Russia-backed rebel authorities in eastern Ukraine have started paying pensions in Russian rubles.

Yekaterina Matyushchenko, the finance minister in the Donetsk region's separatist government, said Wednesday that pension payments for March will total 1.9 billion rubles (over $30 million). She claimed that the money came from taxes paid by local businesses.

Ukraine's move in November to halt pensions and other social payments to the rebel-controlled territories in the east has hurt the region hard. Local residents have to travel to government-controlled areas to receive payments, which is difficult given an effective government blockade of the east.

A separatist insurgency flared up in eastern Ukraine last April following Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. More than 6,000 people have died in fighting, according to the United Nations.