Ukraine should offer a new social agreement to the temporarily occupied territories – volunteers, activists

Strategy for Donbas and Crimea should be based on communication and non-discrimination with grassroots initiatives as mediators.

De-occupation strategy for Crimea and the temporarily occupied areas of Donbas should be based on dialogue and communication. The main task for Ukraine is to show the people who live there the perspectives that will open to them as a part of Ukraine and to develop messages that would lead to understanding. Anyway the de-occupation would be a difficult and continuous process, summarized volunteers and experts at a roundtable held at Ukraine Crisis Media Center.

Main difficulty is the “hybrid” nature of the conflict

According to the experts, the best practices can hardly offer a ready solution for peacebuilding in the east of Ukraine due to the hybrid nature of the ongoing conflict. “What we observe there is a combined occupation and civil conflict at the same time. This is an extremely difficult case, I cannot remember any analogues,” explained Dr. Oleksiy Panich, culture expert, member of the Supervisory Board of the National Public Broadcasting Company of Ukraine of the educators and scientists. Ukraine should thus analyze the international experience and combine various particular elements that would be efficient in this specific situation.

It’s very hard to predict how the situation in Donbas and in Russia may develop, noted Oleksiy Panich and Iryna Brunova-Kalisetska, social psychologist and conflict resolution. That’s why Ukraine should be ready with a set of tools for every field of social life for every possible scenario. “We need a roadmap, a vocabulary and an appropriate regulatory basis. Over these two years (…) a lot has changed in the minds of people who live there,” said Tetyana Durneva, executive director of the Donetsk regional branch of the NGO “Committee of Voters of Ukraine”, consultant at the Institute of Social and Economic Research on issues of the internally displaced persons (IDPs).
Public mood in Donbas
As of today, 18 percent of people on the other side of the contact line identify themselves as “citizens of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR)”, according to research of “Fabryka Dumky Donbas” think-tank. In the late 2014, they were a very small minority. Moreover, 28% said that they are afraid of possible reintegration into Ukraine, said Dmytro Trachenko, think-tank director. Meanwhile, there is obviously a crisis of perspectives and of confidence. According to the survey of a so-called “Union of DPR Entrepreneurs”, 99% of respondents admitted that their planning horizon only “for tomorrow”, said Inna Yurieva, coordinator of “Concord” company.

In Donbas in general, there are four main groups of opinion: active pro-Ukrainian citizens, less or more pro-Ukrainian “conformists”, those nostalgic for their Soviet past and a purely pro-Russian group.

What should be done
According to Dmytro Tkachenko, the first step should be education and awareness-building that would lay the foundation for de-occupation. Moreover, there should be particular messages, language and approaches for each of the abovementioned groups.  “We should give them the answer to the question “What’s next?”, using strategic communications. We should create a special set of products for each of these segments (…) to initiate reflection, to let people understand that this is war. Because most people on this side of the contact line perceive it as a “political crisis” and on the opposite side as a “civil war”. This communication should be based only on real facts.

“We need not only tools, but also professionals that will know how to use them. Fortunately, we have a very powerful volunteer movement. […] However, volunteers cannot take the place of the system, and we will have a lot of work”, stressed Iryna Brunova-Kalisetska.

As soon as the conflict is over, Ukraine should raise the issue of restitution and reparations, said Olena Malenkova, consultant of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on social policy, employment and pensions. The noted that there were many cases of conversion of property and business of individuals, several plants were smuggled to Russia. Olesya Tsybulko, advisor to the Minister on Temporarily Occupied Territories and IDPs, said that in this context Ukraine has real chances due to the PACE declaration, stating that Russia ensures effective control on these territories and is responsible for everything that is going on there.

Non-discrimination as a first step to unity
To restore peace and unity, Ukrainian society should avoid biased attitude to their compatriots from Donbas, such as calling them all “traitors” who bare a full responsibility for what has happened. “Presumption of guilt is unacceptable. […] The aggression wouldn’t have become possible if there were no ground prepared for it”, argued Olena Malenkova. The reminded that since mid-90s and up to the Revolution of Dignity Donbas was in a grip of one tycoon clan, while the government did not care for development of the region. At the same time, several political players were fueling fears of local Russian-speaking population that they will be forced to speak Ukrainian and speculated on other sensible issues.

Inna Yurieva reminded that according to surveys held in spring 2014, 66% of respondents from Donbas wanted the region to remain within Ukraine’s borders. According to Maria Podybayeva, director of the NGO “New Mariupol”, the crucial reason that made possible the success of pro-Russian activists was the specific local mentality. Historical conditions such as monopoly of a narrow circle of businessmen on economic and political activities and a full dependence of mine and plant workers from their employers resulted in conformism, lack of initiative, absence of leadership experience and of active community life.

According to Olena Styazhkina, volunteer of “Deoccupation. Return. Education” movement, there are a lot of people on the other side of the contact line waiting that Ukraine will come back. She said that these citizens would like to have opportunity to prove through a court procedure that they did not participate in pro-Russian riots. According to Ms. Styazhkina, Ukraine should adopt the law on collaborationism that would allow proving innocence of those who really are but would prescribe administrative penalties for those who are guilty.

Ukraine should come up with a new social agreement and attractive perspectives
The main task for Ukraine is to offer attractive perspectives to the de-occupied territories, the experts said. “We surely need to come up with a new social agreement. We should explain that this Ukraine is not the Ukraine where they lived before Maidan revolution and occupation. This is another state where national and civil society are built on absolutely new values, and they function in a new legal framework,” said Oleksiy Panich. “We should build a new Donbas. There is no use to restore the soviet mentality that provoked this war,” added Larysa Artiugina, director of the NGO “The New Donbas”.

Real positive changes in the country would be the best way to persuade people from the occupied territories that Ukraine can offer them a better future, said Tetyana Durneva, executive director of Donetsk regional branch of the NGO “Committee of Voters of Ukraine”. As of today, IDPs are the main mediators between those who live under the occupation and the rest of the country. This is one more reason why the state should pay more attention to the problems of IDPs.

Grassroots initiatives as key agents of change
Grassroots initiatives, especially the youth and active IDPs, should take a lead in this process of building common understanding. In fact, they have already done it, despite little experience of leadership. Festival “From a country to Ukraine” is one of the most remarkable positive cases: it united all the initiatives and volunteers willing to change the life of their communities for better.

According to Mariya Podybanova, unity can be strengthened through various campaigns that would demonstrate tolerance of Ukrainian society towards all ethnic minorities, languages and confessions. However, pro-Russian activists hostile to Ukraine should be prevented from promoting their ideas.

According to Latysa Artiugina, the best way to start communication is the dialogue with the children. Volunteers of “The New Donbas” learnt from their own experience that through helping children it is easier to overcome mistrust and stereotypes of the adults. Moreover, renovated schools become centers of social life in the communities and forge unity.

Meanwhile, grassroots initiatives need help from the state. “We consider creation of the so-called incubators for civil society development that would offer permanent support to small, new-created initiatives,” said Olga Gvozdyova, development coordinator at NGO “Donbas SOS”.

Larysa Artiugina called upon the authorities to organize roundtables in the Ministry on Temporarily Occupied Territories and IDPs. At these meetings volunteers and officials would discuss up-to-date challenges and coordinate their activities. In the future best practices of the NGOs could be included into state-run programs in this field.