Vera Graziadei

I'm a British Ukrainian Russian actress and writer.


A couple of months ago a friend invited me to join the Development Council of a fantastic West London institution that is The Bush Theatre. At that point I had not been to the theatre for almost one year, having been entirely consumed by political journalism into which I was dragged into by the burning need to write about the war in my country, which then led me to other topics like energy wars or media bias and propaganda. In fact, since the beginning of the Ukrainian conflict I have hardly watched or read any fiction at all, as it felt quite pale and irrelevant in comparison to what was going on in the world. So my initial reaction to the invitation was to accept out of respect for my past love for the Bush, but I didn’t have big expectations, knowing nothing about the play, only that it has a catchy title with the F-word in it – F*ck the Polar Bears.

I believe we are often late for things we are not sure of or have an internal conflict about. I was late for the evening, even though I did catch the second half of an enthusiastic introduction speech. Read-throughs are always slightly patchy experiences, as the actors are unfamiliar with the material and the writer still hasn’t polished the play. So I eased in for an hour or so of light under-rehearsed entertainment, which I expected would not move me much. I don’t know why I was so presumptuous, perhaps I’ve been too moved by the events in the real world to care much about anything in fiction. However, against my biased negative expectations, within the first fifteen minutes I started becoming quite hooked.

Basically the play was about a dysfunctional couple – an executive husband, who’s just received a promotion but is having a psychotic episode and a stay-at-home neurotic mother, who’s lost her identity and tries to re-invent herself as a yoga-pilates teacher. Both are trying to get the house of their dreams and to find their daughter’s lost polar bear toy, while dealing with a series of disasters in their current home, a recovering drug addict relative and an environmentally-consious nanny from Iceland, whose activism involves making sure recycling is put into the right bin and the tumble dryer is not used unnecessarily.

The play immediately struck me as extremely well-observed, tightly written, funny and touching. However, most importantly, it was about the issue which I have delved into during the last year and which I consider one of the most important concerns of our day – fracking. (Fracking is the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at high pressure in order to fracture shale rocks to release natural gas inside.)

More specifically, the play was about an energy law, conveniently hidden within the Infrastructure Bill, which was implemented by the UK coalition government on 12th February 2015 and which essentially makes it easier for oil and gas companies to drill under private land. As Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas said, the way the law was drafted ‘made mockery of public concerns about fracking and the democratic process.’

Aside from undermining democracy, the Fracking Bill puts British citizens’ health at risk, it carries the following risks:

• Extra CO2 Emissions: Each gas well requires an average of 400 tanker trucks to carry water and supplies to and from the site.
• High Water Usage: It takes 1-8 million gallons of water to complete each fracturing job.
• Many Chemicals Used: The water brought in is mixed with sand and chemicals to create fracking fluid.Approximately 40,000 gallons of 600 chemicals are used per fracturing, amongst which are known carcinogens:
• Dangerous Carcinogens: lead, uranium, mercury, ethylene glycol, radium, methanol, hydrochloric acid, formaldehyde.
• Water Contamination: During the shale fracturing, methane gas and toxic chemicals leak out from the system and contaminate nearby groundwater. (Methane concentrations are 17 x higher in drinking-water wells near fracturing sites than in normal wells.)
• Health Risks: Contaminated well water is used for drinking water for nearby cities and towns. There have been over 1,000 documented cases of water contamination next to areas of gas drilling as well as cases of sensory, respiratory, and neurological damage due to ingested contaminated water.
• Left Behind: Only 30-50% of the fracturing fluid is recovered, the rest of the toxic fluid is left in the ground and is not biodegradable.
• Atmosphere pollution: The waste fluid is left in open air pits to evaporate, releasing harmful VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) into the atmosphere, creating contaminated air, acid rain, and ground level ozone.
• Summary: In the end, hydraulic fracking produces approximately300,000 barrels of natural gas a day, but at the cost of numerous environmental, safety, and health hazards.

The play itself doesn’t go into so much technical detail, as Tanya Ronder wanted to do something different from what Katie Mitchell did in 2017 at the Royal Court, which was “literally a scientist on stage giving a lecture about it”, but F*ck the Polar Bears has moments, which give a perfect summary of why the dangers of fracking are ignored both by the government and the media:

“SERENA: I take it this law is bad for global warming?


SERENA: Why’s the Government doing it?

GORDON: Money. Shale’s abundant and from British soil… And all their pensions are invested in fossil fuels.

SERENA: Bludndhilde might tell the papers.

GORDON: Well, it’s their pensions too.”

By the end of the play my faith in theatre had been reinvigorated and I totally loved the writer and so when during the post-show drinks the Artistic Director Madani Younis introduced me to the playwright Tanya Ronder, I was instantly drawn to talking with her. Aside from covering the usual female topics such as child rearing and the struggles of parents who are writers or actors, Tanya shared with me her inspirations for writing this play and her process.

First of all, as any normal human would, Tanya considers global warming to be THE issue that our world faces today. However, being a playwright, she didn’t just write a journalistic account of the issue, she needed to put into into the context of human relationships and drama.

She got inspiration for setting it inside the household of one of the gas executives involved in implementing the bill, when she saw a photograph of one of them in a paper, alongside the information on his bonus for that year. As soon as she became conscious of anger and bile rising in her, she decided to challenge herself to go inside his mind, to understand his concerns and ambitions. All in the context that we can relate to – home.

Even though Gordon’s house is more luxurious than majority of other people’s, his emotional drives are familiar to all – wanting to provide a cosy beautiful home for his family, just at a more exaggerated level than most would hope for – with a personal jetty to the river. Humanising people, who are responsible for ruining our future is no small task, but Tanya does it in a believable way, creating a balance between being repelled by and sympathetic towards these people, who are in charge of making these dangerous for the planet decision, but who are still human nonetheless.

Tanya’s main information sources for writing the play were Naomi Klein’s ‘This Changes Everything’ and  George Monbiot’s ‘The Age of Loneliness is Killing Us’, and Tanya thoroughly recommends to read both of these. However, she also did a series of interviews, including one with the British Gas official who told her he had never met a climate change denier in his 15 years of working for the company. This was a surprise, as one would assume that these people would not do what they are doing, if they knew the consequences of their actions. Thus, Tanya reveals the destructive side of human nature – we will carry on doing things, even when we know them to be bad for us.

It is difficult to relay all the interesting information that Tanya has shared with me, but the best thing I would recommend is to go and see the play itself, which is at the Bush Theatre until 24th October. I’ve been to see it three times since then, each time bringing friends along.

The acting is just as excellent as the writing: the leading actress Susan Staley was in LAMDA at the same time as me – she was great back then, but she is brilliant now. Andrew Whipp playing the gas devil is utterly captivating during his breakdown, Jon Foster playing Clarence is a beam of light and humour and Icelandic Salome R Gunnarsdottir is quirky and likeable. The set is equally impressive –  sleek and sexy living room with a rotating environentally-sustainable wood platform, all resting on black laquer floor that looks like oil.

It’s one of these plays, which will definitely stay with you. The last three friends I brought along, couldn’t leave their seats, as they were so struck by what they had seen. (So it’s not just me and my interest in the fracking issue).

Finally, as with all people I find interesting and admirable, I can’t stop talking to Tanya, who kindly answered my more specific questions about the play via email. I’m re-printing her words below, which I hope you will find as relevant and poignant as I do.

Please explain your thinking behind Gordon’s mental breakdown.

Part of the thinking behind Gordon and his psychosis was the belief that people do not get away with it on a personal level.  Of course, the baddies largely run the world, but I mean in the way you can see in that extraordinary documentary, THE ACT OF KILLING, where the horrific, violent past of the protagonist lives on in him.  Haunts him.

Another stimulus was the River God in SPIRITED AWAY – so filled with detritus that he was unrecognizable as a god.  Until the river of rubbish poured out of him and revealed his true nature.

There was also a link between our actions and our environment that I was trying to explore.  When we are tense, our physical surrounding responds; things go wrong, disappear, fuck up, always at the height of our crisis.  Building on this, I liked to play with the belief that the world fights back, will not let us get away with it cost-free.

What about deciding to make Gordon’s brother Clarence a drug addict and a drop out?

As somebody who is following the 12 step programme, Clarence is taking account of his actions, trying, in an ongoing way, to make amends for the damage he caused.  For me, we should all be doing this for our destructive  footprint on the world.

Has writing this play changed your own consciousness in relation to any of the issues explored in the play?

I think the biggest lesson in the research for me was understanding that we cannot move forwards on these issues until we stop putting making more & more money as our priority.

What do you hope the audience would take from your play?

I hope that people might come away thinking more about what they can personally do, i.e. see that we are each the adult  – beyond a certain age, none of us are children – and as adults, we make decisions for the greater good, not for the gratification of our personal greed.  It’s hard to be adult.  I hope audiences might perhaps feel their adulthood more acutely.

What, in your personal opinion, is the role of the playwright in society?

I don’t know about the role of the playwright.  I’ve felt small and inadequate in trying to say what I believe in this tiny arena & don’t, in all honesty, feel optimistic about what I’ve acheived. I think Naomi Klein and the Pope are doing better :)  I am reviewing what I feel I can acheive through writing plays.  I’m going to try writing for TV for a while to see if that feels more potent.  Or not.  I will report back!


  It’s been a year since I started this blog. It’s been a year of pain and tears, anger and wrath, despair and fear, lost countries and gained cities, lost friendships and new friendships, death and birth, love and compassion. It’s been a year since my rose-hued (though already stained) worldview crashed, a year of facing the bare harsh reality of the way things work in this beautiful cruel world, a year of peeling off my treasured illusions, one by one. My comforting illusions about living in a morally-superior, humanist liberal society, which respects and cares for human lives around the world. My treasured illusions, which I would still cling to if I could, but which do not stick to me anymore. Almost ironic: living in a market economy, where all imaginable products are on offer, yet there is no glue, which would stick these false comforting beliefs on me anymore. False beliefs, which were growing out of me so easily and so willingly before.

I admit I’ve already had one eye-opening moment in my life (didn’t we all?) – when I protested on the streets, alongside hundreds of thousands of other citizens, against the war in Iraq, but this country, to which I swore my allegiance before God, went into the illegal war anyway, a war which cost millions of innocent lives, a war that no one ever repented for. War criminals lecturing and prospering, warmongers still writing and publishing – blossoming careers everywhere you look. I felt physically sick and disorientated then and devoured Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, George Monbiot and whoever else was critical of the current world order and was selling in the politics section of LSE bookshop. I was reading to make sense of events, to see the bigger picture, to orientate myself in the world and to know where to go next. And the conclusion I came to then after all this reading, after all this education? To escape. Escape from this horrible real world into the world of fiction, because I wasn’t strong enough to live with this brutal reality, to continue making sense of it, to continue tolerating it and interacting with it, to continue being aware of the blood on the hands that feed me and comfort me.

Entertainment. In the world of entertainment it is very easy to be…well, entertained. Even if somewhere far away drones are falling on people’s homes, you are in this cosy cocoon, feeling relaxed and cool. Things around you look good (carefully designed and built by set designers), people are beautiful (thank you, make-up and hair artists), words flowing are witty and/or meaningful (writers, you are the best). It’s all pleasant, enjoyable and fun, just as it is enjoyable and fun for the audience, and so it is easy to forget and ignore. My achievement over the last few years is that I’ve managed several times to participate in the distraction of a few million people from the brutal reality of wars and poverty and injustice. Distracting myself by distracting others. Entertaining while being entertained. And being recognised and admired and pampered for it (when you get to do it). During those years of forgetting, I’d probably spend far longer hours at my psychotherapist’s room, if IT Crowd, The Mighty Boosh and *shameless plug alert* Peep Show didn’t exist. On the whole it’s much cheaper and easier to just laugh things off, than to really look at them critically and begin thinking about how to change them. In fact, distracting people from things that must be changed is the key to maintaining a status quo. Just look at the wages that Hollywood stars get paid to get an idea how much the market values distraction. Distraction is the glue that holds this society together. If not for proper distraction, quality entertainment, we would all be on the streets rioting. That’s it! Now I’ve got it. I can’t be distracted anymore. I was able to before, but now I can’t.

You might not be interested in politics, but politics is always interested in you. For a few years I could easily ignore news , not buy papers and scroll down past political posts of friends, because they didn’t directly concern me and because they were regarding events far away – Middle East, Africa, Asia. Places where human rights are not respected, places that are less developed and more corrupt and, therefore, where wars are inevitable and where democracy must be enforced by more developed peoples like ourselves. Right? Something like that. All you need to live comfortably in a world, where atrocities are initiated, supported or ignored by our governments is just a vague narrative in your head, supported by a few NYTimes/Guardian/Times/Independent/ articles and constant flow of BBC/CNN propaganda about corruption of some dictator somewhere, who (unlike our own benevolent leaders) is hungry for power and wealth, is envious of our good fortune, prosperity and liberated morals and who is actively plotting to annihilate or invade us. The moment this narrative is embedded in our heads and is not questioned by us, the rest of the world can burn down in ashes and all we’ll feel is either indifference or a sense that, even if it looks a bit gory and messy, ultimately it’s for the best, that is for our own personal best, just like our papers tell us. Isn’t this the mindset of the majority of people? Wasn’t this my mindset before?

My maternal grandmother used to say: “There was no Truth, there is no Truth and there will be no Truth and so never endeavour to search for it”. She also dreamt of being an actress. One could think that I unconsciously assimilated her beliefs and desires in the first years of my life, while she was still alive and looking after me, and that this ancestral drive was ultimately stronger than my own personal inner drive, which was to search for the Truth, the drive that led me to start a Philosophy Society in Brighton College (sounds grander than it was – it was just a couple of geeky discussions) and then study it at undergraduate and postgraduate levels at LSE.  At some stage this ancestral drive kicked in, a valve switched in my head and I decided that I had enough of searching for the Truth (in the context of my masters it was the truth about sovereignty, rights, justice and morals), because it didn’t exist, just like my grandmother always said, and instead I went into the world, where Truth is more fluid and one month you can dwell into one Truth and next month, with a new project, into another Truth.

I remember often re-reading these lines in Dostoevsky’s “Notes from the Underground”: “all plain men and men of action are active only because they are dull-witted and mentally undeveloped. How is that to be explained? Why, like this: owing to their arrested mental development they mistake the nearest and secondary causes for primary causes and in this way persuade themselves much more easily and quickly than other people that they have found a firm basis for whatever business they have in hand and, as a result, they are no longer worried, and that is really the main thing. For start being active you must first of all be completely composed in mind and never be in doubt. But how can I, for instance, compose myself? Where am I to find the primary causes to lean against? Where am I to get the basis from? I am constantly exercising my powers of thought and, consequently, every primary cause with me at once draws another one after itself, one still more primary, and so ad infinitum.”

I related to these words in so far as I, like an Underground Man, was unable to pursue any activity in the real world, because I could not sufficiently believe in any activity, because as a thinking person, my mind always found reasons for doubting the rightness of any line of action. This intellectual position of inactivity worked very well with being in a profession, where ultimately I was told what to act. I did not have to commit to any line of action in the real world, yet, unlike the Underground Man, who was isolated from society, I was able to be part of society by acting in a pretend world and being ‘actively inactive’ (not all actors are, many combine their careers with other jobs and activism, but I wasn’t one of those people then).

First they came for Iraqis, and I did not speak out— Because I was not an Iraqi.

Then they came for Libyans, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Lybian.

Then they came for the Syrians, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Syrian.

Then they came for …. East Ukrainians and….

Never in my wildest nightmares have I imagined that the land that I was born in will be bombed and shelled with the support of the West. (Britain begins training Ukrainian soldiers, US increasing non-lethal military aid in Ukraine) I’m now deeply ashamed to admit that I’d probably continue being apolitical had this Ukrainian horror not started. One year ago, on 2nd of June 2014, the Ukrainian Air Force struck central Lugansk (an event which was ignored and misrepresented in western media) killing completely innocent passerbys, mostly women, amongst them Inna Kukuruza, who’s death, captured on mobile phone camera and circulated on the internet on the same day, has struck me to the core and prompted me to start writing this blog, which was just my way to order my thoughts about the events that were unfolding. It was me getting back to searching for the Truth.

I discovered for myself that BBC, which I used to have high trust in, is as biased and propagandistic, if not more so, as many other state medias around the world, that the Ukrainian War, is related to US Energy War, that the Ukrainian government’s tactics of justifying, promoting and starting the ‘anti-terrorist operation’ are similar to the way other countries have initiated and promoted genocide in the past, that international humanitarian organisations are biased and sponsored by warmongers (Human Rights Watch connection to Soros). I also tried to make sense of why East Ukrainian victims are ignored and officially complained to the BBC  for misrepresenting events and received a polite reply, which ultimately changed nothing. Finally, I (very roughly) outlined for how the system works, what’s the problem with the people running them and what is the alternative way of being and resisting.

This was all a personal intellectual endeavour, which helped me to order my own thoughts and calm down my pain and grief. At some stage this blog had over 10,000 views per article and thanks to it, I dipped my toes into the world of journalism with my pieces published in BNE, Russia Insider, New Cold War, Signs of the Times, Global Research Centre for Research on Globalization and OpedNews. I’ve never accepted any payment for any of my work, even when it was offered, and I declined work for any media, which is state-funded. I am very grateful to everyone who’s been reading this blog and supported me and who found it an inspiration to write their own blogs and to join in the international debate. I’ll continue searching for the Truth (even though I’ve paused writing for a while to deal with the illness and death of my father) as an independent thinker and will proudly continue doing what one media expert said of me as a criticism – “to wear my heart on my sleeve”.

On a cold grey London day, when the white thick clouds guard the Sun and melancholy looms in the air, threatening to penetrate into and capture sensitive minds, my own rebelling mind eagerly escapes far away into the past: Kerala, India, 2001.

And as I find myself on the Kovalum beach, my toes dug into soft white sand and the back burning from the scorching Sun, I turn my face not towards the Indian Ocean, to whom I owe much for once dissolving all my accumulated teenage anguish and pain, nor do I turn my gaze towards the Sun, the Burning Giant, to whom I’m also eternally indebted for reviving me many countless times, but I look towards the small fragile figures, hovering by the path, that runs along the coast. It’s in these figures – children of around the same age as my kids – that I seek my salvation on this gloomy morning.

And I’m not drawing out a metaphor, which calls for rejection of pantheism in favor of humanism. No, I openly state that in my life I’d like to make room for both – to find a balance between adoration and love for nature and for humans, and seek the gifts of both reason and of faith. No, what I’m searching for on this Kovalum beach is not an escape amidst abundant nature, which I often miss when in London, but for a particular quality of humanness, way of being, that I’m lacking myself and I believe most of us are lacking.

Looking at these little children, selling Indian handcrafts, produced locally by a company owned by a German millionaire, the capitalist mind, that divides the world into consumers and producers, haves and have-nots with all the associated figures, sees these young souls as an embodiment of nothing but cheap labour: they come from nothing, they have nothing and its this very same nothing that awaits them in the future.

Yet they are shining with the inner glow that you will rarely see in children of a rich megapolis like London – the Sun, brighter than the one in the sky, emanates from their open big bright smiles. In those smiles reflects the sheer joy of being alive, of being and of coming into contact with other beings. They greet you with the utmost openness, that I’ve never seen city kids capable of. Is it Indian friendly culture? Side effect of being brought up in the only socialist state of India, where 99% are literate and there’s basic equality?  Or is it the innocence of childhood unmarked by urban transgressions? Or just a simple fact of growing up close to the elements, the very same ones to which I’m turning my back now? Or combination of all these factors? Who knows. The fact is that their smiles for me are the representation of what we have lost in the West – joy of being, irrespective of what we have, and love and openness towards one another.

These children are now in their late teens and early twenties. Perhaps their brows are marked by adult worries. Perhaps, as one fisherman shared with me back then, as most kids from his picturesque Indian village, they eventually became too concerned with getting money to buy the latest phone or whatever other gadget is trendy in India now, and so they are not happy anymore with whatever little they have. Still. Standing on this shore of 2001, meditating on their happiness of that moment and learning from it, feels like a privilege. I send all my blessings to these beautiful beings wherever they are now, hoping that their inner Suns have not dimmed. And today, despite of whatever satisfaction I may have with the weather, natural or political, I will attempt to share some of their light, which glows brightly from the past all the way into the now, even if it will only be one open smile directed at a passerby, regardless of what party they voted for.


This morning Human Rights Watch published its World Report 2015 on Ukraine in which it repeats claims from the US and Ukrainian authorities that the Ukrainian civil war is ‘an international armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine’, the only evidence for it cited is ‘the capture of Russian soldiers in Ukraine’, which supposedly ‘exposes Russian forces direct involvement in military operations’.

I’ve checked the report on Syria and despite evidence from Wikileaks that the U.S. secretly funded Syria’s opposition and that US-led NATO troops operated in Syria undercover, and a more recent news article that the “U.S. military has established a new command that will oversee operations in Syria” and the official announcement that the U.S. will deploy about 400 troops to Syria to train ‘moderate’ rebels, Human Rights Watch describes the conflict as that between ‘pro-government militias’ and ‘non-state armed groups.’ Predictably, US or NATO’s involvement is mentioned and it’s certainly not classified as ‘an international armed conflict between Syria and the US’, revealing HRW’s double standards.

Following the US State Department’s party line, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday that Russia had 9,000 troops in Ukraine and demanded their withdrawal. However, later the Chief of Ukrainian Army clearly stated that they do not have evidence of mass involvement of Russian forces in the conflict in Donbass, but instead they can only be sure of participation of individual volunteer Russian citizens within anti-Kiev battalions. Similarly, a Ukrainian Major and military expert confirmed that there are no Russian troops in East Ukraine. Same is confirmed by an OSCE representative and a number of independent journalists, which are operating in Donbass.

In short, the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine is not a proved fact, as no one has provided conclusive evidence for it anywhere, so why is Human Rights Watch presenting propagandistic allegations as fact, thereby fuelling international tension that could well end up in WWIII? The clue may come from the fact that since 2010 Human Rights Watch has been funded by George Soros, who admitted his responsibility in February 2014 coup and who openly called for war with Russia in the New York Review of Books and demanded that the EU funds Ukraine in their war effort. So have Human Rights Watch become a mouthpiece for their billionaire sponsor?

George Soros, the Wall Street speculator who was convicted and fined for insider trading by the European Court of Human Rights in 2002, “has built an empire out of obfuscating global criminal activity with the cause of “human rights.” In repeating unproved claims by their sponsors, Human Rights Watch are discrediting themselves, as a modern day network of imperial administrators, undermining national governments around the world and even promoting international armed conflicts between states.

(If you have any relevant information, which you think should be added to this, please leave it in the comments below)

Trip inside the ‘capital’ of the separatist East, recaptured by the troops of Kiev in July: Hospitals bombed and children without care

By Vauro Senesi, published in Il Fatto Quotidiano (Italian daily), Dec. 12, 2014. Translated by Roger Annis & Robin Monotti Graziadei for New Cold

Five hundred and fifty five kilometers. It takes more than six hours to cover the distance in the modern, high-speed train opened two years ago for the European Football Championship in Ukraine. Five hundred and fifty five kilometers is the distance between Kiev and Slavyansk. The capital of the war.

Slavyansk, June 2014, photo by Andrey Borodulin, Flkr Commons

Until just under a year ago, the superfast train traveled to Donetsk. That city is now partially destroyed by bombing. It is beyond Ukrainian lines. Unreachable. In the hands of the ‘enemy’.

Slavyansk, on the other hand, was recaptured in July. The sky is grey-cold. Grey is the color of the walls gutted by mortar and artillery, with empty sockets for windows. Grey are the huge piles of rubble scattered everywhere on the ground dotted by bomb craters. The greyness is broken only by the black silhouettes of twisted and burnt trees. It is the landscape of reconquest. In this silent desolation there is only the sound of flocks of crows that come to rest on the debris.

Debris, craters, burnt trees is all that remains of what was the largest hospital in the city. Razed to the ground by the blows of the Ukrainian army. “The hospital was evacuated”, explains a lady who collects funds for the Ukrainian army. “It was bombed because it served as a control center of the rebels.”

It seems absurd that to ‘free’ the city, the ‘liberators’ didn’t hesitate to destroy vital structures–hospitals, schools, power plants. But the siege of Slavyansk consisted precisely of this, closing access routes to the city and, after destroying its facilities and infrastructure, blocking the arrival of any supplies—from military equipment to food and health supplies–placing fighters and civilians in the same stranglehold.

“One doesn’t see the internally displaced people. They are there but few in number … but the situation is evolving in these very hours … I told you, yesterday we were invited to a ‘Neighbourhood assembly’, one of the most bombed. They are pissed off because these rebels shoot mortars from the streets where people live, then shelling from the Ukrainian army falls in response, causing damage, injuries etc. The discontent is now visible. People do not want war. ”

These were the words in a text message sent by Andrea Rocchelli to Damiano Rizzi of the NGO Soleterre in May, at the beginning of the Ukrainian counteroffensive. This was almost certainly his last testimony. On the 24th of that same month, Andrea and his interpreter, the Russian journalist Andrei Mironov, were killed by mortar fire in a ditch where they had sought refuge after the car they were traveling on had been targeted by gunfire. Mortar shells fired from the same hill which then bombed the hospital. “People do not want war …”. But how much weight has the voice of ordinary people in this clash sought by great powers and rich oligarchies? And most of all, who listens to it?

Map showing Slavyansk

The road that from Slavyansk leads to Artjomovsk [Artemivsk], just behind the front lines, runs straight across a plain between fallow fields and birch trees. The ground is frozen. The ice has covered everything from strands of dry grass to thinner sprigs of trees. In a van driven at breakneck speed by Ghennadj, the driver, we cross a panorama of crystal. Ghennadj drives fast because he fears incursions of “separatists” infiltrated inside Ukrainian lines. After the first checkpoint, made ​​of large concrete blocks and sandbags and manned by cold militiamen armed with Kalashnikovs, the race resumes. The streets are deserted in Artjomovsk. Here and there are burnt houses. Gunshots echo now and again in the distance.

We stop at the entrance bar of the military hospital, obeying the “halt” of a bearded giant in camouflage. In fact, this was the civil hospital, but an entire wing has been requisitioned by the army for first aid to the wounded soldiers that arrive each day from the front line that is twenty, thirty kilometres away–the distance depends, because the lines are very fluid and uncertain.

The big bearded man is called Nicolaj. We discover that before enlisting, he was an interior designer. It is he who escorts us inside the hospital. Narrow stairs, semi-dark corridors, stretchers and boxes of medicines here and there, the smell of sweat and disinfectant. Even the hallways are narrow and crowded, we hardly manage to squeeze through nurses with dirty uniforms and militiamen with guns and hand grenades hanging from their shoulders.

The bulk of Nicolaj who shows the way is of great help. On the floor are backpacks and helmets. There are only two beds. In one lies Alexiej, just over twenty years old. He has a broken leg. “A stupid accident”, he says. “I rolled over the truck I was driving. It’s my fault, I did something stupid,” he says. Alexiej is almost ashamed that his is not a real war wound.

Sitting on the other bed is an older man, over fifty. He’s wearing his camouflage and his rubber boots. He is absorbed and quiet, looking ok. A few hours ago, instead, he was hit in the left arm by a bullet fired from an automatic weapon, just below the shoulder. He was lucky. A few centimetres to the right and the bullet would have struck his heart. It has just been extracted. Vassilj rummages in his pocket and shows it to us. “I’ll hang it on a chain around my neck as a good luck charm,” he says with a smile. Then he shows us the entrance hole on his arm. He does it without emphasis, without emotion. As though it was not he who was shot but another.

And it is others that Vassilj is thinking about. Pointing to Alexiej, he says, “…in my case, I’ve already lived a large part of my life…” Vassilj has a small transport company, a wife and two children. They won’t know that he is wounded. “…but these guys? The war is stealing their present, the best years of their lives.”

Vassilj does not like the war.”I was hoping that President Poroshenko would open peace negotiations … There must be a way out of this crisis without continuing to kill each other.” But instead, he concludes bitterly, “We are still here. I will stay there as long as need be.”

Vassilj boasts that he has never fired a shot. “I look after mines and unexploded devices. I prefer to save lives rather than take them from others.”

Nicolaj, Alexiej, Vassilj and the young doctor, Natalja–bundled up in a bulky uniform too big for her—arrived here recently. She already shows on her face the signs of fatigue and confusion.

Serghej gives me the phone number of his sister living in Rome: “Just tell her that I am well, please”.

Other soldiers and militiamen whose names I don’t know wear weapons, boots and camouflage uniforms that resemble those worn by many of the boys who were in Maidan Square in Kiev. In their faces, there is no trace of the exaltation and fanaticism of the ‘patriots’ of the capital. Their faces show resignation, bitterness and the sad exhaustion impressed by the daily experience of the horror of war.

Andrej sparks fear. His uniform is sleek; he is squat and sturdy, his skull shaved, shiny as his uniform. He smokes Russian cigarettes, black, inside a long, golden mouthpiece. “Do you want to see the children?” he asks us. What children, we ask? We don’t understand.

“The orphans of Donetsk. Those who already had no parents and those who have lost them in the war. I bring them to Artjomovsk because they are safer here. Donetsk is bombarded continuously. There are separatists there.” And the separatists allow you to enter the city and take the kids? He shrugs. “Well, they have hearts, too.”

We follow Andrej’s car. A sports car, with the license plate concealed by strips of tape. Andrej must be an official of some description because at checkpoints no one stops us.

The orphanage is located in a single storey building, not far from the center of Artjomovsk. Three steps and we’re across the threshold. We are received by two women dressed as nurses. “There are 50 children, up to 4 years of age here. I brought 26 of them myself, “says Andrej.

From behind a closed door we hear children’s voices, the sobs of a crying child. That door won’t open. “No. The children can’t be seen”. The oldest nurse is adamant. “You need a permit. You do not have permission.”

We’re leaving Artjomovsk, following the car with the covered license plate of the mysterious Andrej, who will get us through the checkpoints easily. In our ears and hearts are the voices and the crying of the invisible children. Invisible like the children of all wars.


Foros Yacht House by Robin Monotti Architects, 2012 Photograph © Andrei Yagubskiy

“Architectural Crimea”: Foros Yacht House by Robin Monotti Architects, 2012
Photograph © Andrei Yagubskiy

Zodchestvo, the Annual International Festival of Architecture and Design, the largest events of its kind in Eastern Europe, provides a unique opportunity to get an insight into the current state of architecture and urban planning in Russia, covering all regions from St.Petersburg to Khabarovsk. Now in its 22nd year, it takes place in Moscow with the support of the Administration of the President of the Russian Federation, the Federation Council and the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, the Russian Ministry of Culture, the Moscow Government, the International Union of Architects, the International Academy of Architecture, the Russian Academy of Architecture and Construction Sciences, the Ministry of Regional Development of the Russian Federation, public organizations and business communities of Russia.

This year was special not only because the festival was dedicated to the 100th Anniversary of the Russian Avante-Garde, but also because it had a newcomer – Crimea. The little peninsula, which this year voted in a controversial referendum to be independent  from Ukraine and then to be re-united with Russia, was represented at the festival as a ‘special project’, curated by Alexei Komov and Nikolai Vasiliev. I caught up with them both to talk about the significance of the presence of their Pavilion at the festival, how they see Crimea’s further development and the effect of sanctions.

The Crimean Architecture pavilion is divided into three interlinking parts, dedicated to the last 100 years of development. “Master” examines the history of the pre-war soviet architecture by Boris Belozerskiy.”Environment” presents a retrospective of Soviet resort architecture between 1920-1980s and the last part “Panorama” shows the most representative buildings and projects of the last five years.

Vera GraziadeiAlexei, please tell me about your Pavilion and its goals.

Alexei Komov: Our exhibition is not about mega-projects, not about Kerch bridge that will connect Russia and Crimea, not about projects for projects sake, but it’s an exhibition about heritage and resources – natural and human, the authors of which are people, past and present, and the goal of our stand is to represent the Crimean Architecture School, which exists on this ice floe that finally sailed back to us. We wanted to show that Crimean development should rely on the professionals who already exist in Crimea and we want to establish a communication link between these people and the Russian establishment. Also, we wanted to expose the history of Crimean architecture, that there is not only the Swallow’s nest, but also Sanatorium “Jubilee” in Evpatoriya, for example.

Unlike regional stands, the content of which was ultimately decided by regional administrations and governments, we had full freedom of deciding what to include. For the ‘Panorama’, we could have just chosen projects, which seemed most striking to us. However, we took a different path – we delegated the selection of projects to The Union of Young Architects and the Union of Architects of Crimea , thereby giving Crimean Architects a chance of identifying themselves, rather than having Moscovites doing it for them. We wanted the Crimean Atlantes, which have been sleeping for a long time, to wake up and identify themselves.

Crimeans started a process by voting in the referendum, but what they need to do next is less clear to them. They need ideas for development, which is why I’m going to Crimea as a Chief Architect of Evpatoriya – in order to re-start and fine-tune their cogwheels, which have been buried in moss for many years and which now need to be dug out and cleaned – reminded how they used to be a part of a larger mechanism. I often say that many Crimeans are watching a film about life through their windows, instead of living it. For example, many Evpatorya inhabitants’ perception of  their city doesn’t extend beyond their own backyard, which every summer fills up with tourists, like herrings in a can. Beyond their gate – there is space, which has to be managed by Martians, who will fly in to build them a bridge, etc. People, who are watching life through a window are not part of a civic society, so our developmental projects are also concerned with coordinating people into socially cohesive groups.

Another goal is setting a direction for the development of culture and fighting corruption. During Soviet times, Crimea used to be on a much higher level – there were sanatoriums, with their cultural and health programmes, but in the last 23 years Crimean culture has fallen. It’s petty salesmen who are providing the entertainment – they make direct profit from satisfying people’s animalistic reflexes – they sell shashlyk and “Crimea is Ours” t-shirts, play loud music, while providing billiard tables, in short, they offer, what I call, “cattle-vacation” (bidlo-otdih). Unlike Evpatoriya’s inhabitants, these guys have a very strong sense of community, they are self-organised and, as far as they are concerned, the city is theirs. These small mercenaries are unprincipled, they forgot how to follow laws and they operate on the basis of nepotism and corruption, of a level even unimaginable to Russians, who have seen their fair share of corruption. These people are not so enthusiastic about re-joining Russia and they will resist any changes. It will be difficult to re-organise these people and penalties will be necessary to encourage them to obey laws.

Nikolai Vasiliev: The problem is not only corruption, but also an attitude and belief that without these informal relationships nothing can be achieved. There is a whole generation, which have seen people arriving from Kiev, Dnepropetrovsk, Moscow and who have just been grabbing the land for building something for themselves. Nothing was done for Crimeans and with Crimeans, not to mention by Crimean themselves. So now they have lost belief that they can do something by themselves without external help.

VG: Could you tell me more about developmental projects in Crimea and  whether sanctions will have an effect on them.

AK: Different cities and towns around Crimea have different programmes. At the moment, Evpatoriya is popular, not only because of us, but also because of plans for the new airport and new university, as Sevastopol and Simferopol are too overcrowded and have nowhere to develop. Also development of a “Silicon Valley” is planned somewhere in the triangle between Evpatoriya, Simferopol and Sevastopol. By the way, some US IT specialists will be taking part in it, irrespective of sanctions.

Evpatoriya is not just a tourist zone, it has so much potential. There was a factory called Vimpel, which used to produce one of the first soviet electronic games called “Nu pogodi!”, where a wolf was catching eggs. It’s a huge brand, which could attract a whole festival of video gamers. This could tie in to the development of “Silicon Valley” – you could say it started with the Vimpel factory. Then there’s a large aviation-repair factory and Space Centre, which has been shut to the public, but needs to re-open. Finally, Evpatoriya is a Little Jerusalem, where all religions co-exist, where children celebrate every day holidays of different religions – Muslims, Karaims, Dervishes, Christians, Jews. This is a city of the future.

Federal money, which is now given to the development of Crimea is not simply for building some projects there, but also to start off mechanisms of self-sufficiency. Sanctions will not change anything. On the contrary, sanctions will help us achieve this goal, as people will wake up and start thinking of alternative ways of making money, aside from just hiring our their homes to tourists. It’s a real problem that many Crimeans’ official jobs get a meagre salary after years of work, but they receive their real income from hiring their property, often unofficially. We need to change this situation, we need to create manufacturing, which will be profitable and image-making for Crimea and Evpatoriya.

Crimea was under Ukraine for 23 years. If you take the history of the Soviet Union – so much has happened, lets say, between 1917 and 1940 – so much was built, so many styles were developed, so many events have happened. In this last period in Crimea there was a complete stagnation. One of the strongest impressions I ever got was when I visited a museum of Uralmash factory, in what used to be Sverdlovsk or present-day Ekaterinburg. In the late 20s – early 30s there was a period of industrialisation. Within four years people built not only a town, but this huge factory in the middle of a forest. A full cycle factory – where a wagon with iron ore comes in at one end and a tractor comes out of the other end. All of this happened during the time, when Trotsky said, ‘we are a country surrounded by enemies’, we need to develop from the inside.” Sanctions for us are heavenly grace, as they will encourage us to do just that.

Evpatoriya’s architecture boom happened in 1914, at the beginning of the first world war when all the health resorts in Europe closed down, so people paid attention to themselves and started investing money not abroad, but into their own country, developing their own resources. All of the later health resorts that were built, like Druzhba, were only possible in a large Soviet country like the USSR, closed from everyone else, without all the Sharm-el-Sheikhs. Soviet people used to go only to Crimea or Yurmala. My grandfather never left the country, but he was a happy person. An absolutely happy person.

Objectively speaking, Western sanctions have a very positive effect on our country and on Crimea. We were plugged into the Matrix and now we are slowly exiting it – it’s painful, it’s unpleasant, but it’s inevitable. We need to start developing manufacturing and IT. New industrialisation needs to happen, as well as the development of new tourism. We have so many amazing beautiful places that need to be developed – Baikal, Kamchatka, Great Novgorod, Kubachi, Krasnoyarsk, Angara, Tyanshan, Volga, Yaroslavl, the Arctic Circle.

We should stop putting on make-up to make someone else like us and start growing from within, spiritually. The ultimate nightmare of ‘anti-Russian liberals’ is that the reds will make a pact with the whites – if fans of pre-1917 Russia will join forces with fans of post-revolutionary Russia – because both of these groups love their country, they are all patriots. Then, when the metaphorical civil war between them will end, we will finally start dealing with ourselves and developing our own country.


Crimean Pavilion with some of its participants, including Alexei Komov (second left)

Crimean Pavilion with some of its participants, including Alexei Komov (second left)



Ramil Zamdykhanov in Donetsk and Vera Graziadei in London. 

A few months ago Donetsk was a vibrant, thriving and ambitious city. Hosting the European football championship in 2012 coincided with the peak of its hopes for world recognition. Today it stands partially destroyed, sad, hopeless and fearful for its future. The European metropolis of one million people now has around 80% of its previous population – mainly working classes; wealthier people, who could afford it, left the city in order to escape the war. Donetsk has become a centre of the Ukrainian conflict, after the Kiev government announced an ‘anti-terrorist operation’ (ATO) against ‘pro-Russian separatists’ in mid-April 2014.

Social life in public places is now almost non-existent – aside from one or two entertainment establishments, such as the Opera House. Most theatres, cinemas, cafes, bars and clubs are closed and many shops and businesses boarded up their windows. The curfew, which was announced in summer, is still not cancelled, and even though there are rumours that one night club is functioning – the streets are empty at night. By day, there are no traffic jams in Donetsk anymore and ‘camouflaged armed men walk where shoppers and businessmen once strolled’. But not everywhere is quiet, depending on where you are –  an occasional cannonade could be heard or even continuous explosions.

Each shelling and shooting incident is still seen in the city as an unfortunate accident or state of emergency. People have resigned themselves to the fact that there are several ‘armed conflict zones’, for example, near the airport or near Karlovka/Maryinka, where adjacent still-populated civilian quarters are bearing the brunt. Even though it is morally totally unacceptable, amongst Donetsk residents it is now if not fully accepted, then at least expected. However, now and again, shells and bombs fall on central civilian areas, that are nowhere near the usual fighting zones, e.g. for no apparent reason central Gladkovka area of Donetsk was shelled, when the Local History Museum was destroyed.

More than 4,300 people have been killed in Donetsk and Lugansk since April and according to the UN an average of 13 have died every day since a formal ceasefire was agreed in Minsk. All deaths are terrible, but some are particularly gruesome, such as the death of a 12-year old boy in Donetsk on 27th November, who was blown apart by a shell and was only identified by his textbooks, as all that was left of him was a pile of meat. These incidents shake not only Donetsk civilians, but also the rest of the sympathising world, to its core. 

Both sides of the conflict blame each other for civilian casualties and given that most Ukrainian soldiers and self-defence militias speak the same language (mainly Russian) with the same accent and use the same weapons, it’s not easy to determine who’s responsible for civilian casualties. There are ‘witnesses’ that emerge to produce conflicting evidence and Human Rights Watch, Amnesty and OSCE all reported both sides as guilty of the use of indiscriminate weapons, but more often than not it’s the Ukrainian side, which is responsible for shelling residential areas, while separatists are blamed for situating their weaponry there.

As a journalist from Odessa reported from within the Kiev’s forces‘ frontline, the Ukrainian artillery aims at Donetsk randomly or as a Ukrainian soldier summarised: “Shooting in the direction of separatists, but then… who knows how the cards will fall.” However, even when there’s an irrefutable evidence of Ukraine breaking international humanitarian law, such as recent Human Rights Watch’s report of Ukraine’s wide-spread use of cluster bombs (which are banned by most countries excluding Ukraine and USA), Poroshenko still attempts to dismiss evidence as ‘Russian propaganda’.

So far Poroshenko avoided a declaration of war or martial law (that would have undermined the legitimacy of the presidential and parliamentary elections, both of which were lavished with praise by Western politicians). Both Kiev and their supporters continue referring to a so-called ‘Russian invasion’, even though the International Committee of the Red Cross described the events in the Donbass region as a “non-international armed conflict, and many western journalists, OSCE representative and even a brave Ukrainian Major and military expert confirmed that there are no Russian troops in East Ukraine. Kiev consistently refuses to admit that they have launched a civil war against their own population, treating 8 million Donbass civilians like terrorists, second-rate citizens or even non-humans, simply because they have decided to exercise their right to self-determination.

There is no law in the Ukrainian constitution which says that a person who votes in a pro-independence referendum should face the death penalty. Cancelling pensions and other state benefits, which Kiev has done recently, on the basis of someone living in an area together with many people who have separatist sentiments is equivalent to sentencing those people to slow death by starvation. Even serial killers, by Ukrainian law, have the right to life, but Donbass pensioners, who may even have participated in a referendum,  irrespective of whether they are politically illiterate or even very politically aware and who may be convinced that Donbass should be independent, are denied their right to life. Having cut their pensions, Kiev offered them no support to reallocate to other parts of Ukraine and survive. People simply do not have the means to move elsewhere. For many people state benefits, however meagre, are their only source of income. This winter will be tough for those people and even if there won’t be thousands dead, even if only 10 people will die from undernourishment or even one, it will still be a tragedy for which the Kiev government will be responsible.

Aside from cutting off state benefits, Poroshenko stopped all monetary transactions and banking services, leaving millions unable to withdraw cash or even use cards to access their savings. The Ukrainian Army keeps targeting water, wastewater, and power plants in order to damage the electricity, water and heat supply to Donetsk and Lugansk regions’ and in the winter months this could lead to people freezing to death. Medical staff and teachers have not been paid for months and hospitals and schools are operating on a volunteer basis. Medical drugs are still available, but prices have gone up almost two-fold, as a result of hryvnia devaluation. Food is available, but just like with medicines, some people will not be able to pay for it, now that their accounts are blocked and benefits are cancelled. Finally, trains will no longer operate between Ukraine and Donbass, thereby not only inconveniencing the already impoverished population, but impairing deliveries of industrial cargo, as well as food and other goods. Please note that so far Russia and Akhmetov’s Fund have been the main providers of humanitarian aid to Donbass, but they cover only 10% of humanitarian necessities. 

Before these events, the Ukrainian side could still claim that shells and Grads falling on Donbass civilians were ‘unfortunate accidents’, which were ‘inevitable’ as they were trying to liberate the country from ‘terrorists’ and ‘Russian invaders’. However,  the stopping of the pensions, blocking of bank accounts, transport links and energy supplies are evidently not coincidences, but conscious decisions to isolate Donbass from the Ukrainian infrastructure, while still claiming it as Ukraine’s territory. All of the above measures would be justifiable, if Poroshenko openly said: “Dear citizens, the Russian Federation have invaded Donbass, Ukraine cannot withstand this aggression, and therefore we announce Donbass to be an occupied territory. And as it’s not Ukrainian land anymore, we cannot guarantee or control anything that happens on it. We are renouncing our responsibilities in that region, but we will do everything we can to help civilians to evacuate themselves”. No such statements were ever made.

On the contrary, Kiev’s socio-economic blockade reveals the real attitude of Kiev’s government: Donbass’ land with all of its resources is valuable to Ukraine and its western supporters, but the people, who inhabit that land are not only of no value to Ukraine, they are a hindrance to be eliminated. The government of a country, which calls itself European and harbours hopes of one day joining the EU, is consciously creating a humanitarian disaster in an area, where people have different political beliefs.

What exactly is Kiev trying to achieve with all these inhumane extreme measures and how effective will they be? Firstly, Ukraine is trying to create impossible-to-live-in conditions, forcing defiant people to either move or die, thereby reducing the numbers of a ‘pro-Russian electorate’. Secondly, they are trying to create a state of chaos, where hungry and angry people will turn against Donbass authorities. Thirdly, there is a more simple and banal explanation – Ukraine’s economy is faltering and something needs to somehow cover its deficit. Withholding state benefits, saved Kiev $2.6 billion, as well as helping the leadership gain extra points with the Ukrainian nationalists, who believe that ‘anyone who’s not pro-united Ukraine is an enemy and deserves death.” 

Both governments of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics are far from ideal – they are mainly military men, not that experienced in political and economic matters. They make many mistakes, e.g. the most recent propaganda campaign to encourage the population to demand pensions from Kiev does nothing but undermines their own authority. If they have announced themselves a government, then they should assume all the governmental responsibilities, including provision of state benefits (which should have been planned following the May referendum). However, majority of Donetsk and Lugansk civilians are very well aware who is shelling them and who is trying to create a humanitarian catastrophe on their land. The amoral and aggressive position of Kiev towards them gives a trust boost to the LNR and DNR authorities, and Donbass governments should make every attempt to not betray this trust. In other words, Kiev is achieving opposite of what they would like – they are strengthening the support for the LNR and DNR, who even despite their inexperience, hold a much higher moral ground in the eyes of the majority of the remaining Donbass citizens. Though of course, there are people who believe that the troubles will stop as soon as LNR and DNR will leave.

The reality is that LNR and DNR will not be defeated easily. Just as NATO provides military help to Ukraine, there are many claims Russia is helping self-defence forces. Russia didn’t support a violent overthrow of power in a territory bordering the US such as for example, Mexico: it was the US, with EU support, that decided to meddle in the zone of geopolitical importance to Russia. Openly aiding a pro-NATO government get to power through violence near Russia’s borders is a provocation, which can result in a third world war with devastating consequences for the entire world.

If rockets are positioned near Belgorod they can reach Moscow in 20 minutes this leaves Russia in a situation of threat and significantly lowers their bargaining power in world politics. The Maidan people and their western supporters, who thought that they can just pull Ukraine out of Russia’s geopolitical sphere of influence without any prior agreement with Russia were overly optimistic. In the world of cynical dirty politics, the US have the right to just bomb nations which ‘threaten US security’, yet, however, there was an assumption that Putin will be too busy with winter Olympics to worry about his obligation to protect 150 million people of the largest country in the world. He was hardly going to come on the Red Square to shed tears in front of his voters, because Klitschko and Turchynov ‘cheated’ on him.From its beginning the conflict in Donbass should not have been addressed using military means. In 2004, during the Orange Revolution there was a similar situation – there was a kind of Maidan, which won, but the first thing that Timoshenko did was to fly to Donetsk to negotiate with Akhmetov. Even though the content of their discussion is not known, it did prevent any further conflict escalation, even though tensions were high. What happened in the spring of 2014 is that a self-proclaimed government, which came to power via a violent coup (i.e. illegitimate means, using the force of extremist nationalists) gathered in the Rada and the first thing they did is to defiantly cancel the special status of Russian language – a law, which didn’t make much difference practically, but which carried an important symbolic meaning for Donbass.

Originally that law was invoked by the Party of the Regions to please their electorate. They couldn’t make it a second national language, because they would need 300 out of 450 votes in Parliament, which they would never get, but as they made some promises to their electorate about the issue of the Russian language, they managed to pass this special status law. In the summer 2013, when the law was passed, the pro-Ukrainian electorate began a ‘language Maidan’ in Kiev, but it didn’t gather wide support and nothing came out of it. So when the new self-proclaimed Kiev government threatened to cancel the law, over which there’s been so many tensions in the past, many East Ukrainians, who had witnessed the russophobia and violence of Euromaidan in horror and saw the government they had elected run from its responsibilities, feared that the new government would be doing whatever they please against the Russian speaking population. This is what led to the initial Donbass civilian protests and Kiev should have negotiated with the leaders of the movement, rather than assume an arrogant position of ‘non-negotiation’ and reckless implementation of military force.

The longer this senseless war, which should not have been started in the first place, will last, the more hate will be bred between West and East Ukrainians, the more people will die, the more tensions will rise between Russia and the West. This war should be stopped as soon as possible and there should be international pressure on both sides of the conflict to observe a new ceasefire. On Tuesday 2nd December, a truce was agreed for Donetsk airport and a ceasefire announcement starting from 5th December was made for the Lugansk province, but the agreement fell apart within hours. A new truce was announced beginning on 9th December with an agreement that Ukraine would begin withdrawing heavy weapons from the eastern frontline on December 10 – as long as the other side also observed the truce.

There is little hope that this ceasefire will be effective and long-lasting without successful negotiations between Kiev and Lugansk/Donetsk People’s Republics. Lifting the economic blockade as a measure to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe and the question of federalisation should be the main topics of these negotiations. After all that has happened in the last year Ukraine as a unified centralised nation would not lead to any stability. Donbass residents have totally lost faith in Kiev’s government, and there is a tense atmosphere of hate and contempt between them and West Ukrainians. The inhabitants of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions are well aware that not only there isn’t a Ukrainian peace movement trying to stop the civil war or socio-economic blockade, but there are many West Ukrainians who actively support the ‘killing of separatists’. This amoral thinking that ‘territories are eternal values, while people are a secondary and dispensable resource’, has led to civil war, widening the long-existing divisions between West and East Ukrianians. This divide will take decades to re-bridge again and federalisation can significantly help to dimish these tensions. Some western politicians, like Germany’s vice-chancellor Simar Gabriel, already backed federalisation in Ukraine, as they see it as an important step towards peace. If other western leaders are serious about peace in Ukraine, they should do the same.

Unfortunately, like with any war, there’s always someone who benefits from it, so even the news about a new ceasefire, which gave a glimmer of hope, were followed  by intense shelling over the weekend of 6-7 December. Donetsk City Administration website published that ‘ the whole evening of 7th December and night of 8th December, the sounds of bursts and explosions did not stop’, which left 10 peaceful civilians dead and 13 wounded. The morning of 8th December the situation was reported as ‘relatively peaceful’ – there was even a Christmas Tree mounted on the central Lenin Square. However, whether Donetsk civilians will be able to celebrate their New Year and Christmas in peace depends largely on what will happen on the day of the negotiation between the Kiev and Donetsk/Luganks leaders.

When a wave of protests started in Russia in response to the 2011 legislative election process, dissident Alexey Navalny, along with many other protesters, argued that ‘in a fair election Putin would be defeated.’  Latest poll findings from the independent Levada Centre prove that if  ‘a fair election’ was held today, Putin would come out an indisputable winner. Public support for Putin’s political actions has reached 88%, a stratospheric percentage, when compared to 48% of Americans that approve of Obama’s job performance and meagre 29% of Brits that approve of Cameron-Clegg coalition. The chances of the “Snow Revolution” reviving any time soon are slim, as Russians’ propensity to protest has gone down to a historic low, only comparable to 2000, when Putin first came to power. If things continue like this, Ben Judah might have to re-write the unhappy ending of his romance story “How Russia fell in and out of love with Vladimir Putin” into a happy one.

To many westerners, who are used to seeing Putin either airbrushed with Hitler’s moustache or with make-up on against a rainbow backdrop, these Levada poll results will be confusing, if not alarming. There is only one thing, which is worse than an evil dictator – it’s an evil dictator, who’s backed up by his nation’s majority. And even worse still – an evil dictator, backed up by a majority, who are brain-washed by a ‘zombie-box‘, controlled by that dictator. In case you are panicking, not knowing how to protect yourself against this Demon, who represses at home and aggresses abroad, don’t worry – George Soros has thought of a strategy on your behalf: “All available (EU) resources ought to be put to work in the war effort (in Ukraine) even if that involves running up budget deficits”. Needless to say, George didn’t offer to chip in himself, but we should all tighten our austerity belts, unless we want to see Russian armies marching through Ukraine and all the way to Warsaw and beyond.

By now Russian people must be used to all the open calls to war, hysteria, hypocrisy and double standards applied to their country by western politicians and media. Even before the Ukrainian war started, Russia was bashed for gay rights, following its controversial law on gay propaganda to minors , culminating with major world leaders snubbing the Winter Olympics altogether. Barak Obama was one of the leaders who refused to come to Sochi, explaining: “I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them.” This impatience clearly doesn’t apply to the 13 US states that have “Crimes Against Nature” statute, outlawing sodomy between consenting adults. Nor does it prevent the US president from continuing their ‘long history of friendship” between Washington and Saudi Arabia, where homosexuals are executed.

These hypocrisies and double standards must be truly frustrating for Russian people to witness. Russia is not amongst the ten countries, where homosexuality may be punished by death, like Qatar, where despite the truly draconian law on gays, the 2022 FIFA World Cup will be held. Homosexuality is not banned in Russia like it is in 79 countries worldwide, including 40 commonwealth countries with whom the West is more than happy to deal with. Yes, Russian society is conservative and favours ‘traditional’ family values, but so are most other countries in the former Soviet bloc, where homophobia is as much of an issue, but which are not criticised for it as much.

For example, US and EU-backed Kiev has recently seen an attack against the gay club Pomada (Lisptick), the oldest movie theatre Zhovten went up in flames during a LGBT film screening, while the Minister of Internal Affairs Avakov declared that his party “People’s Front” will only enter into coalition with ‘democracy forces, not queer ones.’ Western politicians and media are turning a blind eye to these statements and attacks, as the Ukraine with their US-puppet government is their ally, but if similar events occurred in Russia, the western media would instantly use these news as a stick for bashing.

While most Russian people I know are not homophobic at all, some Russians could use an anti-gay card as a way of differentiating themselves from people in the West, especially now when they feel shunned and prejudiced against by the western world (which is why aggressive condemnation and confrontation of Russia over gay rights is counter-productive) However, when coming face-to-face with gays, these very same people will be tolerant, if not fascinated by them.  In the public sphere, many Russian celebrities are openly gay, like Boris Moiseev or Diana Arbenina, or are in drag, like Verka Serdyuchka, and one should watch the recordings of their live concerts on Youtube to see how much they are accepted and adored by their Russian audiences.

Unfortunately, homophobic attacks do happen in Russia, but it is a problem endemic to most of the world. We all have a perception that British society is much less prejudiced towards gay people, but a 2013 report by Stonewall revealed that one in six lesbian, gay and bisexual people in the UK had been the victim of a homophobic hate crime or incident in the previous three years. This month Welsh referee Nigel Owens “revealed he has considered quitting the sport because of an increasing level of homophobic abuse in stadiums and on social media’, while Rugby Football Union has launched an investigation into alleged homophobic and racial abuse. There’s much work to do at home before we start bashing others abroad.

The above-mentioned double standards and hypocrisies over the Russian gay rights issue (which I agree is a big problem, which needs to be resolved over time, but not through blind outright confrontational condemnation) would be viewed by Russian people as a proof that gay rights are used as a political tool with which to delegitimize Russia’s government, thereby increasing Russian people’s distrust of the West and giving a boost to the popularity of Putin.

Most Russian people are familiar with Crimean history and know that when the Soviet Union collapsed and Ukraine voted to be independent, Crimean support was the lowest of all of the Ukraine (only 54% in favor) with very low turnout (65%). The following year the Crimean parliament voted in favour of a referendum, but it was forcefully suppressed by Kiev’s administration, as a New York Times article from 1992 testifies. Since then separatist activism in Crimea is well-evidenced on a historical timeline of the UN resources library, while Kiev suppressed Crimea’s constitutional right to self-determination for many years, including the unilateral stripping of the post of Crimean President in 1994.

The West’s “Russian annexation of Crimea” narrative totally ignores Crimean history and disrespects Crimean people’s right to self-determination, which was finally exercised during the Crimean referendum in March this year. Maidan’s nationalist rhetoric did not chime with most of Crimeans and the violent takeover of administrative buildings in Kiev was a major motivational factor in organising a referendum, in order to become free of the coup-installed Kiev regime as soon as possible. Russia, having its own economic and geopolitical reasons, has provided military support for the referendum to avoid a violent attack from Ukraine, which would have been inevitable as the Odessa massacre and the subsequent war in Donbass showed. Now that Crimeans have re-unified with Russia, most of them are happier than the Russians themselves – hardly an attitude of people who were ‘annexed against their will’. Russian people are aware of all of this and are undoubtedly happy with the firmness, decisiveness and efficiency of their leader on the Crimean issue, thus boosting his popularity even further.

Western media attempts to portray Russians as euphoric nationalists brainwashed by Kremlin propaganda, while spreading the culturally and historically ignorant narrative that “Russia annexed Crimea”, are often classic cases of propaganda in themselves (e.g. see my analysis of BBC’s Bridget Kendall’s article) and only strengthen Russian people’s views that they are being prejudiced against, making them more distrustful of the West and more fond of their protective leader. Russians would see sanctions, both post-Crimea and post-claim (before any investigation) that Russia downed MH17, for what they are: tools to weaken Russia economically, which appears to be part of a bigger open plan for US energy dominance in Europe. It’s no coincidence, that amongst some of the targets of the U.S. sanctions against Russia or Russian-linked companies, two were directly aimed at slowing down or stopping South Stream.

For the majority of the world, who follow mainstream western press and thereby believe that Putin is a new Hitler, who annexed Crimea and invaded Ukraine, the rise in Putin’s popularity and decreased propensity to protest, as evidenced by Levada poll results, might be frightening. For any westerner, who has done a little bit of research beyond the mainstream media, and for the Donbass civilians, who dissented against Kiev, and who are shelled and killed for initially only wanting federalization for their region, these widely-accepted stories of Russian invasion and Putin being a new Hitler are sometimes ridiculously funny, but often extremely frightening – frightening because they are a reminder that we live within a topsy-turvy world, where truth is found in what is called ‘propaganda’, where European leaders can openly state their intent to terrorise civilians into submission and where they  commit hideous war crimes with impunity without one western leader even so much as expressing one word of disapproval, while other nations, in this case Russia, who, despite having their own economic and geopolitical interests in Ukraine, are actually supporting and are trying to help the Donbass civilians, are blamed and sanctioned for it.

Last week in a candid address to Ukrainian nationalists in the Odessa Opera House, president Petro Poroshenko outlined how he is planning to win the war in East Ukraine:

“We (Ukraine) will have our jobs – they (Donbas) will not. We will have our pensions – they will not. We will have care for children, for people and retirees – they will not. Our children will go to schools and kindergartens… theirs will hole up in the basements. Because they are not able to do a thing. This is exactly how we will win this war!”

The chocolate oligarch, backed by Brussels and Washington, is not afraid anymore to openly admit that the Ukrainian Army is targeting civilian buildings on purpose and forcing Donbass people and children into basements, in order to intimidate the population into leaving the area or surrender. Last week there’s even been a direct attack on a maternity ward and the week before a mortar attack on school killed two school children.

While Kiev is always quick to blame ‘rebels’ for all such incidents (an absurd suggestion that Donbass self-defence forces, comprised largely from the local population, would try to kill their own children), Poroshenko’s speech confirms that these attacks are the deliberate war plan of the Ukrainian forces. The fact that indiscriminate shelling of civilian and public buildings is a war crime doesn’t seem to deter Poroshenko, who’s confident that with the EU and the US backing he can carry out this strategy with impunity.

Starting from the 15th November all dissenting eastern areas will not be protected by the European Convention on Human Rights anymore, as Poroshenko announced its suspension, citing a provision which allows some of the Convention’s articles to be derogated by a signatory “in time of war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation.”  Officially only the right to life, the prohibition of torture and slavery, and the right not to be subjected to unlawful punishment will be respected (though shelling of civilians is a violation of these rights), while all the other rights including the right to liberty and security, the right to fair trial, right to respect for private and family life, will not be respected any more.

Article 15 was cited to justify the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council issuing a decree, which ordered the closure of all state services, including schools, kindergartens, hospitals, emergency services and pensions, and withdrawal of all banking services for businesses and individuals over the next months. This is effectively an economic blockade, which will threaten life of  the local population during the difficult cold winter months. Local government called it an ‘act of genocide’. Poroshenko calls it ‘fighting for European values‘.

This article is by Vladimir Golstein, an Associate Professor of Slavic studies at Brown University. He was born in Moscow and emigrated to the United States in 1979.

If you intend to kill your opponents on a massive scale, don’t just arm your people with machetes, iron rods or AK47s and start killing. With photos of atrocities flooding the Internet, the world community might eventually stop and even punish you.

This old-fashion method of mass killing is hard to sell in today’s world of freedoms and individual rights. A much better way to succeed in mass violence is to connect your victims to Russia, by denouncing them as the enemies of freedom and democracy and by calling them Russian terrorists and puppets in the hands of the current leader of Russia, whom you should call Stalin incarnate. Hitler incarnate works as well, but since Hitler was the leader of Germany – the country that is currently at the forefront of democracy – that might confuse the issue. The new Stalin is a more effective label.

Once your enemies are associated with Russia and its evil leaders, you can explain to the West that your killings are necessary not because of your burning hatred for your victims, but because you want to embrace liberal values and join the EU, while it is those whom you kill who are the proponents of tyranny. Never forget to suggest that all your killings were provoked by Russia. Your western backers will surely add their authority to the blame. You can also imply that the territory vacated after your attacks can be used for a NATO base. To facilitate your efforts, it is important to enlist the help of some old Cold War warriors and neocons, such as Senator John McCain or Victoria Nuland, by explaining to them that the failures of your economy is the result of Russian sabotage. It is the remnants of their socialism that is destroying your country, and not your looting.

I also encourage you to find a Jewish person among your population, preferably someone with close ties to your regime; you can also export an adviser whose ancestors ran away from the Tsarist pogroms. This person should testify to The New York Times that your regime is very friendly to Jews, as opposed to your victims who still live by some primitive nationalistic values. That will score plenty of points with your neocon audience, who will in turn secure American supporting your fight against anti-Semitism. Calling your enemies“sexist”or“homophobic”can also boost your cause, but frankly, it would be overkill. Since your goal is to accomplish overkill on the streets of your towns, don’t waste all your energy on propaganda wars.

But make sure you enlist the help of some former dissidentsor political leaders from Eastern Europe. Their memories of being abused by the Evil Empire are so strong, that it would be easy to convince them that those who are laying on the streets, burned, shot, or chopped to death, were Russian agents, intent on perpetuating Soviet-style tyranny. The hard-worn moral authority of these allies will surely silence your critics.

The need to defend your country from the ever-expanding Russian Empire should always be on your lips. If someone points to the map and shows that Russia has actually shrunk since the Tsarist or Soviet days, tell them that this shrinking is one more proof that they are dreaming of restoring the days of old. Quoting their leader who spoke about the loss of the Soviet Union, as tragedy will surely help, as would the reference to some medieval monk, who proclaimed Russia to be the new Rome. And as you wipe off your bloody hands, recite Barry Goldwater’s saying: “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”

Have the photograph of one of your soldiers in Russian uniform. That will be enough for the American journalists, raised on the stories of communist body-snatchers, to disseminate your stories of Russian threat. The ubiquitous presence of Russian infiltrators, exposed by Joe McCarthy, and proven beyond doubt by James Bond films, and the current TV series, The Americans, will make your fabrications more real than real life.

Being a mass murderer, you didn’t come to power by peaceful means, so some hard-nosed reporters might question your agenda, or demand the explanation for recent violence. Lecture them on the atrocities of Stalin, which surely dwarfs your own. If they persist and press you on the connection between Stalin and the violence that you’ve just unleashed upon your population, turn the tables and accuse them of being Kremlin apologists.

It is also important to establish museums where you can demonstrate the pictures of your victims, but label them as the victims of Stalinism (since Stalin happened to kill Christians, Muslims, Jews and everyone else in between, you’ll be believed). Having a lot of victims will make your case stronger, but in case you’ve been slacking, argue that victims’ unborn children should be included in the equation. Once you have a respectable number of victims and some doctored photographs, museums can be opened. Through these means, Ukrainians boosted the amount of Stalin’s victims to seven million, beating the Jewish victims of Holocaust, and demonstrating the diabolical power of Stalin and Communism.

It is important to groom the younger generation into their role of henchmen. The children should be subjected to the routine of dancing and singing in the manner of these teenagers from Western Ukraine, who are demonstrating their proper political credentials by reciting: “hang the Muscovite on the branch” (Moskaliauku na giliaku). If someone in the West finds it barbaric, explain that you are restoring ancient folklore from the remnants of culture wiped out by the Communists. And don’t forget to teach your kids to make Molotov cocktails. Burning is a very efficient and hygienic way of getting rid of your victims. But sometimes you can bomb them and let their relatives take care of them. But make sure that their coffins are painted in red, so that the whole world would see how you are dealing with the Red menace.

Had Saddam Hussein or Rwanda’s Hutus followed these instructions, their success would have been much higher, as they would have proceeded without interruption. But if, for some reason Russians decide to interfere, noticing that the West simply sits on the fence debating whether your current rate of killing fits the definition of genocide, pronounce triumphantly: I told you so. But you might as well succeed, since Russians will be too bogged down in their own backyard to come to the rescue.

With NATO and economic packages behind you, you can continue for years to come. When you eventually die, or rather drink yourself to death, as the ghosts of all those whom you recklessly and cruelly destroyed would make your conscious life too painful, you’ll end up in the anticommunist heaven. You’ll be greeted by Mr. Joe McCarthy, who will accuse you in being too soft on Communism and thus manifesting some latent Russian sympathies. You’ll be interrogated and humiliated, your words will be twisted, since McCarthy will surely find one Russian sympathizer among your population whom you failed to destroy. What Senator McCarthy’s verdict will be is beyond my expertise to say, but you can be rest assured that 50 years later somewhere in the free world, there will be a monument erected in your honor, for the glorious contributions in your fight against Russian Communism.

This article was originally appeared on RT. Republished with permission from Vladimir Golstein @VGolstein


Other articles by Vladimit Golstein:

Russia-InsiderUkraine’s Descent into Fascism and How the West Turns a Blind Eye

The NationWestern Media Coverage of the Ukraine Crisis is as Distorted as Soviet Propaganda

AlterNetObama’s Cold War Rhetoric is Outdated – And Masks Ukraine’s Real Crises

Forbes: Why everything you’ve read about Ukraine is false

Al JazeeraMarx’s last stand: Eastern Ukraine Crimea: Whose War Is It? 



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