Donetsk, three con­tenders for the lead­er­ship post ap­peared. In ad­di­tion to Pushilin, they were Field Com­man­der and for­mer Alfa of­fi­cer Olek­sandr Kho­dakovskiy, and one time “Peo­ple’s Gover­nor of Donetsk” Pavlo Gubariev, who was in­volved in ini­ti­at­ing the anti-Ukrainian in­sur­gency in Donetsk.

Kho­dakovskiy had al­ready played the role of un­of­fi­cial op­po­si­tion to Zakharchenko and some­times crit­i­cized the mil­i­tants’ leader in the harsh­est of terms. Other “peo­ple’s com­man­ders” in Don­bas who al­lowed them­selves to speak so freely were elim­i­nated back in 2015, but Kho­dakovskiy clearly had pow­er­ful pro­tec­tors in Rus­sia and thus a cer­tain mea­sure of free­dom. How­ever, he was not given ac­cess to power in DNR. Kho­dakovskiy’s po­lit­i­cal move­ment, “Pa­tri­otic Forces of Don­bas,” was never for­mally pro­hib­ited, but nei­ther was he al­lowed to par­tic­i­pate in elec­tions.

In Donetsk, Kho­dakovskiy was seen as one of the main con­tenders for the boss’s seat long be­fore Zakharchenko was elim­i­nated. Still, this did not last long. The minute Kho­dakovskiy an­nounced his in­ten­tions of run­ning in the “elec­tion for the head of DNR,” Moscow gave a short and sharp an­swer: he was sim­ply not al­lowed to exit Rus­sia for DNR ter­ri­tory.

Like Kho­dakovskiy, Pushilin’s other ri­val, Gubariev, was ac­tively in­volved in Don­bas af­fairs since March 2014 and also has his own po­lit­i­cal force, called “Free Don­bas.” Un­like the field com­man­der, how­ever, he im­me­di­ately agreed to be the of­fi­cial op­po­si­tion, that is, he crit­i­cized as a mere for­mal­ity, for pub­lic con­sump­tion, but in fact was as much a part of the gov­ern­ment as Pushilin. For this rea­son, Gubariev quite rea­son­ably con­sid­ers him­self gen­er­ally at the same level as Pushilin and has ev­ery rea­son to con­tend for the lead­er­ship of the DNR band. Af­ter Zakharchenko’s death, he trav­eled to Moscow where he sup­pos­edly was able to get ap­proval for his par­tic­i­pa­tion in the “elec­tion for the head of DNR” and to gain the sup­port of a num­ber of in­flu­en­tial forces. How­ever, Pushilin’s team and who­ever stood be­hind them clearly were not pleased with such a turn of events. And the pres­sure was put on Gubariev.

First what hap­pened is that the pre­sen­ta­tion of the book “85 Days of Slo­viansk,” in which Gubariev was to par­tic­i­pate, was can­celled. And on Septem­ber 29, the con­flict be­tween Pushilin and Gubariev be­came openly hos­tile. A con­ven­tion of the Free Don­bas move­ment led by Gubariev was planned for that day and his wife, Yeka­te­rina, was sup­posed to head the party list. How­ever, she was ar­rested that morn­ing and the con­ven­tion went ahead with­out her. Her name did not ap­pear on the list and the move­ment was ef­fec­tively taken over by Pushilin’s peo­ple.

“I left my home around ten to get to the con­ven­tion,” Yeka­te­rina Gubarieva later re­ported. “I was asked to drive up for a chat, where I was in­formed that the Free Don­bas con­ven­tion would go ahead with­out my par­tic­i­pa­tion. I was orig­i­nally #1 on the Free Don­bas party list. Now I’m not any­where on it at all. Af­ter awhile, I was let go and all my per­sonal be­long­ings were re­turned.” Af­ter this in­ci­dent, Gubariev’s wife left for Ros­tov-on-Don. Who these mys­te­ri­ous peo­ple were who asked her “to drive up for a chat,” she never said, but it’s easy enough to guess. Overnight the Gubariev fam­ily ef­fec­tively lost their party.

Pavlo Gubariev him­self so far has re­mained in power. Un­der DNR rules, to reg­is­ter for the up­com­ing “elec­tion,” he needed to col­lect 10,000 sig­na­tures, which he was able to do. Now he has to wait for the ver­dict of DNR’s cen­tral elec­tion com­mis­sion. As has of­ten hap­pened with un­de­sir­able can­di­dates in Rus­sia, the sig­na­tures could sim­ply be de­clared in­valid. In­ci­den­tally, the “re­pub­lic’s elec­toral com­mis­sion” was chaired by Olga Pozd­ni­akova, a Rus­sian cit­i­zen who was a Ye­d­i­naya Ros­siya deputy on the Shakhta City Coun­cil in Ros­tov Oblast prior to this.

Yet an­other ri­val of Pushilin’s was also given a very clear sig­nal, prob­a­bly be­cause he was con­sid­ered too in­de­pen­dent a fig­ure. Also on Septem­ber 29, Ihor Khakimzianov nearly found him­self shar­ing Zakharchenko’s fate when an at­tempt was made on his life. The Makiyivka na­tive son suf­fered burns and in­juries in the ex­plo­sion, and to pre­vent fur­ther prob­lems, he with­drew his can­di­dacy.

In neigh­bor­ing Luhansk, the “elec­tion cam­paign” is mov­ing along more qui­etly. Since the Plot­nyt­skiy team was driven out, LNR has been com­pletely calm and the Pa­sich­nyk team has a com­plete po­lit­i­cal mo­nop­oly. Nat­u­rally, a com­plete purge of any dis­senters from the “gen­eral party line” has turned the oc­cu­pied por­tion of Luhansk Oblast into a tiny replica of the USSR: a quiet bog with no hint of po­lit­i­cal life.

Among the can­di­dates for “head of LNR,” there is not a sin­gle even slightly fa­mil­iar name, other than Pa­sich­nyk. In no time and no place have such ut­terly tech­ni­cal can­di­dates been seen. Pa­sich­nyk’s ri­vals in­clude a safety en­gi­neer at the Luhansk Train Sta­tion called Natalia Ser­hun, a union leader called Oleh Ko­val, the di­rec­tor of the Luhansk Al­co­hol and Liquor Plant called Leonid Derzhak, an em­ployee at the “LNR Min­istry of Cul­ture” called Ro­man Oleksyn, the di­rec­tor of the Lo­cal Power Com­pany Volodymyr Ro­di­onov, an­other union ac­tivist called Yuriy Ryaplov, and an em­ployee at the Perevalsk County His­tory Mu­seum, Li­ud­myla Rus­nak. The only peo­ple who know what they even look like are prob­a­bly their fam­i­lies and col­leagues.

It’s long been ob­vi­ous to even the most fer­vent sup­port­ers of the “peo­ple’s re­publics” that the “elec­tions” in DNR and LNR have noth­ing to do with the ac­tual ex­pres­sion of the peo­ple’s will and that peo­ple liv­ing in oc­cu­pied Don­bas have lost their right to vote. Still, the only op­tion left for those who don’t like the sit­u­a­tion is to pour out their neg­a­tive feel­ings about it in so­cial nets and anony­mous Tele­gram chan­nels.


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