Don­bas seems to be a place with no fu­ture

Kyiv Post - - Opinion - ALEXAN­DER J. MOTYL

I re­cently came across the sad­dest com­men­tary on Ukraine’s east­ern prov­inces that I have ever en­coun­tered. It’s a video blog by one Stanislav Tsikalovsk­y from the city of Luhansk. The 34-year-old Tsikalovsk­y goes by the name of Proc­tol­o­gist. His slo­gan is: “Be­lieve me, be­cause mad­men al­ways speak the truth.”

The truth that re­cently caught the at­ten­tion of some 30,000 Ukraini­ans came in a video Tsikalovsk­y made af­ter a trip to Lviv, in western Ukraine. Here’s what he had to say:

“I would like to ded­i­cate this video blog to the city of Lviv, which I vis­ited, and to those peo­ple who hosted us, showed us their city, and told us about its beauty and prospects for the fu­ture. I wasn’t sure what to say un­til I sat down in the Lviv-luhansk train and ar­rived in my na­tive Luhansk. I dis­em­barked and un­der­stood that, be­sides cry­ing in front of a cam­era, I wouldn’t suc­ceed in de­scrib­ing the beau­ti­ful city of Lviv. And not be­cause there’s noth­ing to say. You un­der­stand that quite well, if you’ve seen my pho­to­graphs. There are, I’m ashamed to ad­mit, many, many, many in­ter­est­ing things there. But when I stepped onto my na­tive Don­bas-luhansk land and looked around, I saw and un­der­stood that we don’t even have a fu­ture. We have no city au­thor­i­ties and no pro­vin­cial au­thor­i­ties. And it’s not even a ques­tion of hav­ing no prospects of large-scale change. We have no prospects of any kind of change what­so­ever. All that’s left for us, for you, is at a min­i­mum for us, the Don­bas, to be en­closed with barbed wire and not be let out, so as not to in­ter­fere with nor­mal peo­ple’s ef­forts to de­velop them­selves and build a good coun­try. And at a max­i­mum, I guess, sim­ply to drink our­selves silly. Bye.”

The bit about hope­less­ness and lack of fu­ture prospects is de­press­ing enough. But for a na­tive of Luhansk to rec­om­mend en­clos­ing the Don­bas with barbed wire is enough to drive one to drink. If Tsikalovsk­y were a punk with a dog col­lar and a mo­hawk, one could dis­miss his com­ments as the rant of an ado­les­cent. But the Proc­tol­o­gist has a univer­sity de­gree in man­age­ment and has been work­ing for the Luhansk-based Web por­tal TOP since 2004. And, with a bald­ing pate and in­tel­li­gent face, he looks as re­spectable as he sounds.

It’s easy to un­der­stand Tsikalovsk­y’s de­spair. Lviv is an ar­chi­tec­tural, his­tor­i­cal, and cul­tural gem. Its in­fra­struc­ture is a mess and too many of its streets and build­ings re­quire cap­i­tal re­pairs, but it feels like a place that will, one day, be a fab­u­lously pros­per­ous town. Small won­der that the Fi­nan­cial Times re­cently in­cluded it on its list of top 10 Euro­pean “cities of the fu­ture.”

In con­trast, Luhansk is your quin­tes­sen­tial Soviet, and So­vi­etized, city. Ob­vi­ously, dread­ful ar­chi­tec­ture need not doom a city. As ev­ery New Yorker knows, with a lit­tle bit of imag­i­na­tion, even ug­li­ness can be made in­ter­est­ing and drab­ness can be made more liv­able. But, as Tsikalovsk­y un­der­stands, his city’s real prob­lem is that it’s still mis­ruled by peo­ple who don’t see be­yond the Stal­in­ist past: “We have no city au­thor­i­ties and no pro­vin­cial au­thor­i­ties.” And note Tsikalovsk­y’s triple em­pha­sis: “We have no prospects of any kind of change what­so­ever.”

If you want to get a sense of the re­al­ity that Tsikalovsk­y finds so de­press­ing, take a look at a Rus­sian-lan­guage film Coal Mine No. 8, by Mar­i­anna Kaat of Es­to­nia. It’s a doc­u­men­tary about a bunch of kids mak­ing ends meet in the de­pressed coal-min­ing town of Snizhne, al­most equidis­tant from Donetsk and Luhansk. If you don’t un­der­stand Rus­sian, don’t worry. Just look at the houses, the dev­as­tated coun­try­side, and the young boy who goes down into aban­doned mine shafts to scrab­ble for coal, which he then sells or uses to heat his makeshift home. Or take a look at the “fe­cal geyser” that gushed forth from a break in Luhansk sewage pipes on March 20th. Or con­sider the wave of sui­cides that has swept Luhansk Prov­ince.

When you’re done watch­ing Kaat’s film, you may want to draw barbed wire around the Re­gion­naires who banned it in Kyiv and the Don­bas au­thor­i­ties who re­main ut­terly in­dif­fer­ent to the peo­ple they claim to serve.

Alexan­der J. Motyl is a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Rut­gers Univer­sity in Ne­wark, New Jer­sey. His blog is pub­lished by World Af­fairs Jour­nal here at http://www. worldaf­fairsjour­nal.org/blog/alexan­der-j-motyl/trut­hand-hope­less­ness-luhansk. It is reprinted with per­mis­sion of the World Af­fairs In­sti­tute. Copy­right 2012.

Luhansk is a quin­tes­sen­tial Soviet, and So­vi­etized, city in the Don­bas in­dus­trial re­gion of east­ern Ukraine. (Cour­tesy)

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