Two beautiful Slavic sisters, Ukraine and Russia, pitched against each other: long hair flying in the wind, gray-blue eyes staring forward accusatively, but in the same time with anticipation and love.
One single moment, one wrong move, one word, and two countries, two allies, two almost identical cultures, can easily dash at each other’s throats… Different words, different gestures, and they can also fall into each other’s arms, instantly.
Is there going to be a war, a battle or an embrace? Is there going to be an insult or reconciliatory words?
Ironically, there is no ‘self-grown dispute’ between two nations. The seeds of mistrust, and possible tragedy, are sown by the outsiders, and nurtured by their malignant propaganda.
As Sergei Kirichuk, leader of progressive movement ‘Borotba’, explained:
“We have extensive invasion of western imperialism here. Imperialists were acting through huge network of NGOs and through the western-oriented politicians integrated into western establishment. Western diplomats declared that they invested more that 5 billions of dollars to ‘development of democracy in Ukraine’. What kind of investment is it? How was this amount spent? We don’t really know, but we can see the wide net of the US agents operating inside many key organizations and movements.
We can see that those ‘western democracies’ had not been concerned at all about growing of the far-right, Nazi movements. They had been ready to use the Nazis as a real armed force in overthrowing of Yanucovich.
President Yanucovich was actually totally pro-western politician, to start with. And his ‘guilt’ consisted only of his attempt to minimize the devastating aftermath that would come after implementation of the free trade zone with EU, on which the West was insisting.”
Now Maidan, the main square of Kiev where the ‘revolution’ took place, is scarred, burned down, eerie.
Right-wingers, ultra-nationalists, young and not so young men with shaved heads, are watching pedestrians with confused, often provocative eyes.
Many of them are now controlling the traffic and, like in Thailand where the right-wingers also recently ‘protested, are deciding who can pass and who cannot. The law is clearly and patently in their hands, or more precisely, in Maidan area, they are the law.
Religious symbols are suddenly everywhere, while monuments to heroes of the revolution and the WWII are desecrated.
At the makeshift stage used by right-wing extremists, there is a huge crucifixion as well as Virgin Marry.
But many right-wingers are at total disarray, they are outraged, as one of their leaders, Aleksandr Muzychko, was murdered just one day earlier.
Oleh Odnorozhenko is speaking. He is angry, irritated, accusing the state, the same government his people brought to power through the coup just a short time ago, of political murder. He is calling for ‘the second stage of the revolution’, as if one past stage would not be terrible enough, already.
My friend Alexander is explaining to me: “This is going to be a tremendous mess. The West used all fascist and ultra-nationalist forces to destroy legitimate government of Ukraine, but paradoxically, these ultra right-wingers are essentially against both NATO and all those agreements with the European Union.”
Afghanistan, Al-Qaida, scenario, in brief and on smaller scale: use any force, any radicals, as long as you can manage to destroy the Soviet Union and later, Russia.
“They are going to get into each other’s hair very soon”, predicts Alexandr, former military intelligence officer.
The car is negotiating a bumpy four-lane highway between Kiev and Odessa. There are three of us on board – my translator, Dimitry from the Liva.com site, a driver, and me. Having left Kiev in the morning, we are literally flying at 160km/h towards Odessa.
The wide fields of Ukraine, formerly known as the ‘breadbasket’ of the Soviet Union, look depressingly unkempt. Some are burnt.
“What are they growing here?” I ask.
Nobody knows, but both of my friends agree that almost everything in Ukraine is now collapsing, after the decomposition of the USSR, and this includes both industry and agriculture. The roads are not an exception, either.
“They only built facades during the last decades”, explains Dimitry. “The core, the essence had been constructed in the Soviet era. And now everything is crumbling.”
I have no idea where the official numbers come from; those that say that Ukraine is evenly divided between those who support the West, and those who feel their identity is closely linked with Russia. Maybe this might be the case in Western Ukraine, in Lvov, or even in the capital – Kiev. But Western Ukraine has only a few key cities. The majority of people in this country of around forty-four million are concentrated in the south, east and southeast, around the enormous industrial and mining centers of Donetsk, Dnepropetrovsk, and Krivoi Rog. There is Odessa in the south, and Kharkov ‘the second capital’ in the east. And people in all those parts of the country mainly speak Russian. And they see, what has recently happened in Kiev as an unceremonious coup, orchestrated and supported by the West.
Before reaching Odessa we leave the highway and drive northeast, towards Moldova and its small separatist enclave, called Transnistria.
There, the river Kuchurgan separates the Ukrainian town of Kuchurgan and the Transnistrian city of Pervomaisc.
I see no Russian tanks at Pervomaisc, no artillery. There is absolutely no military movement whatsoever, despite the countless Western mass media reports testifying (in abstract terms) to the contrary.
I cross the bridge on foot and ask the Transnistrian border guard, whether he has recently seen any foreign correspondents arriving from the United States or the European Union, attempting to cross the border and verify the facts. He gives me a bewildered look.
I watch beautiful white birds resting on the surface of the river, and then I return to Ukraine.
There, two ladies who run the ‘Camelot Bar’ served us the most delicious Russo/Ukrainian feast of an enormous borscht soup, and pelmeni.
Russian television station blasts away, and the two women cannot stop talking; they are frank, proud, and fearless. I turn on my film camera, but they don’t mind:
“Look what is happening in Kiev”, exclaims Alexandra Tsyganskaya, the owner of the restaurant. “The US and the West were planning this; preparing this, for months, perhaps years! Now people in Ukraine are so scared, most of them are only whispering. They are petrified. There is such tension everywhere, that all it would take is to light a match and everything will explode.”
Her friend, Evgenia Chernova, agrees: “In Odessa, Russian-speaking people get arrested, and they are taken all the way to Kiev. The same is happening in Kharkov, in Donetsk, and elsewhere. They call it freedom of speech! All Russian television channels are banned. What you see here is broadcasted from across the border. They treat people like cattle. But our people are not used to this: they will rebel, they will resist! And if they push them to the edge, it will be terrible!”
Both women definitely agree on one thing: “We say, ‘don’t provoke Russia!’ It is a great nation, our historical ally. It has been helping us for decades.”
‘A civil war’, I hear in Kuchurgan. ‘A civil war!’ I hear in Odessa. ‘A civil war!’ I hear in Kharkov.
And the same words in Odessa are even written on huge banners: “Kiev, people are not cattle!”
Odessa city, that architectural jewel, an enormous southern port, is now relatively quiet, but tense. I speak to the manager of the historic and magnificently restored Hotel Bristol, but she is very careful in choosing her words. I mention Western involvement in the coup, or in the ‘revolution’ as many in Kiev and in the West call it, but she simply nods, neutrally.
I cross the street and enter the Odessa Philharmonic Theatre. A young lady approaches me: “Would you like to have my ticket?” She asks in perfect Russian. “My boyfriend did not show up. Please enjoy.”
The performance is bizarre, and clearly ‘un-philharmonic’. Some renowned folk ensemble performs old Ukrainian traditional songs and dances, but why here and why now? Is it a patriotic gesture, or something else?
The city is subdued, as well as those famous Potemkin Stairs: Renowned for one of the most memorable scenes in world cinema that of, the silent film ‘Battleship Potemkin’ directed in 1925 by Sergei M. Eisenstein.
As Helen Grace once wrote:
The Odessa steps massacre in the film condenses the suppression, which actually occurred in the city, into one dramatised incident, and this remains one of the most powerful images of political violence ever realised.
One only hopes that Odessa never again falls victim to unbridled political cruelty, such as was visited on the people by the feudal, oppressive right-wing Tsarist regime, at the beginning of the 20th century!
Babushka looks exhausted and subdued. She is slowly digging into dark earth, all alone, clearly abandoned.
I spotted some collapsed houses in the village that we had passed just a few minutes earlier, and I asked the driver to make a U-turn, but he clearly did not see any urgency and continued to drive on: “You will see many villages like this”, he explained. Dimitry confirmed: “Such villages one are all over Ukraine. There are thousands of them; literally, you see them whenever you leave the main roads.”
This one, this village, is called Efremovka, and the name of a grandmother is Lyubov Mikhailovna.
We are somewhere between the cities of Nikolayev and Krivoi Rog.
All around us are the ruins of agricultural estates, of small factories, and houses that used to belong to farmers. Wires are missing from electric poles, and everything appears to be static, like in a horror science-fiction film. Only Lyubov Mikhailovna is digging, stubbornly.
I ask her how she is managing to survive, and she replies that she is not managing at all.
“How could one survive here on only one thousand Hryvnas per month (around US$80)?” she laments. “We are enduring only on what we grow here: cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes…”
I ask her about the ruins of houses, all around this area, and she nods for a while, and only then begins speaking: “People abandoned their homes and their villages, because there are no jobs. After the Soviet Union collapsed, the entire Ukraine has been falling apart… People are leaving and they are dying. Young people try to go abroad…. The government is not even supplying us with gas and drinking water, anymore. We have to use the local well, but the water is contaminated by fertilizers – it is not clean…”
“Was it better before?” I ask.
Her face brightens up. She stops speaking for a while, searching her memory, recalling long bygone days. Then she answers: “How can you even ask? During the Soviet Union everything was better, much better! We all had jobs and there were decent salaries, pensions… We had all that we needed.”
Looking around me, I quickly recall that Ukraine is an absolute demographic disaster: even according to official statistics and censuses, the number of people living in this country fell from 48,457,102 in 2001 to 44,573,205 in 2013. Years after its ‘independence’, and especially those between 1999 and 2001, are often described as one of the worst demographic crises in modern world history. In 1991 the population of Ukraine was over 51.6 million!
Only those countries that are devastated by brutal civil wars are experiencing similar population decline.
Krivoi Rog or Kryvyi Rih as it is known in the Ukrainian language – is arguably the most important steel manufacturing city in Eastern Europe, and a large globally important, metallurgical center for what is known as the Kryvbas iron- ore mining region.
Here Krivorozhstal, one of the most important steel factories in the world, it had seen outrageous corruption scandals during its first wave of privatization. During the second privatization in 2005, the mammoth factory was taken over by the Indian multi-national giant, Mittal Steel (which paidUS$4.81 billion), and was renamed Arcelor Mittal Kryvyi Rih. Since then, production has declined significantly, and thousands of workers were unceremoniously fired.
According to the Arcelor Mittal Factbooks (2007 and 2008), steel production decreased from 8.1 million tons in 2007, to 6.2 million tones in 2008. In 2011, the workforce decreased from 55,000 to 37,000 tons, and the management is still hoping that even more dramatic job cuts (down to 15,000) can be negotiated.
By late afternoon, we arrived at the main gate of the factory. Hundreds of people were walking by; most of them looking exhausted, discouraged and unwilling to engage in any conversation.
Some shouted anti-coup slogans, but did not want to give their names or go on the record.
Finally, a group of tough looking steelworkers stops, and begins to discuss the situation at the factory with us, passionately:
“Do you realize how little we earn here? People at this plant, depending on their rank, bring home only some US$180, US$260, or at most some US$450 a month. Across the border, in Russia, in the city of Chelyabinsk, the salaries are three to four times higher!”
His friend is totally wound up and he screams: “We are ready! We will go! People are reaching the limit!”
It is hard to get any political sense from the group, but it is clear that opinions are divided: while some want more foreign investment, others are demanding immediate nationalization. They have absolutely no disputes with Russia, but some support the coup in Kiev, while others are against it.
It is clear that, more than ideology; these people want some practical improvement in their own lives and in the life of their city.
“All we have heard, for the past twenty years is that things will improve”, explains the first steel worker. “But look what is happening in reality. Mittal periodically fails to pay what is due. For instance, I am supposed to get 5,700 Hryvnas a month, but I get less than 5,000. And the technology at the plant is old, outdated. The profits that Mittal is making – at least if some of it would stay here, in Ukraine, and go to the building of the roads or improving the water supplies… But they take everything out of the country.”
The next day, in Kharkov, Sergei Kirichuk, concludes:
“People all over the world are fighting against so-called ‘free market’, but in Ukraine, to bring it here, was the main reason for the ‘revolution’. It is really hard to believe.”
The border between Ukraine and Russia, near the town of Zhuravlevka, between Ukrainian Kharkov and the Russian city of Belgorod, is quiet. Good weather, wide fields and an almost flat landscape, guarantee good visibility for several kilometers. On the 28 of March, when Western and Ukrainian mass media were shouting about an enormous Russian military force right at the border, I only saw a few frustrated birds and an apparently unmanned watch tower.
The traffic at the border was light, but it was flowing – and several passenger cars were crossing from the Russian side to Ukraine.
What I saw, however, were several Ukrainian tanks along the M-20/E-105 highway, just a stone throw away from the borderline. There were tanks and there were armored vehicles, and quite a substantial movement of Ukrainian soldiers.
The local press was, however, not as aggressive, provocative:
“State of War!” shouted the headlines of Kyiv Post. “We lifted up to the sky 100 jet fighters, in order to scare Moscow”, declared ‘Today’.
The reality on the ground differed sharply from the ‘fairytales’, paid for and propagated by Western mass media outlets and by the ‘free Ukrainian press’.
In Kharkov, Soviet banners flew in the wind, next to many Russian flags. Thousands of people gathered in front of the giant statue of Lenin on those windy days of 28th and 29th of March.
There were fiery speeches and ovations. The outraged crowd met the proclamations that the Western powers had instigated the ‘fascist coup’ in Kiev, with loud shouts: “Russia, Russia!”
Old women, Communist leaders, and my friend Sergei Kirichuk, as well as people from international solidarity organizations, made fiery speeches. Apparently, the government in Kiev had already begun to cut the few social benefits that were left, including free medical assistance. Several hospitals were poised to close down, soon.
People were ready to fight; to defend themselves against those hated neo-liberal policies, for which (or against which) none of them had been allowed to vote for.
“In Crimea, people voted, overwhelmingly, to return to Russia”, explained a young man, a student, Alexei. “But the West calls it unconstitutional and undemocratic. In Ukraine itself, the democratically elected government has been overthrown and policies that nobody really wants are being pushed down our throats. And… this is called democracy!”
In an apartment of the Borodba movement, a young leader and history student, Irina Drazman, spoke about the way the West destroyed Ukraine. She reminded me of a Chilean student leader and now an MP – Ms. Camila Vallejo. Irina is only twenty, but coherent and as sharp as a razor.
“There is great nostalgia for the Soviet Union”, she explains. “If only it could be re-shaped and the concept improved, most of the people in Ukraine would be happy to be part of it again.”
And that is exactly what the West tries to prevent: A powerful and united country, one which can defend the interest of its people.
Standing in front of a police cordon in Kharkov, Alexandr Oleinik, a Ukrainian political analyst, explains:
“The essence of what is now happening is based on the doctrine of the United States, which has one major goal: To wipe out from the globe, first the Soviet Union, and then Russia, regardless of its form; whether socialist or capitalist… As is well known, these goals were already defined in the early 1980’s, by Zbigniew Brzezinski, in his report to the US Department of State, “Game Plan: A Geostrategic Framework for the Conduct of the U.S.-Soviet Contest”.
Besieged square in front of the court of justice may not be the most comfortable place for political discussions, but Mr. Oleinik has plenty to share:
“After destroying USSR, the US is, until now, making enormous effort to, in accordance with the ‘Brzezinski Doctrine’, to drag Russia, Ukraine and other post-Soviet countries, into exhausting regional conflicts, in order to out root from the consciousness of the people of these nations all thoughts about reunification (be it a customs union, common economic sphere, etc.). Series of ‘color revolutions’ from so-called American doctrine of ‘advancement of democracies’ became a clear proof of the essence of the geopolitical interests of the US. Libya, Tunis, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Yugoslavia – all this is from the same shelf.”
“Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, Zimbabwe, Eritrea, even China”, I continue.
Policemen are looking at us suspiciously, as both of us are naming dozens and dozens of countries located in all corners of the world.
In Kiev’s Maidan, the main square where the ‘revolution’ or the coup took place, the right-wing groupings are hanging around, aimlessly. Some men and women are frustrated. Many now even feel that they were fooled.
Thousands were paid to participate in what was thought would bring at least some social justice, some relief. But the interim government began taking dictate, almost immediately: from the United States, from European Union and from the institutions such as IMF and World Bank.
Now thousands of disgruntled ‘revolutionaries’ feel frustrated. Instead of saving the country, they sold all ideals, and betrayed their own people. And their own lives went from bad to worse.
The tension is growing and Ukraine is on the edge.
There is growing tension, even confrontation, between conservative, oppressive forces and those progressive ones. There is tension between Russian speakers and those who are insisting on purely Ukrainian language being used all over the country.
There are political assassinations; there is fear and uncertainty about the future.
There is increasing and negative role being played by the religions: from Protestant to Orthodox.
Nobody knows what will follow the coup. Confusion and frustration, as well as social collapse, may well cause a brutal civil war.
Protesters are now, this very moment, occupying government buildings in Donetsk and Lugansk, demanding referendum. Majority of people in these and other cities would rather join Russia then to live in pro-Western dictatorship, which Ukraine became after the coup.
Same tactics that were lauded by Western propaganda during the Maidan uprising are now hypocritically condemned in the east and south of the country.
Russia gained greatly, especially in the non-Western world. It is now recognized as the center of global ‘mutiny’ against global dictatorship of the US and EU. It opened one more front of resistance, and it stands alongside countries of Latin America.
Its generally peaceful and measured approach is in direct contrast to brutal and destabilizing methods used by the US and EU all over the globe. Except in those few fully indoctrinated modern-day colonies (which the West calls ‘democracies’ just because the people there can stick a piece of paper to a carton box, and most are stupidly doing so), the world is waking up to reality that there actually is, suddenly, some strong and determined resistance to Western imperialism.
After decades of total darkness, the hope is emerging.
In the meantime, two beautiful Slavic countries are still facing each other. But the people, particularly those in Ukraine, are now waving Russian flags and shout to the faces of riot police that is obedient to Kiev: “Russia! Russia!”
No matter what the propaganda says, reality is well known. For decades, after destruction of the USSR, Ukraine mainly obeyed the West and Russia went its own, determinedly independent way.
The result is: Ukraine is on its knees (although not as horribly yet as some East European countries like Bulgaria, that actually became full members of the EU). Wages for workers and pensions for elderly are now approximately 3-4 times higher in Russia than in Ukraine.
And Russia has its own, independent voice, flying all over the world though the outlets like RT and Voice of Russia, while Ukraine is a clearly a colony.
It is obvious in what direction the majority of Ukrainians is now looking with hope. The government should listen. It should also call referendum, soon. It should use ‘direct democracy’, not some rigged multi-party charade like in Indonesia.
Two countries that share both history and the future, should embrace. And face the wind, and tremors, together! They should never fight each other – Russia and Ukraine are soul mates, not enemies. Those who are dividing them should be exposed, shamed, and expelled!
Andre Vltchek is a novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. His discussion with Noam Chomsky On Western Terrorism is now going to print. His critically acclaimed political novel Point of No Return is now re-edited and available. Oceania is his book on Western imperialism in the South Pacific. His provocative book about post-Suharto Indonesia and the market-fundamentalist model is called “Indonesia – The Archipelago of Fear”. He has just completed the feature documentary, “Rwanda Gambit” about Rwandan history and the plunder of DR Congo. After living for many years in Latin America and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides and works in East Asia and Africa. He can be reached through his website or his Twitter.