The beginning of hour “H”

Slavyansk — a Bulletproof vest, a Hairdryer and baby pictures. This is the things that Kate fled from Donetsk. Then she thought that this breakup can be delayed for years and maybe even forever. Over the years her family had to move five times already. “I’m infinitely tired of all of this,” she sighs.

This is just one of the stories that you can tell the walls of the youth center. Young Eastern Ukrainians, who in photographs and texts tell us about their lives after fleeing from the combat zone. Eugene Skrypnyk, lanky young man in a hooded sweatshirt, leads me through the rooms. The war brought much suffering to the Donbass, he says and points at the pictures on the wall. At the same time it was a “signal,” adds 19-year-old boy. “It became clear to me that I myself must be active”.

So Skripnik for two years engaged in the construction of the center “Greenhouse” in the Eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk. With the support of the charitable Foundation of Western Ukraine they rented a building in the centre of the city. Bright rooms, Ukrainian poetry on the wall the flip charts. The rain drumming on the canopy, stand outside the ranks of the grey panel of the building on which hangs a poster: “Donbass is our land”. In the evening the poet in a national Ukrainian suit will glorify Ukraine and to talk about nature and the homeland. Guests will ask questions in Russian, he would reply in Ukrainian.

The situation here was not always so calm. April 12, 2014 under the leadership of the Russian commander and a secret service agent Igor Girkin (call sign: Igor Strelkov) was seized administrative buildings in Slavyansk. The beginning of the war in Eastern Ukraine, which lasts to this day and, according to the UN, led to 10 thousand dead, considered as beginning soon after the shelling of the city by the Ukrainian army.

While Slavyansk is still relatively well off: in the summer of 2014, the city inhabited by 100 thousand inhabitants, again came under Ukrainian control. Today the front line between the army and Pro-Russian separatists is 80 kilometers to the East. While on the front line length of 500 kilometers is not a day goes by without shots in Slavyansk, has been talking about the “postwar period”. Visually Slavyansk is firmly in Ukrainian hands: there is hardly a store that does not hanging the flag, the poster, which does not call for unity with Kiev.

A sleepy provincial town with the old Soviet mentality

Skripnik believes that Pro-Russian separatists were able to gain a foothold in Slavyansk was no accident. A sleepy provincial town, economically closely connected with Russia, with a strong imprint of Soviet mentality, accustomed that his fate is decided by others. This has made many in Slavyansk susceptible to the slogans of “Russian spring”, which is Manila a better life in the Union with Russia. Open to Russian propaganda, which vilified politicians in Kiev as fascists. Only a Mature civil society can prevent the recurrence of such events. “Only those who know their country and its history, is immune against propaganda,” — said Skrypnyk.

A few meters from the main square of Slavyansk. Thaw potholes turned into deep puddles. Big bronze Lenin was only on a pedestal, like many such statues in Ukraine that was overthrown during the “de-communization.” Behind the towering five-storey building of concrete blocks. Poster in blue and yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag welcomes visitors to the city administration. It was here three years ago, was strengthened as a fortress, the separatists and called for opposition against the new government in Kiev.

Denis Begunov, who had worked in the administration, remembers about it. When people predominated Girkin in Slavyansk, his Cabinet was turned into a torture chamber. In the basement of the building contained the prisoners, as former mayor, who at first sympathized with the separatists, but then fell out of favour. Begunov at this time to stay away from fighters. Towels, duct tape and smeared with mud and resin mattress he found in his study, when Russian and Pro-Russian insurgents left the city. But those terrible memories are not the reason for which he no longer works in the administration. 29-year-old man would want to rebuild your hometown in the spirit of the “revolution of dignity” as he called the protest movement Maidan supporters. Goals: the rapprochement with the EU, the development of Pro-Ukrainian consciousness and the fight against corruption.

For this Begunov changed direction. He became an activist of the organization “Strong community”. Supported by the American development Agency USAID, he and his colleagues detects deficiencies in regional policy and defends civil rights. When the mayor bought airtime on the local TV channel at government expense, Begunov brought to the attention of the public and organized a protest. The contract with the channel was cancelled, and 100 thousand hryvnia (about 3.5 thousand euros) were returned to the state budget.

“Politics now knows that we are in control,” says Begunov. Meanwhile, the mayor is taking part in the discussions activists. City Council meetings are broadcast online. Corrupt elite in the Donbas had never been accountable to its citizens and contributed to the “Russian spring”. The fact that politics today have become more open to dialogue, is one of the small steps that changed Slavyansk 2014, says Begunov.

Devoid of economic prospects

But the nascent civil society and youth centre is one thing, a stable economy that will give people long-term prospects is another. Although currently 80% of enterprises before the war working again. “In recent years, was not made any major investments in the region,” complains meanwhile mayor Vadim Lyakh. “Money likes peace”. For investors war, which is two hours away, still too noisy.

Lyakh refers to criticizing Kiev camp in Slavyansk. He for many years was a member of the Party of regions fled to Russia President Viktor Yanukovych was elected mayor in 2015, her party-the successor Opposition bloc. Today on the wall of his office hangs a portrait in oil of the Ukrainian national writer, Taras Shevchenko, opposite is the Ukrainian flag in human growth. Today loyalty to Kiev in Slavyansk is not in doubt, he says. “Only that we criticize Kiev, does not mean that we are for Russia”.

Between two chairs

Despite this, the Ukrainian government ignores the opportunity to win the hearts and minds of the inhabitants, he criticizes. To date, the law prohibits state money for the restoration of private houses. Consequences: in the residential areas of Slavyansk today is about 100 bombed-out houses. The fact that Kiev does not use all the levers to restore the former focus of the separatists, subsequently, will cause a lot of mistrust. Also, the 1.7 million refugees registered with the authorities, they do not receive any support from the state. “People here feel like they are being punished for the events of 2014,” says Lyakh.

Back in the youth center. Skrypnyk — one who is optimistic about the future. These are primarily young people who over the past three years have become much more active, he says. He would like to remain in Slavyansk, despite the sad economic situation. “If we do not change, nobody will do it,” he says.