History Summarized . . .
On November 20th, 2013, public protests in Maidan Nezalezhnosti “Independence Square” in Kyiv took place demanding closer European integration. Throughout Ukraine, a ‘will to change life’ emerged and demanded not only a change in the quality of life but for the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych, the implementation of a system to combat government corruption, abuses of power, and violations of human rights in Ukraine. By mid-February, clashes between protesters and riot police were frequent, as was the number of casualties. By late February, President Yanukovych’s was removed from office, and a new government was installed. The Ukrainian territory of Crimea was then illegally occupied and annexed by the Russian Federation on March 18th, 2014, on the claim that it was ‘the people’s will’. This rapid militarization of the region by the Russian Federation then spread into Donbass and Luhansk eastern oblasts. This was under the claim that they were protecting the Russian speakers in Ukraine. The Russian Federation denies having troops within Ukraine’s borders. They claim that the only fighting is between the Ukrainian Troops and self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR). A ceasefire, named the Minsk Protocol, was signed September 5th, 2014. Violations have been frequent and common. The war continues.
Blog Continued . . .
Photo Credit: War in Donbass Museum Outside, Euromaidan Press
I’ve tried to understand, learn, and tell that the story the world refuses to acknowledge. I’ve tried my best to listen to stories of the internally displaced students I’ve taught. How at 21, they were escaping a war zone, while when I was 21, I was trying to find a new roommate while returning from study abroad My friends have explained, that when the war in Donbass began, they woke to thunderstorms thinking they were bombings. I’ve listened to the stories of those who knew men and women who put their life on hold to fight for a free and sovereign Ukraine.
It’s those stories that have driven me to write and defend in the past weeks. Whether it be fighting against fake news about Ukraine through StopFake, or trying to raise awareness about the shifts in government through short articles, I want to do all I can to bring the stories of Ukraine to a global audience.
Photo Credit: War in Donbass Museum Outside , Me
Recently I visited the “The Civilian Endeavor of the People of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast” with the NGO, New Vision, which tells the story of the War in Donbass as well as the Anti-Terrorist Operation. The museum is the first, and so far the only museum of its’ kind. The outdoor component of the museum, as showcased above, was first installed in May 2016.
The opening exhibit includes over 2,000 items, which work to tell the story of those who were lost during the conflict.
The museum also helps to explain just how important cities like Dnipro are to Ukraine. When separatists began the war in Donbass there was this worry and belief that Russian-speaking cities like Dnipro, would support the actions of the Russian Government. This could not have been more wrong.
If anything was proven by the war in Donbass, it proved that some of the most patriotic people in Ukraine’s first language are Russian. That, yes, speaking Ukrainian is important, but it was that love of Ukraine within Russian-speaking cities that contained the war on the eastern front.
The first volunteer battalions, Dnipro-1 and Dnipro-2, were formed in Dnipro. It was those fighters which initially repelled Russia’s advances on the eastern front. Many of those volunteers, faced the bloodiest battles of the war – for Donetsk airport, Mariupol, Debaltseve and Ilovaisk. It was the volunteers from throughout the country that raised an army and it was the desire for sovereignty that has kept Ukraine fighting strong.
Photo Credit: Me & New Vision
PLEASE TAKE A SECOND TO LOOK AT THE BAZOOKA/ANTI-TANK WEAPON
COVERED IN PRERYKIVKA FLOWERS IN PICTURE ONE
Inside the museum is a great variety of exhibits showcasing the stories of the army, different battalions, volunteers, the medical staff, and journalists. The viewer not only sees but experiences the all-consuming nature of war. No one is left untouched. ‘The Hall of Memory’ memorializes around 500 Ukrainian servicemen. It allows you see these individuals as the unique people they truly were, not simply as statistics. It forces you to question, if this was your country, what would you do?
But I have to admit that the most moving component of the museum is twenty-seven-minute immersive video experience by Наталія Хазан.
Do your best to imagine the imagery as you read…
Photo Credit: Swallow’s Nest, Carpathians, Dniester Canyon
You are placed into a black room surrounded by four walls which serve as different screens. It starts simply. A series of beautiful images appear on the screens. You are taken to the Carpathians, across the swallow’s nest of Crimea, through the Dniester Canyon etc. But just as you begin to feel calmed by the images and poetic words describing Ukraine, the screen goes black.
Photo Credit: “Zaporozhian Cossacks write to the Sultan of Turkey” by Ilya Repin (1844–1930)
You are shown a soldier on the border of Dnipro’s oblast. He has a traditional Cossack styled chupryna and is whistling. To your left, a screen showcases a small park in Dnipro. Children are playing and families are smiling. These two images play in unison. Your heart stops when the shooting begins.
To the right of the soldier is now a first-hand pov experience of the war in Donbass, shot on a camera that is not of the same quality of the other two screens. To see each of the screens you must physically turn your body and head, and in a way reminds me of the choices we make daily to consume only the media we want. As the screens begin to change we are met with the familiar voice of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, spinning his own narrative of the war. It perfectly shows how Putin uses the media to obstruct the truth, while the people of Ukraine suffer. It made me sick, and I couldn’t help but think about many people in the USA are starting to support Putin because Trump has spoken highly of him. It was a hard reminder, that he, above anyone, is responsible for the suffering of Ukraine.
As the screens begin to change we are met with the familiar voice of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, spinning his own narrative of the war. It perfectly shows how Putin uses the media to obstruct the truth, while the people of Ukraine suffer. It made me sick, and I couldn’t help but think about many people in the USA are starting to support Putin because Trump has spoken highly of him. It was a hard reminder, that he, above anyone, is responsible for the suffering of Ukraine.
The documentary goes on for another twenty minutes showcasing everything from the checkpoints of the region run by the DPR to a first person POV of a soldier being taken to a hospital. The film is graphic. It hides nothing from its audience. You feel useless and hopeful at the same time.
Because just as the documentary reaches its darkest moments it showcases the real life text messages and work of volunteers within Ukraine. We see just how the average citizen works to help. And at the end, we are reminded of Ukraine’s strength and beauty.
Photo Credit: Ukraine’s field and Sky, Ukraine’s Flag
A field of gold is contrasted against a bright blue sky and we remember Ukraine’s true colors.
Upon leaving the theater, a friend, of whom was visiting me from the United Kingdom turned to me and said, “I just don’t understand why our media does care about this war, when it’s presented so simply here. Why can’t our news sources do better?”
It’s a question I’ve been continuously feeling, why can’t our media do better? And if they can’t do better, does it fall to the individual to tell these stories? Is it the role of the individual to start organizations like StopFake, or to use your own media to print the pictures yourself, or to write and write, no matter how big or small your audience?
I feel like these questions are not unique to Ukraine, but to the US as well. If we can’t rely on our government’s, to tell the truth, we have to do it. We have to get out there, make documentaries, write and volunteer. And although I sure as hell am not the best writer in the world, the best photographer, the best news anchor, etc etc, I am going to try my best, so when people ask me, “So what exactly do you do in Ukraine?,” I’ll be confident in my answer of, “all I can.”
Stay tuned for my next blog detailing the volunteer culture of Ukraine..
Some links to work and articles of other Fulbrighters doing amazing things
Nina Jankowicz – Podcast, Newsletter, StopFake, KyivPost, & Hromadske International
Ben Cohen – WordPress, StopFake, & Forward,
Jack Maragolin – Odessa Review
Julie – Foreward