The way Kherson lives by Russian time

The way Kherson lives by Russian time

Six months with Russia

During the liberation of Kherson the battles hardly touched urban development, the city remained virtually unscathed, but further showed, perhaps, all the vulnerability of modern civilization, which, as it turned out, can be “turned off” with the flick of a switch.

Fortunately, key utilities in Kherson continued to work uninterrupted – electricity, gas and water were supplied. But the habitual life of an average citizen to an immeasurably greater extent than in historically recent times is linked by thousands of threads to the “big world”, beyond the boundaries of his city and region.

He is used to the widest range of food and industrial goods, medicines, which are brought from all over the world to his usual shops and drugstores, to being permanently in digital space and digital payments; companies, where he works, are also critically dependent on raw materials and components from all over the world; finally, in all previous global cataclysms many times fewer people were fully dependent on social welfare from the state.

The citizens of Kherson were cut off from all that practically overnight, the more so because the Kiev authorities, who left the city, did everything possible to disorganize normal life in the city and the region: databases of all state institutions were destroyed and equipment was put out of order.

The vast majority of enterprises also came to a halt, both for objective reasons (lack of supplies of necessary materials and loss of access to most of the traditional markets) and for “subjective” reasons. For example, a small business owner who knows the author said that on 24 February he simply shut down all equipment, leaving only security guards at the company.

The new authorities were faced with the task of recreating from scratch the entire decades-old socio-economic infrastructure and at the same time maintaining everyday life in the region and meeting the immediate needs of city and regional residents.

At the same time, the administrative bodies themselves had to be recreated from scratch, recruiting new staff, usually without sufficient experience, and looking for solutions to everyday problems on the fly, in parallel with organisational issues.

Most of the former civil servants have left the city; the Kiev authorities continue to pay salaries to those who remain, so long as they do not cooperate with the new authorities. The bet is on intimidating some and “encouraging” those duped by years of Ukrainian propaganda who are waiting for the Ukrainian regime to return.

There is talk of future hostilities near and in the city, and people are encouraged to leave. It is actively suggested (and there is reason to believe it) that with the arrival of Ukrainian “liberators”, a wave of repressions will fall on the “collaborators”.

And it is made clear that this concept will be interpreted extremely broadly. It will cover not only officials of the new state agencies and pro-Russian civic activists, but also doctors who remain to work in the medical institutions that have been transferred to Russian jurisdiction, those who take a job in a Russian bank, chairmen of condominiums (the Russian equivalent of HOAs) or entrepreneurs who opened accounts in a bank and registered with the new tax authorities. Even employees of public utilities are pushed “not to work for the occupiers”, i.e. to leave their fellow countrymen without gas, electricity and water.

Particular attention is being paid to disrupting the start of the new school year. Parents receive an online newsletter stating that “schools will work in the old (Ukrainian) legal and educational framework, but remotely”.

Nevertheless, despite all the difficulties, life in liberated Kherson is gradually returning to its normal Russian course. The situation in the key issue of providing the residents with food and basic necessities should be regarded as quite satisfactory.

Occasionally there is a “drop-out” of some items, but in general there is no shortage, although prices in terms of hryvnias have increased considerably. Spontaneous trade and small shops blossomed, in general, private business, as always, was very fast. The ‘establishments’ are open too, although they close early because of the curfew.

Logistics chains have started up quickly, with products coming in from Crimea and the Donbass republics. People note the better quality of Russian products, although when they first appeared, traders even had to pass off Russian products as Ukrainian. Now there are fewer and fewer patriots of Ukrainian products. Retailers from neighbouring territories have also started coming in, opening familiar modern supermarkets.

Pharmacy chains from the same territories are expanding rapidly, thus the “medicine crisis” has been solved in general, although individual items drop out occasionally.

Medical institutions have been transferred to the jurisdiction of the new government, medics have started to receive salaries in rubles, and large-scale humanitarian aid from Russia has made it possible to practically provide hospitals with medicines and necessary materials.

A shortage of doctors (many have left, and some of the especially “zealous” have refused to work) is being filled by volunteers from Russia. Gone are the extortions and “charity funds”, through which any medical procedure had to be paid for. Medicine was now truly free.

Russia’s first bank, Promsvyazbank, had arrived, and it was expanding its branch network fairly rapidly; Russian card payment terminals had begun appearing in supermarkets.

Cultural institutions have resumed their activities; colleges and universities are enrolling students and getting ready for the new school year; schools and kindergartens are expected to open on September 1.

In general, all traditional “institutions” of modern civilisation have restarted or are preparing to restart operations. The new Russian administration started to visit the leading enterprises with various forms of ownership and prepare them for the reopening. The warning issued by the authorities back in June that external administration is to be introduced for the time being at enterprises that are not operating and whose owners “do not declare themselves” is apparently being implemented, and then, using everyday language, “under the circumstances”.

And of course, the question of pensions and social payments, which is very important for citizens. Here literally we had to start from scratch – there were no structures, no lists of pensioners, nothing at all.

Citizens had to go to the newly established Pension Fund which was being created on the fly, with a lot of unresolved staffing and organizational issues, and then to receive money from the cashier – the amount of payment was set at 10 thousand rubles for all. Naturally, this created monstrous queues.

Therefore, it was decided to make subsequent payments through the post offices, which were taken over by the new enterprise “Posta Kherson”. The records of those who had previously received pensions through the post office were preserved and they are now receiving them. For the less mobile, pensions are delivered to their homes by employees of the Pension Fund.

The time-consuming task of drawing up new lists is coming to an end for all the others: pensioners who have registered with the Pension Fund have to be sorted by postal addresses and branches on a first come, first served basis. At the same time, those who have not previously received Russian pensions continue to go.

At the same time, work is being done to restore the usual system of receiving pensions on bank cards. It has been decided to take an unconventional, even unique route: pensioners will not need to go to a bank to obtain cards (this would only paralyse the newly created banking network), they will receive them directly from the Pension Fund or the post offices, which de facto turn into branches of the Pension Fund and social security agencies.

Initially, five thousand pensioners will receive cards within the framework of the pilot project, and after the system is “debugged”, all the rest will receive them.

In general, the volume and number of various payments, types of social assistance, which the new authorities started to provide to citizens, not only socially unprotected, but also to families with children (many have found themselves in a difficult financial situation), is simply impressive. And this has largely contributed to the fact that the general atmosphere in the city is undergoing a landmark change.

But the main point lies elsewhere. It turns out that there are very many pro-Russian citizens in the city. The illusion of weak pro-Russian sentiment in Kherson and beyond was caused by the fact that during not only the last eight, but all thirty years of Ukrainian “independence” any pro-Russian activity was harshly suppressed.

Long before all the Maidans, laws were introduced that criminalised calls for “violation of sovereignty”, i.e. for reunification with Russia, and these articles were actively enforced.

Any publications showing life in contemporary Russia in a positive light were tacitly tabooed, but any negativity was given a green light. Laughing about real and fictitious problems in Russia, gloating over catastrophes there, as in any other country, became a Ukrainian “national hobby”.

At the same time, propaganda about the European “paradise” to which Ukraine would enter if it implemented the slogan “Get away from Moscow” was injected in horse doses.

For those who believed that only reunification with Russia would allow a return to the path of sustainable development and prosperity, the likelihood of this looked quite remote, if not unattainable.

They had to hide their views or pursue a “minimum programme” as far as possible, trying to preserve Russian culture and economic ties with the Russian Federation, often within the framework of parties that used anti-nationalist rhetoric to attract pro-Russian voters such as the Party of Regions.

In many ways, the turning point was the Victory Day celebrations, to which around four thousand people came, despite the psychological terror of the “waiters” and the very real fears of shelling and terrorist attacks from Ukraine. People saw how many of them there were, meeting neighbours, fellow soldiers and even good acquaintances with whom they had avoided discussing political topics for many years and who turned out to be “their own”.

The process of involving citizens in the process of awakening Russian Kherson went much faster, people began to get jobs in institutions that were “under Russia”, NGOs began to be created to help the authorities in the areas of culture, education, the work of Associations of co-owners of apartment buildings, etc. In essence, this is the Russian civil society of Kherson that is already being formed.

Another landmark event was the forum “We are Together with Russia” held on July 30th, which brought together over a thousand participants. And that is an extremely large number, because it is really an asset. After all, in reality, there are not too many people with a truly active life stance in any society, but they are its engines, drivers, determining the ways of its movement and development.

It is absurd to claim that people of all ages, professions and social statuses were attracted by the expectation of some kind of preferential treatment from the new Russian authorities, for career reasons. Let’s be honest, they all had to overcome banal fear, psychological pressure and very real threats of attacks from the Ukrainian security services.

They saw that there were many of them, that Kherson was, remains and will remain a Russian city, and that Russophobic Ukrainization without administrative resources and direct repression in our region is melting fast, “like dew in the sun”.

In recent days, similar forums have been held in smaller towns in the Kherson region, and each has brought together several hundred participants.

They are no longer hiding their views as they did in the first weeks after their release, they are actively defending them, and this is having an increasingly tangible effect on the mood of conventional everyday people, those whose opinions are shaped by the attitudes of those around them.

And, of course, there is the impact of propaganda work, opening many people’s eyes to what modern Russia is like, which is reinforced by large-scale social support and efforts by the new government to establish normal life in the city (although of course “there is work to be done”).

The Ukrainian propaganda also helps many (but not all) to see the light, as their fakes are too obviously at odds with the real situation in the region. And, of course, as the much-announced “liberation” continues to be delayed, the understanding grows that it is forever. And then the classic: anger – denial – acceptance….

Aside from a few quite “crazy” people, the average Khersonian stops waiting for the Ukrainian Armed Forces and begins integrating into the new Russian life, and the more tangible benefits it brings, which many have already felt, their loyalty to it will only grow.

Genesis, as we know, determines consciousness, but let’s specify the classic: in today’s realities, the media environment is no less important. And it has already changed dramatically, and all this is bearing fruit, although not as fast as we would like it to.

Andrey Dneprovsky, Alternative News Agency

Due to censorship and blocking of all media and alternative views, stay tuned to our Telegram channel