And thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years.
Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubile to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land.
And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubile unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family. (Leviticus Chapter 25).
When I heard about what was going on in the Zaporozhian city of Melitopol, my mind immediately formed the word “Jubilee“. I thought I knew my Old Testament, and I thought I knew what that word meant, but when I did some supplementary research by re-reading Leviticus, it seems it’s more complicated than I remembered. The ancient Hebrew people apparently used the once-in-a-lifetime 50-year Jubilee holiday for many other things than just settling debts. Other events included: Not planting or sowing crops (i.e., give the land some rest), and also settling issues of bonded labor.
Many years after the first Jubilee in Canaan, a man named Jesus came along and added his own twist to the concept, when he demanded, “Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts.” In one of the lost, un-canonical gospels, Jesus then added: “Especially those cumbersome student loans.”
Some more years passed, a lot of history happened, and African slaves suddenly appeared on the American continent. Most of these people were uneducated and illiterate, but they knew their Bible, and they too dreamed of a Jubilee. One which they associated with freedom from their burden of bondage. Some were able to buy their way to freedom, but most could not scrape up the down payment, even when it was an option, which it rarely was. But all dreamed of a fresh start without a yoke on their back. Every working person in the world can relate to that dream; the bourgeoisie won’t get it. Either way, when General Sherman’s men came to march through Georgia, his hardy soldiers sang these words, giving hope to the field slaves they encountered, and encouraging them to rise up in the wake of the victorious army:
Hurrah! Hurrah! We bring the jubilee! Hurrah! Hurrah! The flag that makes you free! So we sang the chorus from Atlanta to the sea! While we were marching through Georgia!
“You can catch more flies with honey…”
Moving along now, from the ancient Hebrews, from the peoples of Canaan, from the African slaves, to the modern citizens of Melitopol. This beautiful city of some 150,000 people, is literally named “Honey City” or “Sweet City” from the Greek words for honey Μέλι (meli) and city (polis).
The Russian army captured Melitopol just 2 days into the war, on February 26. The capture was easy, because nobody was fighting back. The Russian military authorities appointed a local politician named Galina Danilchenko as the new acting Mayor. Danilchenko announced some very welcome news for the inhabitants of this great city: All of their debts for communal services (gas, water, electricity) are hereby nullified effective May 1, thus everybody gets to start with a clean slate.
According to Galina, once the new authorities took over, they started looking at the lists of bills, payments, and debts to the city. “The old tariffs were ghastly,” she said. “Tariff” is the word that Russians and Ukrainians use for these types of municipal bills which they receive in the mail as unwelcome visitors. Most Americans will not be familiar with this type of system at all, which was inherited from the previous socialist system. American families who live in houses are used to paying private power companies and water facilities, etc. Those who live in flats either pay for these services separately, or as part of the rent, which is paid to the private landlords. However, in former Soviet countries the way it usually works is that the governments (be they local or municipal) provide these services to the residents, especially of urban areas. For example, heating is usually centralized, with gas being piped into all the homes and buildings, instead of residents purchasing their fuel individually from private companies.
One can see that, in such a system, it is the government’s responsibility to provide these services; and the citizens’ responsibility to pay their bills on time. Unfortunately, even long before the war, many working-class Ukrainians found the charges prohibitively high; and prices were being raised all the time. In addition to the usual governmental corruption, the Ukrainian state became increasingly burdened by international debt, with the IMF cracking the whip and demanding more and more austerity on the part of ordinary Ukrainians. This is just to put into context the situation which Danilchenko found herself faced with, as the new city leader.
Galina: “If, before 2014, gas cost 74 kopecks per cube, then by the start of 2022, one cube cost 16 hryvna 47 kopecks.” [There are 100 kopecks in a hryvna. One hryvna is worth about 3 American cents. The average annual salary in the Ukraine is 896,251 hryvna, but the mean is only 205,886. This is just to put things in perspective. Galina’s point is that the constant price rises were extremely burdensome to the region’s consumers.] Galina adds that extra fees were sometimes tacked on: “The communal fees grew colossally, people went into debt. There were some subsidies offered at first, and then they started to cut the subsidies.” Ukrainians found themselves being squeezed more and more, and forced into intolerable levels of debt.
After the Russians took over, Galina worked with them to re-connect residents who had been disconnected for not paying their electricity bills: “Everybody got reconnected, and very quickly. Then we decided to recalculate the tariffs. During the first stage we can lower the heating bills by 30%. We still haven’t decided what is a fair price to pay for gas. But the other services we think we can also lower the price by 30%.”
And in the meantime, people are starting with a clean slate, thanks to the Jubilee. When people do have to start paying again, I am not sure whether it has been confirmed, if they will be paying in hryvnas or rubles. We shall see.