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Breathing Life Into Eastern Ukraine

How to Revive and Reintegrate the Region After the Russian Invasion

A new fountain in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, functions as a place for residents to meet and chat Yevhen Hlibovytsky

The Russians took and held Kramatorsk, a small city in eastern Ukraine, for about three months in 2014. Since then, the only battles this town has seen have taken place in the kitchen. Or several kitchens, to be exact. Last year, on the anniversary of Ukraine’s Independence Day, government officials sparred for the titles of “Best Plov,” “Best Borscht,” and “Best Goulash.” This year there will be no Independence Day competition, since the organizer of the borscht battle was recently sacked.

Yevgen Vilinsky was the first deputy governor of the Donetsk Regional State Administration. The Ukrainian province, or oblast, he helped govern directly borders the breakaway region currently under Moscow’s control. The Donetsk area has been hard hit by war and division, and its citizens are not of one mind about their future. Vilinsky and his team had made significant progress helping the oblast rebound from the war. But when Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, assumed office, he promptly began replacing everyone associated with the previous administration—including Vilinsky, who was fired on July 4.

Russia occupies seven percent of Ukraine, including Crimea and a chunk of the region known as the Donbas on Ukraine’s eastern frontier. Even within this border zone, Moscow-backed stooges occupy only part of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts—swaths of the Donbas remain under Ukrainian control. The fighting continues sporadically, and the Minsk agreements that were supposed to bring peace have failed. Many in Washington and Brussels still hesitate to use the term, but the occupied part of Ukraine has become an intractable pressure point that no one knows how to resolve.

Of the two provinces that make up the Donbas on the Ukrainian side of the cease-fire line, the Donetsk oblast surpasses the Luhansk oblast on virtually any index, including health, education, pensions, roads, government transparency, and income. These differences owe something to economics and geography: the Luhansk oblast relies chiefly on agriculture, whereas heavy industry has always been centered in the Donetsk

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