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SVIATOGORSK GROUP

WHO WE ARE

We are a group of people who live on both sides of the contact line and have been affected by the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. Through joint activities, we aim to find something that brings us together, and to make the voice of those affected by conflict heard, in order to draw attention to important peacemaking questions.

Composition of the Group: 15 members, including:

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    internally displaced persons (IDPs)
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    members of local councils in government-controlled areas of Ukraine (GCAs)
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    students
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    ATO veterans
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    representatives of humanitarian and human rights protection organisations dealing with the effects of the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine.

The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (Switzerland) assisted the group’s efforts and activities aimed at preparing the ground for transitional justice and reconciliation in Ukraine.

Despite diverging views, the participants agreed to work on two joint projects in order to identify the points of commonality between people on both sides of the contact line.

PROJECTS

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THE PROJECT

“Five years of war: 1,825 days and how many more?”
As people affected by the conflict, we asked ordinary people
ABOUT THE PROJECT

“As people affected by the conflict, we asked ordinary people who live on both sides of the contact line about their fears, visions of the future, views on ending the conflict and post-conflict justice. As a result of our joint work, we understood that despite the difference in views, people on both sides of the contact line have strong points of commonality. And conveying these commonalities, as well as real views of the people to decision – makers and Ukrainian society is our objective.”

METHODOLOGY:
From December 2018 to February 2019, members of the Sviatogorsk Group conducted 84 in-depth interviews. These consisted of 59 interviews with residents from government controlled areas (GCAs) and 25 with those in the non-government controlled areas, or NGCAs, of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.

The sample of respondents in the NGCAs was selected using the ’snowball’ method.

Localities in which the interviews took place are indicated on the map.

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THE PROJECT

“We are alive, but they…”
We, people who are affected by the conflict, have collected life stories from real people who live on both sides of the contact line
ABOUT THE PROJECT

“We, people who are affected by the conflict, have collected life stories from real people who live on both sides of the contact line, who have been affected by the armed conflict in the east of Ukraine, lost their close ones, their health, homes or families.

These stories present the tragedy of loss common to people both in non-government controlled areas (NGCAs) and government controlled areas (GCAs). We decided to record these experiences in order to encourage dialogue, and to help find ways to put an end to the war and restore peace in the east of Ukraine.”

METHODOLOGY:
In December 2018 – February 2019 members of the Sviatogorsk Group collected 39 life stories of people from government controlled and non-government controlled territories of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.

The publication presents 10 selected stories, 5 from each side of the contact line.

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KEY MESSAGES

KEY MESSAGES FROM THE PROJECT

“Five years of war: 1,825 days and how many more?”
01
People thought the conflict would be over quickly

It was hard to believe at the beginning that this would break out into a full-blown military conflict.

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“We thought that it will be over with the change of those in power: there will be arrests, changes of officials, but nobody could imagine that the situation would escalate all the way to violent hostilities.”
Schastya, GCA Luhansk region

02
Hope for peace

People across the contact line are tired of war. The longevity of the conflict has taken away their faith in the future. Yet, they are united by their hope for peace, and a return to a situation that offers the promise of future prospects.

03
Common priorities

Many people share the same priorities across the contact line. They centre on security, economic livelihood, family and property. Some in the NGCAs also worry about their lack of legal protection. Some would like the opportunity to simply visit home:

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“Some of my friends and relatives died there, and I don’t attend their funerals, which haunts me…I just want to have an opportunity to come back home.”
IDP from Luhansk in Severodonetsk, GCA Luhansk region

A key desire that unites people is the improvement of the social and economic situation in the region and its economic recovery.

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“When everyone lives in economic prosperity, when everyone is well-fed and content, then everyone will forget about it.”
Stakhanov, NGCA Luhansk region

04
Assumptions should not be made about political aspirations of people across the contact line
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“…they just want it all to end and they don’t care where they will be, be it in Ukraine, in Russia or with autonomy.”
Alchevsk, NGCA Luhansk region

05
Diplomatic means of conflict resolution

Many agree that the conflict must be solved by diplomatic means, not military. A big fear is a return to the ‘hot’ phase of military action. There is also fear about what happens to those who live on the ‘losing’ side, should there be military ‘victory’.

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A feeling that people living in the conflict area cannot influence decision-making with respect to ending the conflict
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“Society should make the decision (on reconciliation). But there is a catch, if we come to some agreement and those higher up decide differently, they might not hear us.”
Schastia, GCA Luhansk region

07
Acknowledging the grief

Grief – a common experience on both sides – can be a uniting but also a divisive issue between people. Acknowledging this grief, whilst focusing on achieving common goals (e.g. diplomatic resolution; economic development) can assist reconciliation.

Justice and reconciliation
01
Despite different views about who should be held responsible, most respondents on both sides of the contact line agree on the following:
  • The demand for justice: prosecuting people guilty of crimes should be done on a case-by-case basis; the process should be fair and according to the law.
  • Being resident in NGCAs is not a crime in itself.
  • There should be no impunity for those who committed grave crimes.
  • While recognising the differences in opinions on both sides of the contact line, a significant number of respondents attribute responsibility for the conflict to political decision-makers at national and regional levels (based on the interviews, this refers to the Russian Federation, Ukraine and the so-called ‘LDPR’).
02
According to some respondents, real reconciliation will be possible only on condition that those who stayed in NGCAs, who have not committed grave crimes, are unafraid of returning to Ukraine. Overcoming this fear will depend largely on Ukraine’s state policies. These include:
  • The concept of transitional justice and respective laws that would provide clear answers to questions about who will and will not be sanctioned or prosecuted;
  • Public assurances by Ukraine’s officials promising people in NGCAs that those who did not commit any serious conflict-related crimes will not be accused and prosecuted, and their rights will be protected by the state of Ukraine;
  • An information policy that aims to retain the connection between the people in NGCAs and the state of Ukraine, as well as providing them with access to objective information about the situation in Ukraine.
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“Everyone who stayed in those territories to work there needs an individual approach. Doctors, teachers and other specialists who were not involved in hostilities should not be liable, and that should be openly announced for everyone to hear. People should not be afraid of Ukraine, coming back. For many people, this work was vital, regardless of their convictions.”
Antratsyt, NGCA Luhansk region

PUBLICATIONS

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PUBLICATION

“Five years of war: 1,825 days and how many more?”
Based on interviews among the civilian population of government-controlled and non-government controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts
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PUBLICATION

“We are alive, but they…”
Based on the life stories of civilians living on both sides of the contact line in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts

CONTACTS

DISCLAIMER

the opinions, experiences and terminology presented in the publications should not be taken as a reflection of the views or positions of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD). These texts contain responses to interviews conducted with civilians affected by the conflict in eastern Ukraine, as they were conveyed by those who participated in this project. HD’s role in this context has been to facilitate the group’s meetings and enable this joint project, but not to determine the tone or content of the text.

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