Boris Litvinov, the Chairman of the Donetsk People’s Republic Supreme Council told Rossiya Segodnya how the republic’s parliament is being formed, where financial and humanitarian aid arrives from, what the republic’s penitentiary system is like and why the residents cannot come to terms with the Kiev officials.
Mr. Litvinov, how has the Donetsk People’s Republic’s (DPR) Supreme Council been formed and how legitimate is it?
Boris Litvinov: From a formal point of view – it is illegitimate as there were no direct general elections. We have rather been elected by people in the street. Now, 150 parliamentarians who represent almost all of the regions of our [self-proclaimed] state comprise our deputy corps of the former Donetsk region.
The street elections were held on April 6, when 10-15 thousand people cast their votes at a meeting outside the headquarters of the regional administration.
There and then we also adopted the declaration of independence. Of course, from the point of universal suffrage those were not legitimate elections. And we understand it perfectly well. Our primarily task is to organize and hold general direct elections into the Supreme Council of the republic. But while there is a civil war on our territory, it is impossible to do. When we liberate our state from the Ukrainian military, we will certainly hold the elections in compliance with the existing international norms.
But you had an earlier publicly elected Donetsk Regional Council acting on your territory. Does it mean that the meeting, which elected the Supreme Council by a mere show of hands, had simply seized power from the legitimately elected body?
Boris Litvinov: The thing is that by that time Donetsk Regional Council had discredited itself in the eyes of the residents. Back in February, when a similar meeting in Kiev elected with a simple vote the current Ukrainian government, when there was a virtual coup-d’état in Maidan and a seizure of power, we, the population of Donetsk region, appealed to our regional deputies with a demand not to recognize such decisions. But the deputies turned a deaf ear to us under the excuse that everything was being decided in Kiev. And then the meeting by the regional administration headquarters elected its own Supreme Council, under the similar scenario as in Kiev. And thus we started our work. Four months passed and now it is our own history and our own people’s republic. Yes, we have been guided by the revolutionary viability while making those decisions, this is illegitimate, but the current regime in Ukraine is similarly illegitimate as well. And, as is well-known, we had a referendum on May 11, when the majority of the population of the Donetsk region supported us. We declared sovereignty, withdrew from the Ukrainian state to together with the Luhansk People’s Republic formed a new state- Novorossiya.
What are the major differences of opinion between you and the current Ukrainian government? What was the reason for not recognizing the decisions of Euromaidan and why did you decide to form your Donetsk People’s Republic?
Boris Litvinov: We are divided by three major compelling discrepancies. First – the current Ukrainian government has opted for the association with the European Union. Way back President Yushchenko wanted NATO to come here. We do not agree to it. The east of Ukraine and Donetsk region were always economically and mentally focused on Russia. Second – current Ukrainian regime is building a mononational Ukrainian state. Donbas is the youngest region in Ukraine. It has been formed by those who moved here from the whole of the former Soviet Union and thus a mononational state is an unacceptable option for us. And third – the image of the enemy. The current Ukraine sees its eastern neighbor as the enemy, in other words – Russia. But we have always been and still are part of the Russian world. Russia has never been and will never be an enemy to us. Meanwhile, for the 23 years of the so-called Ukrainian independence two generations have been brought up with a hostile attitude towards Russia. We can’t agree with such a view spectrum of the current regime, approved and fostered by the Euromaidan. And those discrepancies, as I’ve already mentioned, remain compelling. Therefore we chose independence, created Donetsk People’s Republic and formed our own regulatory bodies including the Supreme Council.
Does Donetsk People’s Republic’s Supreme Council function as a professional body?
Boris Litvinov: No, it is a voluntary organization, although we pay a number of deputies, but not a salary, rather an allowance. We have several deputies from the regions occupied by the Ukrainian forces. They have to live in Donetsk, rent housing and they need finances. There are not many of them and we pay them 1500 hryvnias (a little over $100).
How are the budgets of the DPR government and the republic’s Supreme Council being set up?
Boris Litvinov: It is true that we do not have our own finances, plants aren’t operating, taxes aren’t being collected. Our budget, which is indeed limited, is made up of donations both from the country and abroad. For instance, a millionaire from Guatemala, whose name I will keep secret, arrived recently in Donetsk. He said, “I will help everyone who is struggling for democracy and the rule of people.” He donated 10,000 dollars to us, as well as started a fundraising campaign for the DPR in Guatemala and Canada, which he is also a citizen of.
Or for another instance, one of the large Russian religious institutions also collected and sent us money that we distributed to those in need. I would generally say that we have a rather big number of benefactors, some of whom donate minimal amounts, but still they do. These finances are then redirected elsewhere. We have even started to get confused about who is donating, when and how much, as finances arrive from different places and are meant for different bodies of the republic.
To keep track of these flows, we set up a special organization, Goskomrezerv, which accumulates the finances, information on financial and humanitarian aid and distributes it among DPR’s different bodies.
We understand that it’s not the money that is a major stimulus for the deputies of the DPR Supreme Council. So, what is it?
Boris Litvinov: We all came to our parliament deeply inspired by the revolution. First, when the first lists of deputies were being compiled, there were many who didn’t want to get enrolled, as no one knew where these lists would be sent - SBU [Ukrainian Security Service], police... Yep, there was some hesitation. Many chose not to be included in the list, even though they went through a simplified voting procedure. Now, as time moved on, we are not afraid of being on the lists, I even keep the list of the first, most revolutionary Council composition. Time has passed since then and there are those who died, or were captured…. We co-opted new members to make the Supreme Council a body that represents all the regions of the republic.
I would agree that to be a Supreme Council deputy is not an easy job. We don’t just employ new members- they all have to take an oath of allegiance to the Donetsk People’s Republic, which is a procedure per se. Besides, we have a number of deputies who suffered a lot for what they were doing, some are still held at SBU. They ended up there in different ways – they are usually detained during military operations by the Ukrainian army or Kolomoysky’s mercenaries, the so-called private armies. They put a bag over deputies’ heads, take them to the basement and then interrogate, beating them, breaking their bones, ribs, arms…We know about that, as one of our deputies was lucky to break free from this hell. You know, there are adequate people even among the SBU personnel. One of them helped our deputy to draw up the right protocol, which stated he was not a deputy but a street protester. As a result, he was released, though beaten and with a broken arm. It took him three days to get back to us, changing transport more than once, with no money in his pocket, like a rough sleeper. Once he got cured he rejoined the Council.
It’s clear why I am not naming names - to not expose them, the deputy and the SBU officer who saved him. We have other issues as well. Our deputies came from humble background, and they made perfect engineers, great doctors and teachers, but few can boast management expertise, parliamentarian work experience. Managers who previously worked in national or city economy bodies can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Yes, there is a human resources issue. But we are slowly learning a lesson, trying not to make mistakes. The deputies’ main task is, as I said; to prepare the public, prepare everything needed to hold a legitimate, across-the-republic direct vote to elect our own, real parliament in a time of peace.
Not all the deputies, by the way, understand it correctly: there are those who consider themselves to be saints, boasting they are revolutionists and saying they won’t give their parliament seat to anyone else.
We are working with them, though, explaining our aims and the responsibility we have assumed before the people. For example, I have an extensive experience of work in various levels of councils – from a district council to a city one. I have been elected many times.
What’s your profession?
Boris Litvinov: Ooh, I have an unusual profession – I perform in a symphony orchestra, playing the double-bass. But this is my first specialization. I performed in the philharmonic hall and in the opera theatre. Then, after I graduated from the conservatoire I virtually became a Komsomol [young communist] activist, deeply engaged with the work. This probably runs in the family as my granddad was a real revolutionist and he worked in this area as well…Then I took a vocational training in mining and even worked a little on a mine site. I got a second higher education, graduating from the economic faculty of the Donetsk branch of Moscow State University. I worked in a range of positions at different plants, since perestroika [reconstruction period in the late 80s in Russia] I have been engaged in social work, so I am a hereditary professional revolutionist. I turned 60 recently.
How long will the republic last and what is going to come next?
Boris Litvinov: You know, I’ve been chair of the Supreme Council for two weeks only and we’ve recently seen a shift in the leadership. I get daily calls from the opposing side of the conflict, they suggest making peace, stopping the warfare. They say that, like we do, they don’t want to make war and die for the interests of Kolomoysky. They say they are against oligarchs and are striving for peace. They suggest that we accept Poroshenko’s presidency, remain a part of Ukraine and pay some tax to Kiev. But this is what we cannot do: we cannot be part of a mononational country, which embraces the EU but turns its back on Russia. This contradicts our basic principles and we cannot agree to that.
I ask them if they represent the Ukrainian authorities when speaking to me. They respond by saying they are just mediators, speaking on behalf of the Ukrainian army brigades and regiments. I asked them to prove their authority in the written form to negotiate still further, so now they are taking a pause.
Do you assume that you might get defeated in this so-called anti-terrorist operation and you’ll get arrested for power takeover? And not only you, but all the deputies will be tried in a court of law? What would you do in such a situation?
Boris Litvinov: We do not assume that this might happen. We are fighting for our territory. As our self-defense fighters say, even at odds of one-to-five, we will still win. Don’t underestimate our troops’ morale, it is a crucial factor.
According to our indirect estimates (there are no accurate statistics, but we can judge by sales of bread and other data), there are 450,000-500,000 people still staying in Donetsk.Those who wanted to leave and who had the place to escape to have already left. Overall 1.5 million people are currently living on the territory under our control. Those are residents that haven’t left their places, but who are ready to stand up for our sovereignty with arms in their hands. Believe me, this is not a small number of people.
How did you get the arms? What are you fighting with?
Boris Litvinov: We generally have enough small arms, which we took from warehouses or from Ukrainian troops. We are in desperate need of heavy weaponry. Sadly enough, Russia, which we pinned our hopes on, is not sending it to us. The ratio here is one-to-ten, which makes us lose to the Ukrainian side. Still, we are slowly getting our hands on Ukraine’s Grad rocket launcher systems, armored vehicles, artillery weapons and other military hardware. The other day we seized around a hundred units, for instance. We repair everything that was damaged in the fighting or was purposefully crashed by our enemies, right here, in Donetsk and other cities in the region, and then make use of it again. Apart from that, as I’ve already said, benefactors are also acting along these lines. Don’t be surprised. If Kolomoysky, Lyashko, though being just individuals, can provide their private armies with heavy and small arms, why can’t our benefactors do that as well?
As the Ukrainian official media and state TV channels report, what you have here is “a territory of mayhem”. They claim that you control solely the government’s building and that of the Supreme Council, whereas plunder, looting, and anarchy are going rampant all over the region. What is it like in real life?
Boris Litvinov: It is not true. We are in full control of our own territory and we maintain order here. Our interior ministry is operating, with former policemen who took our side working there. By the way, not long ago Ukrainian television aired footage about masked people attempting to seize a restaurant in downtown Kiev.
But there seems to be no war in Kiev. During a military campaign there are certainly people who want to cash in on it. We take strict measures against them. Additionally, a whole range of punishments apply, in line with the rules of the revolutionary time. Those who commit a petty crime are sent to the frontline to dig trenches. There is a penalty battalion which accepts those who want to make amends through fighting. Capital punishment by firing squad applies to those who commit the most serious crimes, namely engaged in kidnapping and plundering.
Has this extreme measure been used yet?
Boris Litvinov: Yes, I am aware of two cases. By the way, one of the officials in the new government was severely punished in keeping with laws of the revolutionary time, as he was caught in a bribery scandal. I am not naming names.
Do you think there is a possibility of peace between you, the DPR, and Ukraine? Under what conditions?
Boris Litvinov: Peace is possible on condition that the Ukrainian army would give up attempts to annex our territory and impose a mononational state here oriented towards the EU. In other words, on condition that they admit de facto or de jure that we are an independent state. We think that it is possible in this case to deploy a peacekeeping corps to the Ukraine-DNR border, which would guard our borders and guarantee noninterference into our internal affairs. We would like the peacekeepers to be predominantly Russians. This is not a question of arms, though. But there has to be a marking line. For the time being, we would like a no-fly zone to be declared over Novorossiya, as the most serious damage to mines, residential areas and infrastructure has been inflicted by the Ukrainian aviation. Why could the US, for instance, declare such a zone in different parts of the world and why is it impossible here? We would like Russia to announce that…it’s up to Russia, not us, though.