Elderly schoolteacher queuing at a soup kitchen
Torez in Donetsk Oblast has been occupied for three years, and the social situation is steadily deteriorating, despite the reassurances of the local “DNR government” that they really care for the needy and the locals who’ve suffered hardship and trauma from the war.
When Moscow reacted negatively to the looting of humanitarian aid by “DNR” and “LNR” criminal mercenaries [or, more precisely, by soldiers of the hybrid army of the Russian Federation in the Donbas reporting to Moscow and consisting of disguised Russian regular troops and mercenaries hired locally and in Russia – Ed.], “local authorities” [Russian occupation administration in the Donbas – Ed.] began opening soup kitchens in different cities. Residents wait patiently in queues, but it’s not always the needy who receive food and supplies because the “authorities” have started asking for certificates, copies of documents and other bureaucratic demands.
But then, friends and friends of friends got their hands into the pot of gold and not a trace of social justice was left. It took two years to finally open several soup kitchens! No one knows how much humanitarian aid has been looted over the years.
Locals in the queues talk and wonder: Why this sudden belated concern for the needy? Some say that elections will probably be organized in the “DNR”, so the “government” is trying to buy their loyalty. Others think that someone forced the thieves to share the loot, and the soup kitchens won’t stay open very long anyway. Still others believe that God has heard their prayers and inspired the “authorities” to do good and help the needy.
You can see with your own eyes what the war has done to our people. Many elderly residents haven’t washed for days, shuffling around despondently in their worn shoes and darned pants; older women stand in faded mended stockings and old colourless scarves to hide their bedraggled grey hair. The scenes remind us of the 1941-1945 war. For people in Russia, this war is a matter of national pride, but for Ukrainians – only grief and mourning for the dead and wounded.
People standing in the queues talk about different things, but it’s mostly about their hard and bitter life – the miserly “pension” they get from the “DNR”, a pittance they can’t survive on. In fact, the “official authorities” don’t call it a pension, but “social assistance” that residents use to pay back a few debts, but then… nothing’s left for bread.
Some people share phone numbers and the names of those who are lucky enough to receive Ukrainian pensions in Ukraine. Many pensioners hope to get their pension in Ukraine, but have no money to go to the liberated regions, or they’re just not strong enough to travel. In fact, there’s a thriving “business” in the occupied territories that makes money off the elderly and robs them of their miserly savings.
Let me tell you about the businessmen in their classy cars who charge every pensioner 3,500 UAH (approx. $140 US) to open a pension account for them in Ukraine, file for a pension card, and take them to the liberated regions and bring them back in one day. Of course, they never forget to take 5 to 15% per 1,000 UAH. If an elderly man or woman doesn’t have the 3,500 UAH, they can pay the businessman as soon as they get their pension. Ukraine’s pension debt for retired persons living in the occupied territories has reached a sizable amount, so these “businessmen” can be assured of a tidy sum.
It’s clear that these “retirement schemes” would be impossible without bribing both the Russian-backed militants and Ukrainian soldiers at checkpoints, without “greasing the palms” of pension funds and employees in front line towns in the unoccupied areas of Ukraine. Drivers also get their share. They’ll take you to Ukraine and back for 1,000 UAH (approx. $40 US). The elderly who try to avoid intermediaries risk getting stuck for weeks, or else get nothing in return. And finally, there are those who’ve been waiting months for their pension from Ukraine…
Sometimes we hear disputes about returning the occupied territories to Ukraine. Those against Ukraine are in the minority. They’re constantly reminded by the other side that someone’s son or grandson is fighting for the “DNR.” Most of these elderly persons sadly recall the peaceful life they once had in Ukraine. We often hear phrases beginning with the words “before this war…,” and everyone knows which war we’re talking about. And then, another argument begins – Who started this war, after all?
News from Ukraine dominates all conversations. Many TVs have burnt out due to voltage spikes in the electrical power grid, and there’s no money for repairs. We know what life is really like in the occupied territories as we live here, we know from personal experience, so very few of us actually believe the tall tales spread on the “republican” and Russian TV channels.
Photos courtesy of the author
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Tags: "LNR" and "DNR", DNR (“Donetsk People’s Republic”), Donbas war (2014-present), humanitarian aid to Ukraine, poverty, Russia's occupation of Donbas, scheme, soup kitchens, Ukraine, Ukrainian pensions