The forgotten war on the outskirts of Europe

By Hanna Baraban

The international community’s silence in the face of the loud noise of Ukraine’s bombing.

At least one person will die today in the East of Ukraine during attacks or due to previous injuries incurred from them. This will reoccur every day over the coming months. Asserting this, I am based on the dismal statistics of the third year of the war: approximately 350 deaths for 365 days. This data does not illustrate cases of torture, illegal restraint and other violations of human rights that regularly happen in Donbass.

However, the past year turned out to be relatively quiet. In December Ukrainian authorities and representatives of Donetsk and Lugansk People’s republics even managed to organize the largest prisoner exchange in the history of the war. But this step was not welcomed by some radical separatist leaders, and the sluggish conflict had moved to the active stage. For example, during New Year ’s Eve militaries of unrecognized republics fired upon the positions of Ukrainian troops 39 times. The bombs did not hit the targets, but with these dynamics the beginning of 2018 promises to be bloody.

Photo credit: Reuters

Many people from Donetsk and Lugansk left the region after the beginning of the conflict in April, 2014. Those who could not escape, mostly old or poor, got used to falling asleep accompanied by the sound of shelling and live in the underground shelters for weeks. «Even dogs, they say, no longer whine during bombings». Even more impressive is that recently the Donetsk People’s Republic military tried to attack their «brothers» in Lugansk using the methods of hybrid war – a plot that could very well have been developed by George Orwell himself. The aim was to unite territories under the direction of a separatist leader Aleksandr Zakharchenko. But they failed – mostly because of the inability to wage war on the two fronts.

Paradoxically, the war itself is not the biggest concern of the locals living in the East of Ukraine. They worry more about day-to-day life. It is understandable: holders of the passports of Donetsk and Lugansk People’s republics do not receive pensions or any type of aid from Kiev. Keeping in mind that war-torn economies of both republics are extremely weak and military-oriented, the main question disturbing their citizens is the following: «What will my family will eat tomorrow?»

There is no doubt that Russia (despite its official proclamation of non-participation in the conflict) directs huge funds to the region. But the main component of the humanitarian aid (food, clothes, houseware) ends up in the hands of powerful and corrupted separatists, while non-combatants receive the bare minimum. Moreover, some private Russian companies such as banks refuse to serve citizens of unrecognized republics. Thus, the majority of people in Donbass find themselves in a desperate situation: isolated from the world, having no money and no rights, trying to survive the endless war.

Photo credit: UNIAN

… And now try to remember: when was the last time you heard about the war in Ukraine? Probably a couple of years ago, when high-ranking Western politicians accused Vladimir Putin of violations of international law, adopted sanctions against Russia and insisted on compliance with Minsk agreements. The media picked up on this rhetoric and dedicated much ink and airtime to criticize the Kremlin and condole with Ukraine. Why did the Ukrainian war fall off of the international community’s agenda?

Firstly, the fact that the war is still ongoing undermines the reputation of the Western politicians who worked hard to end the conflict. Complete failure of the Minsk agreements showed inefficiency of measures taken by Germany and France in 2015; continued support for separatists by Russia illustrated the breakdown of the efforts of the EU diplomats, especially due to anti-Russian sanctions. The unwillingness of politicians to talk about their own missteps can explain why the war in Ukraine almost does not appear in their discourse.

Secondly, over time, the world has faced new challenges that pushed the conflict into the background. The attention of American media is concentrated on the new president of the country and its internal issues. The European media’s – on Brexit, migration crisis and terrorism. According to the INSA survey, only 9% of Germans are concerned about the war in Ukraine. Probably, this number can be applied to the majority of EU members, except for a few countries that have borders with Russia and fear its invasion.

Moreover, after the four-year anniversary of Maidan and the overthrowing of Yanukovich it is obvious that Ukraine had not become «more pro-European». The new government is corrupted as well as the previous one, and the president Petro Poroshenko is concentrated more on the persecution of his political opponents than on making reforms pledged in the Association agreement with the EU. Due to all of this, the West seems to be disappointed in the «young Ukrainian democracy» and therefore no longer actively supports Kiev in the conflict.

Photo by Vadim Zamirovski

Thirdly, and most saddly, the public in general just got bored of the repeated news on the endless war in the outskirts of Europe. Media respond to this disinterest by disregarding the issue and decreasing the number of journalists deployed to the area. The lack of information has reached such a delusioned level that Western newspapers actually publish articles about «post-war restoration» in Ukraine.

The international community’s ignorance fuels the fire of this conflict, allowing separatists to gain more profit and set their own rules in the region. Only when the horrors of the war in East Ukraine will become part of the international community’s discourse and permeate  the highest political levels, will this struggle have a chance to end. But for now – minimum one death per day. Let’s count?

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