The following is an interview with a resident of Donetsk who agreed to it under the name of Olena Nekrasova, for reasons of personal security.
“The militants kept bullying the populace and it got so, almost none would dare voice their pro-Ukrainian stand, for this would cost them their life. At the start of the war, they ruthlessly demonstrated what would happen to anyone who opposed the regime. People were scared to express their disapproval, because they might well be grabbed. And then they wouldn’t be shot, but exposed to long inhuman tortures that would kill them in the end. The militants started by bullying local businesspeople into paying them protection money, which they called a tax, for reasons best known to themselves. To make sure they would oblige, they herded them to the former SBU premises and the businesspeople heard the cries of those being tortured there. They got scared and agreed to everything. Even now people on the street look around to make sure no militants are within earshot before they start talking to each other, sharing their disillusionment.”
She adds that after the blast at Cafe Separ that killed DNR leader Alexander Zakharchenko, the city was swept under a tidal wave of FSB searches, including homes and cars: “People got scared even more, yet their disillusionment is increasing. Militants have been coming with their families, children and retired parents, mostly from Vorkuta and Irkutsk, of late. They settle here on a permanent basis and get DNR passports in addition to their Russian ones. They occupy vacant apartments and dorms. The prices are up to the Vorkuta level, although the Donetsk aborigines don’t have the kind of allowance the Russian resettlers have. Our allowance averages 3,000 Russian rubles, so we locals simply can’t afford to buy food the way they can. Our people are very angry, saying they’ve brought us another Holodomor and genocide.”
She says the Russian resettlers mourned Alexander Zakharchenko’s assassination while the populace was concerned about its problems: “Most foodstuffs on sale are expensive and long past their shelf life. People are complaining about the sharpening of stomach, kidney, vascular, cardiac, and other symptoms. Their teeth are falling out. They can’t afford medical treatment and there is a short supply of medicines.”
However, this, according to Olena Nekrasova, fades compared to the looming environmental disaster in Donbas. In spring, there were Ukrainian media reports about DNR having stopped pumping shaft waters out of the defunct coal mine “Yunkom,” which was transformed into a Soviet underground nuclear test site back in 1979. Soviet rocket scientists made that test in order to prevent sudden emissions of methane and coal dust. It didn’t produce the expected result. Instead, the explosion formed a glass chamber known as Object Klivazh. Ecologists say that this stoppage will cause the radioactive waste to mix with uncontrollable ground waters and gradually rise to the surface from a depth of 1,000 meters. This will trigger off an environmental disaster.
Mykhailo VOLYNETS, Chairman of the Independent Miners’ Union, told Ukrinform that “the dirty water rises to a certain level, then gets to the Siverskyi Donets through creeks. This river is the biggest and most important one in the region. However, water contamination isn’t the main problem. The main problem is that this radioactive waste becomes even more dangerous when it gets into the earth. It will produce new hazardous chemical compounds. What took shape at a depth of 1,000 meters has a hazardous resource that will exist for about a million years, and now this resource is reaching the surface of the earth.”
Experts also point to the ground waters squeezing out methane that can penetrate home basements, even ground floors, where it can poison the residents or explode. There is also the risk of such contaminated water reaching the Sea of Azov. Olena Nekrasova says the dangerous process has begun and its consequences are clearly apparent in Donetsk: “They stopped pumping water out of the defunct mines. The water level is rising, washing away the ground. Buildings are running cracks, their foundations are sinking. This is a real disaster. The city is falling apart before one’s own eyes.”
Ksenia KIRILLOVA is a political analyst and expert with the Army, Conversion and Disarmament Study Center, Kyiv. She is currently a US resident