Teachers, doctors struggle on without pay in eastern Ukraine
With Kiev cutting off their salaries and pro-Moscow rebels struggling to set up their statelets, teachers and doctors in eastern Ukraine are left wondering where their next pay cheque will come from.
For English teacher Alla Rusinkevich, stopping work is simply not an option.
"We are waiting for something but we don't know what. If we don't get any support, maybe we will die. Maybe someone else will pay," she says, sitting on a school chair in an empty classroom at School Number Nine in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk.
After 30 years in the job, she cannot consider leaving. "Almost everybody is still here," she says, her tired face breaking into a warm smile.
A colleague sitting with her, Yury Kholyavkin, has also had to dig into his savings to get by. He claims he has a plan if things get really bad: "I will join the rebels, with camouflage and a Kalashnikov."
The teachers say that Ukraine's cash-strapped government had not paid them for weeks even before announcing on Saturday that it was cutting off state services like schools and hospitals in the rebel-held east.
The separatists of the self-proclaimed separatist People's Republic of Donetsk gave Kholyavkin a handout of 3,000 hryvnias (157 euros, $195), slightly less than his regular monthly salary, last month.
But they do not have the resources to cover regular pay for teachers and doctors which, until now, was Kiev's responsibility.
"We're in the process of discussing all that. It's a difficult question," says Yanika Studenikina, a spokeswoman for the People's Republic of Donetsk's recently-established finance ministry.
- 'Matter of honour' -
Viktor Kuchkovoy, the rebels' health minister in Donetsk, concedes that the "fledgling state" would have "difficulties paying doctors and medical staff" for the moment due to the lack of an administrative framework.
Most hospital workers in Donetsk have not been paid for months. Near the city centre, doctors at Rudnychna hospital have been waiting for their salaries since July.
The 15 emergency ward doctors have built up a pot of cash which any of them can dip into in case of need, to be paid back when peace comes.
"The staff work as a matter of honour," said the head of the unit, Dr Andrei Kolesnikov, a bald, affable man in his 40s.
"You see those nurses?" he asks, pointing at two young women who look away shyly. "They don't have any money so they have to walk to work."
He says the hospital will be able to keep working for a month with the medicines currently available.
He accepts he could work elsewhere -- "in France or in Yemen". But he adds: "The captain is always the last to leave the ship."
His boss, who did not want to give his name, says that around 15 doctors have left the hospital because of the war "to rejoin Ukraine" but he says he is too old for that. Most residents of the rebel-held east do not see the area as part of Ukraine.
"If you are a doctor, you should stay here," he adds, fixing his eyes on a statue in his office of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine. "But frankly, I have no idea who is going to pay."
© 2014 AFP