I have been traveling around Ukraine for more than 10 months with "On the Rift" exhibition, while talking with Ukrainians about the changes in the life of the civilian population after the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war. Lysychansk, Sloviansk, Dnipro, Cherkasy are just a few cities from the extensive geography of the exhibition's presentations. Some of the journeys between the cities took more than five hours, allowing me to hear what the views of Ukrainians about the war and how they are going through the severe changes that has affected their lives. I am going to describe the dialogues with Ihor from Kramatorsk and Mykola from Cherkasy, who have become a role models of drivers with whom I managed to talk frankly, while travelling.
The discussion usually started with the questions: "What are you carrying?", "How is your work?" Only after an hour's journey, which is interesting, the drivers dared to ask about the cargo - what the exhibition was about, why about Donbas. It caused further reflections on the war; sometimes it was strange how they could share similar ideas about the conflict.
“I had one friend, who had been at war in the beginning. He was on Ukrainian side. He said that he did not understand at all who was fighting whom. They earn money, you know, this is the whole point,” - shared his thoughts Ihor from Sloviansk, Donetsk region, .
“What do you want - look at them [authorities]. They earn money, trade goes on, and they push a bunch of young boys to die... for what? This war is just a curtain that covers somebody`s business,” - said Mykola from Cherkasy.
The drivers shared more and more thoughts kilometer by kilometer. After they heard that the stands depicted human stories, they started telling about their "rifts" that arose as a result of the war.
“I have nothing against Ukraine, but also against “DPR”. There are my relatives, for example, those who live in Makiivka at the moment ... they hate Ukraine. They say they will never return because Ukrainians have killed several of their friends. And I understand them,” - said Ihor.
Ihor was not into the topic of the war. It is another conspiracy of the elites, he believes, carried out with the aim of "genocide" of the Ukrainian people. He had repeatedly stressed that he loved Ukraine for its beauty, but did not hide his sympathy for Russia.
- Do you think we will win?
- Actually, I do not care whether there will be "DPR" or Ukraine. The main thing, you understand, is to live wihtout war. These breakdowns, econommy falls, nobody needs this.
- But Russia attacked us.
- I would understand If it was Poland, Germany ... Then I would have taken the machine gun myself, we would have them ..! But Russia, we were together in the Union. What kind of war is this, how could it happen? I don’t understand.
The one might think it was a 50 or 60 year old man who said it, but no. Ihor was only 35. I learned this from a scan of his passport, which the company sent me by email a few days before the trip.
In contrast, Mykola was an active volunteer and organized the delivery of supplies for the military when the active phase of the war began in the Donetsk region. He is against "DPR" and believes that the people who remained there "need to be isolated." I heard this opinion after the presentations of the exhibition. Despite his volunteer experience, Mykola himself was nostalgic for the discipline of Soviet times: “We had the order - as soon as you went against people, you would have the execution”.
It would seem strange how a volunteer, a person who helped to fight for the country's independence, can combine such opposites? As it turned out, Mykola is deeply disappointed by the lack of changes after 2014. “You see, I had hopes that in 2014 we would make reforms and get on our feet. Now what? I can't even be an example for my son; I bring nothing to my family. They continue to steal everything. "
The driver Ihor also spoke about his trip to ORLO in 2018. It seemed that he himself did not believe how close the region was to decline.
“I went there on a minibus between one village and Alchevsk. The fare for a ride in a bus is six rubles, do you believe! You ride on something that does not look like a bus, there is a hole in the floor, you can see how the gimbal rotates."
Ihor voiced new memories kilometer by kilometer. He tried to stick to his own, slightly sarcastic manner of speaking, although it was easy to notice his regret for the total devastation of his homeland.
“One guy, I knew him before, guarded a steel plant. Well, his salary is now 1,500 rubles. Two children, wife. I asked him how he survives. And he answered that my father was a former miner, he received a pension from "DPR" and Ukraine. They saod, it helped them to make ends meet. Well, I started laughing and said that your father was feeding you, not helping!"
It was Igor who turned out to be the one who was lucky to see the cargo with his own eyes. At one point, it seemed that surprise, disbelief and enlightenment were strangely combined in his eyes.
“You know, I didn't even think that this could be like that. These people have gone through very big troubles, ”the driver said after watching several stories about illegal imprisonment and the severing of family ties.
“Good luck with your work,” he said with a smile and drove along the barely snow-covered road back to Kramatorsk.
It was an opportunity to gather "vox populi" and to freely communicate about the war and its perception of ordinary citizens who were suddenly caught by uncertainty and hostilities. Everyday conversations with Ukrainians have shown that work on informing and developing a culture of dialogue about the war should overcome stereotypical, and sometimes inspired by Russian propaganda ideas about the war in Donbas. There is a lack of communication among people themselves since many borrowed cliché phrases from television or online resources.
Sometimes it seems that we live in a society of untold stories as everyone is trying to live in their own virtual bubble and to protect themselves from information with a completely different point of view or additional contact with reality. A reality, where the citizens of Ukraine have been fighting for freedom for the sixth year, for the right to be heard, for the right to dignity. Living in a war requires empathy and understanding, a currency that cannot be bought in an exchange office, a shopping center, that cannot be seen on a TV screen. We should hope that the number of platforms for dialogue and understanding will frow in numbers; sometimes you need to find time and immerse yourself in silence in order to hear and understand the “other” who actually lives next to you.
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