Ukrainians are Russians? Interview with an immigrant from Western Ukraine

 

Once in the auditorium we were shown an supposedly historical video of Red Army soldiers taking the last grain ears from starving Ukrainian peasants. A little later, thanks to the Internet, I found the original version of this video: it had a different sequence of shots and completely different text.

In his original program “Destiny” (an installment 10, September 27, 2022) Sergey Kurginyan offered an image of our society as a granite rock with numerous specks of current-conducting particles. As long as these particles are not interconnected, the rock will remain dielectric, but if these pieces with metallic properties form organized, interconnected, extended vein structures that percolate the granite through, it will begin to conduct current when voltage is applied.

There is a large number of people in society who have absorbed our centuries-old history, science, and culture, who can and want to change the reality that has taken shape in Russia. And when they begin to organize themselves into structures and work together, they succeed. Notice how, despite all the attempts of the so called reformists from the Ministry of Education, who in fact dumbed the education down, to introduce disgusting remote education in the schools under the guise of fighting the coronavirus, they have not yet succeeded in doing this. And they have not succeeded because proactive parents have worked together to fight this evil, uniting in numerous organizations and with the support of healthy social movements of all sorts. At the same time, our “freedom-loving students” instead of defending their right to a decent full-time education in the same way, jumped at rallies in support of Navalny. As a result, they stayed in the distance learning program for as long as they were told to. Thus they unambiguously characterized themselves as an “dielectric mass of society“.

I see our task in the current situation as finding the active elements in our society and uniting them into a civil structure that will be able to jointly, accurately, and as quickly as possible transform the current state of being that has been shaped by the processes that began in the 1990s. Only in this way, as a whole of the civil society, can we win the war for our future and for the future of humanism for all of humankind.

The situation is made more complicated by the fact that the media sphere is full of numerous enemies, cowards, traitors and other “scared patriots”. We are constantly faced by stories about the life abroad of the “creative elite”, the “creative class” and similar creatures, while the life, behavior and deeds of real citizens defending our homeland on the various fronts of the ongoing war remain out of sight.

Various mass media are trying to solve this problem. For example, the magazine “Expert” began to regularly publish interviews of people who volunteered to go to the war zone on the territory of the former Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. I think this initiative is extremely correct. In order to build bridges with active members of civil society, you need to know them by their faces. However, it is wrong to limit ourselves to people who are in the area of military operations. The war against the legacy of the 1990s is no less important in the rear, and it is just as important to win it as it is in the south of Russia. One such home front fighter, the main character of our interview, Aleksey, was born in Chernovtsy in a Ukrainian-speaking family in 1993. He grew up in an environment of “anti-Russia” gradually forming from the former Ukrainian SSR. Nevertheless, in 2014 he took our side, moved to Russia, joined the “Essence of Time” movement, and is now a journalist with the patriotic Rossa Primavera News Agency. Our conversation took place on November 18, 2022.

Correspondent: Alexey, where and when you were born?

Aleksey: In 1993 in Chernovtsy. People often ask where that is. It’s Western Ukraine, the smallest region – and it was like that back in the USSR, when it was joined in 1940. The region has always been notable for its multiculturalism: we had Jews, Armenians, Russians, Germans, Austrians. This diversity used to be a matter of pride, you could often hear about it at school and in casual conversations between ordinary people.

Correspondent: Before 1940, which state did this region belong to?

Aleksey: It was a part of Romania, and before that it was a part of Austro-Hungary. This region is not something that can be easily attributed to the original Russian lands. At least, not if you do not dig too deep into history.

Correspondent: Was there a lot of Russians living in this region?

Aleksey: Quite a lot of Russian people, orthodox. There are still a couple of Old Believers villages. But Russians are definitely not the majority here; as much as we would like, it is not a Russian region now. On the other hand, it could not be called nationalistic – like Lvov or Ivano-Frankovsk. I’ve been there, and you can feel that difference in literally everything. It is, perhaps, a small multinational region with an implicit identity.

Correspondent: Tell us about your parents.

Aleksey: Both of my parents are from other regions of the Ukrainian SSR, from families with many children. As they say, my father has Ukrainian-Russian blood, and my mother – Ukrainian-Polish. It seems that the parents of Mom though are from a Ukrainian family, but first years of their childhood lived in Poland, that piece of land in the 1939th year came into the Ukrainian SSR, and after the war, they seemed to have moved far away from the border.

The native language at home has always been Ukrainian. We identified ourselves as Ukrainians, and the language was Ukrainian. Although, frankly speaking, nobody tried to speak in pure Ukrainian. Rather, it was surzhyk. That is, if we wanted to, especially thanks to the school, we could speak Ukrainian, but it would look unnatural.

Actually, in my entire life I met only one person who spoke in “pure language”, and then occasionally he still used Russian words.

Correspondent.: When did you learn Russian?

Aleksey: At that time there was still a lot of “Russian world” around – movies, cartoons, books, friends and their parents who spoke Russian. When I set myself a goal to learn Russian well in middle school, I achieved it quite easily. There was no lessons of Russian language at school – only Ukrainian and English. Few schools had Russian, and every year it was “squeezed” out of the program.

Correspondent: So the school was already purely Ukrainian?

Aleksey: Almost everybody spoke Ukrainian – both teachers and children. But Russian-speakers could receive a warning: “As you live in Ukraine, you should speak Ukrainian. In junior and middle school I also took part in this “upbringing of the Russian speakers”. At that time it did not take any harsh forms, so I made friends with these people.

Correspondent: What was the historical picture of the world you were taught at school?

Aleksey: School taught us softly enough: three different branches sprang from the old Kiev Rus’ – Ukrainian, Belorussian and Russian. There was still no enforced anti-Russian propaganda in school, phrases about fraternal nations were often heard. For Orthodox Christians, the question of the “not our folk” of the Russians did not even arise. However, during my university years the rhetoric changed radically. We were told that Russia had always suppressed Ukraine, and modern Ukraine was gradually being shaped as “anti-Russia”. The key historical points were viewed from the opposite angle: “Mazepa was certainly a traitor, but only to Peter the Great and Russia. He wanted to create an independent Ukraine, and therefore – he is a good man and a hero!

Correspondent: Was it a different environment in the University or just a different program?

Aleksey: Both. Among my professors there were Yatsenyuk’s relatives. You understand that they were “ideological Ukrainians” – and they formed the curriculum accordingly. At the same time, the nonsense about “the most ancient Ukrainian folk” was considered nonsense. The problem was that they, as mentioned above, viewed historical processes from a different angle and interpreted them in a specific way. But I was ready for this, because I had encountered this example of distortion of facts to suit the ideology when I was still in school.

Correspondent: Tell me more about this episode.

Aleksey: Every year we celebrated a Golodomor Remembrance Day. On this day it is common to cry about “millions of Ukrainians killed by the Soviets and Russians“. This has a strong effect on immature children’s minds, many girls even cried at such lessons. Once, in the auditorium, they showed us an supposedly historical video of Red Army soldiers taking the last grain ears from starving Ukrainian peasants. A little later, thanks to the Internet, I found the original of this video: it had a different sequence of shots and completely different text. That was the first time I wondered why they were trying to deceive me. It was then that I began to take an interest in history. Fortunately, the material I was interested in could easily be found on the Internet.

Correspondent: To sum up, at school you were taught about three fraternal nations (Russian, Ukrainian and Byelorussian) which emerged from the bosom of Kiev Rus’. If anything bad was said about Russia, it was in the context of the “evil Bolsheviks”. The university professors, including Yatsenyuk’s relatives, have already turned the entire history inside out, presenting Russia and the Russians as eternally interfering with “Ukrainian statehood”.

Aleksey: That’s right. Even the Banderites have already been presented as people who, in a cunning way, “pretend” to cooperate with Germany, planned to create an independent Ukraine, but were interfered with by the damned Soviets. The atrocities of the Banderites were either called falsifications or attributed to the “wrong Banderites”. And there were lies, too, of course. Sometimes right by Dr. Goebbels’ methodology “7 million people died during the Golodomor“.

Correspondent: I understand that this is not an easy question, but to you Ukrainians, Belarusians and Russians are one people?

Aleksey: Not anymore. As a result of historical processes, both unified nations can form from disparate tribes and large nations can split up. This is neither good nor bad. Indeed, Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians can be seen as three branches that came from one trunk of Kiev Rus’. The Ukrainians are now, of course, a separate independent nation. But this does not mean that they need their own statehood. This process can also go in the opposite direction. With the right application of soft power, both on the Ukrainians and the Russians, in a few generations, these differences will be forgotten – the branches will again come together in one trunk.

The facts of the past are not so important here. There is some share of arguments, not entirely comfortable, they have been inflated, nurtured a new sense of identity as a nation. You can’t just close your eyes to this and say, “you don’t exist.” You can’t just ban the Ukrainian language. It has its own charm, which many Russians like. When I was still living in Ukraine, I actively communicated with the Russians, I was surprised by the warmth with which they spoke about the Ukrainian language and especially about the songs; they even asked to send them CDs or e-mails.

So now there is both Ukraine and Ukrainians. The question is how to work with this. Especially in today’s difficult situation, when the two countries are causing irreparable injuries to each other, and our real enemies are rejoicing over it behind our backs. We will have to live with this for a very, very long time. It will take an incredibly hard effort to get things back to some kind of starting point.

Correspondent: What was your mindset at the time of Maidan?

Aleksey: I was not a communist, but I used to hang out with the guys from the Communist Party of Ukraine. I was certainly a supporter of the Soviet Union. I communicated with people from Russian movements. They were still there then, but became weaker and weaker with each year. They were already being persecuted. There were calls from some teachers “Take your Schmeisser submachine guns from the attic and whack the Donetsk guys“.

Correspondent: Was this before the war in Donbas?

Aleksey: Yes. Even before the Maidan. The difference of “east” was always emphasized, it was even included in the history program, when the concept of “Ukrainian frontier” was introduced during lectures. It was said that the East of Ukraine is a wilderness, people are all mixed up, literally underdeveloped in terms of culture….

Correspondent: When did the situation become heated? When did the “cult of Bandera” start?

Aleksey: In my memory it has never been forbidden to walk around with a portrait of Bandera, but since 2004 it was encouraged. Bandera’s followers received absolutely positive historical interpretation as patriots of Ukraine. At the same time, the duplicity of today’s followers of Bandera was striking. On television they were all white and fluffy, while on the Internet you could find videos of them mocking and beating someone.

Unfortunately, the majority of the population fully accepted the propaganda that was imposed. People who disagreed, including my friends, were physically attacked. Aggression towards veterans of the Great Patriotic War began to manifest itself. It became unbearable to live in such an environment, and since I had already decided at school age that I would live in Russia, I began actively working on the implementation of this plan.

 

Image: Telegram channel Chernovtsy City Council
The sculpture “Red Army soldiers in battle” dismantled in Chernovtsy

 

Correspondent: How did you move to Russia?

Aleksey: My acquaintance from Kazakhstan moved to the Crimea. He offered me a job helping with design of the website, texts, pictures, and so on. I accepted this offer since it provided me with some stability.

Correspondent: How has Russia welcomed you? What about the process of acquiring citizenship?

Aleksey: The process of getting Russian citizenship took two years. First, I did not understand how to do it. If I had done it, knowing a lot beforehand, I would have received it in a year. And due to the lack of information I took the wrong steps for a long time. First I lived in the Crimea, then I realized that there was nothing for me there, and then I moved to another region, where there was a program for relocation of compatriots.

Correspondent: Did you have any problems getting citizenship under the program of relocation of compatriots?

Aleksey: No, not in general. Some problems were related to the inconvenient work of the relevant state agencies. At the end of 2017 I received citizenship. The process was complicated by the fact that I was limited in finances, and every payment was a problem for me.

Correspondent: What was your job “on the mainland” (compared to the Crimean peninsula, translator’s note)?

Aleksey: I continued the work that I started in Crimea. In addition, thanks to an acquaintance from the world of sports hobby, I got a job at the utility service, where I helped engineers keep track of contracts using computer programs. They needed it both for internal purposes and for interaction with contractors, clients, etc.

Correspondent: How were you welcomed by Russian citizens?

Aleksey: Very well. I often spoke to my family in Ukrainian, it was our native language after all. And over all these years nobody, under any circumstances, has made any remarks on this or any other topics. Moreover, some even said how great it was, that I did not forget my language, how beautiful it is, and so on.

There was only one occasion of dissatisfaction, but not because of the language, but because of the fact that we (immigrants, translator’s note) were living off the state. I replied to this woman that I had not received a single penny from Russia, that I had to work, pay the rent, and so on. After that, she seemed to calm down. She just complained that her salary was small and it was hard for her to see how some people were paid for nothing.

Correspondent: What did you start to do in Russia apart from your work?

Aleksey: I played games like chess, and also did some writing. That is, I developed a few hobbies. Also I was interested in the social life.

In Chernovtsy I learned about the Concept of Social Security (COB) (kind of pro-soviet conspiracy community, translator’s note), I liked it very much. I heard about the “Essence of Time” later on, but also paid attention, listened to all the lectures of Sergey Kurginyan. And when I moved to the Crimea, I quickly became acquainted with the local group. So I kept knocking on various doors and craving for social activism, but it was only the “Essence of Time” movement that made contact with me and let me take a closer look. I did not consider myself a “EoT member” yet, but I enjoyed reading the newspaper and watching the programs.

When I moved “to the mainland,” I knocked on various doors again, but it was not that I was not invited anywhere – all my letters were absolutely and completely ignored by the local activists. So I turned to the EoT again. I started attending meetings, where they often discussed articles from the series “The Fate of Humanism in the Twenty-First Century“. I realized that I was on my way with people who were considering such problems. I began to participate in events, somewhere I took the initiative. So after a while the “Essence of Time” movement became part of my life.

Correspondent: What has the “Essence of Time” movement become for you? What goals can you reach in this movement?

Aleksey: In this organization, I see a lucid belief in Man, in His ascent. I don’t always agree with the details, with some of the publications of the movement members, but I understand the purpose for which a lot is being done. It is done to unite people for the sake of achieving higher goals. The movement wants Russia not to perish, and to ascend with its citizens to high goals. We clearly understand what we live and work for.

Correspondent: How do you see a bright future, what goals do you go to?

Aleksey: Towards the realization of the New Man idea. It’s not for nothing that we say about the rebirth of Soviet Union, even if it was renewed. It was the first state in history which for decades claimed and set as its goal the development of Man in full sense of the word. It cannot be reborn in its former shape, and it does not need to be. But I believe that mankind will be able to create conditions in which everyone will do science, art, space exploration, and much more, as the heart desires. It is almost impossible to say in advance what shape this will take, but there are already principles in humanity and existing social systems that can be used to imagine such a future.

Correspondent: What exactly do you do in the movement?

Aleksey: I’m a journalist for the Rossa Primavera News Agency, I write about some kinds of sports that are almost completely ignored by the mainstream agencies. I get to know the players, coaches, study the history of each issue and try to connect all the nuances that the heroes of the notes themselves never think about. I tell readers interesting facts, find connections between phenomena, and write about athletes. Often they come back to the Rossa Primavera website and read our articles on other topics. A kind of social network is emerging.

I have also noticed an interesting thing. Athletes themselves often don’t think about what they do, they don’t see the big picture of the past, present and future. But after reading my texts, they have a new perspective on their work, its social and even historical significance.

It is like an ideological work, and I am very lucky to see the fruits of it. I sometimes look for news on my topics and occasionally come across quotations from my work or some retelling of it. Where there wasn’t a clear image before, a clear picture emerges. One day I even found out that in one school students in the “What? Where? When?” (well-known soviet intellectual game, translator’s note) contest were asked a question on my article. That is, someone thought it was important to know and bring it to the children. I had already guessed how the information worked, but I didn’t think I could catch it by the tail so quickly.

One can imagine how often our interactions with others affect their lives. How their view of the world is influenced by our statements, news, articles. It’s just not everyone is lucky enough to see it. I’ve been a little lucky, and I’m very happy about it.

From time to time people ask me what this Rossa Primavera is all about. Then I tell them what the Essence of Time movement is, what its principles are, what it does with news, analysis, and more. At this point, as a member of the movement, I feel responsible for it. There are journalists who come for one story, then leave and never come back. All for the sake of money, momentary profit and so on. And I kind of represent different principles. One can assume that people will have a different attitude to other materials from our agency if they see my attitude to this activity.

Correspondent: Thank you very much! It’s time to end our interview. Let’s finish it where we started, with Ukraine. What must Russia do to win the war? Not a classic war, but a war for the minds of the people of Ukraine?

Aleksey: Russia needs to determine a clear and understandable picture of the modern world and the image of the future. There is no ideology in Russia now… The modern inhabitant of Ukraine doesn’t see the Russian picture of the world he wants to be in. And I also see that people in Russia become embittered. Certainly, it is still very far from the hatred into which the inhabitants of Ukraine have fallen, but we can also find ourselves there. We may end up forgetting history, forgetting that Kiev is not the capital of a hostile country, but the mother of Russian cities.

Correspondent: Well, let’s work. Thank you!

Aleksey: Absolutely! Thank you!

Source: Rossa Primavera News Agency

 

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