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Denys Kazanskyy on Donbas: "We may have to resettle some cities instead of rebuilding them"

The war put an end to the concept of Donbas. Today, the region that evolved from the Wild Fields is actually being deconstructed and is turning back into the Wild Fields as a result of the fighting. Therefore, the question of people returning there is open and ambiguous, argued Denys Kazanskyy, a blogger, political commentator and journalist, author of books on Donbas, representative of Ukraine in the Trilateral Contact Group for the peaceful settlement of the situation in eastern Ukraine, at the discussion panel "The Future of Ukrainian Donbas" held within the New Country joint project by the and EFI Group.

Denys Kazanskyy
Photo: Max Trebukhov
Denys Kazanskyy

"We can look at specific examples: we already have a number of completely destroyed cities in Donbas. Obliterated. I think they will never be rebuilt, at least in the form in which they existed. There is no economic sense in it, and the people, the majority of the population, who left them will not return," said Kazanskyy, who is originally from Donetsk.

In his opinion, there are symbolic cities, such as Bakhmut, which will be restored despite the economic feasibility. But there are many other settlements that will hardly exist.

"There is the town of Maryinka, specifically the town of Maryinka on the outskirts of Donetsk, where the fighting is going on. This is a city that has become a kind of fortress since 2014, and now there is nothing left there, only the foundation. There are a lot of photos and videos, and it's a lunar landscape - there's nothing there. And I don't understand how it can be restored. Does it make sense? It seems to me that it's cheaper to build a new city in the field than to take out all this rubbish, clear it of mines, or whatever," the journalist says.

Photo: Telegram/Andriy Yermak

The same is true for Popasna.

"Even the Russians have already announced that they will not restore Popasna. The city is 94% destroyed. And most importantly, if it is restored, what for? There was nothing to do in Popasna before, there were no prospects, people were leaving. They fled from such towns. And this process has been going on in Donbas since the 90s. It all started a long time ago, and the war finished it off. I believe that there is a deconstruction of Donbas that is actually putting an end to the very concept of Donbas. We say that Donetsk and Luhansk regions will remain, but whether Donbas will remain is a big question, and everything is going to the point where it will not," Kazanskyy suggested.

This is despite the fact that the war is not over yet, he added, we are not going to start rebuilding these cities tomorrow. The war is still going on. It is also unclear what will remain when the fighting ends.

"Maybe there won't even be what there is now. It's not just a demographic catastrophe, but a de facto depopulation - people are leaving: some who are closer to Ukrainians - to Ukraine, some to Europe, some to Russia, but they are simply fleeing. Firstly, it's impossible to live there now, and secondly, no-one has any trust in the future," the blogger believes.

He also said that Russia has announced the closure of all but 10 mines. And most towns in the region were originally founded as mining towns - around mines and for the sake of miners. To close the mines means to take away the city's raison d'être, Kazanskyy is convinced.

Photo: Max Trebukhov

"The enterprises for which all this was founded have disappeared, bringing the question of what to do with all this. People are running away from there. There are pensioners, people who cannot leave, people who are sick or have limited mobility. Therefore, we may avoid a problem of how to engage people and persuade them to return.

There is an unpredictable war at the moment. Does it make sense to rebuild anything at all? If you look at the region, it is returning to the state of the Wild Fields, which is what it may have subconsciously wanted. It once evolved from the Wild Fields and is now turning back into the Wild Fields again because of this war," said Kazanskyy.

In his opinion, there will not be as many people. And it may be necessary to resettle some cities instead of rebuilding them.

"We don't know the future, but it seems that the number of people, the Donbas that grew due to industry, due to the economic growth, into a region where 7 million people lived together in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, will no longer exist. It will be equal to the population of other regions, where an average of 1.5 million people live, perhaps even fewer.

It will just be a process that will lead to this balance. We may have to decide not how to rebuild some cities, but how to resettle them, because it will be more profitable to relocate people somewhere else, give them jobs and housing in another city than to rebuild Popasna or Lysychansk, where you physically rebuild housing, and then what? Where to work there, what will develop in these cities, what kind of business, who will come there? There are a lot of questions that I don't see any answers to at the moment," Kazanskyy concluded.

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