Жизнь во время войны на Донбассе / Wartime Life in East Ukraine

older woman living in wartime Donbas

Audio content: Several women describe their decision to remain living in villages that have been under heavy fire during the fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Visual content: Images of wartime destruction in some Ukrainian villages and small towns.

Excerpted clips are posted below. You can view the entire report in high-quality video at TV Rain. (A subscription or one-time payment is required, but your money goes toward a good cause — supporting one of the last independent TV news organizations in Russia.)

The war in Eastern Ukraine has been in the news again, sadly, as the conflict that began in April 2014 flared up again in early February 2017, soon after President Trump’s inauguration. The Ukrainian government based in Kiev continues to battle the pro-Russian separatist regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, which have been functioning as self-declared autonomous governments under the names “Donetsk People’s Republic” (Донецкая народная республика) and “Lugansk People’s Republic” (Луганская народная республика). (The entire region is often called “Donbas,” an abbreviation of “Донецкая бассейн,” i.e. the basin of the Donets River.) Russia, despite official denials, is supporting the breakaway regions with both troops and supplies. Hostilities first began in the wake of the late-2013 “Maidan” revolution in Kiev, which deposed the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in favor of a pro-European-Union government. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in spring 2014 is another part of this same geopolitical conflict, which arises from Russia’s desire to maintain its sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. Since Ukraine used to actually be part of the USSR, it seems that Putin is not willing to let the country drift out of Russia’s sphere of influence entirely without putting up a fight. The Kremlin’s goal in eastern Ukraine is probably not to fully annex the pro-Russian regions, as happened with Crimea; instead, Russia, via the internationally-brokered negotiation process in Minsk, Belarus, is urging Kiev to grant a large degree of autonomy to the eastern territories — which could then function as a sort of Russian foothold within Ukraine. The “Minsk Agreements” have produced temporary ceasefires and incomplete political resolutions but have failed to stop the violence permanently. The latest surge in violence was centered on the town of Avdiievka, which is not far from some of the villages featured in today’s videos. Besides the rise in violence, the eastern Ukraine conflict also entered the news recently when Russia controversially declared it would recognize passports from the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. The Ukrainian conflict also factors into concerns over the Trump administration’s ties to Russia. Specifically, it has been reported that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen brought a peace plan to the White House that would have the US and Ukraine essentially recognize the Russian annexation of Crimea (by granting Russia a long-term “lease”) in exchange for peace in the eastern regions. The plan was given to Cohen by a Ukrainian parliament member who has now been accused of treason.

The videos featured in this post are excerpted from an early 2016 report by TV Rain. TV Rain sent the reporter Viktoriia Ivleva into some Ukraine-controlled territories very close to the border with the breakaway republics. Ivleva brought humanitarian supplies as well as video cameras. Although the footage is over a year old, it gives us insight into what life probably looks like for residents of the same region today. Ivleva talks to some tough yet traumatized people who, through a mixture of courage, stubbornness and a lack of better options, have stayed in their village homes despite the war. During active periods in the fighting, artillery fire severely damaged most of their homes and forced many of them to live in their basements. The communities presented in the video are Sjeverne (Северное, Ясиноватский район), Opytne (Опытное, Артёмновский район) and Krasnohorivka (Красногоровка, Донецкая область).

For more on this topic see my earlier posts on the Maidan and on life in Crimea after annexation.

Заметки о языке: The most notable linguistic feature of these videos is the distinctive pronunciation of the letter “г” as something closer to the letter “х,” a typical feature of the southwest Russian or eastern Ukrainian dialect of Russian.

 

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Excerpt 1

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Nemtsov March

I have a new post ready to go — it will appear in a day or two — but in the meantime, an earlier post about Boris Nemtsov is newly relevant. Today in Moscow and other cities thousands of people marched in memory of the assassinated politician. My earlier post featured a committed group of people who were participating in round-the-clock guardianship of the unofficial memorial at the site where he was shot.

 

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Нарушения на выборах / Voting Irregularities

young woman confronts police officer

Audio Content: In Moscow, voters and polling site observers describe some of the odd large-group voting activity they are seeing in their precincts.
Video Content: Interior of two different Moscow voting sites.

Video available below or in a higher-quality version at TV Rain (subscription required).

Here’s a second post on the elections topic! See the previous post for information on the general results of the September parliamentary elections. This post focuses on some of the irregularities observed during the voting. The general consensus seems to be that this voting day had fewer irregularities than in 2011. Nevertheless, some apparent voting fraud was observed, and in any case there are numerous ways to influence elections well before voting actually occurs. The major Russian TV channels are more or less state-controlled and opposition parties do not get media exposure, public demonstrations require prior government approval, opposition candidates and parties are charged with crimes or administrative violations, etc. Meanwhile, a few types of voting-day fraud are well known enough to have acquired common nicknames. The most straightforward and egregious method is “вбросы,” simple ballot-box stuffing. One alarming instance of this in the city of Rostov was caught on video and widely circulated on the internet. Results for this precinct were subsequently annulled. Another method is the “карусель” or “merry-go-round.” In this procedure, voters (who for one reason or another — money, employment status — are under the control of the entity organizing the fraud) are given an already filled-out ballot. They go into the polling place and are given the same empty ballot as all voters. They then put the pre-provided ballot into the voting machine and upon exit give the empty ballot to the organizers of the fraud, who thereby confirm that the individual acted as instructed.

The potential voting irregularity featured in this post is related to a sort of absentee voting. Voters in Russia are able to vote at a site other than their home precinct if they provide a legal document called an “открепительное удостоверение” (loosely, a “detaching attestation”).

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Выборы в Госдуму / Russia’s Parliamentary Elections

Moscow voter

Audio Content: A journalist quizzes voters on their choices.
Visual Content: Images of Moscow voters, voting precincts, ballots and machines.

Video available below or in a higher-quality version at TV Rain (subscription required).

On September 18 Russians turned out to elect representatives (депутаты) to the lower house of the national parliament (Государственная Дума, Госдума). Actually, turnout (явка) was quite low, around 48 percent, a circumstance generally viewed as favorable to the party in power because it means that their supporters (some of whom are pressured to vote) end up carrying greater weight. This election was carried out using a hybrid system. Half of the Duma representatives (225 of them) were chosen according to closed party lists, similar to the “parliamentary” style of democracy used in Canada and many Western European nations: voters select a party and seats in the Duma are allocated proportionally according to the votes each party receives. This is referred to as voting “по партийным спискам” (by party lists). The other 225 representatives were chosen as individuals particular to a district, similar to how the United States votes. This is referred to as voting “по одномандатному округу” (by single-mandate district). This system allows for ticket-splitting: one can vote for one party overall but support a candidate from a different party for one’s individual “single-mandate” district.

In this video, the TV Rain journalist Pavel Lobkov visits voting precincts in several elite neighborhoods in the center of Moscow and asks people how they voted. (The introductions to each section, where he provides statistics for each neighborhood, are great listening practice for numbers.) Lobkov also converses briefly with Andrei Zubov, a well-known historian and Duma candidate from an opposition party. Muscovians tend to give more support to opposition parties than do voters in the regions, so you’ll hear a variety of parties mentioned in the video.

Although Putin’s party is by far the dominant force, Russians can choose among several other options.

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Молоко, сыр и красивые телёночки / Milk, Cheese and Cute Baby Calves

Lev, calf, Russian dairy farm

Audio content: Dairy farmers and cheese producers showing off their very impressive operations
Video content: Interesting images of the countryside near Voronezh, large-scale Russian agriculture, dairy cattle, grain fields, milking systems, cheese factories

The video doesn’t allow embedding. Follow the link to watch the video at tvrain.com (no subscription needed)

With oil and other raw material prices weak, TV Rain decided to do a series on components of the Russian economy that are not based on the extraction of natural resources. They found some particularly interesting developments in the agricultural sector. The half-hour segment at the above link explores an impressive dairy cattle and cheese operation called Молвест (Molvest). The company’s operations are centered around the city of Voronezh, several hundred kilometers south of Moscow. Until recently, Molvest was only engaged in dairy processing: they purchased the milk itself from independent suppliers and turned it into finished products. But in 2012, faced with an ongoing milk deficit and unstable prices, the company decided to take a big leap into farming and become fully “vertically integrated.” From that point on, the company would raise the dairy cattle themselves, grow the feed for the cattle themselves, milk the cows themselves, and then turn the milk into cheese and yogurt at their existing processing plants. The result is the enormous and very up-to-date operation you’ll see in the video. Molvest’s decision turned out to be particularly fortuitous in the wake of the sanctions and counter-sanctions that appeared after the Russian annexation of Crimea. Sanctions currently limit the import of cheese into Russia, so there is increased demand for good domestic cheese. But the infrastructure you’ll see in the video is not cheap. The company leaders complain that they have to compete with low-priced products labeled as “cheese” but actually produced using vegetable oils.

The transcript below covers two segments. In the first, we visit the barn that houses newborn calves. When Molvest first entered the dairy cattle industry in 2012, the company imported a special breed from France that produces milk with protein and fat levels that are ideal for cheese production. The animals were very expensive and Molvest aspired to raise the cattle for themselves as soon as possible. They seem to have succeeded — you’ll see that many native Russian cows are being born every day on their farms. In the second featured segment, the TV Rain journalist visits the site where cows are milked by means of a fast and space-efficient system known as a “carousel.” The dairy cows walk into a stall on a moving carousel, and by the time they’ve traveled the whole circle the milking is done.

Language notes: You’ll see a couple words more than once. “Малыш” = “baby, little one.” “Корм” = “feed” (for animals) — recall the verb “кормить” = “to feed.” And a young cow, i.e a calf, is a “телёнок.” This is already a diminutive form, but if you want to make it even more diminutive-affectionate you can say “телёночек,” a form you’ll see in the transcript. Also, words for animal young tend to have atypical plural forms ending in -ата; “calves” is “телята.”

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Москвичи об экономическом кризисе / Muscovians on the Economic Crisis

Audio content: People in Moscow describing how how the economic crisis has affected them
Visual content: Various Russian citizens on the streets of Moscow

Through most of the 2000s the dollar-to-ruble exchange rate hovered around 30 rubles per dollar. Today the rate is 65 rubles to the dollar — which at least is an improvement on the high of 82 rubles attained in January 2016. The drastic devaluation of the ruble is one of the most visible aspects of Russia’s current “economic crisis,” the result of a combination of factors including the sanctions imposed on Russia after the annexation of Crimea and the worldwide drop in the price of oil. Of course, some are affected by the crisis more than others — see my earlier post on those who made the unfortunate decision to acquire mortgages denominated in dollars. Overall, life goes on. Goods imported from abroad, including raw materials and supplies that Russian businesses need, are now much more expensive, which hurts employment. In response, the government has been encouraging local industry to develop domestically produced replacements for foreign products – a phenomenon referred to with the neologism “импортозамещение” (“import replacement”). The ever-adaptable Телеканал Дождь (TV Rain) launched a new travel series called Ездим дома (“let’s travel at home”), encouraging its listeners to make the best of the fact that trips abroad are now much more expensive than they used to be. At least Russia itself offers an incredible expanse for exploration! The government seems to have avoided drastic cuts to the budget so far. In fact, from the domestic perspective, the devaluation of the ruble partially balances out the drop in oil prices, since the price of a barrel of oil is denominated in dollars, which can now be exchanged for many more rubles than previously. You’ll see many of these themes reflected in the video above, in which people respond to a question about how the crisis has hurt them. Some are quite concerned while others view the situation in a light-hearted way. Certainly, Russia’s tumultuous recent history has given citizens plenty of practice at adapting to the latest turns of fate.

The key part of the video is embedded above. The entire program is here (access for Дождь subscribers only).

 

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RUSSIAN TRANSCRIPT

The video, of course, has subtitles, but the transcript below includes more of the conversational particles that the speakers use.

Вопрос: Что для вас самое болезненное в текущем кризисе?

Девушка: Кошелёк чувствует.

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