The sounds of artillery fire boomed from the northwest suburbs of Donetsk, but in the glittering foyer of what was once a downtown conference center, camouflage-clad militants toting Kalashnikovs sat in leather armchairs, paying no heed to the noise. They were keeping guard over those engaged in the important work upstairs: In the luxurious penthouse, trapped in stifling heat but cut off from the sound of shelling, Roman Lyagin worked to turn a fantasy republic into reality. Lyagin, as head of the Central Election Committee of this unrecognized nation, is writing the rules that will govern the first parliamentary elections of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, scheduled for Nov. 2. “I and some like-minded people are making a new state,” he said. “We are building the state of our dreams.”
It’s been six months since Russian-backed rebels in Donbass, an industrial region in Ukraine’s east, declared themselves independent states: the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DNR and LNR). But the intervening period has brought few of the trappings of statehood, and an abundance of chaos. Armed insurgents took over government buildings; in response, Kiev sent in troops. The region has now collapsed into an undeclared war and legal disarray.
Amid the turmoil, DNR leaders say the vote to elect a leader and a parliament — still slated to take place despite the ever-present shelling — will provide some sense of order, and give the self-proclaimed republic new legitimacy in the eyes of the world.