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Mature or die — there’s no other option for our state

Published on Jan 18, 2024

Ukrainian article of the week published in the 15th edition of the "What about Ukraine" newsletter on January 18th, 2024. The article was written by Yaroslav Druziuk for Reporters Media and was translated for n-ost by Tetiana Evloeva.

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“We need to pull ourselves together and grow up,” says Volodymyr Yatsenko, a film producer and junior sergeant in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. In conversation with journalist Yaroslav Druziuk, he offers a candid view on the war, and a positive outlook for the future, if Ukraine has the maturity and commitment to build a new nation.

Volodymyr Yatsenko (VY) is the co-founder of the Ukrainian film production company ForeFilms, and producer of movies such as The Wild Field, Atlantis, Home and Luxembourg, Luxembourg. After Russia’s full-scale invasion, he joined the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU).

Yaroslav Druziuk (YD), editor-in-chief at The Village Ukraine, spoke to Volodymyr about his experience in both the media and the army, and discussed two years of full-scale war, communication between the State and the public, and his hopes for 2024.

“As of today, we don’t have any State communication at all”

YD: “We are having this conversation in the first week of 2024, so I’ll start with this question: did you watch the President's New Year's address?”

VY: “No.”

YD: “There was nothing new in it, but the highlights spoke volumes. Before that address, I talked about it with an American journalist who has spent the past two years in Ukraine, and his opinion was that the moment was crucial and the Ukrainian government should start communicating with the citizens like adults. Meaning the majority possibly lacked an understanding of the severity of the situation. Of course, I told him that Ukraine has an entirely different tradition of New Year’s Presidential addresses and that we never spoke about hardships in moments like that. However, Zelensky took another approach and opted to speak about choosing between being a refugee and being a citizen. Now I want to ask you, as a person with experience in both the media and the military, what adult communication with the public regarding war should look like, and where to begin.”

VY: “As of today, we don’t have any State communication at all, not in that sense at least. We believe that there is the State, and there is President Zelensky and a bunch of experts who wrote him a speech, and that there are special people who are going to implement all that. No, there aren’t. There’s no system, no institutional matrix. To me, it sometimes looks like there are just 20 people in Bankova Street [where the President’s Office is located] desperately trying to do something.

“Here’s a simple example. Zelensky started talking about building fortifications, but it’s been two years since I’ve been seeing how it’s done [on site]. This is how the Russians do it: they enter, say, Kherson, summon every director of every concrete plant and every construction firm and tell them, ‘Listen here, my good sirs. We are building the fortifications. It should be this and this. You provide your workers and materials, free of charge. Should you refuse, you’ll be executed right here, in that corner. Any questions? Now get to work!’

“And this is how we do it. We announce that the fortification lines are to be built. Then we come to the realisation that we need land to build upon. One of those plots [that the fortifications need to be built upon] belongs to a farmer, Ivan, who tells the construction workers to buzz off—end of story.

YD: “That’s one way of explaining the lack of fortification building in the South before 24 February [2022].”

VY: “It’s their inability to force anything. Let’s not discuss the fairness of doing so, just for now. The point is, we all want to live in a democratic state, but with the option of having the perks of resorting to nepotism, should the need arise.”

YD: “And it works both ways: the state presents weak institutions, while the public gravitates to freedom.”

VY: “That’s a very nice way to phrase it, ‘gravitates to freedom’ [lets out a laugh]. Actually, it’s just that society favours amateurs and has a deep distrust towards any institutions. We don’t know how to build institutions yet. All we know is how to reach an understanding with, say, three people, and even then actually doing something together is not assured. We aren’t used to having an independent state on our own, and we don’t know how to run it. But now it has come to the simple choice: we either learn it, or we die. Plain and simple.”

“We have to get scolded before we start doing anything”

VY: “There’s been a lot of talk lately on societal demand for justice — well, let me tell you that over the past 30-something years, we’ve been enjoying the unjust opportunity of living in a simulacrum of a state. We had a simulacrum of state institutions, a simulacrum of an army, a simulacrum of police, and a simulacrum of public leaders. All of it was fake, and it somehow existed rather than actually worked. There was a country named Ukraine that was fake to its core.

“Then finally came a Big Bad Wolf and, just like in ‘The Three Little Pigs’, blew down this straw house. As weird as it might sound, I’m happy to have witnessed this moment, because this is a moment of crisis with two possible outcomes: either the survivors flee to, say, Canada and live the rest of their lives explaining how the Ukrainian quest for independence ended up being so fucked up, or we finally quit being a simulacrum and become a normal state and a normal society.

“What I say next might strike the wrong cord, but maybe it’s for the best that we didn’t get an easy victory as they have been promising us in that (24/7 news reporting) ‘National TV marathon’: ‘Kharkiv operation’, ‘liberated Kherson’, ‘hurry up and buy tickets to a Ukrainian band BoomBox’s concert in Crimea!’… Until we were hit by the harsh reality and hit hard. There’s a lot yet to be done.”

YD: “But then again, it may be the result of how our authorities are building their communication with the public. In particular, the result of the United News Telemarathon only indoctrinated everyone with optimism. So people start asking, ‘Why the need to draft half a million soldiers if [we were told on the news] that things are going as well as they are?’”

VY: “I think the United News Telemarathon is not the only factor to blame. When we speak of what the state must do and how it should communicate… there was a moment when Zelensky said that he didn’t need a taxi, he needed arms to fight — he was staking his claim as a real politician of Roosevelt’s scale, regardless of all the scandals with his immediate circle, regardless of the pressure from the oligarchs.

“So now, everyone was expecting him to say: ‘Brothers and sisters, we’re screwed, but we have to do this’. What he said instead was: ‘So, the General Staff told me this [that another 400-500,000 need to be drafted], but the Ministry of Finance is yet to come up with some calculations, so I guess they’ll figure it out. Let’s not talk about that.”

YD: “But why? I mean, that’s some political intention behind it, but still…”

VY” “I don’t know. That’s a good question. My guess is that, to them, it’s just not such an existential matter at all.

“What is interesting, though, is: why do we need Zelensky to spell it out for us? That’s our paternalism taking hold. Why on Earth does some dude have to come and reiterate what we already know? That’s clear as day! But no, we are waiting for Zelensky or whoever to come and tell us, ‘Guys, it’s now or never!’, and we are like, ‘Now we get it, let’s go and enlist ourselves’.”

YD: “What if Zelensky did spell it out, just like that, word by word? Would it have any effect? Roughly speaking, would it help in filling the quota of 500,000 draftees?”

VY: “Of course, that would have affected some. This, however, is how we are. We have to get scolded before we start doing anything. I think that’s what we are going to get, quite soon.

“It’s not about Zelensky, it’s mainly about the people. For instance, I came across one post on the draft call. Such posts on telegram usually gather 10,000 ‘dislikes’ and only 1,000 ‘likes’, and all of those ‘likes’ are, of course, from the currently deployed personnel and their families. That post I’m talking about said every right thing: ‘Don’t worry about those who escaped. Those who chose not to return are the people unwilling to live in this country, and that’s all right. Don’t worry about those who didn’t join the Army: when it’s over, they’ll leave the country anyway, they won’t be living here.’ It’s as simple as that: some people need this country while others don’t. In the end, only those who need this country will still be living here.

“Some of my acquaintances who are currently not in the Army find thousands of reasons to say: ‘I’ll join when I receive the military summons’ — although I know for a fact that they have already received five such orders. I used to be like that, too. In 2014–2015 I even joined a paramilitary organisation, but in 2016 I let my guard down, thinking, like, there are enough people deployed on the frontline, why would they need me?

“I think that many people stopped watching Zelensky’s addresses exactly when he began hinting at the need for an additional draft. He even went to Avdiivka, but people just didn’t care anymore. They thought: ‘How dare he wake us up from this sweet dream?’”

YD: “You’ve mentioned the United News Telemarathon as one of the causes of the current situation. Now comes the moment where the discussion about the Telemarathon boils down to the question of whether it is even necessary, specifically after some critical remarks from the new Head of the Freedom of Speech committee [Yaroslav Yurchyshyn], and a critique published by the New York Times. But can you imagine the government just letting go of such a powerful instrument?”

VY: “Of course, why not? Once the State feels the need for a different tone of voice, the Telemarathon can be closed in a blink of an eye. There’s another concern, though…”

YD: “Specifically, the funding of the TV channels?”

VY: “Nah, I think they’ll figure that out, too. No matter what, the moment will come when the TV channels will be forced to admit: ‘We have been the mouthpieces of oligarchic groups all this time, and now we are all about business.’ Of course, they wouldn’t have the money to film expensive serials, but they should have enough funding for the news coverage. And then we’ll see how they earn their income. That’s about it. This return to normalcy, in every aspect including that one, is inevitable.”

“I have witnessed a city being erased. People don’t believe the same fate can befall them”

YD: “You mentioned the ‘existential threat’ when describing the current stage of the war — yet at the same time in the second year of the full-scale war, you have the feeling that the public does not perceive this war as such anymore. How come?”

VY: “Because it’s frightening. Even after seeing the atrocities in Bucha, one can still soothe oneself: ‘No, those are some other people that died, they and I are not alike’. Perhaps that’s even a normal coping mechanism. However, when the majority of people fail to understand what the Russians will do to them (and they do fail to understand that), then we have a problem.

“In my experience, I have witnessed a city being erased from the face of the Earth multiple times. I’ve seen that in Bakhmut and Kupiansk. People don’t believe that the same fate can befall them, too.”

YD: “Last year, we were filming ‘The city that is no more’ [On Bakhmut, Popasna and Severodonetsk].

VY: “And every time it’s the same. It’s always the same. First people start disappearing from the streets, and then a city is hit by a missile, and then another one, and another, and then multiple missiles rain down until there’s only a ruin left.

“But then we go to Kupiansk, and the people there fail to understand that. We tell them: ‘Take your kids and get the hell out of here!’, and the parents answer: ‘No, everything is fine.’

“What comes is that the wife will be raped and the husband will be forcefully taken to ‘join’ the Russian army. I guess the people [like those in Kupiansk] may have a general idea, but it’s just too scary to think about it. So they don’t, until one day that becomes their reality.”

YD: “The same thing could be observed even before the 24 February [2022]: we cannot imagine that scenario unfolding, thus it cannot be a real possibility. The difference, however, is that now we’ve lived through the 24 February and through Bucha.

VY: “‘Bucha did happen, but it didn’t happen to us’ is the same coping strategy. Frankly, every dude in the trenches who sees a missile hitting another trench is like, ‘Nah, I can’t be killed here and now.’ That’s how the soldier’s psyche works, coming up with strategies to tell oneself: ‘Everyone will be killed but myself’.

“What I’m saying is that sometimes it hinders your survival. And we see that nationwide, which is bad. I guess only the threat of losing [more] large cities, like Kharkiv, Dnipro, or Odesa, can sober us up. I’m sure that if Zelensky said that should the frontline crumble, our western borders would be instantly closed to all of us — that one statement would have a much stronger impact on the military draft than anything else. [We’d be thinking]: ‘Huh, so I won’t be able to escape? I guess I’ll have to fight then, I guess I’ll have to do something to prevent myself and my family from getting killed.’

“What also needs to be acknowledged is that we were left against that damned Russia almost on our own. I have little to no doubt that should our frontline crumple, Europe will close its borders, and the remaining 30 million will simply have nowhere to run for the lack of such an option, physically. Because they won’t be able to accommodate yet another 30 million people scorched by the war. Europe has already consumed eight million Ukrainians, who are wonderful, nice, mostly white, and hard-working people. But why would they want 30 [million] more?

“Should Russia continue to seize more and more Ukrainian territory, many people will be executed and many others will be raped. The remaining people will become the core force of the army that [the Russians] will use to invade, say, Poland, and to seize the Suwałki Gap [the border between Lithuania and Poland that could bridge Belarus to Kaliningrad]. That’s when Europe will realise that it, too, will not survive [should the invasion begin], because Europe doesn’t know how to, and will not fight a war, even a war for itself.”

YD: “Now that is quite a pessimistic scenario. The reason why we’re discussing it at all is that decisions regarding the next packages of help for Ukraine have been delayed by both the US and the EU, causing a moment of uncertainty. This is sort of the lowest point…’

VY: “I wouldn’t be so sure that it’s the lowest point.”

YD: “The worst is yet to come?”

VY: “Should the frontline crumble, should the Russians surround Kharkiv and attempt another offensive towards Kyiv — yes, the worst is yet to come. There will be panic. [The British newspaper The Telegraph published a piece on Russia’s plans to start another ground offensive towards Kharkiv, probably on the 15 January. Oleh Syniehubov, Head of Kharkiv Regional Administration, countered that no massing of the Russian forces sufficient for a ground offensive was reported: ‘To speak about any offensive or plans by the enemy, they have to amass a considerable amount of units and personnel in the certain direction. At present, no such massing can be observed. However, the situation may change by the minute and of course, we are on top of it.’]

“That’s going to be our defining moment. We should fend for ourselves as much as we can, specifically when it comes to the military. Should western allies once again place us into this ‘palliative care’ — ‘here’s 50 billion euro of help, and here’s another 61 billion, and 300 billion atop of that for your recovery effort’ — everyone will be eating through that money until they find themselves in a real-life mousetrap near Lviv. Yes, they will be trapped there with money, but money will be the last thing they remember in their lives. The worst thing is that we’re losing time. Getting other people’s money is great, but we must be as self-sufficient as possible.”

YD: “Personally, I’m rather cautious about such things, because that narrative of ‘the West abandoning Ukraine’ is the first thing the Russian propaganda speculates upon. Until the final decisions regarding the new support packages are made, it’s too early to speak about that.”

VY: “And how many months without such aid should we endure before we accept that as a final decision? Again, this moment is crucial. There’s something we can’t produce on our own, which is weapons. Look at the Arabs who manage to mass produce mortars and primitive missile rockets in their garages — yet we are incapable of even such mass production. The key word here is ‘mass’.

“And you see that this is the eureka moment for both every person as a part of this country and the country overall. And I’m happy that such revelations came now, at this very moment, because should it come later, the price we would pay would be much higher.

“Today, we love sharing stories about Israel. Well, let me remind you that Israel spent decades living on rations when its [modern] state was just established. However, there’s a huge difference between us now and the Jews of Israel back then: their experience of surviving the Holocaust was still fresh in their memory. Those were the survivors who were building their state against all odds. We, on the other hand, are lucky to lack such an experience, as the Holodomor was long ago, and we spent the past 30 years living in the comfort of ‘hothouse conditions’ and selling off what was remaining of the USSR. However it turned out that not everyone felt the need to have an independent state.”

YD: “That’s a pessimistic outlook. The realistic view is that our current war is not the beginning of our modern statehood [and is rather comparable with] Israel’s war of 1973 (the ‘Doomsday War’), where we are surrounded from all sides and have to do something about it.”

VY: “Their State wasn’t a simulacrum, though. Besides, there’s another issue of us not having a clear idea what our future should look like, because we are yet to find out what the world will be after we win. [The feeling could be:] ‘Yup, there’s going to be the same old Ukraine, but the corruption will be much worse due to having more money for the post-war recovery.’ Should we know that the country will be different, that it will change fundamentally — even if not for people of my generation, but for your generation and younger…”

“Those killed in action did not fight for Ukraine as it was, but Ukraine as it should be”

VY: “But why do I have to die for the same old Svynarchuk [a Ukrainian politician and businessman notorious for being charged with corruption] and his like keeping power in the future? Would Ukraine be the same, packed full of people who don’t give a fuck about this country? That despair and disbelief that something will change is what paralyses and kills. We need a new kind of State, the one that people will find worth killing for. I don’t think that the fallen ‘Da Vinci’ [Dmytro Kotsiubailo - Ukraine’s youngest ever battalion commander who was killed in action in 2023], Roman Ratushnyi [a Ukrainian activist and journalist killed in action in 2022] and the rest fought for Ukraine as it was, they fought for Ukraine as it should be.

“Israel believed they were about to have a new State. I won’t be commenting on the principles they believed in, but they were about building a new State. I have no idea which of us can make the difference. Who can say that it will all be different and that we can do it? Perhaps in that case everything would change. And this is something that, in particular, the people of art like filmmakers and writers should be communicating now.

“Zelensky played a super crucial part in the early days of the full-scale war, and, perhaps, he is still able to make that difference — should he offer the vision of the future and take responsibility for implementing that vision.

“It’s pretty much the same as it was with Maidan, where people of my generation and younger realised they could change something. I remember how people [in the Maidan] chanted ‘Give us a leader!’, and those dorks [politicians] on the stage were like, ‘Should we do something to be elected as leaders? That’s really bad, Viktor Yanukovych can give us a beating for that’. And then was the ‘Hrusha’ [the events in the Hrushevskoho Street of February 2014, when about hundred protesters were shot to death by law enforcement loyal to Yanukovych], and people had other things to worry about rather than demanding a leader. It’s not that someone will do that for us. It’s up to us — not Zelensky, not Valerii Zaluzhnyi, but us.”

YD: “I have a feeling that the government does try to offer us the vision of that future, primarily by linking said future with the prospect of joining the EU. Take Zelensky’s annual press conference, where he had the EU flag literally in the background. That was the week after the negotiations on Ukraine joining the EU were launched…”

VY: “Today we see Polish and Slovak farmers putting a blockade on the borders, and that is the real face of the EU. The EU is not about the kind gentlemen lending us money, it’s about the unkind farmers unhappy about their perceived competition for their place under the sun. Which, by the way, is exactly why we want to join the Union.

“I’m quite a pessimist when it comes to both the EU and NATO. Why be a part of an Alliance that chickens out of downing a rocket missile headed towards their territory? That’s just ridiculous! Or will we become NATO’s cannon fodder country, just because we have the war experience? Who would want that? We can — and have to — work with them, but how do you become a member of a club that is closed?

“Even in our land, we are like rolling stones”

VY: “For Ukrainians, this is the opportunity to understand that there are things that we need to be doing on our own, and not expect anything from the State. I guess they will end up dealing with the military draft somehow — or they won’t. It’s like the issue of our social pact being violated: we pretend to pay taxes, while officials snatch that money and don’t bother us. Well, it’s over. That social pact is over. It’s gone. What will the new one be like? That, I don’t know. However, the demand for justice is high, and will be even louder in the future.”

YD: “This is where we ask ourselves: ‘When, if not now?’ Speaking about taxes: over the past two years, we should have figured out where our taxes go, which is on defence. However, we do not see any principal change in how the economy operates.”

VY: “It’s just that [the people] understand that money will be snatched and that is the end of it. This is a dead end: people do not pay taxes, for they see that that money will be spent on yet another layer of paving stones or something else [which is not urgent]. But it all boils down to our institutional incapacity, and that’s the biggest issue.

“Let’s be honest: most of the people never needed this country in the first place, and I saw it in the culture. That’s the truth. It’s not just that (mayor of Kyiv) Vitali Klitschko, that wretch, is using his authority to demolish Kyiv’s wonderful courtyards and buildings, he’s doing that just because 90 percent of the people don’t give a fuck. That’s why he’ll just continue doing it. A dozen activists will gather for a protest — which is cool and which I would join were I not in the Army — but [most people] simply don’t need that. And this is a lack of self-respect and cultural continuity.

“This lack of belonging to something that you feel is your own is important. Because even in our land, we are like rolling stones: yes, some people moved here from other places, but even those who are local, just don’t care. We weren’t interested in our own culture. The same goes for making content, and the language. Of course, with time, the circle of people who do need that is getting bigger, but that expansion is too slow. That’s why we are now in the eureka moment when it begins to dawn on people: we either mature or die, there’s no other way for us as a nation and as a state.”

“Let’s stop being the victims”

YD: “What did you come to realise after almost two years with the Armed Forces?”

VY: “During these almost two years I came to realise that being in the military is an incredible experience of stitching the nation together. I mean, you deal with very different people, but all of you are in the same boat. You have to communicate and do something together. And that stitches the country together like nothing else — especially when having near-death experiences.”

YD: “In the context of this conversation, It’s somewhat awkward to ask you about filmmaking. However, I will ask about the project that is, perhaps the most rooted in the reality of these subjects, the new film by Valentyn Vasianovych [the director of ‘Atlantis’, ‘Reflection’ and ‘Black Level’]. Are you still filming that project? What stage is it at?”

VY: “It’s Vasianovych that’s filming it, and we’re using our own money for its production. We got some money from the EU Solidarity Fund, plus, we made a deal of getting some [a guaranteed minimal sum] from the sales, so we will earn some pennies there. As soon as we have the money to shoot the next scene — we go on and shoot it. That’s how we work. Perhaps, that’s how it’s supposed to work in times like this. I know that the film is honest, filmed with our own money and that there’s no funding from the State or some other powerhouse. I guess that’s indicative of society, too: you want to be able to talk about something really important to you — you pay, either with blood or with your last money.

“However, I don’t understand it when I hear talk of [film-makers] pitching [to Derzhkino, the state film corporation] for financing. I mean, I can’t imagine myself applying for a new film, approaching them and saying: ‘Hey dudes, I need 24 million of state funding, here and now’, instead of them investing that money in drones. Are you for real?”

YD: “It’s just that you haven’t read Maryna Kuderchuk’s interview with UkrInform where she claims that it’s ok [laughing].”

VY: “I understand, but dudes, really, just invest that money in drones.

“As for Derzhkino, I have so many questions, the main being — how come during almost two years of the full-scale war, they haven’t even managed to piece together a list of people [from the Ukrainian filmmaking community] who were killed in this war, those who were injured, ended up in captivity, or who have gone missing. Who is helping their families? You’re in the film-making industry, you should help those people who lost the most precious thing in their lives.

“But for some reason, our industry keeps quiet on the matter. I guess to them, pitching is more important. Everybody is writing posts about this or that person having fallen in action, and then what? They gather some donations for them, and that’s about it. Look, here, take this UAH 30,000 [~EUR 726] and live with it. What then? I have no idea how anyone can film anything not war-related now, and at the same time how films on war should be filmed…”

YD: “Nowadays, people tend to favour serials over movies.” [according to the 2027 Ukrainian Filmmaking Strategy, the number of full-length feature films receiving state funding was reduced to 27 per year, while TV serials got a quota of 600 hours per year]

VY: “It’s not that important now, whether it’s a film or a serial. I just don’t know how I can shake those people’s hands when meeting them. They are ‘saving the industry’ by giving people work during wartime… oh well, I’m sure the Russian concentration camps will offer plenty of work, too, like cleaning the gas chambers or something else. It makes you dumbfounded, and you just can’t explain anything to those people. There’s a huge gap that can’t be crossed.

“And in general, the gap between the military and civilians is growing. I also have fewer and fewer civilian acquaintances, because I simply have nothing to talk to them about. I won’t be telling them about my experiences, because that’s meaningless, and I am not interested in their experiences anymore, sorry. I don’t care whether I’m the most successful Ukrainian film producer in the future or not, that’s not the point. There are more important things now.”

YD: “And you aren’t interested in discussions within the industry.”

VY: “I can’t bear to watch the films where we are portrayed as victims. I just can’t get involved, emotionally. I don’t care about refugees and their struggles — I mean, I understand and feel for them, but I can’t get myself involved emotionally. Let’s stop being the victims, we still have the chance to change that. But to change that, we have to do something on our own.

“There are, however, other unpleasant questions. How many people in our industry are fighting right now? How many producers, directors, and how many gaffers? I only know a few dozen people from the entire industry, and for some reason, there are very few of them. Why is that? Weren’t we supposed to be the first ones to cover that, to prove the importance of the artist’s uneasy destiny and be the leaders of public opinion, bless our hearts? We have to be in that first Bradley entering [frontline village] Robotyne. However, that’s not what I see happening. Why is it just [film-maker turned soldier] Oleh Sentsov entering Robotyne?

“We never had that discussion in the industry, which is also a problem, because we can't even talk about it honestly and openly, even with one another. We need to understand what the hell is wrong with us, and what needs to be done to change it. All that drone talk is cool, but there are a lot of people who can express themselves differently.

“There’s a lot of talk on the Ukrainian poetic cinema, but many from that generation had experienced war as children. They knew what it was like, and understood the value of culture. And to us, that is some cherry on top of the cake: ‘Oh, by the way, there’s also Ukrainian culture!’ We have a simulacrum of a State, with a simulacrum of a culture within it.

“Of course, in the early days of the full-scale war, everyone was in shock and putting their lives on hold. Everyone wanted their lives back, everyone wanted to go back to normal. But there will be no ‘back to normal’, ever again. I get it, many people get it. Their industry will never be the same again, the pitching won’t be the same.

“When speaking to my international colleagues whose lives are pretty much the same, I don’t know what to say to them. That we’re still at war? It’s like a never-ending rain, which is perceived just as a natural phenomenon — as the war will be, in time. It is inconvenient, of course, and some people die — but it’s okay for us, and it’s okay for them. ‘It’s still raining in Ukraine — Oh, well.’”

“Starting from 2014, everyone expected us to fall. And we are still here”

YD: “What gives you hope?”

VY: “Our ability to surprise everyone. We are a nation that surprises everyone all the time. We always underestimate ourselves. All this time, starting from 2014 and onward, everyone was expecting us to fall. And we are still here. Therefore, I think, the hope lies in us being a nation capable of surprising itself.

“We are not the worst nation out there. We are hard-working, smart, we have to be alright. We just need to pull ourselves together and grow up. And it will change everything. And then the EU and NATO will be interested in us joining them, not the other way around.”

YD: “And yet you and I have spent the past hour discussing that we are able to carry on due to a small percentage of dedicated believers [in the cause], not due to people joining the Army en masse. And with each day, those believers are fewer. We are losing the best of us to this war.”

VY: “That is true. However, the numbers matter. In the beginning, nobody believed the Maidan would win.

“Nobody was talking on 1 December 2013, during ‘the March of Millions’, about whether Ukraine would become a candidate for EU membership, Ukrainians would reply: ‘Are you fucking nuts? What EU are you talking about? We’d better think about how to come to some agreement with Yanukovych.’

“However, becoming an EU candidate is what’s ended up happening, and in a very short historical time. When we talk about growing up fast, from a historical perspective that’s nothing, but those are the very same people who kept living in this country [over the past ten years].

“Indeed, we are losing our believers, losing too many of them. However, new believers emerge. Someone might be making that decision as we speak. Someone else might come to the realisation that they are at their lowest point, and that any further progression must be up. And to move upwards, they — personally — have to do something that believers do. Some will join the army, others will start regularly volunteering for some fund, and yet others will help them. And it will change everything.

“I do believe that we stand a chance — a small one, but still. And while we do — why not take it?”