How did you react to the Maidan in 2014?
LEONID: I’ve always supported Ukraine's turn toward the EU, but I still don't understand how our own capital being overrun can help us join the EU. It seems to me that the Maidan was a copy of similar revolutions in other countries, which didn’t turn out to be anything sensible for them. Really, the next eight years showed that my doubts were justified. Or was Poroshenko supposed to be the outcome? I can’t say that he was radically better than Yanukovych... Russia didn’t offer any future. If they had brought gas to their own villages, built roads, created some centers of growth other than Moscow, then our turn to the West could be called into question. But instead of doing good for their people, the Russian elites spat on them and began to spread their “Russian world,” which has brought nothing good neither to the people of Russia nor the people of Ukraine.
The Maidan involved the theft of Crimea, the war in the Donbas and a full-fledged war with Russia. Would we live better under Russia? I’m not sure. So neither the first nor the second scenario is close to me.
How did you react to Crimea, the beginning of the war in the Donbas, when Mariupol temporarily came under the control of the DNR? What did the people around you say?
MARIA: It’s simple – we left. There weren’t really troops in Mariupol, and the struggle between the sides looked like a tug-of-war, there was no feeling of war. But when our troops began to storm the DNR Headquarters, the shots and rumbles could be heard in our apartment. We didn’t need new revolutions, and I left for another region with our daughter (Ekaterina was 13 at the time). In the end, Mariupol remained in Ukraine, although there was a small military contingent there. Apparently, they reached some agreement, and the DNR didn’t take over the city. I felt that about 30% welcomed the prospect of going the way of Crimea, mostly it was older people. Support among the youth was minimal.
Did you define yourself as some nationality at that time?
EKATERINA: It still seems to me that choosing a nation doesn’t make any sense. I live in Ukraine, I speak Russian and I love my city. I haven’t traveled much around Ukraine and other countries. If I traveled more, maybe I would have a more defined identity. And so my identity is human.
How did life change in Mariupol after 2014?
EKATERINA: Twenty-fourteen divided my family and my life between two cities. My mother and I left for a safe place, while my father stayed to work in Mariupol. Over several years in a new city a new life had begun for me, and when we decided to return to Mariupol, I left my life behind again, along with my new friends and my first love. When we returned, I continued to go to a Ukrainian school, but soon we moved to another neighborhood, where I started going to a Russian school. Six months later this school began to be moved onto Ukrainian, which took place with its share of stress. The problem wasn’t that we had to study in Ukrainian, but that the teachers were afraid to speak Russian even among themselves. There was a story about how a saleswoman in a store switched to Russian with a customer, he recorded it on his phone, and she came under fire and was fired. People tried to speak Ukrainian at their workplaces, where they used to speak Russian, but it was unusual.
LEONID: We live in Ukraine, and we are Ukrainians – it’s right to have a single state language. Imagine if in Russia every nation spoke its own language – how would Chechens and Buryats communicate? Patriots aren’t born, they’re made. But there were problems with instilling patriotism.
What were the problems with instilling patriotism?
EKATERINA: At our school, a mandatory anthem was introduced in the morning, 10 minutes before the start of classes. Standing for it was obligatory, and if we were late for the anthem (not for class), our notebooks were taken, which violated the school’s code. Love for the anthem and flag was instilled in a strange way: it was forbidden to move, and if someone was tying his shoes, then he had to freeze in that position during the anthem. This irritated people. The idea of instilling patriotism isn’t bad, but how it was done was weak.
LEONID: Ideological idiocy is characteristic of practically every CIS country, and Ukraine is no exception. After 2014, Ukraine began to cultivate patriotism to spite Moscow while denying its own history and values. For example, we’ve always venerated our ancestors who won the war against Nazism, but after 2014 all Soviet soldiers from World War II automatically became some sort of lowlifes and idiots who were worse than the Germans. More than 30% of the Soviet army were Ukrainians – they, it stands, were lowlifes and idiots too? Is my great-grandfather who served through the whole war and won the Battle of Kursk one of them? The only thing that’s worse is what Moscow did to the memory of the war, making it an instrument of mobilization for war, now against those who stood shoulder to shoulder with Russians against fascism. On May 9, my great-grandfather would drink two glasses of vodka and withdraw into himself. He would’ve killed someone on the spot for the [Russian propaganda] phrase “we can do it again.”
MARIA: Victory Day has always been an important holiday for us. They [the Russian media] are still constantly saying that we have Nazis walking the streets. What Nazis?! We have a Russian-speaking city. They constantly talk about the Azov Regiment. None of them forced us to do push-ups on the street, many of them spoke Russian, because it was the same local guys there.