By Tatyana Orel
– Sergey Alekseevich, you say that you have lost your business. What did you get in exchange?
– Ukraine got free Mariupol and part of free Donbass. But for the efforts of my team there would be much less free territory of Donbass. We put our whole soul, knowledge, experience, we established communication with everybody who influences the destiny of Donetsk region.
– If it had not been for your resignation from the governor's post, would you still be holding it or would you have stood for the Verkhovna Rada?
– I would have stood for the parliament.
– But the war continues. Unlike the new governor, General Alexander Kikhtenko who had commanded Ukraine’s internal troops, you are at home in Donetsk region. For these half a year of war you have got the feel of the increasing problems in the region. Did you simply get tired?
– The position of the governor is too limited to achieve concrete changes necessary for the region. We proposed many laws to the Verkhovna Rada and to the government, and it was only two and a half months later that only one of them was adopted, the others have not been considered at all. While I was sitting in the governor's chair that was constantly moving as Donetsk regional administration had to move to Mariupol, I did not have almost any opportunities for the fast solution of important questions. All my requests and addresses were regarded as excessively persistent, inconvenient. But we need to save Donbass.
– It is the army that is trying to save it now…
– Donbass is not only occupied territories. It is necessary to adopt a set of laws as soon as possible that would prevent corruption, ensure reforms and improve the attractiveness of the investment climate so that the western partners could feel real changes – both at the political and financial levels. We need to make it very quickly. We are short of time. A coalition agreement is being drafted now, and it should be filled with real contents for the solution of pressing problems.
– Your resignation coincided with Putin’s birthday to whom you sent a telegram with accusation rather than congratulation. Did he answer you?
– No, he did not. Probably, he did not like the text.
– All patriots of Ukraine would have certainly subscribed to it. But our government did not seem to appreciate it…
– I was an "inconvenient" governor. Yes, now I am not very convenient either. For example, I consider that people will not like the government that declares that they will be deprived of salaries, pensions, and social benefits.
– "No single penny to the terrorists" – when the Prime Minister Yatsenyuk repeats this threat, inhabitants of occupied territories, who remained without livelihood, involuntarily rank themselves among the terrorists. In order to receive pension, it is necessary to go through certain formalities in any of the cities controlled by Ukraine. There is money in ATMs of Oshchadbank. If you go through the formalities, you receive pension. But there are a lot of people who are physically unable to make a long trip to go through the pension formalities. It turns out that it is not about "no single penny to the terrorists", but rather about punishing those who remained there?
– There are cities where pension fund branches and treasury departments are closed because of the risks for life. The banking system does not function except for Oshchadbank whose status is half-official. People in these cities are not technically able to receive these payments. As for such cities as Donetsk where services do function, people can be paid there, and we managed to persuade the Prime Minister, and sometimes even the President to ensure these payments. Nothing prevents it in Donetsk and in Makeyevka. Only the decision of the government is required. As "DNR" and "LNR" violate the Minsk accords, the government decided to react adequately. The most unprotected segments of the population suffer the most. Though there are people who, receiving pension from Ukraine, continue to work in "law-enforcement" agencies of the terrorist associations "DNR" and "LNR". I consider that it is simple a crime to pay them pensions.
– There has been war for the Donetsk airport for more than five months already. Tens of military men has been killed, people from the neighboring areas are killed every day. Do you think it is worth holding it?
– The Donetsk airport is already a symbol. As well as Karachun Mountain near Slavyansk where there have been fierce fights. But it had an important strategic importance – as a height giving advantages in military operations. The Donetsk airport is an example of extraordinary heroism and professionalism of our military, too. I know many guys who are fighting to the bitter end there, we often met… Ukraine can be proud of their courage. But from the strategic point of view, I do not see any sense to hold the airport as it was with Karachun Mountain. Human lives are much more precious than any object. Relatives of those who are fighting there and residents of the neighboring settlements will agree with me, I am sure. Though I understand that it does not sound very patriotically.
– Patriots also criticize Petro Poroshenko for his peace plan that is considered as a concession to Russia.
– A peace plan is always good if only it were observed. Initially, it was not drafted accurately, point by point. The Russian side did not ensure implementation of this memorandum. References that fighters do not observe it are not well grounded. OSCE has not met its obligations either. I met its representatives several times. They said honestly, "We have fears concerning the safety of our employees". I answered them, "You have ensured monitoring in Iraq. What prevents you from strengthening the team of observers with those who are not afraid, and thus ensure safety?"
– You declared more than once that the only way out for Ukraine is restoration of borders with Russia that is generally clear to everyone. If the border are not under lock and key, anyone can pass through. Walk in, drive on tanks and armored personnel carriers, bring "humanitarian" buckwheat, take out a dismantled plant. There will be borders now, but within Donetsk and Lugansk regions, separating Ukrainian cities from the ones occupied by the terrorists. How will it look like?
– I am not a soldier, but I understand that these will be defensive structures which are already being created, there will be military men and frontier guards there. And then – the negotiation process or decision-making at the highest level which can somehow change this status.
– And is it necessary to change it? Judging by reports from Donetsk, Lugansk and other occupied cities, people came to "DNR" and "LNR" pseudo-elections rather consciously, happy with the opportunities to buy a bag of potatoes or onions for one hryvnia. Whole families went to the elections accompanied by music, as in Soviet times. But due to your well-known tolerance, you can certainly find justification for them. Right?
– Certainly, we have to find explanation to all this. However, I think that there is a discrepancy between the picture showing a large number of people, and the real picture. I know that there were not so many polling stations, which made an appearance of turns as was broadcast on the Russian channels. Actually, there were few people. I know that they were intimidated with deprivation of some benefits, privileges, work. Residents of the occupied villages come to the markets in Mariupol. They told us about it.
Many went out of fear rather than willingly. Though there were "volunteers", too, of course. It should be taken into account that these people are being brainwashed by Russian TV channels 24 hours a day, they do not know the real truth. They want peace, but they do not understand that there will be no peace for a long time if nothing changes. These people need to be understood. All parties are to blame, but we Ukraine first of all because we could not liberate them. It is important that the leaders of Donetsk and Lugansk regions should be careful about the others’ opinion.
– There is a trend to speak about some special Donbass mentality. Do you agree that it exists?
– This mentality is peculiar to inhabitants of any industrial enclaves, where a huge amount of heavy industry is concentrated on every 10 square kilometers, as in Donbass. Social explosions take place when living conditions worsen. Both Europe and the USA have faced the same problems since long ago. But everything would be different in Donbass without Russian intervention.
– Do you consider that the war in Donbass could be prevented?
– In one case only – if we had protected the Crimea.
– But everybody knows that Donbass had its "owner" – Rinat Akhmetov; even despite his efforts to provide humanitarian aid to the inhabitants of the occupied territories, many people cannot forgive him that he did not protect the region.
– Akhmetov's intervention would not have helped anyway. He had neither army, nor such influence that could have changed the situation.
– It went that far later. At first, five hundred inadequate people were running about Donetsk with Russian flags, electing "the national governor", breaking into the regional administration where, it should be noted, they were finally let in without any particular resistance. Why did not you order to cut off water and power supply?
– We should have cut off power from the central district of Donetsk. People were sitting without light and water in the building of Slavyansk administration, but it did not prevent them from holding the building.
– Let us imagine that you are not a businessman and not a politician, but a humble teacher whose only property is an apartment in Donetsk he inherited from his parents. He is a patriot of Ukraine, and cannot live and work under the terrorists’ laws due to his beliefs. Even if he finds a job in a different region, the teacher's salary would not be enough even for the rent of accommodation. What would you do in his place?
– I would certainly leave the area that does not meet my beliefs and is hazardous for life. Because it is very difficult to hide your views. Today Ukraine has an effective Minister of Education, he promptly reacts to addresses. But it is possible to help only university teachers there is work for them everywhere. Regarding the schools, there is no alternative – schools cannot be moved to other cities so, unfortunately, children and teachers will lose the whole academic year.
– Just a year, Sergey Alekseevich? "DNR" and "LNR" seem to get settled for a long time …
– We hoped that Donetsk and the most part of occupied territories of Donbass would have been liberated in August, but even larger Russian troops entered Ukraine and direct invasion began. Now everything depends on the top-level negotiation process. I suppose that not the potential has not been exhausted yet – Ukraine’s position should be more convincing, and the help of the West – more effective.
At the first stage, when the whole country was taking hard the events in Donbass, there was a general humane outburst of mutual aid. Then it started quieting down, the peace plan contributed to a more "peaceful", quieter attitude to the problems in Donbass. The migrant assistance program had to be approved long ago and without delays. But the speed of reaction of the state to the problems of people expecting the help is not adequate to the situation.