Sunday, November 30, 2014

War in Ukraine


Refugees are often returning to ransacked homes and missing cars. Some have become disenchanted and disillusioned by the rebels as they ask 'what has become of our property?

By Stephen Wilson

The war in Ukraine lingers as refugees try to deal with everyday life.

(Moscow, Russia) 'I used to support the rebels until I discovered that they had taken over our homes when we were away and helped themselves to our possessions. My neighbours
have found their houses have been broken into and their homes looted, if not damaged. Those people are just crooks', said a refugee to Second City Teachers who refused to be named in case of reprisals. I was told by 'Olga' that 'It is no longer wise to buy an expensive car as cars in the rebel areas are often stopped at gunpoint by the rebels who just take away their cars for their own reasons. So now people buy only the cheapest cars!'

              It is clear that the situation in Donbass has hardly returned remotely to anything like 'normality' where people can use basic utilities such as water, electricity, gas or obtain a decent meal never mind the on-going threat of the resurgence of a full scale war which appears an increasing likelihood. Sanctions continue, both sides blame each other for either firing, sniping or bombarding. Nevertheless, many refugees have been returning from Russia to check up on the condition of their apartments or property as the vast majority of refugees don't relish the prospect of living, or rather, attempting to scrape by in Russia.

              LIVING IN RUSSIA

              Refugees in Russia can face insurmountable obstacles. They are prey to con men, the rapine of landlords, slave labour, and in the worst scenarios rendered homeless. According to some of the refugees we encountered, it was extremely difficult to acquire work in Russia in many towns which suffer from mass unemployment. 'There is not even work for local residents,' stated Anna, a refugee who came to the town of Kulebaki (in the Nizhigorodski region of Russia). 'I managed to get work at a plant for 6000 rubles a month. Of course, it is very difficult to live on that kind of money'. 

              The relations between refugees and locals can assume a tense and at times bitter character. The hostility can arise from either side. I was reminded of this when a Russian
called Tatiana kindly brought a lot of warm clothes for the refugees we have been trying to aid. She turned up at the metro and asked me, 'Isn't it difficult to help the refugees?

              'Can they sometimes be a bit difficult to handle? I mean I have a friend who workers as a doctor at a Polyclinic who got a visit from Ukrainian refugees. They insisted that we help them for free because it was the Russians that caused the war in Ukraine!' I answered that I had not encountered such an attitude. I even expressed my doubts whether those Ukrainians were genuine refugees. For most of the refugees I encountered blamed the 'Junta in Kiev'. On the contrary, I found that rather than insisting on helping the refugees could have them be too proud to ask for it. I had to be especially tactful not to offend their dignity by treating them as 'helpless children' in a patronising or condescending way.

               However, many Russians have offered generous support to refugees, even giving up their apartments or dachas to families, not to mention much food, clothes and toys.

               This is no romantic myth but concretely confirmed fact.

               It is due to the problems encountered by refugees that in recent days 'The Union of Refugees from Ukraine' has been founded. It is largely the brainchild of Oleg Tsarev, who aims to take the Ukrainian government to the European Court of Human Rights In Strasburg for the damage inflicted on the property of local refugees. A lot of work awaits him! By some estimates the refugee problem has not declined, but continues to reach alarming proportions. Oleg Tsarev believes that as many as 4.3 million moved from Ukraine to Russia and then 3 million returned (based on the estimates of Russian federation border officials). 'More than one million Ukrainians remain in Russia. Where the other million is inexplicable, but we need to help them all.' Hence the vital need for some pressure group to defend and aid them. Tsarev predicts that as many as another two to three million Ukrainians could come this winter to Russia and by the end of 2015, the figure could reach 5 million.

               In practise, it is almost impossible to anticipate how events will unfold. At this present moment of time the signs are that the peace agreement is breaking down and a full scale war might erupt. In this case, a new massive never ending exodus of refugees might well surface.


               It is not all bad news. I found that the refugees whom I encountered were decent, polite and very grateful to anyone who helped them. 

               They were certainly not the naive or helpless refugees that some imagined. On the contrary, they are remarkably resourceful, competent and prudent in organising themselves. I have observed how one clever refugee managed to organise the transfer of a whole village
to Russia. When I visited her on the 4th November, she had moved out of an improvised  refugee centre and was renting a pleasant and beautiful apartment. What is more, she had found work for her children as well as fellow villagers. She accomplished this without practically any state aid. Russia certainly needs such practical down to earth organisational skills. To not only organise the flight of refugees over the border, but find them rented accommodation and work without proper documents is no mean achievement.

               The neighbour of Oksana Chebotareva whose nephews were from Lugansk had also found a new job and home. They were doing not badly. So some refugees have accomplished a feat which we can only marvel at!

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