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Kiev-based sociologist Volodymyr Ishchenko discusses the problems that remain with the most recent agreement

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. I’m in conversation with Volodymyr Ishchenko. He is joining us from Kiev, and he’s a deputy director at the Center for Social and Labor Research. Volodymyr, thank you again for joining us. VOLODYMYR ISHCHENKO, DEPUTY DIR., CENTER FOR SOCIETY RESEARCH: Thank you. PERIES: So, in our earlier segment, if you haven’t seen it, you must go and watch it. We talked about the latest agreement coming out of Minsk, where the leaders of Europe and Russia and Ukraine met in order to come up with a peace agreement, which we hope it works. But if you want further analysis, this is the segment for that. So let’s begin with, Volodymyr, your take on the last component we were discussing, which was the requirement in the agreement to actually bring about some changes in terms of the state and the devolution of powers to the region, whether this is a viable proposal and whether it’s going to work. How do you think it is going to be received in Kiev? ISHCHENKO: The problem is that it’s quite weak. So the talks about the decentralization were during the whole year, and it’s completely accepted by Kiev, and they are ready to decentralize. But this is–you can put any meaning here. So, for example, one of the proposals from Poroshenko, the president of Ukraine, was actually to decentralized the state in that way that it would actually give more powers to the president. So that’s not something that is accepted, neither by Ukrainian people, nor by the separatists, of course. And when the separatists are speaking about the decentralization, they demand much more. They demand not just a kind of, like, status for Russian language or just power for internal policies in a quite limited area, but the original idea was that these regions will have kind of a decisive voice in Ukraine, also in external politics, about the structure of the whole Ukrainian society. So, as you probably remember, these separatist republics, they already proclaimed state sovereignty. So they did perceive themselves as independent states now. And to agree on some quite vague decentralization, it’s also [a really big (?)] question, would they be supported by all those militias which they were able to mobilize. And those are people who are actually many of them do not feel anything in common with Ukraine. PERIES: Right. And a part of the way this might get implemented is obviously by having elections where the regions can actually elect leaders. Is that going to unfold in the next year? That seems like a tall order for a country that’s in a crisis right now. ISHCHENKO: That’s one of the–another typical problem in this agreement. So they demand to organize local elections based on Ukrainian legislature. But Ukrainian law enforcement doesn’t have any control on this areas. So the enforcement of Ukrainian legislation will be done by the separatists, who have the real power there. And it doesn’t mean that they will not be elected. So it’s quite probably that those will be the people who will actually get into legitimate offices. If they organize elections according to Ukrainian legislation. So it would be an illusion to think that if now the elections will be held, that they will lose them. Most probably they will be elected again. PERIES: Right. And is there leadership that is emerging within the rebel groups that is ready for election? ISHCHENKO: That’s a good questions, because actually the real power there, if you are not talking about the Russian control, which is probably serious, the real power is in the hands of those who have the arms, so in the hands of–first of all, of the warlords, those who control the armed groups and control the physical power there, and not in the hands of quite probably puppet parliament of the Donetsk People’s Republic or Lugansk People’s Republic. These are more assimilation, to my understanding. And it could be a good question whether the warlords like [incompr.] or other kind of, like, heroes of that war will go to the elections and will try to get not only the military power, but also the political power there. PERIES: Right. And also I suppose one of the problems that they’re having right now is dealing with the huge number of people that are homeless, that have been displaced, and just providing basic services for them, like water and food. How is that being handled by the rebels in Lugansk and Donetsk? ISHCHENKO: That would be a good question for those who actually live there or who would be able to come there, because for–since some time, it’s actually not possible to get into those areas from Ukrainian side without a special permit. And to my understanding, which is coming from mostly media and the social networks of those people who are actually live there, there is some organization. But people are actually suffering from the stop of social payments from the kind of stop of the banking system, and [for this (?)], quite everyday problems. PERIES: Right. And, finally, Volodymyr, there seems to be some discrepancy between the number that the United Nations is citing in terms of the number of people dead, which is now over, I think, 5,500 the last time I checked. And what some of the German intelligence forces are saying, that they think it’s more in the range of 50,000. What’s your take on the actual numbers here? ISHCHENKO: I’m quite sure it’s much higher than 5,000, because all of those are quite conservative estimates, and they use also Ukrainian official numbers of the losses in the fights, and also the victims, some of the civilian populations. And, of course, the fighting parties have a direct interest to downplay their losses and to overexaggerate their losses from the opposing side. But to which extent the 50,000 is granted, don’t have any idea. It’s probably much higher than 5,000 but to actually calculate the losses more precisely, it would require some more sophisticated methodology. And quite possibly the German intelligence have it, but I didn’t see any kind of an independent check of the number of victims from military losses. PERIES: Right. And then I just have one more question for you, which is really about the level of recruitment that is going on in terms of the military for Ukraine. I understand that there is a huge campaign going on to get more people to sign up. I wonder whether that is continuing and how that campaign is going and what are ordinary people who are being recruited feel about being recruited to the military. ISHCHENKO: Yeah. That was a big question for Ukraine for the last weeks. And now the government says that the mobilization campaign is going well. Before that, there were actually quite almost panicking, and publishing the reports that so many people are evading the draft that they leave Ukraine for some other countries, including Russia. An extremely funny story was actually cited by one of the officials about the people in some village in Western Ukraine–by the way, where the nationalist feelings are historically the highest in Ukraine. So then those villagers rented two buses and went to Russia, actually, to the country, which is officially in Ukraine proclaimed to be the aggressor. So it seemed that the level of draft evasion is high. And the government is trying to find some measures to stop it and include [incompr.] for example, to seriously discuss limiting possibilities for all men between 20 and 60 to leave the country. So all men would require some special permit from a military commission to leave the country, something like we didn’t have since the Soviet Union, when they had this not just entry visa, but also exit visa. So you had to prove that you live in the Soviet Union for some good reason and you will get back. And moreover, they even discuss the–according to the understanding, the men [under mobilization (?)] cannot leave even the administrative districts within Ukraine, and if they leave, they need, again, some special permit. The problem is that many people actually do not live in their registration addresses. And so they cannot be reached by the military commission people to get the note, the draft note. And that’s–again, that’s one of the problems from them. They also sent these notes to the workplaces, where it’s this–it seems that it’s possible to reach the people and to give them note, and so oblige them to contact to the military commission for that. And the whole mobilizations actually have quite open-class character. So it’s much easier to draft a poor person, a person who works at some factory or in some bad-paid budget institution, like in a clinic or in the secondary school. Then to–and it’s more difficult to reach, like, middle-class, young, very mobile person who is living not with their family, somewhere else, or renting a flat, and so it’s almost invisible for the military commission. Some of the military commission. PERIES: Right. And also I imagine one of the other problems that the government is facing is really its inability to actually pay those that they’re recruiting because the government is also in a economic crises. And your comments on that? ISHCHENKO: Actually, that’s one of the things that–[they’re going to discuss it (?)], so they would like to give strong material incentives to join the army. So, for example, paying them for shooting /əˈdænk/ or doing another important military task. But even [incompr.] not speaking about some, like, [incompr.] things, so you’re–just basically pay people to kill, and you’re ready to pay more. It’s not something that would motivate Ukrainian people to join this war. So the people would fight for their homes. But they–it seems that they understand now that this war is not in their interests, so that they are fighting not for the country, not for the better life, not against some evil enemy, but most probably against the same Ukrainians who joined the other side for some reasons which we might perceive rational but they do not. They [incompr.] them. And so that was actually one of the important human rights cases, when a journalist, /əˈman/ [Ruslan (?)] Kotsaba, he was actually a supporter of Maidan, and he’s coming from Western Ukraine. He recently published a video clip where he called all Ukrainians–all [adequate (?)] Ukrainians, as he said–to resist the draft. And recently, last weekend, he was arrested by the security service and put in custody for 60 weeks. And he’s charged with the state treason charge, which would require to put him in jail for at least 12 till 15 years. So that’s quite extreme punishment. And already many human rights activists and organizations claim that this is unacceptable, that [Ruslan] Kotsaba is now a prisoner of consciousness or a political prisoner. And, for example, Amnesty International called him the prisoner of consciousness. And this is an evident violation of freedom of speech. You cannot just put in jail a person who is simply opposing the mobilization and simply opposing this war. But the state pursues its people as kind of, like, collaborants, so allegedly they help Russians to destabilize and to demotivate Ukrainians to join this war. But it doesn’t seem that it will be possible to motivate Ukrainians to join the war with these kind of outright repressions. PERIES: Okay. Well, Volodymyr, I hope that this agreement settles things, at least until a more permanent solution can be derived. I thank you so much for joining us. And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Volodymyr Ishchenko is a sociologist based in Kyiv. He has published articles and interviews in the Guardian and New Left Review.