“We’d kill and die but never allow production of shale gas here,” he said. “That would poison our land.” Now he doesn’t know what to say. “After our house was bombed this month, we realized that shale gas was not as scary as shells.”
Oksana, a young shop assistant selling swimsuits at a department store on a corner of Lenin Avenue, said that she and her family became scared of “foreigners coming” to drill for shale gas in Slovyansk after then-President Viktor Yanukovych signed an agreement with Royal Dutch Shell in January 2013.
Kiev’s plan was to set up a joint venture with Shell and drill for shale gas around Slovyansk to eventually produce 8 billion to 11 billion cubic meters of gas yearly — nearly 20 percent of what Ukrainian consumers need. (Later that year, a similar $10 billion deal was reached with Chevron for exploration in western Ukraine.)
For activists of the self-proclaimed Donestk People’s Republic, any potential Western presence in the Donbass could be used to spark anger, such as when Hunter Biden, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s son, joined the board of Ukraine’s largest private gas company.
Videos of the “natural catastrophe” caused by shale production in Pennsylvania gave birth to increasing concerns among the Internet users in the Donbass. In one of the most popular horror videos, an Italian politician, Giulietto Chiesa, predicted that Shell and Chevron shale drilling would eventually cause the expulsion of Slovyansk’s population of about 116,000. The rumor was passed along, increasing people’s anger with Kiev.
On top of the “fascist junta” and the “Russia haters” in Kiev, people in the Donbass now dreaded the contracts signed with Shell and Chevron for producing shale gas. At the time, they appeared to be one of the best shale bets in Europe.
Even after Yanukovych was ousted and the new government promised to revisit all his business deals, many people in the Donbass believed the shale exploration would go ahead. The same people also believed that Europe didn’t care about potentially destructive shale production in Ukraine or whether the people in a region so opposed to Kiev would have water that stinks or gas bursting out their taps.
Denis Pushilin, a onetime leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic, in Donetsk, June 7, 2014. He vowed never to allow fracking in the Donbass. Evgeniy Maloletka / AP
On June 20, Denis Pushilin, then an official in the Donestk People’s Republic, declared that the “USA unfolded significant activity” in Slovyansk to make money on shale gas and promised that under his authority, nobody would ever allow “dangerous for the ecology” shale gas development in the Donbass.
With the republic often changing its leaders and agendas, Pushilin soon vanished, and anti-shale-gas demonstrations stopped.
“Gas paranoia stopped as soon as Pushilin left the Donetsk People’s Republic. It must have been a well-organized campaign that manipulated with people’s minds,” a Donetsk entrepreneur and civil society organizer, Enrike Menendes, said in an interview about the causes of the war and the future of eastern Ukraine.
Gas pipes, locals believed, were a reason behind the daily fighting over Amvrosyevka, since a Gazprom main line from Siberia to Europe that runs right outside the home of the Ivanovs, 16 kilometers from the border with Russia, passes around the corner from a Ukrainian checkpoint that is attacked by rebels continually.
The Ivanovs were torn by fear and ideologies. The father, Igor, is Russian but sympathized with the Maidan revolution. The mother, Tatyana, is Ukrainian and loved Putin. She felt especially proud of Russia on Victory Day, May 9.
The war caught them in the middle of the strawberry harvest and a redecoration project at their daughter Yulia’s house. By the beginning of July, constant fighting pushed the family to move to the basement.
“We don’t support anybody. All we want is to stay alive. Please make the world understand that,” Igor said.