I talked to Alexander, one of the young employees of Izolyatsia, the organization for culture and architecture. Alexander, but everybody calls him Sasa, is originally from Donetsk, the city that is occupied by the separatists of the Donets People Republic.
FT: ‘Are you afraid of being called for war?’
Sasa: ‘Yes, I think I am. Although it still feels very far away and very unlikely. No one expected this to happen, a war with Russia. Russia, of all! But we don’t know where this will end, and if young men will be called for war to fight. There are rumours that sometimes boys and men are picked from the street to help to fight. But I don’t know if those rumours are really true.’
FT: ‘Aren’t you very mad? At the situation. At the war. At Putin maybe?
Sasa: ‘Not really, actually. Crazy enough this war has speeded up a few choices that I may not would have been otherwise, or at least much later. I left Donetsk because of the conflict. First to Mariupol. Then to Kiev. I wanted to do that before, but I had friends and family in Donetsk so it was kind of okay that way. Now that the chance has been forced I am glad I made the steps.’
FT: Do your parents want to leave Donetsk?
Sasa: ‘My parents want to stay. They don’t think the new situation is a very big problem. They always say: my home is my land. So who is in power, they do not really care. When they grew up there was only one country: the Soviet Union.
But a really big issue is that they are overwhelmed by Russian propaganda, who is in charge of all the television channels in Donetsk. They are academically educated and so are their friends. And still they believe the propaganda that says that for example Kiev is the poorest city in the world, under pressure of the government. There are no medicines in the pharmacies. The stores are empty. As they say. Therefor I sent them pictures of Kiev, of the quality of oife, of the opportunities. A major city that functions fully. They do not believe the pictures I sent them. They believe the television better then their own son.
We really were arguing a lot about that. It is now a forbidden topic. I cannot talk about the conflict with my parents any more…’
A friend of Sasas is a soldier we met. He came to fight in the east, to protect his country Ukraine. Two meter tall. Bold headed. ‘My hair was half way down my back only a few weeks ago. But long hair is too dangerous during war. Too much risk to catch fire during an attack or so.’ He finished his university degree. ‘And no, I did not buy my diploma, like many others do in this country!’ he said frustrated. And now there were more important things than having a carreer.