The Endless War in the DonbassThe War in Donbass is still ongoing after its onset in 2014. What started as a trade disagreement between the former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and Russia, spiraled into civil protest which shifted into a bloody civil war among the protestors and the military.

Living in a War Zone

Since then, the civil war has worsened, affecting a majority of the citizens who reside in the war zone. There will be no signs of a permanent ceasefire within the country until common ground is found between the resistance and Russia’s military presence. Nick Thompson, a reporter for CNN, stated in 2016 that, “Ukraine’s prolonged stalemate is causing grief and isolation among millions living in the conflict zone, the United Nations warns, 9,500 people have been killed in the violence and more than 22,100 injured, including Ukrainian armed forces, civilians and members of armed groups, the UN says.”

Damaged Healthcare Facilities

Along with the high casualty rate, health care for citizens is becoming harder to reach due to the destruction of many hospitals and healthcare clinics in the region. Nearly one-third of medical facilities in the Donbass region have reported damage as a result of the conflict from the civil war.

The destruction of medical facilities is only worsening the burden placed on the citizens of the Donbass by the war. The significantly reduced accessibility of healthcare is compounding the many elements of poverty that have stricken the region.

A Weakened Economy

Before the war, the urbanized area of the region accounted for nearly 15 percent of Ukraine’s population and produced 16 percent of its domestic product. The GDP in Ukraine in 2013 was approximately 183.31 Billion USD until the conflict arose, which dropped the GDP by nearly 50 percent.

This reflects the economy present within the region and asserts the idea that individuals, as well as the country, are suffering from the effects of the civil war. Many have been forced out of their homes to migrate to other parts of Ukraine leaving displaced individuals in need of aid. While the EU expanded sanctions against Russia for a brief period, they shrank back in 2015, reducing Russia’s incentives to end the conflict.

The War in Donbass has permanently affected the people who once lived there or are currently residing in the war zone. This war has created many new elements of poverty by damaging the economy and reducing healthcare access. Many reforms will have to be established in order to combat against this civil war and rebuild the region once the war has ceased.

Struggling Peace Agreements

NATO has increasingly worked on their relationship with Russia in order to hinder the war but most of these agreements have failed to appease both sides.

While the outlook for the Donbass region may appear grim, the EU can still hold its considerable sanction power over Russia. Additionally, peace agreements are still in the works, despite their failures to reach a quick conclusion. A number of organizations are undergoing efforts to support the people of the region. For instance, the People’s Project of Ukraine, a non-profit organization, is engaging in crowd-sourcing efforts to support those displaced by the war. Consider donating to projects such as these if you are interested in helping the people of Ukraine.

– Elijah Jackson
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Russia
The Russian economy has taken more than its fair share of hits in recent years, with poverty in Russia affecting nearly 20 million Russian citizens.

The stagnation of Russia’s economy has its roots in the low oil prices in recent years, as well as sanctions imposed by the West. Russia produces the most crude oil in the world, and energy is by far Russia’s largest market. However, oil prices have dropped heavily since 2014, from around $100 per barrel to $50.

The effect on the Russian economy has been severe: the economy shrank 3.7 percent in 2015. The economic tightening has increased the inflation rate to 12.9 percent, reducing the purchasing power of Russian companies. This makes it significantly more difficult for other markets to fill the gap the declining oil industry has left.

The inflation rate also adds to the burdens of the working class, with rubles buying less nowadays than just a few years ago.

According to one Russian woman, “When you get home and unpack your shopping bag, you realize you have barely bought anything.”

Poverty in Russia is not located in large cities like Moscow and Saint Petersburg. The majority of Russia’s poor live in small, single-industry towns with declining populations.

The Kremlin itself, not exempt from the economic downturn, is currently operating at a severe budget deficit. This deficit makes it difficult for the Russian government to offer anything but lip service to the populace in regards to the decline.

Nonetheless, President Vladimir Putin’s approval ratings remain at an incredibly high 83 percent. Many Russians are faithful to Putin; when he took office in 2000, poverty was at a dangerously low 29 percent.

Furthermore, despite Russia’s current economic troubles, the country has seen significant economic improvement in the past 15 years.

Prior to 2014, Russia’s poverty rate had been dropping several percentage points every year since 2004. In addition, its GDP growth rate was on par with India until 2009.

Perhaps most encouraging is that despite the recession, Russia’s unemployment rate remains at a mere 6 percent. The low unemployment rate suggests that if oil prices stabilize, poverty in Russia will see a rapid decline.

John English

Photo: Flickr

Russia's LGBT
Russia has been in the spotlight recently for its part in playing host to the Winter Olympics. Hosting the games is an opportunity in which a country can reap the benefits of great publicity and a surge in business from all the people that flock there for the historic event. Russia, however, has had more negative press than positive because of its blatant disregard for ethical treatment of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, causing recent uproar among many.

Many are quick to point fingers and blame President Vladimir Putin for not implementing laws to protect them. While Putin deserves some of the blame, Russia has had a long history of homophobia.

Homophobic laws have been enacted as early as the 17th century, with Peter the Great’s punishing homosexuals by flogging or by male rape. As the years progressed, the law extended to punish any adult man that voluntarily participated in sodomy-like behavior.

In 1835, Tsar Nicholas made sure that ban was still being withheld against homosexuals with them being stripped of their Russian citizenship and exiled to Siberia.

Of all the Tsars and rulers, Joseph Stalin was the most intolerant of the LGBT community. Homosexuals were sentenced to hard labor prison camps for 4 years to 5 years under his reign and made-up propaganda had run rampant. Stalin was a huge proprietor and believer that homosexuals were pedophiles who were constantly lurking for young boys. His paranoia that homosexuals were praying on children and that they had “politically demoralized various social layers of young men, including young workers, and even attempted to penetrate the army and navy” compelled him to have his secret police spy and arrest anyone that was perceived to be gay.

Violence against Russia’s LGBT community has only worsened. Putin endorses violence against the community not only because he sees them as “foreign agents” or as a danger to the well-being of children, but as a political tactic as well. Milene Larson, a United Kingdom-based journalist, states, “Putin is looking for enemies. In Russia, homosexuals and gay rights activists are labeled as foreign agents… You have such a vast majority of people who are Orthodox who potentially feel this way, those are his voters…he is not going to step back and say ‘actually gay people are ok.’”

For anti-gay groups like Occupy Paedophilia, Putin’s views on the LGBT community are green light for vicious mob attacks to try and “cure” them. These mobs upload their videos using WhatsApp (a YouTube like clip-sharing application) to humiliate their victims even further. These groups will pose as a homosexual on an Internet dating site or go to gay clubs where they can find someone that falls under the impression that the perpetrator is interested; the victim is then ambushed or kidnapped.

One horrifying account was of a teenage student from Uzbekistan who was lured by the mob group, kidnapped, beaten, stripped and raped. All of these atrocious acts were being filmed while they were being done, with the group telling the victim that they were punishing him for his own good. Another account tells the story of a 23-year-old man who was killed for coming out to his friends while they were drinking.

Russia’s LGBT community faces physical and verbal harassment every single day. For such a large and diverse country, the LGBT community has few allies. With a leader that will not speak out and condemn these attacks, they have nobody to whom they can turn. They cannot turn to the police for help because police officers often commit the crimes and do not report the issues. While the fight rages on for activists to achieve equal rights for the LGBT community, this is going to be an uphill battle for a long time to come.

– Kenneth W. Kliesner

Sources: The Moscow Times, The Star, Human Rights Watch, Russia Today
Photo: Peter T. Atchell Foundation

Pussy Riot Picture
Pussy Riot, a Russian feminist punk-rock group that stages anonymous political anti-establishment performances in controversial places throughout Russia, is a band that is introducing political art in a way that most Russians are unfamiliar with. Until now, much of Russian art was either propagandistic or entirely apolitical; now, Pussy Riot and street art groups like it are introducing art with the purpose of political change.

Pussy Riot became famous in February 2012, when they staged a performance in their typical garb (brightly colored dresses and balaclavas) at the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. The performance lasted less than one minute before three of the seven participants were dragged off the altar and arrested for “hooliganism” (similar to disorderly conduct).

The group’s performance wouldn’t have made nearly as much of an impact if it weren’t for many important factors:

  1. The ardent devotion of the Russian Orthodox Church. The church that the girls performed in is one of the oldest in Russian history. The church was destroyed in the 1930s and was not rebuilt until the 1990s. Because many Russians, particularly of the older generation, worship very devoutly because of the disallowance of religion during the Soviet Union, the performance was seen as a vulgar act motivated by “religious hatred”.
  2. The recent reelection of Vladimir Putin. The punk rock group (and other acts like it, including controversial Russian political art group VOINA, which is best known for its publicity stunt of having group sex in a biology museum) openly opposes the Russian government and accuses it for not being open, or practicing glasnost, enough. Pussy Riot asserts in many of their songs that Putin is a sexist dictator and must be forced out of government.
  3. Russia not having moved away completely from Communism. In Russia, capitalism and governmental transparency have been distant concepts for many decades. The transition from communism to capitalism and democracy in Russia is not complete. Therefore, to many citizens in Russia, governmental opposition is still not welcome, as the last time there was governmental opposition in the form of protesting in Russia, the Bolsheviks took power.

Pussy Riot’s trial gained media attention in Russia because of the enormous political and social implications of both their actions and the resulting trial. However, the leftist political group Pussy Riot is doing more than just fighting Putin’s government.

The general public in Russia is conservative leaning. Vladimir Putin, current president of Russia, is sponsored by the political party United Russia, which is Russia’s leading conservative political party. United Russia supports the neoclassical economic model, meaning it focuses on the economic activities of production, distribution and consumption. Neoclassical economics exclude all non-market activities, which is the financial antithesis of feminist economics, which shows that including non-market activities removes substantial gender biases from social order.

Excluding non-market activities from GDP analyses literally devalues the work done disproportionately by women, and when an entire half of the population’s financial contributions are significantly devalued, less money is available for social programs. This is a contributing factor as to why poverty rates generally increase in places that don’t provide equal social and professional opportunities for men and women (for example, based on Hofstede’s Power Distance Index, Bangladesh is extremely hierarchical, and over 70% of the population lives on less than $2/day. In contrast, Denmark is one of the most egalitarian nations in the world, and only 13% of that population lives below the poverty line).

Of course, with such a divisive performance, Pussy Riot turned off an abundance of people in Russia. However, what Pussy Riot is doing is slowly gaining supporters for left-leaning economic policies. When non-market activities are included in the calculations of Russia’s GDP, the numbers will be notably more accurate, meaning more money will appear, and there will be more money available to the public. This will be a long process, but undoubtedly one that will bring many in Russia out of poverty.

– Lindsey Rubinstein

Sources: Tufts University, GQ, The Guardian, The Economist, Library of Economics, Volunteer Alberta, BBC, Index Mundi

Poverty in Russia and the Wealth Gap
Russia is a massive country with a population of 143 million.  With 18 million people living in poverty in Russia, however, the issue of alleviating poverty has become a serious issue for the administration of President Vladimir Putin.  According to the Russian auditing company FBK, the minimum wage in Russia is grossly incompatible with the cost of living. The average monthly living cost is 210 US dollars/month in Moscow.  The average monthly salary for a minimum wage worker there is 155 US dollars.  Statistics from the government of Russia indicate that the wealthier classes have been hoarding wealth at an exponential rate while the abject poor remain stagnant.  There are currently 97 billionaires in Russia, and their wealth is only increasing.  The fall of the Soviet Union was the impetus for this growing income gap, as moguls were able to take advantage of an increasingly more free-market economy.

On a positive note, poverty levels have gone down in Russia since the late 1990s, when over 20% of the population was below the poverty line.  Russian sociologist Natalya Bondarenko notes that “15 to 20 % of Russians (in the late nineties) considered their income enough only to buy food as opposed to just 5 to 6 % of Russians who say the same thing now.”  President Putin has also alluded to a policy in which politicians as well as the heads of companies would be required to make their salaries public.  Hopefully, the government of Russia will take steps to confront the issue of extreme poverty within her borders.  In order for stability to be maintained in post-Soviet Russia, the Motherland must look after her children.

– Josh Forget

Sources: The Telegraph, Forbes
Photo: Guardian