KIEV, Ukraine — In the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic,” which lies in the far eastern side of Ukraine, many of the citizens, like other Ukrainians, are opposed to the protests that toppled former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich in February and the pro-Western government that has since replaced him.
However, unlike most of the rest of Ukraine, the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) is home to an extremely vocal minority of activist separatists who want to join Russia—a country whose borders are only 100 kilometers away.
Pro-Russian voices in Donetsk have contributed to the economic hardship that plagues the informal region today—which is home to an estimated 1.8 million.
Following Ukraine’s trade deal with the European Union (EU) on June 17, 2014 which granted Ukraine preferential access to the EU market until December 31, 2015, as a way to cope with the country’s political challenges, DPR proclaimed that they would be seeking closer ties with Russia.
“Having signed this agreement, Ukraine actually distances itself from the Russian market,” Andrei Purgin, the first deputy prime minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic, said on Friday, June 20, 2014.
A de facto economic blockade imposed by the Ukrainian authorities in Kiev in late October 2014 also contributed to economic hardship within the region, causing businesses and banks to close, ATMs to shut down, and the price of food to practically double overnight.
This in turn helped spur the creation of a widespread black market within the DPR, where items smuggled in from Russia are sold at a lower price than official state-sanctioned resources.
Difficulties in obtaining funding and resources as a result of the DPR’s antagonistic relationship with central Ukrainian authorities and the West has also led to a multi-currency zone in the DPR, with both the Russian rouble and Ukrainian hryvnia used to obtain goods.
Since Ukraine decided to cut social welfare in November of this year on the basis that the funds were being used by DPR rebels to finance the war, Russian roubles, however, have become the more common currency.
High inflation, which affected the Russian rouble in the second half of 2014, has in turn meant that DPR residents who depend upon the rouble for their survival have had to deal with drastic income cuts.
Pensions, for example, are now paid in Russian roubles within the DPR territory. According to Evgeny, a senior citizen and local DPR resident, who was interviewed by Al Jazeera in March, rouble inflation has made his pension of 8,000 roubles (144 euros) effectively worth three times less—meaning he is now three times poorer than before the Ukrainian crisis exploded in 2013.
As the blockade continues to create economic suffering for the people of the DPR, citizens have had to adjust to their newly-founded region’s hard circumstances.
Yet, despite waiting hours in long Soviet-era lines to receive goods paid for in Russian roubles from distribution centers, Donestk residents continue to hold onto the hope that their lot will soon improve within the region.
Interviewed by Al Jazeera America, one elderly woman, seen emerging from a distribution center after receiving her pension check, was asked her thoughts on her economic situation.
“Our state is young, it cannot give to us as Russia could,” she stated. Looking directly into the camera, the elderly woman then added, “but we wait for a better future.”
Sources: Al Jazeera America, Al Jazeera, European Commission, Euro News, VICE