LEONID, 30, is a former soldier turned pizza restaurant owner. His restaurant employs Ukrainian veterans, and the interior is decorated with badges of Ukrainian armed forces, a giant model gun, and most powerfully of all, a map of Ukraine made out of bullets. The areas of Donbas and Crimea were made out of used bullets. He is clearly a respected figure in the community, and several people interrupt our interview to talk to him, all big, tough army guys.
DOM- After the war, why did you set up this restaurant?
LEONID- Before the war I made pizza, after I came back an ex soldier called me and said he wants to help veterans and their families. We worked helping their families, and I realised working with veterans was very comfortable. We had more in common than with civilians. Many did not want to go back to their old jobs so we set up a business to employ veterans and allow them to come together. I studied business management and eventually sot someone to invest. We set up and now we have 13 veterans employed in this restaurant. I brand grew and now we employ over 30. I employed 2 psychologists to help with the mentality of the veterans too.
D- You fought on the front lines?
L- Yes, I was a machine gunner. I finished military school in 2004 and was in the army for 1 year. But then I made pizza for 6 years.
D- So why did you go to fight?
L- Because it is my duty. When war started in East Ukraine, I couldn’t just watch TV and not out to fight. This is my country. When the Russians took Crimea it was fucking shit.
D- So many of the military had civilian jobs?
L_ Yes of course. I think about half.
D- How did you adapt?
L- We had one common enemy so we became like brothers.
D- Were you involved in EuroMaidan?
L- Yes I was there. I protested and helped other guys with medicals and food. But it wasn’t the same feeling as being on the front line.
D- Would there be war without the revolution?
L- Not the right question. Revolution was because of corruption and poverty. Russia always wanted Crimea. Even without the revolution, the war would of happened sooner or later. We have one enemy, Russia. They want to see Europe and NATO on their borders. They want to bring back the Soviet Union, but we want to be independent.
D- What about independent Donetsk?
L- They want to be part of Russia. How can they defend against us? We were kicking their arses until Russia sent military and weapons to them. We had a task to finish this war in 2014.
D- How much longer will the war go on for?
L- I don’t know. I don’t know.. Russia has their own voice in Donbas. There will be no peacekeeping in Donbas. If there is, the war will finish. They don’t want to finish the war. Russia likes to have this difficult situation in Ukraine.
D- Do you think there are any Ukrainians in support of Russia?
L- Yes of course. Russia has very powerful propaganda machine. They have T.V shows, news. People don’t know the truth. They say we are Nazis. We have a few radical Nazi guys, but they are very small and we don’t support them. But Russia shows that everyone in East Ukraine is fighting Nazis or fascists.
D- Would you describe the divide in Ukraine as Pro Europe vs. Pro Russia, or Pro Ukraine vs. Pro Russia?
L- I think it is both. Ukraine fights not only for Europe but we fight for independence in all sense. We want to decide. The lifestyle in Europe is much cooler than in Russia. I was in Poland, and I liked it very much. There’s not so much corruption. We want to live like your living.
D- Do you think its possible with this government?
L- No. But its what we have now. All government is so corrupt. We can’t have changes for the next two or three years.
D- Is there propaganda on this side?
L- We don’t have such propaganda. We don’t know how to do this. We just have anti-propaganda, and our news just says where Russia lies.
D- Will Ukraine be united again?
L- Yes of course. We need change of government through the change of people’s mentality.