An undeclared war has been going on in Ukraine for two years already. And if we receive nearly daily reports from the Ministry of Defense, from the State Security Service of Ukraine or from the Presidential Administration about the events in the Donetsk, Luhansk regions and in Crimea, then the information about the other potentially hot spots of Ukraine is insufficient or very inconsistent. We are sure to strike the right note if we call difficult the political and social situation in such territories as the Odessa region and Polesia. Certainly, there are no full-scale war acts there. But the active political struggle in the Southern Palmyra with the local representatives of the old regime and with the supporters of the pro-Russian ideas should not we swept under the carpet, as well as the regular "amber revolts" in the Rovno, Zhytomyr and Volynsk regions.
Actually, this article tackles the burning problem of "national revolts" in Polesia region. Before recently, Ukraine hasn't had the need to involve the National Guard for counteraction with smugglers yet, however at a certain moment everything happens under the sun for the first time.
So what provoked the peaceful residents of the Western Ukraine to aggressive actions? Is it really the amber which became a stumbling block? Or the reason of turmoil in Polesia is hidden somewhere deeper under the surface? To get the answer to these questions, it is necessary to get acquainted with all components of the "amber" conflict.
Amber: its nature, history and geography
In fact, amber is not considered to be a jewel. It is only the pitch of fossil coniferous trees petrified for about 40 million years ago.
However, in a classical antiquity world, amber was highly appreciated. The myths and legends about this solar stone are filled with poetry. The Greeks, for example, considered amber to be the petrified tears of the daughters of the God of the Sun Helios, turned into trees and mourning their died brother Faeton. Other people considered amber the sea foam stiffened in sunshine, or the petrified caviar of unknown fishes. And in the Ancient Egypt amber decorated a headdress of the Pharaoh. Over time the curative properties of a solar stone were discovered, therefore it was used not only in jewelry, but also in medicine. It is known that Martin Luther carried amber in a pocket to be protected from stones in kidneys. At the time of the Soviet power amber was not considered as something especially valuable: the children used to play with it, the furnaces were kindled with it, and only 25 years ago its commercial production began in Ukraine.
Though the amber superiority on the Russian territory always belonged to the Kaliningrad region, and the Polish Gdansk was considered as the amber capital of the world, the exploration of the Ukrainian amber reserves has confirmed that our country can become one of the main players at the international amber exchange in the nearest future, because only in Ukraine 25% of this ornamental stone is suitable for jeweler processing.
The reason of amber boom in the modern world
In 2014 thanks to explosive increase in amber demand in China and in the Arab countries, the price of a solar stone significantly increased - up to 2000 dollars for kg (at the beginning of the 21st century 1 kg of amber cost no more than 150 dollars).
The Chinese paid particular attention to the stone and declared the year 2014 as a Year of Amber. Since ancient times they called this stone "a dragon tear", believed in existence of its anima. Besides, the succinic acid in China is considered to be an excellent rejuvenating mean.
Amber is also actively used in pharmaceutics, in perfumery, in the paint and varnish, space and food industries, as well as in mechanical engineering. And amber waste finds their application too. Thus, the demand for amber does exist, so the Ukrainian offer of this stone will be on the agenda at least for several years to come.
Amber mining method
The amber extraction is a difficult and dangerous process. So called, amber prospectors are engaged in it. For a start a site on which allegedly there are stocks of the solar stone should be completely cleared of all vegetation. Then the excavator digs a deep ditch filled with the running water, and around a ditch many small holes are being dug, from which the water is being pumped out. The strongest water flow washes away the sand, and amber - which is lighter than water - emerges on the surface.
It is necessary to notice that this process represents a big hazard to life of the amber prospectors who are standing on a very thin coat of soil under which thousands of liters of water are storming under huge pressure. Together with "marsh gold" (the amber looks like this in this case) the dirt emerges, which consequently should be separated from a stone. The amber prospectors do it with the help of a normal net.
Amber cost: what does it depend on?
The cost of a solar stone depends on the size, color, form and, literally, on contents of amber. The main amount of ambers are small pebbles. Therefore, the bigger is the stone, the higher is its price.
The smallest fraction weighs 2-5 g, the next one - 5-10 g, then come the fraction of 10-20 g, etc.
The biggest amber in the world weighs 15 kg 250 g and has its own name - "The Burmese amber". It is possible to admire this miracle in the London museum of Natural History. In total in the world no more than ten blocks of amber have been recorded with the weight exceeding 5 kg.
Amber can have for about 350 shades - from beige to claret, from blue to green. The most widespread amber color is yellow. There is a so called royal blue amber, but it is a kind of Dominican amber. And the Ukrainian stone is very valuable with its gentle lemon and emerald colors - the most expensive jeweler kind.
The most valuable form of amber is cubic: it can be polished to the form of the ball. Therefore, the more roundish is the stone's form, the higher is the price. According to the Chinese belief, the amber sphere brings to the person happiness and a good health.
The stone cost significantly depends on its contents which can be anything - from a normal ant to seaweed. But the real hunting is for the remains of the pre-glacial period. Certainly, it is possible to see the stone contents only after its polishing, but the result is worth it. For example, the former Minister of ecology Zlochevsky had a huge amber as the blotter on his desk: there was a fly inside the amber. The specialists evaluated this amber cost as one million dollars.
In order to distinguish an original stone from a fake one, it is necessary to pour water in empty ware and to add several tablespoons of salt. Of course, the stone should not be in a frame. If amber emerges on the surface, it is original natural material.
"Amber fever" in Ukraine
The solar stone was mined in Ukraine long before Maidan's events. However, it was illegal. Only one State enterprise "Amber of Ukraine" - located in the Rovno area - worked according to the official license . The other bulk of amber extraction was carried out under patronage of mafia structures. It is another question who "protected" them - currently in mass media there have been published a lot of assumptions about it, coming up to the highest representatives of the government.
But two years ago, when Yanukovych's regime was replaced, the schemes of illegal amber extraction were destroyed. Amber mafia (local administrations, Donetsk criminal guys and security officers of different structures) temporarily hid or passed to the other schemes of illegal business. Having stopped to control the extraction of a yellow stone, they started to buy it up and now they are engaged in smuggling- if not in the direction of Russia, then to Poland and China.
In a word, after the Maidan in Ukrainian Polesia there occurred something like a decentralization of amber business. There was neither "amber king", nor "amber barons", nor their supervisors. The locals understood that they could try to extract the solar stone without any permissions from mafia, they could get it independently. People realized that it is their territory, their subsoil and that they are not slaves any more.
Thus, having used hard crisis times in the country and in amber production sector, the residents of the Rovno, Zhytomyr and Volynsk regions rushed to prospecting works. And since then the Ukrainian Polesia turned into the "treasure island" where people hunt for "gold pitch" and are ready to kill for a stone. Today, the local authorities and security officers try to recover the influence on gold prospectors again. The most banal scheme is being used: if you paid - nobody you will do you harm, if you did not pay - you will be arrested, the stones will be taken away from you and you will be prosecuted. The court will appoint a penalty in the amount of 2000 hryvnias, the amber prospector will pay it - and will go to the amber hunt again. Only there the ordinary person has an opportunity - very hard, but quick - to earn money, without making two ends meet on a miserable dole.
Of course, the situation with "amber fever" is ambiguous. On the one hand, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the State Security Service of Ukraine do their best to confiscate amber from smugglers (by tons!). And the new coverage in mass media escalated in such a way that "huge volumes of amber" permit some journalists to call Polesia as a new "Ukrainian Emirates". But, on the other hand, the reserves of the Ukrainian amber - though very big - are obviously insufficient for the introduction of the State monopoly on it.
Thus, post-Maidan Ukraine simply could not cope with the amber fever. Day and night Polesian woods and fertile soil are being destroyed, thousands of motor-pumps are working, and the extracted amber - property of all country! - is being smuggled to the other countries at unbelievably low prices.
"Amber Armageddon" in Ukraine
By 2016 the solar stone did not bring to Ukraine anything, except contention, turmoil, social and industrial problems which can turn into catastrophe. Let's remember, that the other day the Public Border Service of Ukraine published the new photos of the places of illegal amber extraction, shot by boundary aircrafts. The loss to the regional ecology obvious.
But social disasters conceal in themselves many troubles as well. For example, "amber fever" already caused the losses and the victims - in March, 2016 two neighboring villages - Rakitnoye and Yelnya of the Rovno area - went into open battle against each other. Blinded by amber and confidence that the earth on which it is possible to extract amber, belongs to them, the former neighbors ruthlessly beat each other, burned down cars and crumbled everything that was tucked under a hand. As a result, in recent years the Rovno, Zhytomyr and Volynsk regions turned into the real Ukrainian Wild West where the amber is reigning and nobody thinks of a safety procedures, of working conditions, of health and of decency.
Solar stone is being sold on the Internet. On Facebook and in the social network "VKontakte" the whole groups appeared which are engaged in amber buying up. But the most favorable sales are represented by smuggling. Unfortunately, frontier guards are sharing profits with the smugglers. Therefore "demonstrative" detentions of small illegal consignments of amber happen infrequently, and the prosperous flow of "gold pitch" quickly departures to Poland.
The Polish authorities pretend that nothing is going on, because the considerable amount of illegal Ukrainian amber helps Gdansk to hold the world leadership in production of "solar" jewelry. In Ukraine there is no law on amber extraction, so nobody bears responsibility for destruction of the nature. As a result, the Ukrainian Polesia is threatened by environmental disaster - not in a long-term run, and even not in several years, but right here and right now. Amber prospectors ruthlessly and thoughtlessly pull down an ecosystem, destroy flora and fauna. Environmentally friendly, the most beautiful coniferous forests are being turned into dirty bogs and deserts with a lunar landscape. Besides, underground waterways are destroyed, and for their recovery decades will be required. The locals do not even reflect that very soon they will not be able to drink water from the rivers, and it will be necessary to be content with imported bottled water. By estimates of the specialists, barbarous extraction of amber only on the territory of Olevsky district destroyed an ecosystem on the area of 185 hectares. The economic damage is still to be counted.
Methods of settlement of "an amber problem"
To settle "an amber problem", Ukraine needs to create its own amber exchange, to adjust processing of a solar stone and production of jewelry of "gold pitch", and, the main thing, to toughen customs control aimed at stopping illegal amber export. "Transparent conditions of participation in exchange trade, the prices which are higher than on the black market and tough rules of accounting of the extracted stone can be guarantees of the drastic change of the situation for Ukraine: from the status of the raw donor to the status of the strong player on the amber market. We have to export not a cheap raw material, but semi-finished products and jewelry. It will generate more financial means in the national economy", - this is how the Deputy Minister of Ecology Svetlana Kolomiyets considered the amber matter in the past. But similar expectations have not been implemented in any way.
However, not so long ago Verkhovna Rada created - at last! - a special group "on the amber problem" which was headed by Irina Gerashenko. At the beginning of April the National Guard was sent to the places of illegal amber extraction - in order to, at least, reduce intensity of emotions. However it is already impossible to prohibit amber extraction in Ukraine completely.
On the other hand, it is also impossible to declare the State monopoly on this trade too. First of all, the locals just won't give a subsoil under the others' control. Consequently, it is inexpedient to talk about any decrease in social tension in that case. And secondly, the data on amber volumes differs very much. In due time Arseny Yatsenyuk assumed that the monopoly for amber extraction will lead to increase in the income for the State budget by 1 billion hryvnias a year. But here is how this situation is being commented on at the Institute of Geology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine: "I do not know who evaluated and who counted. However, if we should trust the Prime Minister, then in the 2016 the gross output of amber in Ukraine should amount to, at least, 37 tons. Otherwise the cost of licenses, costs of equipment acquisition, sorting and an assessment, processing and so forth will not be financially covered. But who will try for the sake of zero profitability? It mean, we will add another 10%. The total in this case is more than 40 tons per year. Alas, there is no so much amber in Ukraine!"
So, there is only one way out: legalize amber extraction and create the transparent market for its sale. But there are some obstacles in the way as well. Easier said than done. For example, on April 23, 2016 the bill of the Rovno people's deputy Vasily Yanitsky "About production and implementation of amber" N. 1351-1 passed the first reading. At the same time some other deputies are sure that the project N. 1351-1 will only become a basis for appearance of the new corruption schemes. In particular, there is an opinion that oligarchs lobby the new law on legalization of amber extraction to grab under their power hundreds of hectares of the wood. And the utility enterprises, potential receivers of licenses for amber extraction will become new monopolists because only very rich people will be able to obtain such licenses.
Except the project N. 1351-1, there is one more - "About prospectors’ cooperative associations" under the N. 3035. By means of this law it would be possible to solve a problem of environmental disaster. Unfortunately, the bill did not even pass the first reading.
And we arrive to the sad conclusion: Ukraine will not become the constitutional State in the nearest future, and the Ukrainian Wild West will continue to be at war and cry amber tears. Ivan Pravdin, "Vector news"
Translated by Maria Kryzhanovska