The Russian presence in southern Ukraine

Image: Anna Tis
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By ANDREY DNEPROVSKY*

Life in liberated Kherson was gradually reoriented towards Russian references

During the recent liberation of Kherson, in the ethnically Russian region of southern Ukraine, by the forces of the People's Republics of Donbass, in alliance with the Russian Armed Forces, clashes did not even reach the scale of urban warfare. The city has remained largely untouched, yet it has demonstrated the extent of modern civilization's vulnerability, which, as experienced there, can be “turned off” at the push of a button.

Fortunately for its inhabitants, Kherson's main utilities continued to operate uninterruptedly. Electricity, gas and water continued to be provided. But the routine life of an average citizen, on a much larger scale than in historically recent times, is connected, by thousands of threads, to the “big world”, far beyond the limits of his city and region.

He is usually used to the widest range of food, industrial and pharmaceutical products, which are brought from all over the world to his stores and drugstores, as well as being continuously connected to virtual space and digital transactions. The companies he works for are also critically dependent on raw materials and components from around the world. And finally, in all previous global cataclysms, far fewer people depended so crucially on social welfare provided by the state.

The citizens of Kherson found themselves cut off from all of this practically overnight, mainly because the former Ukrainian authorities, in abandoning the city, did everything possible to disrupt the normal life of the city and region: databases of all state institutions were destroyed and all equipment was disorganized.

The vast majority of companies also stopped, both for objective reasons (lack of supply of productive inputs and loss of access to most traditional markets) and for subjective reasons. For example, a small business owner, whom this author is familiar with, testified that on February 24 (the start date of the Russian military operation) he simply turned off all the equipment, leaving only the security guards in the company.

The new authorities were faced with the task of recreating the entire socio-economic infrastructure of decades from scratch and, at the same time, maintaining daily life in the region and meeting the immediate needs of its inhabitants.

At the same time, the administrative bodies themselves had to be recreated from the ground up, recruiting new employees, often without sufficient experience, and looking for solutions to everyday problems, in parallel with organizational problems.

Most former civil servants left the city. For some time, the Kiev authorities continued to pay the salaries of those who remained, as long as they did not cooperate with the new authorities. The idea behind this was to intimidate some and “encourage” those still misled by years of Ukrainian propaganda to wait for the regime to return.

There was talk of impending hostilities in the region and city, and people were encouraged to leave. It was deliberately (and credibly) suggested that, with the future arrival of the Ukrainian “liberators”, a wave of repressions would fall on the “collaborationists”. And this notion could, strictly speaking, be interpreted in the broadest possible way, to encompass not only employees of the new public bodies, but also pro-Russian civic activists and even doctors who remain working in the health institutions transferred to Russian management. , those who took a job at a Russian bank, condominium managers or businesspeople who opened bank accounts and registered under the new tax controls. Even public service employees were pressured to “not work for the occupiers”, that is, to leave their fellow citizens without gas, electricity and water.

Special attention was given to postponing the resumption of the school year. Parents received a notification online from the Ukrainian government, informing that the schools would operate according to the normative and educational framework established until then, but in remote mode.

However, despite these Ukrainian pretensions, life in liberated Kherson was gradually reoriented towards Russian references. The situation regarding the key issue of providing food and meeting the basic needs of residents can now be considered quite satisfactory.

Occasionally there is an “evasion” of some items, but in general there is no shortage, although, in the beginning, the prices in hryvnias (Ukrainian currency) increased considerably, until finally the Russian ruble was adopted. Spontaneous commerce and small shops flourished. In general, private affairs, as usual, acted very quickly. Grocery stores also remained open, although they closed earlier because of the curfew.

Logistic chains ended up rebuilding themselves with products coming from Crimea and the republics of Donbass. People noticed the better quality of Russian products, even if, when they first appeared, merchants passed them off as Ukrainian products. Now there are fewer and fewer “patriots” who prefer Ukrainian products. Retailers from neighboring territories have also begun to step in, opening modern supermarkets.

Pharmacy chains originating from those territories expanded rapidly, so that the “medication crisis” was generally resolved, although some items were occasionally in short supply.

Medical institutions were transferred to the jurisdiction of the new government, doctors began to receive salaries in rubles, and large-scale humanitarian aid from Russia made it possible to provide hospitals with practically all necessary medicines and materials.

The shortage of doctors – many have left, and others, particularly “zealous” ones, have refused to work – is being overcome with Russian volunteers. Gone are the extortions and “charitable funds” through which any medical procedure had to be paid for. Public health became effectively free.

Russia's first bank, the promsvyazbank, arrived and expanded its branch network quite quickly. Russian card payment terminals began to appear in supermarkets.

Cultural institutions have resumed activities. Universities and higher institutes are enrolling students and preparing for the new academic year. Schools and kindergartens are expected to open on September 1.

In general, all institutions characteristic of modern society have restarted or are preparing to restart operations. The new Russian administration has begun to reconfigure major companies under various ownership regimes, and prepare them for reopening. The regulatory provision enacted in June by the new authorities, to introduce an external administration in companies that are inoperative or whose owners have not registered, is apparently being implemented sparingly.

Furthermore, there is the problem of pensions and social benefits, which is particularly sensitive for citizens. And here, literally, it was necessary to start from scratch, as there was no institutional structure, lists of retirees, nothing.

Citizens had to register with the newly created (and hastily) Pension Fund, which had many organizational and personnel problems to resolve. Then they were going to receive the amounts at the cash desk, in the amount of 10 thousand rubles for everyone. Naturally, this created monstrous queues. Therefore, it was decided to make subsequent payments through the post office, which was incorporated into the new company. Post Kherson. Records of those who previously received pensions by mail have been preserved, and now they are receiving them in rubles. For those with movement restrictions, pensions are delivered to their homes by Pension Fund agents.

The time-consuming task of compiling new lists is being completed for everyone else. Pensioners registered with the Pension Fund must be sorted by postal address and branch office, in order of arrival. Those who have not yet received Russian pensions continue to apply. At the same time, efforts are being made to restore the usual system for receiving pensions using bank cards.

An unconventional, even unique path was decided upon: pensioners will not need to go to a bank to obtain the cards (this would only paralyze the newly created banking network), they will receive them directly from the Pension Fund or from the post office, which becoming branches of the Pension Fund and social security agencies. Initially, five thousand pensioners will receive cards as part of the pilot project and, after the system is “debugged”, all the rest will receive them.

In general terms, the volume and number of various social assistance payments that the new authorities began to provide to citizens, not only socially unprotected, but also to families with children (many in difficult financial situations), is in fact impressive. And this largely contributed to the fact that the general atmosphere of the city is undergoing a significant change.

But the main point is elsewhere. There has always been a pro-Russian majority in the city. The picture of tenuous pro-Russian sentiment in Kherson and southern Ukraine was produced by the fact that during not only the last eight, but thirty years of Ukrainian "independence", any pro-Russian activity has been severely repressed. .

Long before all the Maidans, laws were introduced that criminalized as a “breach of sovereignty” any speech that mentioned the possibility of reunification with Russia, and these devices were very actively applied.

Any publication that portrayed life in contemporary Russia in a positive light was tacitly taboo, while any publication of a negative image was widely welcomed. Laughing at Russia's real or fictional problems, rejoicing at the catastrophes there, has become a "hobby national” Ukrainian. At the same time, propaganda about the European “paradise”, which Ukraine would enter if it fully implemented the slogan “get away from Moscow”, was injected in massive doses.

For those who believed that a reunification with Russia would allow a return to the path of sustainable development and prosperity, implementing this type of idea assumed the contours of an extremely remote possibility, if not unattainable. They had to hide their point of view or follow a “minimum program”, as far as possible, trying to preserve Russian culture and economic ties with the Russian Federation, often within the framework of parties that used anti-nationalist rhetoric to attract pro voters. -Russians, such as the Party of Regions.

In many ways the turning point was the Victory Day celebrations last May 9, which some four thousand people attended, despite the psychological terror of hopefuls of "Ukrainian liberators" and the very real fear of bombings. and terrorist attacks promoted by Ukraine. People were then able to see how many had been hidden, they recognized neighbors, fellow soldiers and even friends with whom they had avoided discussing political issues for many years, and who ended up being among “their own”.

The process of involving citizens in awakening Russian Kherson was much faster. People began to look for jobs in “Russian” institutions. NGOs began to be created to help the authorities in the areas of culture, education, the work of neighborhood associations, etc. In essence, this is the Russian civil society of Kherson that can finally come into being.

Another notable event was the “We are Together with Russia” forum, held on July 30, which brought together over a thousand participants. This is a considerably large number, because it is really an equity asset. After all, in effective terms, there are not many people with a truly participatory attitude in today's societies, and here, these are the drivers, those who point out ways for the movement and development of actions.

It would be absurd to claim that people of such diversity in age, profession and social status would have been co-opted by the expectation of some kind of preferential treatment by the new Russian authorities, in the interests of career. Let's be honest, they all had to overcome the most everyday fear, psychological pressure and very real threats of attacks from the Ukrainian security services.

They simply realized that there were many of them, that Kherson was, remains and will continue to be a Russian city, and that the Russophobic Ukrainianization, devoid of social policies and based on direct repression, is rapidly melting, “like dew in the sun”, in the south of Ukraine.

In recent days, similar forums have been held in smaller towns in the Kherson region, each gathering several hundred participants. They are no longer hiding their views, as they did in the first few weeks after release. They are actively defending them, and this is having an increasingly noticeable effect on the mood of ordinary people, those whose opinions are spurred by the attitudes of others around them.

And, of course, there is the impact of the information work on what contemporary Russia is like, which is reinforced by the humanitarian support and large-scale social efforts of the new government, in the search for a normal life for the city, albeit a lot of work. still need to be done.

Ironically, Ukrainian propaganda ends up helping many (even if not all) to see the other side of the coin, since its fakes end up being too blatant and in total disagreement with the real situation in the region. And, of course, as the much-announced “liberation” by the Ukrainian regime continues to be delayed, the perception grows that the new situation is now for good. For some, that means walking the path from anger to denial and ultimately acceptance.

Except for some very “crazy” people, the average Khersonian no longer waits for the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and begins to integrate himself into the new Russian life and the much more tangible benefits that it brings, and that many have already felt. Your loyalty to her will only increase.

The original order of things, as we know, illuminates consciousness, but something else needs to be added: in today's reality, the media environment is no less important. In southern Ukraine it has already changed dramatically, and it is bearing fruit, if not as quickly as one might wish.

*Andrey Dneprovsky, Ukrainian journalist, collaborates with Alternative News Agency.

Translation: Ricardo Cavalcanti-Schiel.

Originally published on the website News Front.

 

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