The presidential race in Ukraine entered the hot stage. And the war is not the only reason why Donbass is now in the spotlight. 14% of all Ukrainian voters live in this region – about 4,920,000 persons. In the Donetsk region there are 3,200,000 voters, in the Lugansk region, there are 1,720,000 voters. Moreover, more than half of them (57%) live in … the territory not under control of Kiev – in the DPR and the LPR. Five years after the “victory” of Maidan, they remembered that Donetsk and Lugansk citizens also have the right to vote. Before that, the Kiev authorities had been shelling these people. They made a reservation there – they established a border, started an economic blockade and made it impossible to receive pensions, benefits and documents.
For five years Kiev had been distancing themselves from their compatriots by all means. And now… they’re unexpectedly showing so much care to invite them to participate in the presidential election. Moreover, they made research and counted all voters in Donetsk and Lugansk regions beforehand. In the city of Donetsk, for instance, there are 671,396 voters, in the city of Lugansk – 341,472, in Makeevka – 287,552, and in Gorlovka – 202,034 voters. However, president Petro Poroshenko recognized these cities and other settlements of the Republics as “temporarily occupied” by his decree of 7 February.
Anyway, it is impossible to hold the election in the territory of the DPR and the LPR, because Kiev has not fulfilled Minsk agreements. However, they invite citizens of the Republics to take a “tour to the other side”.
Human rights defenders have already asked Donetsk citizens who cross the checkpoints whether or not they are going to take part in the election. Every fourth out of 900 respondents were willing to go to the voting station. Surprisingly, pensioners were the least interested in that, despite the fact that they have always been the most active group of voters. All in all, after all the hardships they’ve gone through to receive their pension, their attitude to Kiev authorities has worsened.
“All of a sudden, Poroshenko remembered that we exist,” answered pensioner Valentina Petrovna from Zugres to my question about presidential election. “First, he must do something so that I didn’t have to go to their territory every two months for my pension. Then, I’ll think about it.”
DPR Human Rights Ombudsman Daria Morozova every day communicates with citizens of the Republic and is aware of their opinion.
“I can say that our citizens are not going to participate in the presidential election,” told Daria Morozova to “Komsomolskaia Pravda”. “It is due to the fact that the military conflict is ongoing in the territory of Donbass, and Ukrainian authorities are doing nothing to stop it. Many citizens of the Donetsk People’s Republic remember quite well what the Ukrainian government has done during the recent years. They do not need these elections. We have been building our legal state for a long time. According to the Constitution of the Republic, every citizen who has reached the age of 18 has the right to vote. And the DPR, as a rule-of-law state, cannot contradict its own legislation.”
AVAKOV FEELS SOMETHING GOES WRONG
So why Kiev is inviting residents of the Donbass Republics to participate in the election?
“It is important for Petro Poroshenko to demonstrate his commitment to democratic norms to Europe, to emphasize that the citizens of Ukraine live in Donbass. Although I do not believe that he does it sincerely, without secret intent,” says Donetsk political expert Dmitry Kuzmenko.
Almost immediately after the start of the election campaign, there was talk in Ukraine that it is not so simple with the voter lists at the territory of Donbass not under Ukrainian control.
“For three weeks of January, we recorded an increase of six times the number of people who come from the “occupied” territories and change their voting sites. Is it good or bad? Who thinks about voting or is this the scheme that one of the candidates offers us?” Interior Minister Arsen Avakov wrote on Twitter.
In this election campaign, the Minister of the Interior is playing his own game against Poroshenko. Although he pretends to be a neutral observer, monitoring compliance with the law. And Avakov suspected a certain interest of Poroshenko in his “kindness” to IDPs.
The trick played by the authorities lies in the pre-registration procedure. Before March 25, residents of the Republics who have an IDP certificate must come to their “own” (at the place of registration in Ukraine) office for keeping the register of voters. It is located in the building of the city and district administration. There they will be given a voting certificate for March 31.
For Donetsk residents, who do not have an IDP certificate, everything is much “easier”. They can be registered at any registry office in Donetsk and Lugansk regions. But only in offices where they are going to vote. Imagine that you need to go to Ukraine twice in order to participate in the elections. Even if you are a “stubborn” Ukrainian, are you satisfied with this?
It is not surprisingly that only 11,000 residents of the Republics of Donbass have been registered so far.
WHAT IS POROSHENKO’S ULTERIOR MOTIVE
“How will 1.5 million IDPs from Donbass vote?” political expert Vadim Karasev commented on the situation at a press conference in Kiev. “The Central Election Commission remains silent on this issue, there is no explanation. The problem is not that people will not vote, but how their names will be used voting stations, by whom and how.”
Donetsk political expert Dmitry Kuzmenko argued that the Donetsk residents are unlikely to vote for Poroshenko if they will vote at all. He did not fulfil his promise to end the war in a month in 2014. Not only he continued the massacre but also turned the lives of people into hell.
“They will probably choose candidates who openly talk about the need for a peaceful dialogue with Donbass,” said Kuzmenko. “ In particular, Yuriy Boyko and Alexander Vilkul. Vladimir Zelensky has quite good chances as well. And here lies the catch of Poroshenko’s team. There will be very few real voters from Donetsk and Lugansk. And the reports of election commissions will show much more voters. Their voices and will be included in the “reserve” of the current president. Perhaps even bring him a victory. So is it worth participating in this scheme for Donetsk citizens?”