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Henry M. Robert

“Donbas is a festering wound”

Spanish journalist Pilar Bonet, who gave wide coverage to the two Maidans, shared with The Day her opinion about the events in Ukraine
16 November, 2015 - 17:47

Pilar Bonet, chief correspondent of the Spanish newspaper El Pais in Moscow, is well known to not only the Spanish and Russian, but also the Ukrainian readership. She shows lively and genuine interest in what is going on in Ukraine. She visited this country during such significant events as the Orange Revolution and the Euromaidan. Ms. Bonet wrote about those protests and criticized irresoluteness of public leaders. Now that Ukraine has had Crimea annexed by Russia and is waging a war in the Donbas, it is especially interesting to know the Spanish journalist’s vision of today’s Ukraine after the Revolution of Dignity. This is the subject of an interview with Pilar Bonet.

“The current crisis in Ukraine has hit rock bottom. Ukraine is in a ‘turbulence zone.’ Transparency and public control has not yet got the upper hand, while corruption is still rampant. Old problems are coming up because they were not solved to the end,” Bonet says. “This process is greatly demoralizing young Ukrainians who are prepared to live in a democratic system. But they suddenly see that nothing is being changed: an oligarchic regime is still here         – we can see backstage dealings and patterned behavior in the post-Soviet space and in other counties of Eastern Europe.

“It would be wrong to think that this is the only process now underway in Ukraine. You have some civil-society groups that are trying to change something. I think the ‘boil’ will burst one day. The truth will eventually splash outside. But this will be a more difficult thing than it seems now.

“Ukraine has had too many simultaneous shocks lately. Your country does not control its eastern regions and faces a no-go situation in Crimea. When I saw what Ukrainians went through on the Maidan and what they experience now, I understood: if your people overcome these difficulties, they will be very strong.”


“Ukraine is now in the role of a patient who was told that he would either die or recover. Unfortunately, neighbors are not helping Ukraine much to ‘heal over.’ Russia interfered into the Ukraine situation, taking advantage of your country’s weaknesses. But this is not the only cause. Kyiv has also made a lot of mistakes as far as the Crimea and eastern areas policy is concerned. You should say frankly about this.

“Yet the problems of Crimea and the Donbas should be separated from domestic transformations in Ukraine. Ukrainian politicians should focus on modernizing and democratizing the country. This will create more favorable conditions for resolving territorial problems. Democratization, transparence, and resolution of corruption-related problems must be an absolute priority – in practice, not in words only. Europe is helping Ukraine in this, but it is you who must do the bulk of the work. Nobody will relieve you of this responsibility.”


“My criticism of the Ukrainian authorities is that they did not fight for [trust on the part of] the population of Ukraine’s eastern regions. I think the humanitarian blockade and all kinds of bans are a totally wrong policy. This alienates those regions’ population from Ukraine.

“The Donbas issue is very important to me. I do not share the view that everything is calm there. It is a festering wound. Every day you apply to it an alcohol swab called ‘Minsk agreements.’ The wound will be clean on the surface but horrible inside. Many are aware of this but keep silent...

“Europeans traditionally say in this situation: it’s already good that they are not shooting. Kyiv is also of this opinion because it just seems to be unwilling to restore these regions now. Nor does Russia know what to do with them. There is an opinion that the Kremlin is now viewing the Donbas as a suitcase without a handle. In reality, it is a major hotbed of instability in the center of Europe.

“The Donbas is incredibly difficult to perceive. We are speaking about millions of people who are in an ‘unstable’ situation. If you see the official death toll [as a result of this conflict], the number almost coincides with that of the Soviet citizens killed in Afghanistan. If Russia, Ukraine, and Europe can still be saying that they have resolved the Donbas problem and look sideways at the same time, I call it hypocrisy pure and simple.

“Even if there are no shootouts in the Donbas, the problem still remains unsolved. An individual who was born in that region is in fact nobody now because they have neither a home nor the necessary documents. It just seems incredible to me that this is possible in the center of the European continent.

“Europe has been taking a very low-key approach to Ukraine lately. It is mostly watching the situation in Syria because ‘they aren’t shooting’ in Ukraine. When there are no signs of an acute situation, I am also mostly concerned about Syria. But I want to come to Ukraine later this month.”


“Your politicians must make some difficult and consistent decisions now, as far as oligarchs are concerned. These processes are supposed to create a qualitatively new situation. It is very important for Ukraine to carry out deoligarchization and eradicate corruption. This should be a priority task.

“I do not think there will be a new Maidan in Ukraine, for people are afraid of it. Maybe, there is no need of significant events – what is needed is small-scale, albeit numerous, actions which will bring about qualitative changes.

“Besides, the international press is not so closely watching conflicts between Ukrainian politicians. However, the stereotypical view is that in Ukraine politicians are fighting ‘everybody against everybody.’ Should this go on, Russia will grab Ukraine without any invasion.”


“Something of high quality should occur in Ukraine. So far, the impression is that corruption schemes are still being devised. Yatseniuk is turning into Tymoshenko and Poroshenko into Yushchenko. This is a never-ending story. I can only see an aggravated crisis in Ukraine now.

“Public trust is also an important question. Ukraine should reach a crystallization point in trusting the government. The politicians who can show the example of working in a qualitatively different way will be able to enlist the grassroots’ support, which may result in a changed situation.

“We are living in a media space, where the world is positioned as an artificial structure. Russia has one structure, Ukraine another. It is very important to try to find reality. I am more and more convinced that the coming of people ready to sacrifice themselves may change the situation. This kind of sacrifices is badly needed today.”

By Ihor SAMOKYSH, The Day