Ukrainians living in parts of Donbas illegally seized by the Russians in 2022 are facing another hellish winter with the aggressor state openly saying “there’s no point” in rebuilding many of the cities it destroyed.

Russian minister of construction Irek Faizullin confirmed that Russia has no intention of rebuilding Popasna, the city in Luhansk oblast that it totally destroyed through relentless bombing and shelling.

The official further admitted, with winter approaching, that nothing will be done in the direction of the almost equally devastated city of Sievierdonetsk, and that a number of other occupied cities may also be left in ruins.

The lack of reconstruction had long been clear, and the Russian-installed leader of its proxy “Luhansk People’s Republic” Leonid Pasechkin stated back in August 2022 that “there’s no particular point” in rebuilding Popasna.

Such an admission from a Russian government member is, nonetheless, shocking, as is the fact that Russia’s destruction of Ukrainian cities – and refusal to rebuild them – is referred to as “liberation.”

Denis Kazansky, a Ukrainian journalist originally from Donetsk, has made a point of following Russian and pro-Russian bloggers, propagandists, and politicians since 2014. Ukrainian journalists do not have access to occupied territory, and such supporters of Russia’s aggression, who can scarcely be accused of pro-Ukrainian bias, often obligingly expose and even boast of war crimes and the real situation that the Russian invaders seek to conceal.

Some of these individuals have visited areas which Russia is alone in calling its “new territory.” It is their reports that have offered proof, that in the majority of such areas Russia is making little or no attempt to rebuild what it destroyed.

Sergei Aliev, a Russian Orthodox blogger who had recently been in Sievierodonetsk in Luhansk oblast, told Russian journalists that he had been approached by elderly ladies. They demanded to know what exactly the Russians had “liberated them” from. “From food? From water? From electricity? So tell us, what did you liberate us from? And I was ashamed.”

Kazansky described how his organization handed out some slightly rotting potatoes from their van. Very many of those who remained in areas that Russia first bombed, and then seized control of, were elderly pensioners. Recorded video showed a crowd surging toward a van and grabbing the potatoes.

It was like some post-Apocalypse film, Kazansky said, and described the distressing image of these elderly people forced to pick up any rooting potato that has fallen to the ground to have anything resembling food. There is no work in these cities, people have no income and are forced to depend on meger handouts.

That is the brutal reality, which is in stark contrast to all the Russian state propaganda about how Russia was “helping Donbas” and “liberating” it.

This was acknowledged also by another “ideologue of Russia’s war against Ukraine,” Russian blogger Maxim Kalashnikov. He also visited cities in Luhansk oblast which Russia destroyed after its full-scale invasion – Sievierodonetsk, Lysychansk, Rubizhne, Popasna, and others.

While in some, like Popasna, there are almost no remaining residents, there are considerably more people in Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, for whom a second winter of horrific conditions is approaching. All this despite the fact that these cities have been totally under Russian control since the summer of 2022.

Kazansky also posted extracts from Kalashnikov’s latest video in which then enemy of Ukraine admitted that the conditions, the roads, and life in general in areas that were occupied by the Russian government were far inferior to the liberated areas once again under the Ukrainian government’s control.

The Russian invaders were “stunned,” he said, by the difference they found between the poverty, squalor, and decay in the so-called “republic” under Russian occupation since 2014, and those areas that, prior to the full-scale invasion were under government control. The difference was not just with LPR since many of the Russian citizens sent to kill Ukrainians came from parts of the Russian Federation where conditions are significantly worse.

Kalashnikov acknowledged that “it’s hard to explain that this is liberation when people have had their customary life taken away, their pay, their work.”

How do you think the residents of some of these places should view such liberators, he asked. In fact, he acknowledged that even among those who once had pro-Russian views, there was mounting hatred towards them. Those feelings are only expected to increase. Those he still called a fifth column are angry and cannot understand why Russia has devastated their homes and their lives.

The situation in Mariupol is slightly different. After mercilessly bombing and shelling of the besieged city, Russia destroyed around 90% of the city’s infrastructure. It has been under Russian occupation since May 2022, and Russia has tried to use it for propaganda about how it is supposedly rebuilding the city.

Asked about this, Kazansky acknowledged that some work was taking place, but not enough. It was also unclear who was receiving those apartments located in rapidly built blocks.

In the centre of Mariupol, the invaders have demolished the existing but damaged buildings and constructed apartment blocks. Those whose bombed homes stood in that place were listed as for sale, mainly to Russians. Local residents have lost everything, and are not in a position to buy what Russia took from them.

Residents of all cities seized after Russian attacks have plead with the occupation regime to restore, and not demolish, their buildings. In a desperate appeal to Putin, Mariupol residents spoke of how they had been made fully homeless.

After suffering Russian missile attacks, the occupiers had promised to restore the destroyed building. Instead, they were demolished and residents lost their property without compensation.

Halya Coynash

Andri yAndriyenko (AP), Evgeniy Maloletka (AP), Efrem Lukatsky (AP), and Alex Babenko (AP)

This edited version was based on the article originally published as Russia admits it doesn’t plan to rebuild the cities in Ukraine it destroyed in order to annex