What will happen after the ATO ends?

By Valentyn TORBA, The Day
26 April, 2018 - 10:31
A third Dialog on Peace and Safe Reintegration National Platform was held on April 24

The event took place with support from the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Committee on Human Rights, Ethnic Minorities, and Interethnic Relations and Crisis Management Initiative NGO. The theme of the roundtable was “War, Peace and Reintegration: What Will Happen after the ATO Ends?”

As you know, the anti-terrorist operation (ATO) in Ukraine should finally end on April 30. Many people are deceived by this wording, since the end of the ATO does not mean the cessation of hostilities. On the contrary, our soldiers will now have an enhanced ability to take more decisive action on the front. The occupying power has certainly used the transition from the ATO to the Combined Forces Operation to further its propaganda aims, arguing that the Ukrainian soldiers would go on an offensive. However, we have heard no serious statements from the Ukrainian side on this issue. Rather, the information space is filled from time to time with statements from politicians and senior officials that are of political rather than practical nature. Nevertheless, the liberation of Ukrainian territories is an urgent matter. Moreover, it requires more than just military force. De-occupation of territories is impossible without “de-occupation” of brains.

“We have all the necessary ingredients for dialog,” said Hryhorii NEMYRIA, who chairs the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Human Rights, Ethnic Minorities, and Interethnic Relations. “There is a platform whose components ensure impartiality, openness and, at the same time, an important combination of some institutional factors, in particular parliamentary, executive, and public.”

Regarding the subject of the roundtable itself, Nemyria noticed that when talking about reintegration, it was necessary to understand what should be done and what should not. In addition, he believes that the reintegration policy cannot be regarded as something that should only become operational after the onset of peace. According to him, that policy must be carried out right now. “Principles and approaches that will be laid down in this policy while the war, labeled a low-intensity conflict, is still going on – these principles and approaches will determine how and when, and with what parameters, a stable and comprehensive peace will be established, and not a mere truce,” Nemyria said.

According to Nemyria, there are 2.5 to 3 million Ukrainian citizens on the other side of the line of contact, and almost 2 million more in Crimea. Adding to this almost 2 million internally displaced people (IDPs) who reside in the unoccupied Ukraine, the figure looks huge as a measure of people who have found themselves directly affected by the current situation as a result of the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine and occupation of the latter’s territories. Let us recall that after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, this country faced the need to relocate 116,000 citizens. The only difference is that while we were dealing with a manmade disaster then, we have a multidimensional problem on our hands now, which is very vulnerable to Russian hybrid warfare methods that are being used against Ukraine.

Participants of the roundtable also emphasized that even the best reintegration strategy, dialogs, and documents would have no effect without proper funding of specific programs. For example, according to Nemyria, out of 1.8 million officially registered IDPs, only 63 families have been provided state-funded housing. “That is, out of 1.8 million officially registered IDPs, ridiculously few have been provided housing,” he added. “At the same time, the Ministry for Regional Development, Building, and Housing of Ukraine answered the official request of the parliamentary Committee on Ethnic Minorities by stating that it did not monitor the status and situation of unfinished housing or the possibility of attracting donors for construction.”

According to Nemyria, only 34 million hryvnias were allocated this year for implementation of the program on providing IDPs with housing. He described this state of affairs as “a policy of simulating the solution of the problems afflicting our IDPs and the reintegration of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.”

At the roundtable, First Deputy Minister of Information Policy of Ukraine Emine DZHAPAROVA briefly recounted key research data on communication strategies for reintegration. In her opinion, reintegration of Ukrainian territories is quite possible and communication in this aspect is very important. Moreover, over the four years of occupation, the information environment of these territories has been virtually cleared of Ukrainian content. The enemy-captured TV and radio frequencies and equipment began to be used in information warfare at the outset of the war. Due to the artificially created information vacuum, the population is not able to fully understand the situation and is deceived by Russian version. “They argue that Ukraine is in a civil war, that Ukraine is a dysfunctional state that cannot cope with the reforms and is corrupt,” Dzhaparova said. At the same time, Russian occupiers conduct daily searches and arrests of those disagreeing with the Kremlin regime. “The Russian repressive machine carries out searches and imprisons citizens of Ukraine whom it labels as saboteurs every day,” Dzhaparova added. “So people are in fear and engage in self-censorship. People cross the border with Crimea and when discussing political mood on the peninsula in the queue, they do it in whispered voices.”

At the same time, it should be noted that trust in the Ukrainian media in eastern Ukraine has significantly decreased, which should also be addressed. The Ukrainian mass media, which from the very outset were not ready for the challenges of the hybrid warfare, on the one hand began to engage in some fictitious reconciliation with the enemy (while claiming that they care about “objectivity” and fight against the “language of hatred”), but on the other hand they began to simulate the methods of Russian propaganda, only from a diametrically opposite position.

“The term ‘reintegration policy’ is so often heard that it has actually turned into a meaningless mantra,” said expert Volodymyr LUPATSII. “However, were you to specifically ask people what reintegration policy is, I think that the majority would surely not give a complete answer to this. The key issue is that Ukraine, despite the occupation of Crimea and parts of the Donbas, has not drawn the appropriate lessons from it. Both aggression and occupation were made possible by the failure of that reintegration policy, or its absence. Today, under conditions of undeclared war and global instability, the attitude towards reintegration is fundamentally changing, and not only in Ukraine. First of all, we need a new status of reintegration policy in the context of an undeclared war. Without a comprehensive implementation of this policy, we will be left with the risk of repeating a situation that has already emerged once. Reintegration should not be limited to a sectoral policy. It should be a component of the national security system. As long as this is not the case, each ministry will act on its own. As a consequence, instead of a single reintegration policy, we have separate measures taken by individual ministries, not a full-fledged strategy.”

In turn, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to Belarus Roman BEZSMERTNYI emphasized that reintegration should first of all come from our attitude towards the individual, and not towards the borders or the state.

“I cannot imagine a safe reintegration without it being a process unfolding around the individual and for that individual,” Bezsmertnyi said. “I see problems with understanding of what is happening today at the institutional level as we define the issue of reintegration. Each of us adds their own human dimension to this process. If we look more frequently at the situation in the human dimension, we will find the answer. Walls, borders, territories, and the state make a dimension in which we will not find answers.”

But here lies a rather dangerous “landmine.” Bezsmertnyi himself proposed to hold “space bridges” with inhabitants of the occupied territories and added that his audience included journalists who held accreditations both in the free territory of Ukraine and in the occupied parts, that is, accreditations issued by terrorist organizations and occupation administrations. And here, it is extremely important not to confuse things in our drive to reconcile. After all, the Russian propaganda machine has repeatedly showered our journalists, public figures, and even TV show presenters with false “kindness,” making them send reports from occupied cities that demonstrated how “safely” people lived there. However, they failed to mention that hundreds of missing persons were rotting in illegal prisons nearby at the same time.

As you know, The Power of Law NGO, headed by former member of the Verkhovna Rada Andrii Senchenko, has already submitted for public consultation the draft law “On Forgiveness” and is preparing to submit the draft law “On the Transition Period,” which should become the basis for a healthy process of consolidation of society in the free and the occupied territories alike. Let us emphasize that it should exclude political or other machinations. Ultimately, the protection of the individual and the protection of national security cannot be considered separately. One cannot discuss the armor of the walls without addressing the safety of lives of those who live within those walls. That is why it is necessary to distinguish between “prodigal sons” and enemies, seek mutual understanding with our own and never forget crimes against Ukraine and Ukrainians.