American libertarians normally hear about Europe as a distant land full of castles and populated by lazy socialists who drink wine all day and argue about farm subsidies. In reality, that’s just France, and it’s not even the majority of France.
Europe is a highly complex historical mess where hundreds of political parties compete for attention in proportional representation elections, where people speak three languages as if it’s normal, and where everybody has a potential historical claim to foreign land going back more than 1000 years. This is why the analysis of the Ukraine crisis coming out of the USA has been incredibly weak, based on complete fictions, oversimplifications, fanatical principles and obviously cynical electioneering.
There’s an assumption that what applies to the USA is somehow magically appropriate on a completely different continent where the vast majority of Americans have zero intention of ever visiting. The hardcore are saying that the USA should forget its NATO promises and destabilise what we spent half a century successfully stabilising together.
To help give you some perspective, I interviewed Olya, a normal young Ukrainian from Kiev, who wants what all normal young people want: Liberty. She wants to travel, to create, and to experience the world. If she was born a few hundred kilometers west, she would already have an EU passport and the freedom to live anywhere on the most fascinating continent on Earth, and to go to Africa, America and Asia without much hassle. If she was born in Vilnius, not Kiev, she could drive all the way to Portugal without even showing her passport.
Myself – I moved from London to Lithuania ten years ago, and I started a business. Bureaucrats couldn’t stop me, they had to help me. I can vote in local elections. I can even run for Town Council. Olya – not so much.
While Americans complain about their “oppressive” government, she’s sitting at Ground Zero of the Ukrainian Revolution, reading the crap that Americans write about her country, worrying about her friends, organising food for protesters, and doing all the things that freedom people are supposed to do. I was a bit sad to read so many people calling her country “fascist” while they were fighting for basic freedoms, so I decided to interview her: Olya the normal person, who just wants various governments to let her live her life.
I met Olya and her boyfriend last summer. They were planning to move to Vilnius, the beautiful capital city of Lithuania, EU and NATO member since 2004. Like me, they see Lithuania’s potential as a centre of creativity. None of us knew that their plan would be interrupted by a revolution.
As the crisis unfolded in Ukraine, I kept in touch with Olya, to see what young, western-thinking people were seeing in Kiev. Recently, especially after all the accusations of a NATO/Nazi alliance, I decided to interview her about how she sees the situation with her own eyes.
When did you join the Maidan protests?
On [the] 21st of November. I went there after work.
What was the atmosphere then?
I remember that there were about 300-500 people. At that time everyone was hoping to sign the association agreement with the EU, it seemed like it will somehow affect the government. (How our attitudes have changed since that time!)
But people were not aiming for active actions, but rather for demonstration. Simply using the fact of their presence.
Why did it turn dark?
If you mean the night on November 30, then I must say that everyone believed that it was a provocation. The first planned provocation.
Almost everyone says that it was a student revolution at that period, but I totally disagree. In fact there were many kinds of young and elder people. But after that night when lots of people were beaten, the city rebelled.
Where were you during the violence?
That night I was at home and learned about what happened in the morning from social networks. The next day I was on Bankova street. Since then I think I haven’t been in the hot spots.
In the middle of January when Hrushevskogo street happened I was travelling with my boyfriend. And I will never forget how often we were checking our facebooks, silently sitting at the cafe and reading news.
[On the] 18th and 19th [of] February, I sat staring at the monitor, checking for updates on social networks, and watching two live broadcasts simultaneously. I could not go to the Maidan, because I thought that I would be cut off from all the news.
It was difficult to be there not knowing what was happening in other places. I always need a general picture of what is happening. And my boyfriend did not allow me to go to Maidan during those days.
But I wanted to be helpful, so I found myself in the team of coordinators, and I helped them to provide Maidan with food, medicine and clothes.
What evidence of artificial provocation did you see from any side?
Well, I read some articles and videos about this. I saw bullets on Maidan by myself, there are pictures in the internet. I have seen lots of photos of titushkas dressed like Maidaners. So I am not surprised at anything.
You can buy anything.
What percentage of violent people were NeoNazis?
Violent people from what side? I’m not sure, but I think that I haven’t seen any NeoNazi in my life.
How do your friends react?
My friends are very active. They spent a lot of time helping Maidan with what they can. Some of my friends in the beginning did not want to go to the Maidan. They didn’t believe that it will lead to anything, they said that it’s pointless. But gradually, due to events, they made sure that Ukrainian people will not give up, until we achieve our goals. That gave confidence and broke stereotypes about our people. More and more of my friends joined this confrontation. I felt proud. It was no longer about EU, it was against government, it was for Ukraine!
How did the general public react?
I’m sure that many people did not know that something was happening in the country for months. Yes, activists burned cars at night, but on the other hand everything was as usual. I was faced with the fact that people are watching TV and Russian TV channels. It was clear for me that this should not be done because all that was said was a lie. Many of our citizens have unquestioning belief in what Russia says, and it’s very sad. I sent the information which I could trust to my mother. And also I pushed her to leave work the day the shooting began (she has an office on the Maidan).
I always tried to filter the information and not to get involved in someone else’s opinions, which seemed to me inconclusive or suspicious. I think I managed to avoid disappointment with this revolution, because I was not looking for idols and leaders, or something to believe in. I wanted the country to rise up and believe in it. That’s what happened. About government nowadays – this is my opinion. But I am trying not to make any conclusions. I don’t want to judge. I am an observer type of person.
Are you worried NeoNazis might end up in control of Ukraine?
Of course not.
Why do you not want to join the Russian Federation?
No. Never! Because we are Ukrainians. We are not Russian property, brothers or some other product of their (or Putin’s) imagination.
Well, you know, photos of Right Sector don’t look friendly. And white power symbols too. Do you think all those things are provocateurs?
The Right Sector are pro-Ukrainians, and they are not enemies. For many people right now they seem to be the only non-enemies among all the variety of parties and political and non-political blocks.
Nowadays they seem to be the only threat to the Ukrainian temporary government and Russia, that is why there are lots of provocations towards blackening their reputation.
On the other hand, I think that Svoboda isn’t really very friendly right now. They have done some things to destroy peoples trust. And there is an opinion that they act in collusion with government or people who want to harm Ukraine.
But they do not seem convincing with what they might be doing. Fewer and fewer people believe them. Svoboda acted like idiots and they know it. So.. the question is. What can they do? If they are completely out of their mind they will do some provocations.
Nationalism is very scary to westerners.
Westerners should understand the difference between nationalism and patriotism. Nationalism is an ideological belief, the policy direction which is based on loyalty and devotion to the nation. Patrotism is a social feeling which means feeling of love and loyalty to a country. And nazism is an ideology also. It came from national-socialism of the Third Reich. Svoboda are nationalists.
Right sector is a political party that combines several radical and ultra right organisations. They call themselves nationalists.
But intelligent people aren’t afraid of them because no matter of what ideological beliefs they have, the Right Sector maybe were the only ones who started to defend people on Maidan. What I mean is that their ability to act radically (which came from their national and ultra right beliefs) actually allowed them to push back. At that time there were no other beliefs other than to defend our country.
No one can say how reliable they are, and whether we can trust them. But we always judge people by their actions. There were some provocations to turn people against them. To frighten people. Don’t you think that [the] real nazis are Putin and his government?
So you don’t think that the ultra-right would form a majority government?
No, I don’t think so. People won’t allow that. There is not even a thought about this.
Same in Lithuania. They get a lot of attention and then only win 0.9% of the vote. Are there pro-Putin posters, news stories, fake Facebook groups, infowars?
No, we don’t have posters. Did you know that the biggest TV and internet provider turned off Russian TV channels?
There is an infowar on TV.
Yes, Lithuania still has Russian propaganda channels. So does America.
But intelligent people understand everything, they are watching only pro-Ukrainian channels or independent channels.
But Lithuania has provocations like the referendum for banning the sale of land to foreigners, anti-gas “environmentalists”, anti-vaccination, these groups just cause trouble and seem to be funded by Russian interests. Many Lithuanians believe it.
So do Ukrainians. Poor Ukrainians. And that is the majority of citizens.
I asked you about ethnic divisions, particularly in young people, particularly that campaign “don’t give your vagina to Russians”. You hate Russians now and don’t want any interbreeding with them? There is ethnic hate?
I think that many people hate Russians now. But many people are trying to stay calm also, understanding that these feelings are the result of propaganda.
You have “ethnic Russian” friends?
Yes. I had some arguments with one of them. He was convinced that I will shoot him if I see him. I don’t really know why.
Other people were normal. They support Ukraine. They are trying to spread the right information about what is going on.
Did your paranoid friend support Yanukovich?
No. I think he was a victim of propaganda.
Why were you thinking of moving to the EU before all this happened?
Since I was a child I thought of myself as a free person that can live wherever I want to.
When I grew up I understood that it is not true and the world is not so much friendly to such dreamers. I want to live in many countries, learning and exploring them. I think this is normal. Just normal. I do not want to leave Ukraine because I don’t like it. I love it. I just want to be free to decide where to live. My relatives live in USA, Israel, Russia and other places.
What attracted you to the EU and to Vilnius?
I always loved how the word Vilnius sounds, and I wanted to visit. And I fell in love with the old town from the first sight. As much as my boyfriend did.
And I know that moving to Lithuania is not very-very hard, so it might be my next stop to open the world. I think this could be a great experience.
Thank you Olya. And good luck.
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