In Ukraine’s industrial east, many people believe their economic future is closely entwined with Russia, especially after recent agreements reinforced their interdependence.
The Donetsk basin or Donbass region produces a huge share of Ukraine’s national output. A typical metal worker or miner earns double the national average (600 euros a month compared to 300).
In Donetsk city centre, symbols of the Soviet-era are respected, as illustrated by a large statue of Lenin. Fifty percent of local production is exported to Russia; and trade and investment are set to increase under the new agreement.
“Russian capital is present in the banking sector: we have Russia’s Sberbank and VneshEkonom Bank. Today the trend is for an outflow of European banking capital, replaced by Russian capital,” said the Governor of Donetsk region, Andrey Shishatskiy, speaking in Russian.
There have been pro-EU demonstrations in Donetsk, but on nothing of the scale of the large rallies in the capital Kyiv and elsewhere.
The protesters however are equally sceptical about closer Russian ties, amid reports that much Russian and Ukrainian capital is invested in offshore havens.
“When the EU was ready to allocate 19 billion euros, it was for concrete reforms and modernisation. Whereas the 15 billion which Russia is giving is for people who will keep this system which is, in essence, wearing itself out,” said one demonstrator.
There are strong economic arguments for modernising and cleaning up this region’s old industries, not least its coal production.
But many people in Ukraine’s far east are appalled by the huge social costs they believe Western-style reforms would bring.
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