I met Artem in a Cuban themed bar in central Kiev. He immediately started discussing EuroMaidan...
A: I enjoyed the revolution and it’s atmosphere, it was clean and friendly. We called it the Revolution of Dignity. Maidan was supposed to represent the ideas of Europe, and European solidarity. It was about cultural progress and getting away from Soviet culture. But it was actually the most perfect representation of Soviet ideas! Everyone brought what they could to Maidan and took what they needed. There were groups who sent out things that were needed. They fought with communism against Russian ideology. Ever skill came together, doctors helped the injured, and handymen built barricades. It was the perfect example of communism in a good way. I felt safe in Maidan. When I was there, I felt like Kiev belonged to me, it was a feeling I never had before. I cherished it. It was a natural way of living, you could lay down anywhere, and there was even security which made sure no drunk people were around. (Before the shooting) People were really showing that the protest was for a good cause, and kept it clean, even picking up trash. But when the violence started, I didn’t dully join in as I value my life. I watched everything on live stream, via Facebook and Youtube. I wanted to be one of those people fighting and join in. But it’s easier to die for a cause than to live for a cause. This is the mantra I live by. But I respect the sacrifice those people made.
My TV crew and I were walking around interviewing people, one day before Maidan, on the anniversary of the Orange Revolution. Everyone said there was no way there would there be another protest, as the result from the last one was minuscule. They made a mistake once and wouldn’t make it again. This programme we made didn’t even air!
Artem was clearly pro-Maidan, but I wanted to see his view on the current conflict in the Eastern region of Donbas. Whilst the pro-European Maidan protests were taking place, a pro-Russian separatist group in Donbas, the Donetsk People's Republic, sprung up as a reaction against the Maidan protestors. They wanted to create an independent state, separate from the rest of Ukraine but closely aligned with Russia instead.
D- Why do Donetsk want to be associated with Russia?
A- We have a meme where this granny wants to die in the Soviet Union. Lots of old people have this romantic view of the USSR. It was powerful and stopped blitzkrieg. Logically, it’s all about borders. West Ukraine has business in Poland, Slovakia etc. East has business with Russia. We are between two major superpowers; the EU and Russia. We are like a bridge. I think because of all this shit they should just go to Russia. But it’s funny because Russia doesn’t want them; they are not economically viable like Crimea. Historically there has always been Central/West and East Ukraine and each president has been favoured by one side. In terms of language, East thought Russia should be the native language, whilst West thinks Ukrainian should be.
So there’s been tension for a while; in the presidency, the language and even football teams. Russia said that Kiev was being over run by Nazis that are coming to kill Russians, and need to protect their government. Meanwhile Russia bribed military to enter and it was easy because everyone was already barricaded in, terrified. Russia made everyone [in East Ukraine] scared and convinced them that they always hated Ukrainian speakers.
Being Ukrainian isn’t about territory or language. It’s about being a diverse and loving family. I blame eastern Ukrainians for being absurd and too scared of Nazis, which are actually really small in number. They think Kiev makes the rules and mistreats them. That is bullshit! We saw some people who fled from the eastern regions to Kiev, in expensive cars and even brought flats! It’s obvious that there’s a lot of local corruption, which gets blamed on the Central Ukraine government. Every third wealthy person in Kiev is probably from the Donbas region.
My main idea was that there was healthy tension between the areas. But because of language and corruption, this increased. We never wanted to cut ties with Russia, we see them as a brother, but consider ourselves European. Basically I think our government and the Russian government overreacted. Then the current president came along. He’s a businessman who claimed to know stuff, but people ended up not liking him. I think we can work towards something, but you need leverage to do good stuff. Maybe he wants to do good things, or maybe he just likes playing with Ukrainians. In the end there’s never a good candidate. It’s either better or worse. Like in America.
Russia is paranoid of America and used these protests to destabilise Ukraine and to make sure that the US doesn’t build a military base nearby. They aimed to destabilise Ukraine for the next 20 years, enforcing fear into the Eastern part and then using that moment to annex Crimea. Crimea was always the main target as it’s good territory. They used the troubles in Donbas to make Crimean’s scared, so that it was easier to annex it.