Kiev in Captivity – Notes From the Occupation


Ivan Pechernikov for

Kiev, December 2014

I return to my journal with a burdened soul. The stream of events, flashing through my memory, seems joyless, thoughtless, an uncivilized time. Someone might propound a different picture, or compose it from more joyous impressions. If someone could, I’d like to meet him.

I ask myself: this beastliness, this ugliness of Ukrainian life — where does it come from? Whence these tense, frightened faces? Whence this twisted suspicion and hatred of the heart? It seems clear – nationalist propaganda and nationalist power not only distort the perception of the picture of the world, but also uglify the world itself. And here, of late, the Russian poet Vadim Stepantsov expressed another sad and quite serious version: “God has left Ukraine.” Yes, there is a sense of godlessness, that in Kiev, Ukraine, in the words of  Dostoevsky’s hero, “everything is permitted” …

I don’t think so. God has not left the Ukraine, He only has allowed the iniquity called Ukrainian Nazism — perhaps because too many people want it. And now they must see the fruit of their insane affairs, speeches, and thoughts; see what the sin of moral and actual fratricide leads to. And further yet what the sin of lies leads to, lies about their own history, lies about their ancestral faith; and having seen, repent. A new life? Not without repenting.

However, repentance in Kiev is a difficult thing. Not long ago, my friend and I were invited to a poetry party. Three bards, well known in Kiev, held an event devoted to “Revolyutsії Gіdnostі” (Benefits of the Revolution). All three wrote, spoke, and sang in Russian. The daughter of the oldest one lives in Moscow, and to the extent possible, helps her father survive in the difficult financial circumstances that have arisen as a consequence of the revolution. However, the absurdity of this situation escaped the notice of daddy and his two friends. They decided to note creatively the anniversary of the revolution that put the country into chaos, war, and poverty. And not for the sake of gain, nor out of a sense of self-preservation, but out of blindness, of persistent refusal to repent and admit we screwed up.

A comrade, explaining why he refused to attend this party, wrote: “My concept of human dignity, freedom, honor, and nobility are far removed from the National propaganda clichés. And personally, my sense of honor and dignity had never been so insulted as last year, by the events at Maidan.” 

I just had to add on to his words: My daughter also lives in Kiev and sings in bands. The venues are youth jazz clubs. The other day, they invited her to appear to at one of the clubs in the city center, close to downtown. The walls were plastered with ”artistic” scribbled obscene aspersions against Putin. The manager warned her, in the tradition of the times, to stand up and sing the anthem of Ukraine along with the audience. At the same time he watched her tensely, searchingly. Outcome? This concert did not take place …

Among the Kiev Youth russophobia is considered good form. And not only among the young. The head of a family I know – a businessman, fortyish, a mild, modest man with a classical Russian name rather like “Smirnov” regularly brings help to the war zone. His wife, a native of the Russian hinterland, sighs with tears: “There are our youth that the Russians are killing.”

Russophobia has become synonymous with Ukrainian patriotism. Anyone arouses suspicion who keeps silent and does not contribute to trash talk about Russia and Russians. Many actually believe that Ukraine is in a real state of war with Russia. Some know it’s a lie, but pretend anyway. After all, without war, without “Russian aggression” it’s impossible to explain the economic and legal chaos that blankets Ukraine. Again, they need to recognize that the Maidan was in vain, that a bunch of their own and foreign villains bamboozled the participants of Maidan. They don’t want to feel cheated and humiliated. And here television agitprop continues coverage from morning till night about the “Russian-Ukrainian front.” And my heart calms down – we are undeceived, we are not fools; it’s just that war destroys everything, but the idea of revolution itself, is good.

And so long as this hydra of propaganda is not destroyed, millions are in a state of confusion. It remains for liberators of Ukraine from Nazi oppression to resolve this problem.

I bring forward a few facts from the field of life.

Inhabitants of Kiev got new utility bills. They are impressive. Let’s say two live together, mother and son, a student. The bill commanding payment, now for heating, too – 700 hryvnia. I won’t bore you with exchange rates, only that with the rest, it comes to 1000 hryvnia. The mother makes 1800. The official minimum salary is 1200; for even one person to live on it is practically impossible.

Most Kievans relate their “surprise” in a whisper. If the slow-witted reader will ask “why in whispers,” I answer bluntly: They are afraid. The right-wing national-fascist dictatorship has been installed in the government and people don’t risk quarreling with it, because it can kill, maim.

For the same reason the people of Kiev look silently at the exchange rates. Even students who skipped school understand that judging by the growing rate of the dollar (which resembles the color of a corpse), they are poorer at least twice over. And if you add the soaring prices and the reforms of Yatsenyuk, it is not two, but three or four times over. 

By the way, about the reforms. Everything, that the prime minister offers to replenish the treasury, is intended to come from the pockets of ordinary citizens. However, the citizens themselves are silent. And when the people begin to moan, they skillfully explain: “all the troubles are because of Russia.” And some find solace in a doctrine like a magic spell “if it were not for Russia and Putin, everything would be okay.” A vicious circle.

In this setting, an exhibition of Anti-Russian posters was on in December, practically grass-roots. The main objects of derision and hatred – “Vatniki” [a derogatory term assigned to Russians by the Ukrainians – tr.], Donbass, “Sovok” [a soviet sympathizer – tr.], Russia, and its holy sites. 

The posters called for killing the “Colorados” [Novorossia activists – tr.], breaking “the shackles of brotherhood,” expelling all Russians from Ukraine. One in particular caused revulsion: Christ the Saviour is depicted sitting on a mountain of tires, burned on the Maidan, with a Molotov cocktail in His hand. Fratricidal hatred always nourishes and feeds blasphemy …

… The chorus leader [This is actually the term from ancient Greek drama! — tr.] of Ukrainian Soviet prose, Yuri Mushketik, urged rejection of any printed materials in Russian, and urged closing all publications in the enemy language. This, by the way, the same Mushketik that during the Soviet era was the winner of various awards and served as party leader of the Writers of the Masses. Now, like the rest, he has moved into the Ukrainian “patriots”, that is, haters of Russia and of all the great Russian culture. Just note that if the new government were to order every citizen under penalty to read nothing but Mushketik, they still wouldn’t.

Or here’s another. A group of young “Svoboda” [“Freedom” – tr.] Party members in the Parliament (the Verkhovna Rada) have drafted a law, officially renaming the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, “Russian,” which will unleash a “legal” persecution of priests and lay people as “foreigners” and “agents of the enemy.” In the government now are evil forces, and Christ’s Church is hateful to them. 

Wildness: a bunch of semi-literate youngsters gathered to “reform” the church established by the Savior Himself. I remember how one of them, named Yuri Levchenko, devotedly looked Tyagnibok in the face on one of the videos posted on the Internet, where “Svoboda Party members discuss with the “sponsor” the amount of payment of mass demonstrations against the “criminal regime of Yanukovych.” Well, the boy grew up “at the foot of” the leader of the Social Nationalist Party, and now has come after the Church.

By the way, last Sunday after the service in the church I had a conversation. A believing young musician in the presidential orchestra visited the ATO [“Anti-Terrorist Operation” – tr.] area. They drove past the destroyed bridges, buildings, bombed hospitals. And almost all the musicians, people with fine mental organization, educated, spoke in the sense that it is necessary to pull out Russians by the roots: Ukraine will not be happy while they are alive.

I warned – these notes will be bleak. But I have not told a lot. For example, I have not told how I learned that an old friend, a linguist and translator, has become deputy commander of one of the destroyer battalions. How I have seen the Football Federation of Ukraine burning, set on fire by “pravoseki” [the Right Sector], and to think that once I was a fan of Kiev’s “Dynamo” soccer team! How I went the other day with my son to Khreschatyk [downtown Kiev] and suddenly realized: this city where I was born and have lived my life, has become a stranger to me.

Why do I live here?  What can I count on? I answer with the same words I answer to myself. I hope that the Mother of God, to whom I call for help, to protect.  I ask the protection of the Pechersk saints, I ask the protection of the Holy Apostle Andrew, whose memory was celebrated recently, on December 13. It was he who foresaw and foretold the appearance of Kiev as the center of the Christian faith. And who, as the historian and journalist Miroslav Berdnik wrote, “will not long allow fascist evil to reign in Kiev.”

… God calls for his workers. He saves the faithful – those who are jealous of salvation. Brother-hating fascism will not go away by itself, it will need to be destroyed. And to destroy it – in the sight of God, is a good cause. Yes, may it be accomplished!

Translated by Tom Winter for FortRuss

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