Grey Zone: Eastern Ukraine Blockade
11 April, 2017

Hromadske travels to the epicenter of Eastern Ukrainian blockade, organized by local paramilitary groups.

At first being illegal and condemded by both the government and foreign allies, the initiative was later partially supported by the authorities. According to the Ukrainian Central Bank, the ongoing disruption of economic ties between Ukraine and separatist-controlled territories will cost the country at least half of the economic growth rate, projected for 2017.

In December 2016, demobilized soldiers and veterans from the Donbas and Aidar volunteer battalions, threatened to block all railways leading into occupied areas of Ukraine if the authorities of the breakaway republics did not release 110 Ukrainian hostages. In late January of 2017, Ukrainian paramilitary with support from some members of the parliament, blocked the railway and road routes on the contact line. In response, leaders of the unrecognized ‘republics’ seized all the large companies that previously paid taxes to Ukraine. The latter in turn evoked a response from Ukrainian government - Kyiv officially decided to stop trade with enterprises located in the so-called "DPR" and "LPR". Instead of demobilized soldiers and veterans the blockade participants were replaced by the police and the National Guard.

Read More: What Does Economic Blockade of Donbas Entail

In February of 2017, teh first blockade blockpost was set up in Shcherbynivka village, Donetsk region, where there is a railway line used to transport coal from mines located in the separatist territories. After initial clashes with the law-enforcement, th initiative was eventually backed by the authorities and the control of the blockpost was handed over to the police.

The blockade participants were replaced by the police and the National Guard.

Donbas enterprises are closely connected with one another. A lot of plants in the government-controlled area depend on the coal delivered from the self-proclaimed ‘republics’. Due to the blockade, the enterprises have to reduce their working capacity, and employees are under risk of losing jobs.

At the Avdiivka Coke Plant, located in the heavily-shelled and Ukrainian-controlled town of Avdiivka north of Donetsk, factory workers suffer as a result of the blockade.

Avdiivka Coke Plant, eastern Ukraine

As Europe's largest enterprise producing coke for the steel industry, the plant needs 70,000 tons of coking coal each month. Before the blockade started, 25% of raw materials were supplied from the mines located in the so-called DPR and LPR. Grygoriy Kleshnia, Quality Director of the plant says they’ve replaced this coal with coal from the US and Australia. “The problem is that the price for the imported coal is 3-3.5 times higher,” he notes.

There are also problems at the Luhansk power station in Shchastya, which employs more than 1,150 people. The power station produces electricity from anthracite, which can only be mined in uncontrolled areas. The power plant requires about 150 tons of coal a month. Now there are only 290 thousand tons left. If the supplies aren’t replenished, it will only be enough for the next two months.

Luhansk power station in Shchastya, eastern Ukraine

Read More: Grey Zone of Eastern Ukraine: Expanding Minefield

“Since March 1st, there have been no coal supplies. We use old stocks from the warehouse,” says Roman, a worker at the power station.
In Bakhmut, in the Donetsk region, supporters of the blockade keep maintaining another railway blockpost on the way to separatist Donbas. The government backing is not strong enough for them and they promise to continue until the blockade is fully implemented.

Watch another episode of 'The Grey Zone', Hromadske's special series about the Eastern Ukrainian frontline. This one explains the ongoing economic blockade of the separatist territories.