The following interview was done by Viktoriia Stepanets, a member of the Young Peace Journalists. It is the latest entry in the Young Peace Journalists project featuring the stories and voices of refugees.
Vjacheslav came from Lugansk to Kiev in 2014 and received Internally Displaced Person status. Today he lives in Kiev and is a chief editor in the Informator.media online edition, which highlights the news of Lugansk and the Lugansk region. Vjacheslav shared his view about the relationship between Russia and Ukraine, the present and future of Ukraine, and also expressed his opinion on the decommunization process in Ukraine. [Editor’s note: “Decommunization process” means to take down monuments which are connected with the Soviet Union, to rename streets and cities named after the Russian or Soviet Union heroes.]
How would you describe the situation in Ukraine?
“Everything is bad, everything should be remade”, – I often say these words to the journalists which work on my issue. And today I say the same words to Ukraine. A lot of people make an effort to present the situation in Ukraine as a civil war, where one nation kills itself. It is a manipulation of the citizens’ consciousness. This is not about the internal conflict in the country, but it is about the aggression of one country to another. The situation we observe today is a result of a carefully planned operation. Everything has been prepared for a long time with the help of the local elites.
To what position do the citizens of Lugansk and the Lugansk region adhere? In the case that the referendum on self-determination of Lugansk and the Lugansk region is held, what decision would be taken?
It is very difficult to determine the position of this region. Different opinions on this question depend exclusively on the particular person’s surrounding, and this person can be misled that it is the opinion of the majority. In fact, everything is a bit more complicated. There is no sense to hold the referendum today because everybody is under the power of propaganda, from the Ukrainian and the Russian sides.
I have a question to you as a chief editor. What criteria do you follow to present the information, especially during the period of war, as objectively as possible?
It is very a difficult and painful issue. The journalists do not know how to behave themselves in this war period. One of the principles of objectivity is a necessity to provide the information from different sides, to present the points of view of different parties. But this means to give the word to the terrorists too, and we realize what they can tell about. Also a problem is in writing about military events directly from the places of their development. By having a conversation with the witnesses, by publishing their comments, the media endangers them. Generally, these people are caught in such occasions. Often in such situations the representatives of the media claim that they did not ask anybody to tell anything, and that means that the arrested person is a spy. Thus he is captured, and the more he begins “to make noise”, the more “expensive” he becomes.
Being a chief editor I strictly forbid my journalists to make photos of the places of military events. I suppose that the safety of the journalists is paramount. In such situations I have to be content with the facts the journalists inform by telephone or email without providing any video or photos to confirm their words. When the journalist informed us that during a half an hour in the direction to Lugansk heavy machinery goes, most likely tanks, we published this way: In the direction to Lugansk the heavy machinery goes, probably, tanks. Undoubtedly, it violates the law of information, but when it is a question of life and death, the rules of a game should be changed.
How do you see the solution of the Ukrainian conflict?
It is necessary to switch off the television – and the empire will collapse. The war is not for territory or placement of the military bases. The war helps to keep people in obedience, to enhance the reputation of some representatives of the authorities. Not the United States of America nor Europe has to solve our problems. We must rely on our own strength. But it has to be taken into account that the interests of the Ukrainian people and Ukrainian authorities are not the same. While Ukrainians want to stop the war and to live peacefully, the Ukrainian government aggravates the situation. The war is an effective way to distract people from pressing issues, non-responsibility of the authorities to their obligations, not implementing numerous reforms that the government promised. The escalation of the conflict is favorable to the authorities of the country and it explains a lot. I would say it explains everything. If the war had not begun, it would have been a continuation of the Maidan. [Eeditor’s note: Maidan means the beginning of the revolution in Ukraine, in 2013, when people revolted against the President Viktor Yanukovich.] A military ardor of the people would be directed to the Ukrainian government. It could not be allowed.
What is your attitude to the decommunization process in Ukraine? Particularly, do you suppose that the decision to take down a lot of monuments of Lenin in the Ukraine to be effective?
The decommunization process was necessary in Ukraine. Perhaps it was not the best time for that: taking down the monuments of Lenin, renaming of numerous streets and cities while there were a lot of problems in Ukraine which required a deep intervention and prompt solutions. But we have to realize that Ukraine has to be freed from the Soviet past. It is only formal that Ukraine is sovereign from 1991. In fact, the fight for independence began from Maidan, and decommunization is a part of this struggle.
Don’t you think that such a fight against the Soviet past by vandalism only intensifies a hatred among the people?
Yes, intensifies, and moreover, wound a lot of people for whom Lenin is still a hero. Personally for me, these monuments are not an historical or cultural value. Therefore, the taking down of Lenin’s monument does not hurt me. I suppose it would be better to collect the monuments of the controversial heroes in one place, for instance, in the special park. But it requires much financing. And money, as always, is not enough. My conclusion: the decommunization process began to be implemented at the wrong time, but everything that has been done had to be done.
Today we observe that there is being built a high wall between Ukraine and Russia. Do you suppose this way is correct? How do you see the development of the relationship between Russia and Ukraine in the near future?
I consider that Russian troops must be withdrawn from the territory of Ukraine. About the development of the relationship between Russia and Ukraine, I am convinced that the decision to break all ties and to build a fence even higher is a way to nowhere. The world has to be without borders, especially in the 21st century. We have to be able to know what happens in Russia, Europe, the United States, and they have to realize what situation is in Ukraine. We have to travel around the world and gain experience from each other, to interact and build strong international relationships. And even if one country is at war with another country, it needs to be understood all the reasons of this conflict, and not to make only one side guilty in all that happens. We do not need to fence ourselves off from each other; rather we have to find a compromise for the benefit of our country. Another issue is that media manipulation imposes us different information, and it is impossible to find the truth. People have to travel, speak with witnesses, analyze. And we, journalists, have to state the facts and speak about different issues, not only about what we want or what is advantageous.
How do you see the future of Ukraine?
I am a sad optimist: I observe that we began to build a civil society, and, as a result, we will have built it. And even if we have to go through all these difficulties, I believe we will cope with it and prove to everybody, first of all ourselves, that Ukraine is a strong, worthy and self-respecting country.
Viktoriia Stepanets is a journalist born in Kiev, Ukraine. She studied multimedia journalism in the High School of Economy in Moscow, Russia. Viktoriia took part in various projects related to peacebuilding, including LofC Caux and Peace Tour around Ukraine. Now she works as a journalist in the cultural sphere and participates in the Young Peace Journalists project trying to learn more about the situation of internally displaced persons in her country and refugees in the larger world.