A letter from one Russian liberal opposition activist (Alexey Sakhnin) to another (Alexey Gaskarov), who was arrested for inciting violence and causing harm to police officers during the riots of May 6, 2012 in Moscow, regarding his trip to Ukraine:
“Alex, hello, buddy. You know, ever since I got your last letter, I took a trip to Ukraine. Spent there 9 days. And now I have a lot of live experience about how things are arranged over there. I’ll try to tell it without superfluous emotions, though it is difficult.
First, perhaps, Putin’s propaganda in the fight with Ukraine is self-defeating. It is so discredited that many believe the opposite is true. Of course, this does not prevent it from creating an atmosphere of hysteria among the majority, but many activists both in Russia and in Ukraine and in the West perceive it exactly like you: “The truth is exactly the opposite.” Unfortunately, this is not the right approach.
Secondly, you know, the propaganda in Ukraine is even worse. After many years, when the country had relative pluralism, watching what is happening now is very bizzare. Well it is clear – all channels, newspapers and websites inciting a wild national patriotic hysteria. Well, let’s say it is a side effect of war. But what about facts? We visited the editorial office of one of the most moderate websites. The type of people from Lugansk working in Kiev, some former leftists out there involved. They claim to be against torture, kidnappings and so on. But on the wall hangs a large poster on which are written the aims and principles of editorial policy. The first among them “to create a conducive atmosphere for ATO ” (anti-terrorist operation). That means – fueling the war. Accordingly, the facts are selected for publication. All that is conducive for the “atmosphere” — is published without validation. Everything else is simply not published. Forget about the TV box. NTV and Lifenews could learn from them.
Well, propaganda is a military tool. Now about the occupation. I was not in the zone of ATO. Whether Russian troops are there, I don’t know. We were deep in the homefront. In Kiev, Odessa, Kharkov. Alex, I swear to you, what’s happening over there is a civil war. Without any intervention. The internal war. The worst — in Odessa.
7 out of 10 ‘ordinary people’, i.e., taxi drivers, pensioners who rent rooms for visitors, waitresses, passengers of public transport repeat the passwords: ‘junta’, ‘fascists’. I dont have any stats, and in this situation it would be impossible, but it feels like its a majority in the city. And you would not imagine the degree of tension. Typical words of one taxi driver: “We’re just looking forward to when it will be possible to take revenge.”
And, on the other hand, I gets more interesting. We were interviewing the Right Sector (I went there as a Swedish journalist). They are 18-year-old slacker enthusiasts. A complete copy of those who came to the LF in the 2011-2012. The same naive and inexperienced romantics. But they are reading not Kagarlitsky, but Yarosh. And their heroes are Mussolini and Franco. They say “those who don’t like the new Ukraine — suitcase, train station, Russia”. This is a no nonsense fascist organization, which is supplied with green youth in abundance. But it’s not the worst. The worst thing is the moderates.
I’m not saying names, but I have all the interviews. Picture this: a nice office in the centre of the city. At the gates is an armored car. In the courtyard – a bunch of meatheads with machine guns. And the map of Ukraine. They are the ‘community activists’. Collecting money from businesses for patriotic purposes [racketeering]. They have a great system. Enough money and ammunition and their own territorial defence battalion and a bunch of armed guys on call. Think about it — they’re nobody, they have no official status. But they have real power: money, weapons, organization. And no official authority can do anything against them. They are the moderates. “We hate Ukrainian nationalists, they are provocateurs.” But I asked them, “you have half the city of people who disagree, how will you live with them? And he says to me, verbatim: “For them we have a compromise. They sit quietly at home. If they want to talk about the ‘junta’, they say a whisper to the toilet bowl. If they go out on the streets, we will start shooting “.
You know, Alex, but it is real fascism. Without the clowns with swatsikas. And Odessa and other cities have sworms of these guys.
And the capacity of civil dialogue is limited to this: “We’ll shoot.” And they have weapons, money, organization. And it’s not empty threats. They already shot. In broad daylight.
A journalist there told me that about Anti-maidan in Odessa. A crowd of people, of whom 10% really pro-Russian. The remaining – against Maidan, but not against Ukraine. Leaders of the Antimaidan were afraid of drastic measures, were against the seizure of buildings, etc. This journalist said “the authorities were so lucky to have this ‘opposition’ “. But instead they arranged May 2. And May 2 was prepared in advance. Probably no one had planned for such victims, but dispersing the opposition camp was ordered from above in a carefully prepared operation. And this is not Putin’s propaganda.
Now about the crackdown. 78 people in prisons in Odessa are ‘political’. Only in Crimea – about 30 active political immigrants. And repression continues. The guy who we interviewed from former Anti-maidan was arrested 12 hours after we talked. He arrived in the old “Five” (Rusian car Zhiguli), sitting in cafe, scolding the junta, feared nothing. Then drove us to look at the painted with swatsikas statue of Lenin. Then we got into the Kharkiv train, as he drove home. At night he was taken. Arrested by the nazis. The same ones who beat him on May 2. Again beaten with iron rods. Planted with explosives. Now charged with terrorism. From 8 to 15 years. And this is not Putin’s propaganda. This I saw with my own eyes. I was talking with his girlfriend on the phone, trying to calm her down …
I checked on Yandex. Yes, Kharkiv Governor in July stated officially that in Kharkov area for April-June were arrested 314 “separatists”. Just an ordinary news, already outdated. Alex, I understand that from the Russian TV you would like to think that all is exactly the opposite, but it’s true. Heck, it’s just kind of an overwhelming chilling truth.
What about people with Ukrainian flags in Mariupol, you wrote … I don’t know, maybe there are these people in Mariupol. Or maybe it’s the National Guard mobilizing them with assault rifles. Or Akhmetov. I was on the train travelling from Kharkiv with a family from Donbass. The train was going from Yasinovataya, which is closest to Donetsk station. They are afraid to talk. But I pulled some info out of them. They say that the army was shelling each day with artillery and missiles on residential quarters (the gift of that truce). Young guy, says, “Well, I am Ukrainian. But now decided that Ukraine for me does not exist.” Its harsh, Lesha. Scary to ask questions. The people saw things that make you want to cry.
But in Kiev, there’s a patriotic consensus. There, every third is sporting a vishivanka or a t-shirt “death vorogam” (death to enemies). On each wall: “Ukraine above all”, and even drunks who argue for taxi shout “Glory to Ukraine. ” There exactly the national consciousness is ‘in order’. And at the same time all pubs, discos and clubs are open. The horror is less evident.
In short, summarizing, Ukraine remains divided. This is most definitely, no Russian propaganda. At least, the South-East. The intensity is such that any outbreak will lead to civil war everywhere. Without Russian intervention. And it’s excluding the contradictions between the various flanks in the camp of the ‘winners’. Secondly, by its brutality and idiocy Ukrainian regime will give Kremlin a run for its money. For falsity of propaganda, intolerance, repressions. For nationalist populism. This is a very weak regime, which loosely controls its territory, but is torn apart by conflict. But its scary to think what will happen if it gets stonger. And third, the most terrible thing is that the mass movement does not oppose the violence, lawlessness, nationalism, but intensifies it. It’s not calling for greater democracy and pluralism, and negates the social agenda to the nationalistic hysteria. A mass movement under the influence of radicals and those for whom war has become a business. Because of their passivity and lack of experience it is almost completely controlled by the darkest force imaginable. That’s exactly what we have rescued the Russian movement from, retaining its democratic capacity (and at the same time deprived it of support of oligarchs and doomed to be defeated), all the worst that happened to the Ukrainian movement.
This is a grim picture. It turned out to be much worse and intense than I imagined. I don’t know what’s going on in the ‘People’s Republics’. Admit that there might be some things questionable, too. But about the situation in Ukraine, I no longer have any illusions.
That on Russia and the Russian society the whole story with Ukraine has reflected pitifully, I agree. And that propaganda plays its part too. And what to do about it – is not fully clear. But here’s my take on the anti-war campaign. Our liberals seem to do everything to turn this into a failure. Waving flags of the Right Sector. Or prohibit to criticize Kiev regime. In the end, they just turn from supporters of peace to supporters of victory of one of the parties. And therefore very few people will join them. And certainly the credibility of the opposition will not grow.
On the other hand, you know, if you believe Levada, since March the number of people who support the idea of putting troops in Ukraine declined by half. That is propaganda hysterics lost effectiveness. But instead of talking to people about the truth, part of which is absolutely freezer-burn nature of Ukrainian regime, our Liberals fully side with Kiev, reducing the ‘peace movement’ to their eternal mantra about this country.
It seems to me that we must not yield to the temptation “to make friends with all the enemies of our enemies.” We can not take any of the so-called ‘pro-Ukrainian’ position. In fact, it is not a pro-Ukrainian, it’s a pro-fascist position. I think that no matter how difficult, but we have to be a ‘third force’. I understand that for you it is still much harder than me. But I can not be quiet about this)
I wish you as always, courage and mental strength. Write how things are going with your appeal. Is there any hope? What do the lawyers say? Can I help?
In general, hold on!
September 18, 2014
Translated by Kristina Rus
More correspondence between Russian political prisoners:http://rosuznik.org/letters/1736
P.S. I’ll take a few days off, but I’ll continue approving and replying to comments.