Donbas seems to be a place with no future
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)