Donetsk activist Menendes: Life in the city has improved considerably in comparison with August G

Donetsk activist Menendes: Life in the city has improved considerably in comparison with August   Enrike Menendes
Photo: Enrike Menendes/Facebook
The Donetsk activist and volunteer of the initiative group "Responsible Citizens of Donbass" Enrique Menendes said in an exclusive interview  to the "GORDON"  if it is necessary to continue peace talks on the settlement of the situation in Donbass, how Donetsk residents live and if they consider the football club "Shakhter" playing in Lviv to be their club.

By Alexey Stukalo

– Enrique, we can hear from the representatives of "DNR" and "LNR" that, perhaps, new negotiations like those in Minsk are required for the peace process. As a permanent resident of Donetsk, do you consider these negotiations necessary and effective? 

– If I answer in brief, new negotiations are not simply needed, they are necessary because there is no alternative to the arrangements that arise in their processes. Experience of very many countries, that have already undergone similar conflicts and contradictions between regions and the center, shows that the situation can only be solved in the course of negotiations. We must communicate in the format of Minsk or – as some suggest now – Geneva arrangements, we must hold negotiations and they have to be multistage.

– Is it necessary to communicate with separatists, too?

– It should not necessarily be in the format of three to four participants with intermediaries, but it is necessary to communicate with the opponents directly. I do not know what is going on in the lobby, but an independent onlooker has an impression that people do not communicate with each other at all. Both parties have plenty of myths about each other, some prejudices that could be discredited if they talked with each other directly.

I think that besides such multilateral negotiations, there must also be separate negotiations at lower levels in order to find contact points; it may gradually yield some result. You should not perceive negotiations as something that works out in one day. It is a long process during which people will gradually find points on which they do not have radical contradictions, and create a certain framework for the agreements to become more and more productive and effectively implemented.

I do not have 100% of information, but I think that elections to "DNR" and "LNR" on November 2 can be regarded as a motion towards the negotiation process and bringing of the conflict to the political plane. Not only from local insurgents, but also from Moscow that stands behind them.

– Vladimir Putin considers that measures of economic blockade of "DNR" and "LNR" actually cut off these regions from Ukraine. To what extent is his statement true?

– Economic blockade does not contribute to negotiations, it fosters the opposite – rejecting even those people who were loyal in relation to Ukraine. Many analysts say that the war should be for minds and hearts of people in this territory rather than for the territory itself. It seems to me that we have seen only the process of isolation from the government and the authorities for the last eight months. They have done too many illogical things from the point of view of our region, which has done more harm than good.

– Big Ukraine knows very little how ordinary people live in Donetsk or Lugansk. Please, describe what is the life of an ordinary citizen like and, which is more important, how it has changed after the Minsk accords?

– Donetsk lives not thanks to but contrary to not. Life in the city has improved considerably in comparison with August (it was the most difficult month for Donetsk). Naturally, this life is very far from the standards of peace: many shops do not work, there is no business, people have no work. Anyway, it cannot be compared with the desert in August when the number of people leaving the city was at its peak. There was light in three to four windows in the opposite building in August (I live in a district with nine- and sixteen-storeyed houses), now there are three to four times more. It means that many more people live there, life is gradually coming back.

Moreover, I see that the economy is reviving: shopping centers started opening, the majority of them are busy approximately 30% of normal time, but it is already a step forward. People try to adopt themselves to this situation because they have no other way out. Not everybody can move out, and nobody wants to lay down and die. Even very sick and old people do not want to fold their hands and die – they are clinging to life and struggling, so they find some ways.

After the ceasefire, there remain several points of tension in Donetsk now. The first one is Donetsk airport, the most dangerous area in the city. Artillery duels are frequent there, and attacks at Kiev and Kuibyshev district are actually related to the fight for the airport.

The second point of tension is the border between the Ukrainian army and volunteer forces in Petrovsky district of Donetsk. Attacks take place two to three times a day there. But there were ten blows a day before, now there are three – it is a progress. Of course, a dubious progress for people who live there … People in Petrovsky district do not have normal life, they will not be able to come back home for a long time as there is a lot of damage. But the central district that were exposed to blows in August, have not suffered from these problems for a month and a half or for two months. I do not link it to ceasefire, but rather that the volunteer forces made some progress at the end of August and the beginning of September and could bring the opponent's batteries back from the line that allowed firing even at the center of the city.

– The symbol of Donetsk is its football club, its football fans and "Donbass Arena". How do the fans treat the fact that the Ukrainian football club "Shakhtar" (Donetsk) has to play before the Lviv audience? 

– I talk to many fans. Fans are a very good illustration of the events, soccer has always been a political sport in Ukraine and, perhaps, around the world in general. However, many fans of "Shakhtar" simply do not watch matches with their participation and fastidiously call it Lviv "Shakhtar". Our Donetsk "Shakhtar" and this Lviv "Shakhtar" are two different teams, they have no relation to each other. But many think in a different way and, on the contrary, they suffer because the home team plays on a foreign stadium, without native fan, and everybody waits for its return.

A month ago, I very much hoped that we will see positive changes in the spring, that winter will take all radicals in hand, will cool hotheads and people will be ready for the negotiation process in the spring. But the last steps and Poroshenko's decree (on November 15, the Ukrainian President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko  signed  the decree No. 876/2014 "On urgent measures for stabilization of the social and economic situation in Donetsk and Lugansk regions" – GORDON), unfortunately, shows that everything can persist. I suppose that the economic blockade of the region will do no good, it will only set back the day when we will see a game of the Ukrainian football club "Shakhtar" at the Donbass Arena stadium.