DonbassThe war in the Donbass region of the Ukraine has been ongoing since 2014 when groups known as the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) broke from the Ukraine. Here are 10 facts about the little-known war in Donbass:

  1. When the DPR and the LPR broke from the Ukraine in 2014 they created a federation called Novorossiya, yet the region is still more commonly known as the Donbass.
  2. In the Donbass region which is largely populated by Russian speakers, a strong “anti-maidan” movement grew in the region after the 2014 coup in Kiev. This movement’s goal was to prevent far-right groups from entering the region.
  3. Russia annexed the Crimea Peninsula of Ukraine in March of 2014 following the ousting of a pro-Russia president in Kiev. Despite Russia’s denial that it is supporting the separatists, Kiev claims that many Russian soldiers have traveled to the region.
  4. It is highly unlikely that soldiers from Russia and its allies would have traveled to the Ukraine against the will of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
  5. Fighting remains intense in the region, and civilian casualties still frequently occur.
  6. Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych borrowed $3 billion from Russia to resist protesters in the early days of the conflict. When he was subsequently ousted, the Ukraine failed to pay back the bond, which led to Russia suing for repayment in British courts.
  7. The U.N. human rights office reported that between February 2015 and June 2016, 261 civilians were killed on both sides of the conflict. They stress, however, that these figures are a conservative estimate, and the DPR’s number of reported casualties is much higher.
  8. There have been several truces called, including in September and December 2016, yet they have all failed to secure lasting peace.
  9. There have been two Minsk agreements, the second of which was signed by Vladimir Putin, Francis Holland, Angela Merkel and Ukranian president Petro Poroshenko. Neither agreement has succeeded in ending the war in Donbass.
  10. There was hope that the Minsk II agreement would lead to free elections in the regions and a separate status for the Donbass region.

The conflict may be occurring in a reduced capacity, but the reality remains that there is a war in eastern Ukraine. Ongoing attention is required to create a lasting peace for the communities in this region.

Eva Kennedy

Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Russia
Russia continues to build deteriorating relations with the West. On top of that, the economic turmoil following sanctions imposed on Moscow after it meddled in Ukraine’s business has had a serious impact on hunger in Russia and the country’s likelihood of going hungry in general.

Food is just one of the everyday necessities being used by Russia’s government in the international struggle for peace in the Crimea region of Russia and Ukraine. Russia has banned imports of most food from countries party to the European Union’s (EU) economic sanctions against Russia.

The EU’s economic sanctions against Russia are meant to pressure the Russian government to end its violent campaign against Ukrainian nationalists. The sanctions mainly ban activity that profits banks and some blacklisted individuals.

More Russians have been slipping into poverty and hunger since the Western sanctions have been put into place. Along with that, low oil prices that have battered the country’s energy-dependent economy and significantly diminished purchasing power have taken a toll.

However, 2016 poverty indicators are still much lower than those from the start of President Vladimir Putin’s first term in 2000. During that time, 29 percent of the Russian population found itself below the poverty threshold.

Despite the decrease in poverty indicators, a food shortage has begun in Russia, according to The Moscow Times. Hunger in Russia is a very real possibility. This is due mainly to more than a year of extended sanctions against imported food.

Some food producers have increased productions notably over the last 17 months. This includes the meat and dairy producers as well as beef and potato producers. Unfortunately, it has not been enough to make up for the loss of food imports banned due to these government sanctions.

The silver lining in this whole situation is that Russia is known for its self-reliance when it comes to food struggles. Recently, a study done by Natural Homes revealed that 51 percent of Russia’s food is grown by communities in both rural areas and by peasant farmers.

A great example of Russian resilience is a small business owner, Alexander Krupetskov. Alexander started an artisan cheese shop just a month before the embargo was established last year. His business has flourished since that and he has also opened a second shop.

Although times are tough in Russia, these glimmers of hope and forward movement are great signs for the country’s future. It would seem that even in the toughest of circumstances, Russia’s people know how to pull themselves from the depths and create something beautiful and everlasting.

Keaton McCalla

Photo: Flickr


STAND for Ukraine
Back in 1991, the Ukrainian Parliament declared independence from the U.S.S.R. A level of tension has existed between Russia and Ukraine fueling a variety of conflicts in time since.

February 2014 marks one of the most violent months in the past 70 years, with 88 killed in Kiev during a protest. The next month President Obama urged Russia to withdraw, making the conflict truly a global affair after Crimea annexed to Russia.

Fast-forward to April of this year and the STAND for Ukraine Act is introduced to deter Russian aggression and help Ukraine transition into a more democratic government process. STAND, is an acronym meaning Stability and Democracy for Ukraine Act and is sponsored by Rep. Eliot Engel, D-NY. STAND for Ukraine has now become law and now the United States is providing Ukraine with weapons to deter continued interference from Russia.

While Ukraine has activists on both sides at this point, the country is actively moving toward self-betterment and real independence. The goal now is to empower Ukraine into choosing its future that benefits the people living there instead of what benefits Russia.

Since 2014, Ukraine has made economic progress despite the circumstances, with the country’s GDP expected to grow 1.5 percent this year. Aid in the form of $25 billion has fueled what Natalie Jaresko, a Ukrainian investment banker, has called Ukraine’s “longest and most successful reform process.”

While many factors such as vested interests and populism present obstacles to progress, more donors are willing to back Ukraine and ensure a fair election process and optimized wellbeing. Current issues needing support include modernizing educational facilities and hospitals, upgrading technology used by governmental organizations, as well as general updating of all urban infrastructure.

As recently as 2009, Ukraine’s multitude of political and foreign policy issues also led to a sharp 15 percent decline in Ukraine’s GDP. This economic comeback is truly a triumph of foreign aid and STAND for Ukraine as well as those that supported its plan to assist Ukraine’s path further out of semi-periphery.

Aaron Walsh

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Poland Facts
Poland is not a poor country by any means, but the region has historically possessed little wealth due to occupation, wartime and political mistreatment. As such, alleviation of poverty in Poland has been a focal point of recent Polish governments. Discussed below are the leading facts about poverty in Poland, and how the issue is addressed at the national and international level.


7 Key Facts About Poverty in Poland


  1. Poverty in Poland has been steadily decreasing since 2004. Over the past decade, the country has cut the population of people living on less than $5 a day in half, from 20 percent to 10.
  2. Poland’s government spends heavily on social resources, with a quarter of the nation’s GDP spent on pensions, public health care, public education and other social services.
  3. Compared to other parts of the world, poverty in Poland is shallow. There are very few people living in dangerously extreme poverty or hunger. Less than a tenth of the population live on $2 a day or less.
  4. Income inequality in Poland is also relatively low. In a World Bank ranking of income inequality, Poland scored significantly better than the United States and Russia with stratification levels near the U.K. and France.
  5. While they are rarely in extreme poverty, many young people in Poland live on very little due to a lack of employment. Overall unemployment in Poland is at 14 percent, but is 25 percent for those who primarily seek industrial jobs.
  6. Poland’s heavily industrial economy is something of a double-edged sword. GDP growth was mildly hindered by the 2008-9 global economic downturn when compared with other European nations. This growth, however, has proven slow with an average of a one percent annual increase.
  7. Poland seeks to both decrease rural poverty and increase its economic productivity by improving the agricultural sector. The EU has been a major benefactor in this cause, revamping the nation’s agricultural policy in 2004 and annually contributing large sums of money. In 2014, Polish farmers received three billion euros in direct payments from EU funding.

These facts about poverty in Poland only begin to scratch the surface of such a complex region. This eastern European nation exudes fiscal prosperity amidst underlying unemployment and rural poverty, a conundrum that needs to be solved.

John English

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

In the winter of 2013-14, residents of Russia’s Pskov region were left waiting in the cold at their train stations due to alleged obstructions on the tracks. Oddly, neither snow nor ice had blocked paths of the trains; rather along the tracks lay the shivering bodies of numerous Russians in need of medical attention.

A lack of accessible health service or transportation options had compelled these ill residents to prostrate themselves on the cold steel in hopes of hitching a ride to metropolitan centers with hospitals.

Even in city centers like Moscow and St. Petersburg, the situation has become dire. Hunger strikes aimed at preventing the healthcare cuts have occurred in the past two years in both of these major metropolises.

Stories like these call attention to the increasingly desperate state of Russia’s healthcare system, which has experienced significant consolidation and downgrading. In response, many Russians, as these incidents indicate, are quite literally willing to die for better healthcare.

The fierce will for state-sponsored, universal healthcare coverage has persisted since the Soviet era, while the quality of Russian healthcare has not. According to The Moscow Times, “from 2005 to 2013 the number of health facilities in rural areas fell by 75 percent, from 8,249 to 2,085. That number includes a 95 percent drop in the number of district hospitals, from 2,631 to only 124, and a 65 percent decline in the number of local health clinics, from 7,404 to 2,561.” In March of 2015 leaked government reports claimed that over 10,000 medical professionals in the capital had been laid off after the closure of 28 clinics and hospitals. The reports outlined 14,000 further firings leading up to 2017.

Between the years of 2013-14, 90,000 medical workers lost their jobs despite reports of significant shortages of personnel across the country. That same year, The Audit Chamber, a government agency, had attributed the 3.7 percent spike in hospital deaths to spending cuts. In total, 18,000 Russians needlessly lost their lives.

This is all a part of the Russian Government’s recent ‘optimization’ which aims to eliminate inefficiency by consolidating healthcare resources in larger hospitals. Consequentially, it entails the closure of smaller more local treatment centers.

Putin and his administration are determined in their efforts. They seem to have ignored funding and personnel issues and have instead lauded the healthcare system during a meeting in April 2015. Contrary to their own government reports, they claimed an alleged increase in rural medical coverage and a $4 billion expansion of healthcare funding.

For the doctors that have survived ‘optimization’, life in the workplace has become chaotic. Bloomberg News reported on a female family doctor who had to increase her workday from eight hours to 12 hours. On top of this, she admitted to working three weekend shifts per month for the past year.

One clinic has restricted the average appointment time between the doctor and patient to a mere 12 minutes. This gives the doctor just enough time to fill out paperwork.

Those unwilling to compromise effective treatment will defy these strict time limits. This comes at a cost, however, as many doctors have been forced to regularly work overtime in order to provide adequate care.

For patients, this entails excessive waiting times for treatment. With so few staff, they can expect to wait hours just to meet with a specialist. Those in need of ultrasounds often get put on a six week waiting list. Last year one could expect an ultrasound in a matter of days.

Tired of waiting, many Russians have sought better medical care by taking to the streets in protest. Several demonstrations challenging recent healthcare developments took place in Moscow during the fall and winter of last year.

With approval ratings for the country’s healthcare system under 20 percent according to a recent poll, Putin has also displayed some hesitation. During a conference in the fall of last year, he admitted that his administration had not yet considered everything. If protests continue it is perhaps possible even the notoriously headstrong Putin will alter the course of Russia’s healthcare.

Andrew Logan

Sources: Bloomberg, The Moscow Times, Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty, The Washington Post

Photo: Bloomberg Business

violence in azerbaijan
As the world’s eyes turn to the ongoing struggle and possible ceasefire in Ukraine, another simmering conflict in Russia’s backyard seems to be flaring up. The long contested Nagorno-Karabakh region, which lies in Azerbaijan but which is a self-declared independent nation and comprised of ethnic Armenians, has seen an increase in violence in 2014 and 2015.

The region devolved into a bloody war immediately preceding the fall of the Soviet Union that killed almost 30,000 people and displaced millions more. A ceasefire brokered by the Russians in 1994 left Karabakh and surrounding territories in the hands of Armenians but legally enveloped by Azerbaijan, which lost 14 percent of its territory in the deal.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Azerbaijan has made great strides in socio-economic indicators including hunger, malnourishment, poverty, GDP per capita and the under-five mortality rate. While improvements can still be made, the country is squarely in the Upper-Middle Income country group and has met or is on its way to meeting all of its Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs. Without diversification, however, the economy, which has seen a lot of growth since the early 2000s, may become unstable and create additional social problems.

In its relative state of peace since the turn of the century, Azerbaijan’s poverty rate has dropped from 46.7 percent in 2002 to 8.4 percent in 2011. The economy grew as people felt safe to invest in the country. Hunger very nearly has disappeared from most regions and other indicators are well on their way to the same status. But a rise in violence around the Nagorno-Karabakh region could reverse this progress.

Azerbaijan, claiming a double standard in the West’s handling of Crimea in Ukraine compared to the Nagorno-Karabakh region, has increased its annual defense budget from $177 million in 2003 to $3.4 billion in 2013. It has purchased weapons from Israel, Turkey and Russia. Extra dollars mean not only a militarization in conflict areas, but also an economic focus shift from development to power.

The increased militarization of the Nagorno-Karabakh region and the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, coupled with a penchant for violence on both sides, creates “the risk of a war by accident” according to the director of the Regional Studies Center, Richard Giragosian. War in the region could prove to be just as disastrous as last time, forcing millions to flee their homes without promise of return and killing thousands more.

The humanitarian crisis created by war between the two countries could be devastating. Rampant hunger, poverty, displacement and violence among neighboring ethnic groups could reverse the progress made by Azerbaijan in the last two decades. While the threat of open war is relatively low, any increase in violence stokes tensions anew, pushing the region further from peace.

Caitlin Huber

Sources: Economist,  BBC,  UNDP,  Knoema
Photo: The Guardian

Every year, the Social Progress Imperative comes out with an index that measures how individual countries perform in basic human needs, foundations of well-being, and opportunity. One subset of the foundations of well-being category is health and wellness. This subset takes into account life expectancy, non-communicable disease deaths between the ages of 30 and 70, obesity, outdoor air pollution attributed deaths and suicide rates. Below is a list of the world’s ten most unhealthy countries in the world, based on this subset.

10. Bulgaria, 60.63

Bulgaria is in the eastern part of the Balkan Peninsula. The country has a high mortality rate from cardiovascular disease. Additionally, Bulgaria has the worst air quality in Europe, with some of the highest concentrations of particulate matter, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide.

9. Mozambique, 60.40

Mozambique’s main health problems are to due with high mortality rates due to drought, poverty and HIV/AIDS, as well as a lack of experienced health workers in the country. The HIV/AIDS epidemic continues to decimate portions of the population in the country. In addition, capacity building and risk reduction expertise are both low.

8. Swaziland, 60.29

Located in southern Africa, Swaziland has an extremely high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, reaching over 26 percent. Swaziland needs the most improvement in life expectancy and non-communicable disease deaths between 30 and 70.

7. Latvia, 59.97

Latvia, too, has problems with air quality that cause long-term health problems. Latvia also needs to address substance abuse problems such as alcohol and tobacco, which both contribute to ill health in the country at a disproportional rate.

6. Armenia, 59.36

Armenia’s health issues revolve around a broken, extremely expensive health care system that cannot meet the burden of care. With economic downturn, basic medicines and doctor visits can become too expensive.

5. Moldova, 58.00

Moldova is currently experiencing negative population growth. The two main causes of death are heart disease and cancer. Moldova has high rates of substance abuse-related deaths, like alcohol and tobacco. Tuberculosis, especially multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, is rapidly becoming a major health concern in the country.

4. Belarus, 56.56

The main areas that need improvement in Belarus are non-communicable diseases and suicide rates. The country, located in Eastern Europe, is also relatively polluted, which can cause long-term ill-health.

3. Russia, 51.99

Russia needs improvement in almost all categories, including life expectancy, non-communicable diseases, air pollution and suicide rates. Additionally, Russia experiences high rates of mortality due to smoking for both men and women. HIV/AIDS is also becoming more of a concern.

2. Ukraine, 51.82

Ukraine, located in Eastern Europe, has similar problems as its neighbors, mainly bad air quality, high levels of tobacco and alcohol abuse and high suicide rates. Additionally, Ukrainians spend about 13 percent of their lives in ill-health, which is much higher than most of their neighbors. Ukraine also has the highest rate of infectious diseases in Europe.

1. Kazakhstan, 49.93

Kazakhstan, located in Central Asia, is ranked as the unhealthiest country in the world, according to the Social Progress Imperative. Kazakhstan needs dramatic improvement in life expectancy, deaths related to non-communicable diseases, air quality and suicide rates. HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis have become growing concerns; TB, especially, is of great concern because of drug-resistance.

Caitlin Huber

Sources: Social Progress Imperative, World Health Organization 1, World Health Organization 2, World Health Organization 3, World Health Organization 4, World Health Organization 5, New York Times, UNICEF, National Center for Biotechnology Information, Common Dreams, World Bank, University of Pittsburgh
Photo: Flickr

The Russian economy is suffering due to sanctions enacted by the United States and the European Union. Inflation has risen dramatically and with the ruble teetering back and forth, the safety of their currency is uncertain.

During the annexation of Crimea and Russian military movement in the Ukraine, the U.S. and E.U. increased trade restrictions on Russia and wealthy businessmen regarded as being close to Vladimir Putin. As the Russian economy shifts focus toward a stronger economic development and trade with the Asian countries, Russia’s reliance on the dollar decreases.

One of the ways in which Russia is attempting to achieve this is by trading in domestic currency rather than relying on the U.S. dollar. Russia’s dependence on Asia in general and China in particular hints at Putin’s larger goal for the Russian economy to be less involved in U.S. and Europe. Among of the most important deals Russia has made is  the Agreement on Cooperation which was signed by Vladimir Putin and Chinese president Xi Jinping. The $25 billion deal will allow Russia and China to trade in domestic currencies rather than the dollar.

Another significant deal is the $400 billion trade deal that will increase oil exports from Russia to China. It includes a proposal for a new pipeline that will send oil directly from Western Siberia to China. Underlying Putin’s unease with the U.S. is the desire to begin limiting U.S. economic hegemony. However, the dollar is so prevalent in the foreign economy it seems unlikely that a dramatic shift will occur in the near future. Russia’s largest market is currently the E.U. and sanctions have reduced the amount Russia is able to export.

Economic sanctions enforced by President Barack Obama seek to undercut Russian oil exports which make up half of Russia’s economic revenue. Putin announced recently at a G-20 Summit that the West needs to lift sanctions. He states, “This is harmful, and of course is doing us some damage, but it’s harmful for them as well because, in essence, it’s undermining the entire system of international economic relations.”

If Russia is less dependent on the U.S. market, sanctions will mean little to Putin and the Russian economy. Eventually there will be little to deter him from further military involvement in the Ukraine or elsewhere. It will be more difficult for the U.S. to influence Putin’s perceived aggression.

Russia is not the only country who wants to decrease dependence on the U.S. market. Other BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries are looking to do the same. For the meantime, Russia may be forced to cope with the low price of oil. American economists predict that the prices should level out at about $83 a barrel and stay there for a while to come.

Maxine Gordon

Sources: International Business Times, Reuters, New York Times, The Guardian
Photo: Newsweek