Only unification with the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) can teach the Lugansk outlaws to abide by civil laws rather than semi-criminal rules.
The residents of the Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) call their leader, Igor Plotnitsky, either Kolyvan or Jabba. The former nickname is from a Russian cartoon about three bogatyrs, the latter one is from The Star Wars, and both characters are fat, cruel and greedy. But in Nov 2014, in the cold post-war Lugansk, the selfsame people stood in kilometers-long queues just to vote for Plotnitsky. And they did that on their own will rather than under the gun or for a sack of potato, as some Ukrainian agitprops said later. Since then, Plotnitsky has so much spoiled his reputation that of late he has not even dared to appear in public and has contacted his people only by means of TV. And the people generally react by either hissing and hooting or giving him the finger.
In late summer 2014, Plotnitsky replaced Valery Bolotov with the silent consent of the Kremlin. At that time, the LPR was quickly shrinking as the Ukrainian troops were occupying more and more territories and had almost encircled Lugansk. For kind and honest Bolotov, it was hard to resist the ambitions of some local atamans to divide the republic into spheres of influence. Plotnitsky was the best way for the Kremlin to prevent the LPR’s collapse.
He was a major, a graduate of the Penza Artillery School and he was from Western Ukraine – a special argument for some Russian partners, who still dream of having the whole of brotherly Ukraine on the Russian orbit. Plotnitsky managed to organize a strong unit, which, unlike the rest of the LPR army, was not engaged in alcoholism, racketeering and lynching.
But just two examples of Potnitsky’s view of life at that moment. In 2014, when I was a special correspondent of a federal news agency in Lugansk, I witnessed one incident: the fans of Zorya, a Lugansk-based pro-Russian football club, drew pro-Russian and anti-Ukrainian graffiti all over the city. Some of them said, “Lugansk is a Russian City!” “Ukraine is Russia!” Those youths also disseminated leaflets with “Ukraine Kills!” slogan and a Nazi swastika. When I showed it to Plotnitsky, he was enraged: “Who let them do this? Don’t they understand that they are insulting the whole Ukrainian nation? Do they mean that all Ukrainians are Fascists?!”
I can only imagine how he reacted to the Ukrainian flag used as a door mat in Bolotov’s administration.
A similar thing happened a bit later. At that time, the Lugansk airport was guarded by just 40 Ukrainian fighters. Raised in the Soviet times, I had lots of Lenin’s principles hammered into my head. One of them said: “You should first take control of the post, the telegraph and the railways.” So, I asked the commander of the Zorya assault unit Alexander Stefanovsky to help me to replace the Ukrainian trident towering over the Lugansk Railway Station with an LPR flag. We did it together with a group of roofers, who represented the selfsame youth whom Plotnitsky earlier accused of calling all Ukrainians Fascists. Plotnitsky was enraged again and reprimanded Stefanovsky for that initiative. When I asked him about the airport, he yelled: “Go home and blow up there whatever you like. We’ll need to use it once we take it back.” Shortly afterwards, the Ukrainians used the airport to enlarge their troops and in Aug 2014, they were strong enough to break the self-defenders’ blockade and to encircle Lugansk. It cost the self-defenders a lot of time and human lives to get the airport back. But Plotnitsky can no longer use it as it is in ruins. As regards Stefanovsky, he was killed in Aug 2014, when defending the city...
Go and grab it from somebody…
And one more episode showing what kind of person Plotnitsky is. When I saw what hardships the young republic was going through, I decided to help it. But what could a civilian like me do for a whole republic? As a journalist, I could offer some information resistance to the Ukrainian propaganda machine. My news agency did not object. So, I decided to organize the press-service of Plotnitsky, who was Defense Minister at that moment. I would endure any kind of problem – even the limited internet – but I could not understand Plotnitsky’s attitude, who kept kicking me about for poking my nose in other people’s business. “We are fighting and here you are with your films,” he said once (he meant my videos from battlefields). And when I asked him to give me a small room for my work, he was laconic: “Go and grab it from somebody.” Shortly afterwards, I stopped working for him.
As a result, as you may know, Plotnitsky “grabbed” power in the LPR. And what followed then was the killings of opponents by some elusive Ukrainian commandos, some strange attempted coups with subsequent repressions and deportations, constant government reshuffles, ministers arrested for allegedly misappropriating drugs sent to the LPR as humanitarian assistance, no response to the calls to grant injured self-defenders a special status and arguments like that the only force that showed actual resistance to the Ukrainian junta in Lugansk was Zorya.
All this was happening amid very low earnings and very high prices, from one side, and Plotnitsky’s ardent promises to get back all territories and to go back into the Russian world, from the other. None of those promises were kept: the territories were still occupied, with more and more people killed on the contact line every day. And the worst thing about that all was that very close, across the border, there was one more people’s republic, where industry was reviving, where people got much higher wages and enjoyed concerts by artists from Russia.
The only thing Plotnitsky did well was reprimanding his subordinates. And it looked like he was good and his team was bad. At one point, I even believed him, especially when he showed righteous anger on TV and was eager to know why marketplaces were still not privatized and what was going on at Alcuba.
And does Alcuba have to do with it?
The first question was clear – everything in the LPR must belong to the people, it can’t be helped – though one source has told me that once the war ended, the owners of most marketplaces in Lugansk fled the republic and they all were given to the regional consumers’ cooperative – an organization set up before the war as a cover for local oligarchs. But after some time, that cooperative was disbanded and the marketplaces were given to people from Plotnitsky’s team or to his relatives.
And what about Alcuba? That cafe was a vivid example of “a feast in time of plague,” “a vanity fair,” where certain personalities were having good time while all the others were living on a shoestring. I wondered if Plotnitsky was going to close that cradle of filth.
The answer was given by chief of his security, Yevgeny “Seliver” Seliverstov, or, to more precise, by his own and his men’s fists, who beat me just because I had my badge in my bag rather than on my neck. I wasn’t crippled only because the head of Plotnitsky’s press service told Seliverstov that I was a Russian citizen.
And that was not the only feat of Plotnitsky’s guards. In late July 2015, they caught some Oleg Stetsuk and tortured him in a basement for three days. Seliverstov once shot at the car of one of local businessmen, beat him, took his bag with 3,000 USD inside and sent him to the Prosecutor General’s Office. Later the court reconciled the sides, but the money was never given back.
In Apr 2016, Seliverstov beat several visitors of Alcuba. Later it turned out that he squeezed a lot of money out of that club. As a result, the owners of the club decided to close it.
The only way-out
Today, Seliverstov and the head of Plotnitsky’s administration Irina “Fiona” Teitsman are facing criminal charges for attempts to cede the republic to Ukrainian oligarchs. So, once again it turns out that Plotnitsky is a good person, simply, he is a poor judge of character.
As regards the conflict between Plotnitsky and Interior Minister Igor Kornet and Chief of the State Security Service Leonid Pasechnik, it is not new. The latter were displeased to see coal, tobacco and food smuggled from the LPR to Russia and even to the territory temporarily occupied by Ukraine and arrested some people from time to time. One of the arrestees was Energy and Coal Industry Minister Dmitry Lyamin. Plotnitsky was so angry with that arrest that he suddenly found out that Kornet lived in the house of a relative of the sponsor of the Ukrainian Aidar Battalion and expelled him from there.
Now Kolyvan-Jabba is going to leave, while his cutthroats are mostly wanted. He is leaving honorably - to represent the LPR in Minsk. The people hope to see Pasechnik in his stead. Once that man became popular for refusing the take a big bribe. But in 2014, each charismatic man was able to become an ataman in Lugansk. Many of them were forced to leave the republic when Plotnitsky came into power, but now they may come back. So, it will not be easy for Pasechnik, no matter how honest he is.
The air in Lugansk makes one intoxicated and immoderate, but the Christian virtue of humility can change a lot. Simply, people in Lugansk should follow the example of Donetsk, a region that has long gone through atamania - to be more precise, not a region but a part of Donbass. And to be honest, Donbass must be united.