A Trip to the Pro-Russian Pseudo-State of Luhansk
The war is essentially over in eastern Ukraine, but peace hasn’t yet begun. A visit to the self-proclaimed mini-state known as the People’s Republic of Luhansk shows that the road back to normality is long and full of obstacles.
Alexey Karyakin, born in 1980, is one of the fathers of the People’s Republic and was the first president of its parliament — though there are no political parties in parliament, with all of them having been banned. There are only “movements.” One of them is called “Freedom for Luhansk” and the other is the “Economic Union.”
The fact that Karyakin is still alive is anything but a given. The People’s Republic has been run with mafia methods. One Luhansk “prime minister” was apparently tortured to death in prison while several military leaders have died in arson attacks. Karyakin also had to flee Luhansk for a time.
The situation has calmed significantly since a 2017 coup. Plus, what happens in Luhansk is ultimately decided by curators in the Kremlin anyway. Karyakin is now head of the “Public Chamber of the People’s Republic of Luhansk,” a largely ceremonial position. A portrait of Vladimir Putin hangs on the wall above his desk.
The younger ones move away from Luhansk, some to Russia and others to Ukraine. “In 2014, we fell out with many friends,” says one married couple who didn’t share the pro-Russia enthusiasm many felt at the time. “The euphoria has since vanished, which makes things easier for us. But now, everybody avoids politics altogether. Essentially, we are waiting, but we don’t know what for.”
They say they would long since have left if it wasn’t so difficult to sell their apartment in Luhansk. At the same time, it hurts them that many in Ukraine see them as traitors just because they’ve stayed.