It takes a village to rebuild a city

01.08.2014 | By Olha Nesteruk

There is one small thing: the cliché about Donetsk as the capital of Donbas that was widely used by the journalists has nearly been forgotten. Donetsk coal basin in Ukraine covers practically all Donetsk oblast (except for the Azov Sea region), southern half of Luhansk oblast and eastern part of Dnipropetrovsk oblast

Although Donetsk has never been an administrative center of this wide territory, it is worth mentioning that during the Soviet times, the Ministry of Coal Industry of the Ukrainian SSR was located in a monumental building, built in 19511956, on Artema Street near the Lenin Square in Donetsk. It later moved to Kyiv, while the building is now occupied by the oblast department of the State Property Fund and different companies. In any case, Donetsk is the largest city in Donbas and the status, although informal, of the capital of the miners country gave this city enough power to speak on behalf of Donbas and also form the opinion of Donbas.

Meanwhile, all these words about the capital were never used in the separatist or autonomist sense. They were rather used for a different purpose to emphasize the special significance of the city for the rest of Ukraine. There was no sense for the Donetsk elite to separate from other regions. Conversely, its ambitions always spread to the whole Ukraine. It is worth remembering the hot summer of 1993, when miners strike, organized by Director of Zasyadko Mine Yefym Zvyahilvksiy, spread to the whole Donbas ensuring the position of the first vice premier for Zvyahilskiy and then the possibility to head the government as an acting premier.

During the Soviet times Donetsk was considered source of manpower for the leadership of the economy, particularly in the period of Oleksandr Lyashko, who headed the government of the Ukrainian SSR for over 15 years (from 1972 till 1987). Prior to that, for around nine years (from 1954 till 1963) he served as the secretary, second secretary and first secretary of Donetsk Oblast Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine (then in 19631972 he worked as the secretary, second secretary of the Central Committee of the CPU, chairman of the presidium of Supreme Council of the Ukrainian SSR). In this sense, the career of Viktor Yanukovych (deputy governor first deputy governor governor twice premier and president) was only a continuation of the old traditions.

However, now everything is different. Having been the capital of the DPR and Novorossiya (union of DPR and LPR), Donetsk has survived through a hardest period in the years after the end of the WWII. That is why revival of the city is now much more important than the old fame of the capital of Donbas and political ambitions of the local elite. For the same reason, the talks about Donbas feeding all of Ukraine also lost their popularity. In order to rebuild everything that was destroyed in the course of the combat actions, Donetsk as well as the region and Luhansk oblast will require colossal help of the rest of the regions.

In fact, the new image and new sense of self of Donetsk may be born in this reconstruction. In the end, it is cool to be a national construction site. People can be proud of this even more than, for instance, Shakhtar being the champion. In addition to that, Donetsk will not be only an object, but an active participant of the construction on the scale of all of Donbas. Thanks to this the construction industry can increase its share in the citys economy manyfold.

Paradoxical as it may seem, after all these destructions Donetsks economy should expect a real boom in construction, investments, trade, etc. Financing will come from the Ukrainian government and from private investors and from foreign partners, primarily from European and U.S. The Presidents Envoy on Peaceful Settlement of the Conflict in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts Iryna Herashchenko claims that the western partners are ready to allocated EUR 1.5 bn for reconstruction of the infrastructure and housing and creation of new jobs in these regions.

The opened window of possibilities must be used not only for reconstruction of the destroyed sites, but also for restructuring of the economy. In this case, it would be useful to take into account the experience (positive and negative) of Western Germany, in particular its Ruhr region, which is an analog of Donbas. Ruhrs largest city is Dortmund, which the Ukrainians primarily know for the football club Borussia. In the end of the WWII the city was nearly fully destroyed and many people said there was no sense in trying to rebuild it. The population of Dortmund over the time of war dropped from 540,000 to 340,000. However, high demand for coal and steel in the world led to unexpectedly fast revival of the city. Already by June 1945 all coal mines were restored and on December 31, 1945 the first blast furnace was rebuilt. Many people who fled to the rural areas returned to Dortmund and in 1965 the population of the city was already 660,000.

The coal crisis, which started in 1958 and then the steel crisis in 1975 led to recession. Gradually all mines and metallurgical plants were closed in Dortmund. Development of modern sectors of industry, postindustrial sectors of the economy started with a great delay. The citys population dropped to 570,000 and the unemployment is still high. At the moment, the main industries in Dortmunds economy include insurance and banking, retail trade, telecommunications, hightech industrial productions, new companies and startups in the sphere of logistics, information and microsystem equipment.

Donetsk, using the situation in the city, which seriously suffered from combat actions, can receive western loans on beneficial conditions and different kinds of preferences for attracting investments. It is up to the city to create a business climate that would be friendly both for foreign investors and local entrepreneurs, not only large ones, but also medium, small companies and individual entrepreneurs.

Holding of different international forums dedicated to Ukraine could become another hallmark of Donetsk. In truth, if one were to discuss revival of the Ukrainian economy, the best place to do it is where the biggest failure happened. This is also a good place to discuss foreign policy issues, for instance prospects of cooperation with NATO.

There is no doubt that normal political life should be organized in the city. Free competition of mass media needs to be ensured and the new city authorities need to be elected. In short, Donetsk has a long path to go and when it begins to fail Ukraine will come to the rescue.

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