Reintegration challenges in the Donbas

 Mural on a school wall in eastern Ukraine Mural on a school wall in eastern Ukraine 2020 European Union (photographer: Lisa Hastert)

09 December 2020

Achieving lasting peace in eastern Ukraine is heavily reliant on a long-term vision for recovery, which could begin with the 2020 elections

The protracted Russo-Ukrainian conflict that erupted in February 2014 over the status of the Ukrainian regions of Crimea and Donbas has long dropped off the world’s radar, but shelling, hostilities and political uncertainty are still affecting the region, hindering its recovery. When, on 25 October 2020, local and regional elections were held across Ukraine, voters in the Russian-occupied oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk learned that polls would not open until after full sovereignty of those territories had been regained.

If and when the polls do reopen, elections in Donbas could provide a route to recovery. The frontline regions and settlements have been ruled by temporary military-civilian administrations (MCAs) since 2015, making them key targets for Russian manipulation operations. The October 2020 elections would have been an opportunity to replace the MCAs with fairly elected councils.

But many believe that full reintegration currently remains unlikely. The six year-long war has severed the region’s economic ties with the rest of the country. Although trade continued through the first few years of the conflict, in 2017 a Kyiv-imposed ban on all but humanitarian crossline shipments was met by an equally disruptive response by the de facto authorities, who seized Ukrainian-owned industrial assets on their side of the contact line, causing all cross-line commerce to come to a halt.

So far, the conflict has caused over 10,000 civilian casualties and 1.5 million internally displaced people. Covid-19 has put an additional strain on the humanitarian and economic situation in the eastern regions, which had just begun to rebuild its social links with the rest of Ukraine, and the area has fallen into economic deprivation, further worsening living conditions in the disputed territories. The 2020 elections represent an opportunity for the recovery and reintegration of these regions, and, ultimately, for peace in Ukraine as a whole. 


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Author: Giulia Ferrara

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