A lesson from Druzhkivka: “Take a military mobile kitchen, porridge and condensed milk”
Anatoliy Vodolazky, retiree from Druzhkivka, breaks all stereotypes not only about the Donetsk region residents but also about those who moved to Ukraine from Russia. He came to the Donbas from Taganrog in 1964. He was born in the Voronezh region.
The story of his family was traric. Two his grandfaters were executed by the Communists, their twelve children are dispersed around all the former USSR.
Maybe, it was the genetic factor that made a 63-year-old retiree, who had not even been interested in politics before, start a solitary picket on May 22, 2014.
He was standing for several minutes alone with a Ukrainian flag on a nine-metre rod near Lenin monument for several minutes. A separatist “referendum” in Druzhkivka had taken place a week before, the town was totally occupied, a local priest had been killed for his pro-Ukrainian views.
Several minutes after the beginning of the picket, Anatoliy with his flag was detained by the so-called “militants” and taken to Kramatorsk. There he was kept in a closet on the city council, his teeth were beaten out, his ribs were broken.
Nearly two years after those events, the brave retiree concludes: nothing has changed much in the town. Those people who helped organize the separatist “referendum” still work in the town council though they pretend that they have changed their views.
After the town had been liberated, Anatoliy joined a newly-created volunteer organization “Comminity of the town of Druzhkivka”. At some point, the servicemen who the ativists were helping, understood that they could themselves help the locals as they had got so many presents from them.
Anatoliy suggested that the servicemen should not only visit orphanages but also go to usual schools and, besides giving them presents, conduct patriotic lectures there.
“There are not any classes of military and patriotic education at schools. They are either totally absent or deal with the military part only “lie down, do some push-ups and run.” There is no patriotic component”, says Analotiy.
“Druzhkivka residents have not decided upon their political positions yet. A lot of them still suport separatists, but kids are the material which can still be modified”, says Ivan Kurach, Deputy Commander of the Department of awareness-raising work of the Ukrainian Armed Forces who agreed to Analotiy’s suggestion.
A team consisting of representatives of three battalions was created and each battalion sent a military psychologist, a doctor and a private for meeting with children.
It took several months to persuade the Local Educational Department, which was reluctant to do that, to agree to these additonal lectures.
The first visit to school #14 in the village of Oleksievo-Druzhkivka, which took place on October 14, on the eve of Day of the Defender, was superb.
“We had been warned that the principal supported separatsts, but, fortunalety, she welcomed us heartily”, says Officer Kurach.
The main aim of the lectures is to show children that Ukrainians servicemen are not enemies, as they were perceived in the spring 2014, they are defenders.
The lectures took place in a red-carpet atmosphere in the assembly hall or the gym, or in classrooms which were full of older pupils.
“First, I told the children about our unit, its aims and activities. I wanted to make them feel that we were defenders, not aggressors”, says Ivan.
Ivan Kurach was mobilized to the Donbas from the Rivne region and he brought from his home two volumes of Oleksa Tykhy thoughts. Oleksa Tykhy had been a Ukrainian dissident who had gone to one of Druzhnkivka schools.
“I had had no indea that he was local. It was a coincidence that I came to Druzhkivka with those two volumes. I started reading the book to the pupils and teachers. It was said in those forty-year-old texts that there would be a betrayal. We got this betrayal as we were planting pro-Russian views in nursing and secondary schools”, continues the Officer.
Each school gets a Ukrainian flag with the servicemen’s wishes, each military signs it and writes the location he has arrived from to emphasize the unity of Ukraine.
Some servicemen bring molile military kitchens, biscuits and condensed milk to treat children with porridge and sweets after the meeting.
“It is important to do this with love as these are kids. They were so fascinated with this kitchen, they came over to it several times, ate all the porridge and asked to try on a soldier’s hat”, adds Ivan emotionally.
“Once I wintessed a situation: a car stopped and a woman with a five-year-old boy came out. The boy saw us and wave his hand at us. We waved back. When his mom saw this, she beat him on his hands and pulled him back into the car”, this is how Serhiy Haletsky, the military nurse who joined Anatoliy’s initiative outlines its necessity.
“We are trying to show children that our task is to restore peace though their parents may tell them different things. We also try to make these children realize, without any politics, that they are the future of this land and this future is Ukrainian”, adds the nurse.
“We understand that it is impossible to change the mentality and slave minds of the local population. However, we believe that in 20-30 years’ time these young people we have worked with will create Ukrainian Donbas with independent and free people”, summs up Officer Kurach.
The material was written in cooperation with Centre for Information on Human Rights.
Maryana Pyetsukh, Slovyansk-Kramatorsk-Druzhkivka, for Ukrainian Truth, Life.
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