Ukrainian Volunteers Impose Embargo on Separatist Regions

On January 25, Ukrainian non-military forces launched an embargo on trains and trucks from the breakaway regions of Luhansk and Donetsk. The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), one of the major law-enforcement agencies within the country, has suggested that the blockade may violate national laws against interfering with transportation. In addition, there is also concern that the blocking of coal shipments from the separatist regions may cause region-wide blackouts. The forces imposing the embargo include veterans (not organized into specific groups) of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, as well as the Donbas and Aidar volunteer battalions. Both groups have been accused of blocking humanitarian aid trucks from entering the breakaway regions.

The blockade began after an ultimatum that was delivered on December 16, demanding that all Ukrainian prisoners of war be returned by December 26, was met with silence from the separatists. Moreover, Ukrainian nationalists feared that contraband, particularly military supplies, has made it into separatist hands.

Serhiy Yakymovych, the organizer of the embargo effort, has also decried companies in the breakaway regions for importing resources tax-free, allegedly creating a tax haven. All tradefrom the breakaway regions, except for coal, has been forbidden without a special permit since 2015.

Reactions to the embargo have been mixed. While the organizers of the embargo have claimed the support of much of the armed forces and local population, both the SBU and the Luhansk Oblast’s (pro-Kiev) government have argued that the blockade is illegal.

The Donbass Basin has been, and continues to be, a major provider of coal to the region. While other coal deposits exist in Ukraine, the Soviet-era power plants were designed to run on anthracite coal, the only economically-viable deposit of which is located within the breakaway territories. Without this vital resource, the power plants that supply both sides of the conflict in the region could go dark.

In addition, other coal-using industries will also face shortages and may have to shut down. Alchevsk Metallurgical Plant, one of the oldest steel mills in Ukraine, will be forced to stop production until a new source can be found, potentially putting 15,000 people out of work.

Imports of goods from Ukraine could be replaced with Russian goods, further widening the divide between the separatists and Kiev. The SBU has suggested that as many as 150,000 people could lose their jobs, warning that the unemployed may look to join the separatist militias as a result.