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Interview with A. Part 3, March 23, 2022 [Ukraine]

Ukraine. The following interview was conducted by Tous Dehors. The March 23, 2022 interview is part 3 of a series of interviews. Part 1 can be found here. Part 2 can be found here.

Originally published by Tous Dehors.

While the war has been going on for a month, have things changed significantly in daily life?

I think people are generally starting to understand this isn’t going to be over soon, although sadly, there isn’t much this realisation can possibly change. Students have forgotten all about their standardised exams (due to happen in May-June, they are required to finish high school) but still don’t know what the future holds for them. State’s payouts to the internally displaced population are so tiny (2000 UAH = 68 $ [62 €] with the pre-war rates + 3000 UAH [93€] for every child) that people will have to look for work to continue paying for food and rent. The central bank has frozen the exchange rates, and the black market is the only way of obtaining foreign currency, with rates varying wildly (sometimes 1.5-2 times the pre-war rates). Therefore, refugees in Europe can’t be sure their savings in Ukrainian banks will still exist once the exchange is opened back up. The sudden shock of the invasion has transformed into constant supply problems and the long-term war of attrition.

In Lviv, (that is, quite far from the frontline) what does the influx of people from other regions produce, in terms of work, prices, etc. ? Did the bombings that hit the Lviv area lately change anything in the behavior of people and the authorities?

The prospects of the influx of refugees have produced a rise in rent prices even before the invasion started, and after the invasion, the mayor of Lviv proclaimed it to be treasonous to raise rent prices. But as far as I know, the only mechanism of price control is just public shaming of landlords raising prices too much. Quite a lot of people have arrived in the city, but the availability of the goods is pretty stable, although sometimes you might see a delay in just-in-time delivery resulting in empty shelves, reminding you of the fragility of the entire system. Refugees are mostly housed, clothed, and fed through grassroots volunteer organisations, and the « territorial defence » militias have been formed and filled in the first days of the invasion. They are the ones enforcing the curfew, patrolling the city, and organising checkpoints. Conscription is really unpredictable: certain regions might not be drafting people at all, while others are picking up newly arrived refugees, but in general, the conscription levels aren’t that high yet. The bombings have definitely changed people’s mindset, but since there’s still little to no risk of shellings of civilian areas in Western Ukraine, air raid sirens aren’t that disruptive. Movie theatres that previously used their auditoriums for military training have opened back up, although they stop the movie once an air raid siren is sounded.

Have the prices increased significantly?

Since the exchange rates have been frozen, the Ukrainian currency is currently in a weird limbo. Officially, prices are mostly the same, with slight increases on food staples. But in the actual local food stores and markets, staples have become 10-30% more expensive. Even though sometimes there are drastic price increases, as with gas, for example, which sometimes costs 150% of its pre-war price, with the state currently trying to control the price, the biggest problem is goods availability. Some gas stations are still missing certain octane ratings, and even in the cities far from the frontline store shelves might occasionally be missing staples. Price increases can be seen more often in the cities closer to the frontline, but the biggest fear is that you will find yourself in a store with only premium-level staples left, with all the cheap ones bought up a long time ago. This is just my limited view of things as of now, and the instability might produce certain regions with even worse supply problems.

How disrupted is the economy (labour market, movement of goods, breakdown of trade relations with Russia, etc.)?

I’m afraid we will only be able to see the consequences of this later on. The break in Ukraine-Russia trade has been increasing since 2014, mostly felt in Eastern Ukraine, especially in border-adjacent cities that depended on Russian commerce. This population will now seek temporary jobs in Western Ukraine and the EU. The Ukrainian government introduced various tax breaks, but this is obviously not enough to kickstart business in the West. I think that volunteer organisations currently helping people survive might be crucial points for organisation here. Even as they help to offset the government’s problems, a concentration of refugees in one place might not be too happy about not being able to find work and the supplies slowly decreasing as the EU inevitably withdraws its aid.

As to the « war economy, » I am highly sceptical of the Ukrainian government’s ability to enforce it, partly because of the current experience of « price monitoring. » We might see some forced labour deployment as anyone signing up for refugee payouts agrees to participate in « socially useful » labour, but I’m not the one to make predictions about this.

What about the absence of a ‘left’ in Ukraine?

It is indeed true that Ukraine doesn’t have a meaningful « social democratic » or « working class » party. To be honest, I don’t fully know how that happened either! This shapes anti-authoritarians in Ukraine since the fact that the insurrection will have to occur in spite of that is pretty clear, and people wanting only to build a social democracy aren’t taken seriously. I think part of the reason why such a party didn’t form is that every single movement saw anything related to such parties as part of a negative Soviet past, and partly it’s due to nationalisms emerging out of the shell of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic and further polarising the population. Whereas in Russia, such parties have gained popularity in the last few years, in a stagnating Ukrainian economy there is little room for any kind of social democratic welfare state even on a theoretical level, and austerity to accommodate the market requirements would have to be implemented by every government.

Militarily, what about Ukrainian counterattacks?

The Ukrainian army seems to have counterattacked against the Russian troops trying to take Izyum, but the counterattack that reportedly pushed Russians all the way back to the border northwest from the city is pure fantasy. The only successful counterattacks (and not just localised attempts to hold rivers and cities) seem to have happened around Mykolaiv, where Russian troops have spread themselves too thin and have now retreated almost back to Kherson with the Kryvyi Rih attack still moving north. Generally, one should not trust the Ukrainian reports too much if they are not supplemented with photos, videos, or third-party confirmations, simply because the informational front is also part of this war, and Ukraine is serious about winning it.

Do you have any news from Donbass ?

Sadly, I do not, but the people I know on the other side of the frontline beyond Donbass are really scared to talk on the phone and are trying to lie low. Militias are increasingly terrorising the local population: there are many reports of people being taken from their apartments and the streets to fill up the ranks of the Russian army.

It seems that the protest movements in the occupied regions are continuing: are they settling into some sort of routine?

I think « routine » is the best way to put it, although we have to understand that this routine still takes place in the middle of the warzone and constantly has to face the repression of the riot police. I’ve seen reports of Ukrainian partisans « punishing » the collaborators, but not much on any other kind of disruption.

Does the arrival of Chechen and Syrian troops change the nationalist discourse?

Syrian troops have not yet arrived in Ukraine, but Chechen troops are here from Day 1; there have been many confirmations of them fighting in Mariupol and around Kyiv. The deputy mayor’s anti-Muslim comments [Borys Filatov, who declared that “every killed Kadyrov soldier will be buried inside of sewn up pigskins. We will see how the “sky” will accept them.“] are just one example of the nationalist rhetoric that pretends all Chechens are born to be right-wing supersoldiers. There are many reports of « pig-fat bullets » being used against the Kadyrovtsi, various sexist references to Chechen mothers, and much more.

What about the protests in Russia and Belarus?

Russian protests have seemingly died down, and a giant wave of repressions is rolling all across the country. The only successful disruption I’ve heard about is Belarusian railroad workers sabotaging the connections with Ukraine, further slowing down already serious supply problems around Kyiv for the Russian forces.

The Ukrainian government and in particular the secret service (SBU) communicate a lot about desertions in the Russian army: what should we think about it?

Hoping these are true, but I am afraid I haven’t seen any confirmation of this beyond Ukrainian intelligence sources.

Do you have anything to add about looting, desertions or the refusal of conscription in Ukraine?

The patriotic attitudes seem to prevail for now, so draft evasion is atomised and localised. I’m afraid I can’t say much more beyond this for now.

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