forces have shut down a major telecommunication company in eastern Ukraine while gradually taking over operation at several other firms, following the expiration of an ultimatum demanding the resumption of rail freight traffic.
Pro-Russians in the self-proclaimed Donetsk region said on Wednesday that they would enforce their plans for taking over the enterprises as of midnight.
“Since midnight we are introducing (our own) control … everything will be finished by the evening,” Alexander Zakharchenko, a pro-Russian leader, told a local news
The takeover, seen by many as the culmination of a trade war between the volatile eastern Ukraine and the government in Kiev, would seriously impact the economic situation of the country. Many of the mines and factories belong to Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov. The billionaire owns several mines in the east that produce a special type of coal required by many state-run companies.
The standoff began in January, when war veterans and opposition lawmakers blocked rail freight traffic to the eastern territory to stop the flow of cash to pro-Russians. Activists have defended the move, saying the money has helped pro-Russians in a conflict that has claimed more than 10,000 lives over the past three years.
A pro-Russia soldier guards Uzov Metallurgical Works in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, March 1, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Akhmetov’s holding company SCM said the office of Ukrtelecom, Ukraine’s main telephone provider, could not continue providing services to the industrial east.
“As of Wednesday, Ukrtelecom announces the forced interruption of services in the part of the Donetsk region not under Kiev’s control,” it said in a statement, adding, “This is due to the interference by unidentified people of the network’s operations and the takeover of our office by armed people.”
The SCM also said the Rinat Akhmetov humanitarian fund was also unable to provide aid to “hundreds of thousands of the elderly, the handicapped and young mothers.”
Pro-Russia forces in the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic also announced that they had seized control of three Akhmetov-owned coal mines this week.
The conflict in eastern Ukraine began after political upheavals in Kiev in 2014, when a Russia-backed president was deposed from power and a pro-Western government took office.
Ukraine has consistently blamed Russia for the conflict, saying Moscow provides funds and weapons to the pro-Russians in the east. Moscow has denied the allegations although it says it would not stand still if the ethnic Russian population in eastern Ukraine becomes subject to the Ukrainian government suppression.