What You Need To Know:
✅ Some 100,000 people live within the buffer zone in eastern Ukraine, separating the Ukrainian military from the combined Russian-separatist forces. (Source: Center for Civilians in Conflict). Many have struggled at some point to get fresh water, heat and basic supplies.
✅ Nearly 1.7 million people in total have been displaced because of the two and a half year war, the United Nations says
✅ Ukrainian checkpoints along the grey zone have the basic facilities for people crossing into the government-controlled territory. However many disabled or vulnerable people still struggle with the journey.
✅ Ukrainian MP Alex Ryabchyn: “As an authority, we shouldn’t have the territorial approach. We shouldn’t fight for territories. We should fight for the hearts and minds of our Ukrainian people who stand there.”
Life in Ukraine's ‘grey zone’ is tough and dangerous; a no man's land which separates the two opposing sides. One side is controlled by the Ukrainian military and government, the other by the occupying Russian-backed separatist forces. Nearly 100,000 people live within the grey zone, according to this month's report by the Center for Civilians in Conflict. The non-profit Washington-based organization also believes that 800,000 people live within several kilometers of the buffer zone, on both sides of the line of contact. This is well within the range of mortars and artillery. In fact, the U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights reports 90% of conflict-related deaths in eastern Ukraine were from indiscriminate shelling of residential areas.
Yet this journey across the buffer zone is essential for many. Valentyn is aged 84, deaf and wheelchair-bound. He can’t obtain certain special documents in the occupied territory so is forced to go to the Ukrainian-controlled side, with the help of family and volunteers.
“Crossing the bridge is the most challenging for our grandpa. We support him as much as possible. The other way to cross the line is through another checkpoint by car but it’s five or six hours away”, one of Valentyn’s relatives told Hromadske. Ukraine’s State Emergency Service has special facilities at the checkpoint such as medical kits, tea and coffee, wheelchairs and most importantly, a basic tent for people to escape the bitterly cold winds, even if just temporarily.
But Alex Ryabchyn, one of Ukraine’s new generation MP’s from Donetsk, says the government must do more to support ordinary citizens living within the buffer zone and beyond, in the occupied territory.
“As an authority, we shouldn’t have the territorial approach. We shouldn’t fight for territories. We should fight for the hearts and minds of our Ukrainian people who stand there…It took us a lot of time just to persuade the government to install these checkpoint facilities. When we went there, there were some tents with boilers but when 20:00 comes, they stop (working) and just the whole night, (people) could spend the whole night in the field. This is not the approach we should deliver to the Ukrainian citizens.”
Mr. Ryabchyn argues Ukrainians in Donbas deserve some new sort of government that they never saw during the tenure of former president Viktor Yanukovych and his ex-Party of Regions.
“They feel (this governance) is not being delivered. We should take another approach. This is even by the way demanded of us by the European Commission. We didn’t meet two (parts of the) criteria to receive the micro financial aid. The very famous case about the wood and secondly, delivering the pensions for these people in the occupied and non-occupied territories - which has not yet been done.”, Mr. Ryabchyn says.
Meanwhile, disputes have already arisen regarding the first round of ‘united communities’ elections scheduled for December 18 in Donetsk Oblast. Mr. Ryabchyn says this political battle along with the redundancy of several hundred people from a state-owned chemical plant are two examples of the disconnect between politicians in Kyiv and those living in or near the grey zone.