Calming eastern Ukraine will be the first crucial test for the new president. By the way, Petro Poroshenko has already had a first shot at it. Let us recall how the media reported a month ago that Poroshenko discussed with leaders of European countries (Poland and Germany in particular) prospects for job creation in the Donbas. It was appreciated by its intended audience.
Two days before the election, the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine organized a roundtable in Kyiv with a telling and very timely theme – “Miners for Stability and Job Preservation.” The format was, to say the least, very special. To an outsider, it seemed that the miners were pulled out of the conflict-stricken Donbas and brought to Kyiv to impress reporters with the local mine workers’ alleged eagerness to see Yulia Tymoshenko in the presidential office. Virtually every speech began with a story about what was happening in eastern Ukraine: mine managers surrendered industrial explosives to the terrorists at gunpoint; militants manning checkpoints searched thoroughly all cars and personal belongings; parents were afraid to let children go to summer camps for news about this or that sanatorium captured by armed people appeared from time to time... Again, every speech ended with an appeal “vote for Tymoshenko because she did so much good for the working people of the Donbas.” By the way, the merits attributed to Tymoshenko look doubtful. However, when we were leaving already, a man caught up with us saying, “I do not want you have an impression that the miners are that strong supporters of Tymoshenko, it is not true.” Besides, “the Party of Regions as the political representation of eastern Ukraine” was also a myth invented by spin doctors, our interlocutor told The Day. “No one of them cared for interests of the region when they were in power. Mines suffered year-long stoppages,” he explained.
Who is the moral authority for the Donbas and whether Poroshenko will be the person who will calm the region, and what he must bring with him on his first visit to the Donbas to do so – all these questions are answered below by our commentators.
Viktor DEMIANENKO, Donbasantratsyt State Mining Concern:
“Our city (Krasny Luch) did not vote and I am very happy with it, because our boys would have done it wrong again, picking a wrong candidate. They voted like five years ago and chose a president that we all would have done better without, so I am happy with the results. I think that the person who has come to power has no suicidal inclinations and will try to improve the situation.
“As for my advice to the fifth president, he needs to deal more with the economy and the fight against corruption. The Donbas has always been plundered. Firstly, there are no jobs. All mines are on the brink of collapse. We all went over to gas heating. It was a crime to create the gas supply network in a coal-rich region at all. We cannot sell our coal, although it could be delivered directly to heating plants, creating jobs and funding wages... We need to give a boost to the coal industry and put a stop to Russian gas purchases, instead of kneeling and begging Russia to sell us cheap gas at 265 dollars per 1,000 cubic meters. The government must revive our coal industry and create jobs through it. Programs are available already. People in Kyiv know how to do it. The government must provide the region with electricity and coal, that is all we need to be able to work properly. Living above coal seams and buying gas is a crime.
“As for how to ‘calm’ people living there, the authorities need to go to the region and talk to the locals, talk a lot, explain how and why they are wrong... The miners of the Donbas do not see what is happening in Crimea, and thus cannot learn from mistakes of others.
“The problem with this government is that it does not explain to people how the Russian mines work. They have to show it all, give more info about the Russian economy’s peculiarities, our government’s assistance for the miners, subsidies it allocates to mines. They need to show that our mines are unprofitable from the Russian perspective, so they all would be closed, leaving their employees out of work. The miners will think deeply about it only after they are showed it. For the time being, they still get their money and do not care. Moreover, they have come up with a strange theory that Russia will save them, even though it is bad to be a miner in Russia, as only four mines remain in operation there, having far lower production costs than their Ukrainian competitors.
“They should also show what the Donetsk People’s Republic would bring, including wage levels and working conditions. Waking the miners to reality is a very hard job, but it is doable.”
Oleksandr KOCHUBEI, mine foreman from the Luhansk Mining District:
“The miners in eastern Ukraine have their desires in common with the rest of Ukrainian miners, wanting peace, stability, development of their enterprises, decent wages and a chance to take a good care of their families. We want to have the current leadership pay attention to our problems. I think no one in this country wants to see people, young guys, keep dying in battles.
“Very few miners side with the militants, less than 20 percent of those whom I talked to. Everyone has a mind of his own, after all.
“We are still working, but should it keep going where it is going at the moment, we may never see our wages. Everyone is afraid now to work with eastern Ukraine.”
Oleksandr RUDENKO, the division chief of the Vidrodzhennia coal mine, Lvivvuhillia State Mining Concern:
“We are very dependent on the Donbas, as they supply us with coal, machinery, explosives, and more. These links are under great threat now. We are not sure that transferred money will reach the seller, and we cannot deliver our cargoes because everyone is afraid to go to eastern Ukraine. After all, the militants are stopping and robbing vehicles there.
“I call on the miners to rise up and fight back against everyone who stops us from working. We need to do like we did in the 1990s, when all the miners rose up and put the nation’s situation in order.”