Statement by Yuriy Yekhanurov, Prime Minister of Ukraine (2005-2006)

at the Roundtable Discussion of Options for Donbas

at the United States Institute of Peace.

February 12, 2019 


Honest notes for crucial discussion

To make the discussion of Donbas issue sincere and efficient, one must be unbiased in the analysis and steadfast in the estimates to the best possible extent. Any other approach is risky because the current situation may continue for decades, taking and ruining lives of thousands of people on both sides of the conflict. It should also be noted that today Donbas is facing incredibly difficult ecological situation. This means that the residents of the region suffer simultaneously from a social, economic and environmental catastrophe.

When we talk about reintegration, in my speech, I refer to the materials of two large-scale social studies conducted in February and December 2018. Reference: Social studies of 50 thousand respondents and 100 focus groups conducted by “Image Control” company.

It should be understood that the meaning of the concept and process of reintegration, often spoken about by Ukrainian partners, has become extremely blurred:

Where will people be reintegrated? Ukraine, existing as at the time of Russia’s aggression, no longer exists.

The population of Donbas, due to the efforts of local ruling circles, was, de facto, integrated into Russian informational, cultural and semantic field long before the beginning of the Ukrainian-Russian conflict in 2014. The Russian Federation took full advantage of this: first, it used the attitudes of the residents of Donbas as a pretext for aggression, and now, from the point of view of many experts, it tries to use them as an anchor, hindering the development and modernization of Ukraine.

In fact, the “delimitation of integration” has already taken place and now we observe a rather difficult social situation: 1.5 million people left Donetsk and Luhansk regions and independently integrated into other regions of Ukraine. Several thousand became collaborators or went to the Russian Federation. 2-3 million is economically inactive population living without determined identification aspirations.

Thus, the discussion on reintegration with the existing parameters is, de facto, the thing of the past. Reintegration under the terms of the Russian Federation, even under the terms of Minsk, is not only undesirable, but also is impossible. The processes in Ukraine and in the occupied territories are developing in the opposite directions. In the territories occupied by Russia, authorities of gangs have been actually legalized and externally regulated by the Russian Federation. Ukraine, in spite of slow pace and errors, is heading step by step for the Euro-Atlantic community. Therefore, it is incredibly difficult to integrate the occupied territories into Ukraine with the existing system of public relations.

It is worth mentioning that recently the Ukrainian authorities have become much more proactive in the process of paving the way for the “return” (reintegration) of the population of the temporarily occupied Donbas. A number of government resolutions have been adopted.


On December 13, 2017, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine adopted the State Target Recovery and Peacebuilding Program in the Eastern Regions of Ukraine.

On January 19, 2018, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted the Law on Peculiarities of State Policy of Ensuring the State Sovereignty of Ukraine over Temporarily Occupied Territories in Donetsk and Luhansk Regions (the so-called “Law on Donbas Reintegration”).

On July 26, 2018, the Government approved the Strategy for Information Reintegration of Donetsk and Luhans Regions. On December 19, 2018, the first session was held to discuss and elaborate the Action Plan for the implementation of this Strategy.

On September 12, the Central Elections Commission issued an explanation actually allowing the residents of the Separate Districts of Donetsk and Luhansk Regions to participate in the presidential election.

Therefore, from a formal point of view, we have some grounds for cautious optimism with regard to creation of the reintegration toolkit. When one may consider that, functionally, the limits of this optimism depend only on the “funds of state and local budgets, actors of information activity, funds of international technical assistance, contributions from interested international organizations and other sources not forbidden by the law” (Information Reintegration Strategy).

However, the real problem of reintegration is much deeper and more complicated than simply providing adequate information to the population in the occupied territories. Since:

– any influence tools of Ukraine with regard to the population of the occupied Donbas are limited;

– actual reintegration of the temporarily occupied territories (and “return” of the population) is possible only after their release;

– it is possible to end the conflict in Donbas only if the political leadership of the Russian Federation is determined to do so.

It should be noted that the beginning of actual “return of the population” depends on how strongly the Ukrainian allies (primarily the United States and the EU) will exert pressure on the leadership of Russia in order to force it to “leave Donbas” and how quickly the Kremlin will find the explanations to the people why Russia leaves Donbas to its advantage. At the same time, it is quite clear that rather vague prospects for release of Separate Districts of Donetsk and Luhansk Regions will have a negative impact on activity and results of Ukraine in the field of reintegration. There is a significant risk that the efforts of the authorities will be mainly of sham and formally bureaucratic nature, inter alia, due to a significant lack of budget funds.

It should be separately emphasised that the “compromise” options for release of Donbas (provided that the Separate Districts of Donetsk and Luhansk Regions become a part of Ukraine under certain terms, federalization of Ukraine, etc.) are extremely devastating for the country. Therefore, there is only one option of Donbas reintegration, acceptable from the point of view of preserving Euro-Atlantic Ukraine, – its complete and unconditional release from Russia without any “complications” that would restrict Ukraine’s sovereignty.

One should make clear-eyed and unbiased assessment of the gravity and depth of the processes taking place in the occupied territories. To speak briefly, unification of separatist mythologems with the ideologemes of the “Russian world” took place under the influence of Russian propaganda against the backdrop of post-Soviet nostalgia. And these cultural and ideological hybrids are becoming more and more deeply rooted in the consciousness of the local population from year to year of occupation.


For example, the emphasis in the propaganda in the territory of Separate Districts of Donetsk and Luhansk Regions is always placed on the historical origin (succession) of Donbas “republics” from the Donetsko-Kryvorizka Republic of the early twentieth century. At the same time, it is emphasised that Luhansk was the second capital of the Donetsko-Kryvorizka Republic in 1918. In addition, the propaganda in the territory of Separate Districts of Donetsk and Luhansk Regions argues that the contractual condition for the entry and stay of the Donetsko-Kryvorizka Republic as part of the Soviet Ukraine was supposedly the mandatory stay of the latter in the unified allied state of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. To legitimize the separatist ideas, it is argued that, in the legal sense, this treaty allegedly had become void since the collapse of the USSR and adoption of the Act of Declaration of Independence of Ukraine in 1991. Therefore, Donbas allegedly has “legitimate grounds” to withdraw from Ukraine. And the fact that more than 83% of the population of Donetsk and Lugansk regions voted at the referendum on December 01, 1991 for the independence of Ukraine is completely ignored.

In addition, the textbooks in the territory of Separate Districts of Donetsk and Luhansk Regions contain no mention of Ukraine. The course “History of Ukraine” was replaced with the course “History of Donetsk Region” and the course “History of the Fatherland”, establishing uniqueness of Donbas, its separability from Ukraine and inseparability from the history of Russia.

It is important to use the words correctly. There is much to be said about the “reintegration” and “reconciliation” and, in spite of this, there is no step closer to resolving the issue. In general, it’s a common belief among the educated and patriotically minded Ukrainians that we should first talk about de-occupation, not reintegration. Then the question of “return” of the population of  Donbas should  be

addressed from a different angle. In this case, sham issues (including those strongly recommended by Russia) of amnesty and building of proper communication will be discussed. Discussions will focus on less conflictual and irreconcilable issues. For example, on the options for administrative/civil punishment of collaborators, or the features of rehabilitation/education work with civilians having faced occupation.

To be sincere and responsible, the matrix of efficient reintegration of the population of Donbas consist of some elements that differ from those (usually existing under conditions of peace) that in Western democracies are considered to be canons of liberal values ​​and standards of tolerance. However, the current situation in Donbas cannot be solved by standard methods and liberal approaches. “Flirting” with the population being “lost in time” and which got accustomed to giving credence only to the force that is considered to be the first attribute of power – this is the path to nowhere. Moreover, such a policy will not earn accolades from Ukrainian society, the overwhelming majority of which either desires “peace through victory” (more than 33%), or agrees to separation of the occupied territories (more than 25%).

Therefore, such matrix shall:

– firstly, provide for the hard work with the local population being critically disloyal to Ukraine. Therewith, the means should be as diverse as possible, without applying direct violence, but with rather stringent “incitement”. Everyone who is a conscious supporter of the “Russian world” (and has not committed any crimes) shall be provided with the possibility for an unimpeded departure to Russia. Those who remain shall clearly understand that in the event of fomentation of separatist sentiments, they will be brought to justice in accordance with the laws of Ukraine, the country in the territory of which they have stayed voluntarily and are planning to live in the future. Sociological research which will help to build a more accurate picture should become permanent.

– secondly, it should contain a set of measures that will include work to strengthen the Ukrainian identity and ideological mindset of the population that will consciously remain in the territory of Ukraine and will not use its right of unimpeded departure to Russia, because our main struggle is now a struggle for the hearts and for the minds of Ukrainian citizens living in the occupied territories. However, these measures should in no way be conducted taking into account the “cultural features” of today’s local population, which, without incitement on the part of Russian propaganda, are largely bogus and unsustainable. And most importantly, these “peculiarities” are incompatible with Ukrainian (and Euro-Atlantic) values.

– thirdly, it shall demonstrate to the population of the liberated Donbas positive and real prospects for further development of the region. Such transformations for the better can start from the development and implementation of a unique, well thought-out concept of building a new economy and social infrastructure of the region. First of all, it will be necessary to determine which industry/industries may become acceptable, leading and most profitable for the region; whether it is necessary to restore and develop leftovers from the local feudal lords and oligarchs since Yanukovych’s presidency or whether it is necessary to completely reorient the economy of the regions; how and where one should look for investments for restoration of industrial infrastructure of the region.

Only in this way, without false imposition of the “Irish scenario” of reconciliation and danger of “intoxication” of a healthy body of Ukraine, the issue of reintegration of Donbas (“return” of its population) may be solved relatively quickly and painlessly.

The key issue of reintegration is security. The one who ensures security will be able to claim the loyalty of the local population. The situation in the de-occupied territories, where separatist sentiments and absolute rejection of the Ukrainian authorities and ideology prevail, is quite indicative. It should be noted that people determined to conduct a dialogue with Ukrainian authorities. “Putin’s expectation of use of tanks” is not an alternative, it is a marginal trend. Residents of Donbas may not like the Armed Forces or Bandera, but it was Ukraine that has brought stability. Therefore, we observe the restrained loyalty of the local population in the occupied territories. Consequently, it is quite possible to assume that the same situation will be observed with regard to the behaviour of the population of the now occupied territories.

One of the problems that can and must be addressed gradually today is the search/determination of the subject of dialogue, since in the present occupied Donbas there is no subject with whom it will be possible to conduct a dialogue on reintegration. The so-called “power of the republics” has not been recognized by Ukraine and the international community. There are no conditions for conducting elections that would meet OSCE standards. The population of the Separate Districts

of Donetsk and Luhansk Regions lacks subjectivity. And even if it had some form of governance, it would still not be able to enter into a dialogue, because it is dangerous for it.

As an operational hypothesis, we shall assume formation of dialogue subjects from associations of settlers, “fraternities”, public organizations, having work experience in Donbas before its occupation.

Unfortunately, the authorities of Ukraine cannot now publicly and openly cover certain things and introduce some non-standard solutions, since it may complicate the negotiation process, cause dissatisfaction of a certain circle of “sensitive” partners and allies of Ukraine, and ultimately lead to new waves of “indignation” on the part of Russia. But such decisions, at least at the level of concepts, should already be developed by the teams of specialists and public activists. The question is, whether the international partners (or at least time-tested friends) of Ukraine are prepared to finance such activity, and then support “extraordinary” approaches?!

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