The ‘Criminal Spring’ In Ukraine’s East

Any serious social disruption is inevitably followed with a wave of crime. Usual social rules and standards weaken, the state loses its privilege on using coercion, authority of the ‘man with the gun’ takes over, large amounts of weapons come into uncontrolled distribution. Such a condition is known as ‘anomy’ in sociology. Currently, Luhansk Oblast is moving towards anomy in quantum leaps, as power-wielding structures are paralyzed while paramilitary armed groups become more and more active.

Luhansk Oblast has actually never been safe regarding crime rates; moreover, it holds its position in the first five regions leading in numbers of committed crimes. Criminal traditions are in general quite strong at Donbas because this industrial region had served as a shelter for different dropouts. Some of them have socialized while being involved in industrial development; others have continued with their usual business. Donbas reality in fact has offered two lifestyles: either hard work at factories and coalmines, or live the fun and easy life of a criminal woith the final destination in prison. When a major part of the male population has a criminal record, prison ethics start to affect society very seriously. Gangsters turn into heroes that resist the life of the middlebrows. This is a repeat of the ‘‘turbulent 90s’ in the Donbas region. Actually, even former president Yanukovich’s bio with his two prison terms did not seem repelling to Donbas – they accepted him as ‘one of us’.

Any experiments on destabilization will bear sad results on this social background. After pro-Russian gunmen had seized the Luhansk SBU building on April 6 and got access to weapons it became clear that the city should get ready for the advancing crime wave. In fact, due to their random nature, it is very hard for any paramilitary groups to maintain discipline among their ranks. Besides, weapons quite often come into hands of criminals who use the situation to search for ‘easy game’.

After Luhansk had been seized by separatists, crime reports started flowing in about cars ‘confiscated’ from government employees and citizens. The ‘rebels’ also seized cars from the Oblast administration garage. A cash transit car with about 1,000,000 UAH was hijacked by strangers in Stanychno-Luhanskiy district. There were reports of robberies and rapes, beatings and shootings following household conflicts (for example, masked people shot at fishermen for unknown reasons).

There are constant reports of kidnappings. Jewelry shops have been robbed both in Krasnodon and Krasnyi Luch. There have been cross-fires in the streets. A man and woman were shot dead by gunmen at Dolzhansky checkpoint and their 10-year old daughter had been badly injured. A real criminal revolution had started. There is no need to discuss which of these deeds were committed by fighters of so-called ‘Southeast Army’ and which by criminals taking advantage of the situation of total disorder. Both are illegal violence bearers and both should receive legal punishment.

The police have proved their total disability in this situation. The law enforcement bodies in Luhansk Oblast can only state obvious facts of outrages that have taken place. Due to intricate political games as a result of which the Luhansk police had at least straddled the fence, if not expressed loyalty to separatist riots, had finally opened such a can of worms that it will be hard to localize the conflict for a very long time to come. Former Deputy Governor Eduard Lozovsky’s subsequently famous words addressed to the Euromaidan protesters that bandits should be treated the way that Zhukov treated them in 1946 (meaning they should be shot down) turnder out to be prophetic not for Kyiv where the revolutionary wave calmed quite soon, but for Luhansk facing a rapid growth of crime.

However, the main problem lies in the ‘controlled chaos’ observed in Luhansk. Criminal outrages demoralize local citizens who could stop ‘the Crimea scenario’ in Donbass. As Kyiv International Institute for Sociology’s survey has shown, most of Luhansk citizens (51.9%) had supported Ukraine’s territorial unity in April. However, a major part of them (43.2%) would prefer not to take an active part in any political actions. The same survey has shown that the criminal outrages are what Luhansk citizens fear most. The criminal chaos results in ordinary people not feeling safe even at home because even there they can be attacked by gangsters any moment. In this case, the Luhansk average citizen, scared to death, is willing to regain order at any price. And if Ukrainian authorities are unwilling to do this, let the Russian militaries interfere.

At the same time, city is cleaned up of any peaceful social activities, removing the opportunity for  social dialogue. No political or civil activist in their right mind will going to lead people under gunfire. This creates the needed propaganda picture, in which there are purportedly no pro-Ukrainian peaceful demonstrations in Luhansk and all the citizens want to join Russia (because only pro-Russian supporters feel safe to gather at meetings), with the malicious Right Sector ready to strike from any corner from some imaginary hiding-place, giving reason for leagues of armed people to cruise streets and seize administrative buildings ‘in defense’.

This picture can suit both the Russian propaganda market and the Ukrainian audience as well, as more people start to think that most of the people in Luhansk want to join Russia or to at least break away from Ukraine. This is a very easy and widely used technology. Let’s recall the October revolution in Russia, where the Bolshevist dictatorship was predecessed with a bloody chaos of criminal outbursts inspired by Bolshevists themselves. It actually did away with the remains of the old order and created a basis for new loyalty. “If not our rule, then gangs and bashings will come”.

Only powerful state politics combining diplomatic methods with tough actions can counter with this process. The time for volunteers, self-defense troops, and other people of good will is over. The situation has gone too far and now only professionals should interfere. Provided that they are given proper objectives and we haven’t been totally betrayed based on deals that we will never know about.

Translated by Irina Kostyshina, edited by Alya Shandra



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