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Donetsk-style patriotism lessons. How to learn to love Ukraine? Part 1

Donetsk-style patriotism lessons. How to learn to love Ukraine? Part 1

Maryana Pyetsukh, Slovyansk-Kramatorsk-Druzhkivka, for Ukrainian Truth, Life.

These four stroies are about people who break negative stereotypes about Donetsk residents, though they themselves do not idealize those who live in the region.

The main characters of the article understand historical, political and social reasons of the events in the  spting of 2014 when so many people of Donbas betrayed Ukraine.

Some of the people we talked to were not very patirotic themselves before the begining of the occupation. Still, each one of them understood, having gone through the turning point in the life, what should be done to re-establish Ukrainian statehood on the territory of the Donbas.

They are trying to prove with their own example that this region is not lost for Ukraine, it is just necessary to work with people and educate them.

Each one has their own method of educating the residents of the Donbas. They are trying to do what they can do, though they understand that if the Ukrainians’ welfare does not increase, their efforts will be less efficient.

Life in Ukraine is hard now and more and more people are dissatified with the economic situation in the country, still, these people keep working. They are determned to do everything to stop the threat of separatism.

Their aim is to see the country where no one will decide to separate from the rest of the regions and they want the rest of Ukraine to believe in their common future with the residents of the Donetsk region.

Lesson from Slovyansk: “Wave your hand and smile and someone will smile back at you.”
Every Sunday, local activists who own a car gather in front of Slovyansk City Council. They attach blue and yellow ribbons to their cars, switch Ukrainian patriotic songs on loundly and the convoy moves along the city.

“My life was so careless two years ago”, says Viktor Khomenko, a 52-year-old entrepreneur from Donetsk. “I used to have holidays abroad and things were  beautiful though boring. Everything changed when Maidan started in Kyiv. I was shocked when I was watching on TV how the police were beating people who did not disperse and kept fighting for their rights. If the underground suspended its work, people would walk all the way on foot to the epicentre of the events.”

Vasyl Khomenko is one of people who organize patriotic automobile rallies which have been taking place every Sunday for the last year and a half since Slovyansk was liberated from separatists. Although mass euphoria which was felt at the beginning disappeared, up to ten vehicles still take place in the rally. 

The main aim of these rallie is to retune the local population to patriotic positions.

Different things have happened: some people have shown their middle finger at us, some have turned with their backs at us and taken their trousers down. Some women have been putting their tongues out at us. Now the number of such cases has decreased. More and more people smile and wave their hands at us", says Khomenko.

“The idea of these rallies is to make people smile. People are a bit shy, but when you smile at them it is difficult not to smile back”.

These are mostry children who wave back at the cars with Ukrainian flags and patriotic songs.

Sometimes grown ups wave as well: a middle-aged woman with a big bag in her hands, a young man who lingered on the crossroads to wave at the convoy of vehicles.

We are going past the market and no one waves back. Vasyl says jokingly: “Here we have local separatists. Well, at least they do not show their middle finger at us.”

“And this is a bus to Moscow. Attention, Moscow! Give way to the convoy! Moscow, way to the convoy! Have a safe trip!”, shouts Vasyl into a microphone as he is overtaking a bus to Moscow. One of the passengers smiles and waves back.

“We always wave at Moscow as this destroys the cliches they have in their minds. They think that we are enemies, but we understand that if people go to Moscow, they have to go there, because of life circumstances, families or work”, explains Vasyl his gesture towargds a “hostile” bus.

We stop at a crowded trolleybus stop for a couple of minutes. The song “As long as the sun shines, as long as the water flows, there is hope” bursts out from loudspeakers. Vasyl calls on the passers-by to join rallies on the central square of the city on Sundays.

A senior man who is standing on the trolleybus stop asks us: “Is it a wedding?” And as he hears that it is a patriotic rally, he adds: “It’s beautiful, as it was in the USSR times.”

“I have never seen this before. This is right, of course. We do not need any wars. I went through hunger and poverty in my childhood and I am going through the same things now”, says a senior lady and starts crying complaining of her small pension.

At the same time, a young couple is looking at everything with profound contempt.

“What can we do about such people who refuse to communicate with us? Wave and smile”, explains his opimism Vasyl.

At a “viche” (rally) which takes place every Sunday after the automobile rally, Vasyl asks everyone to speak. A local senior lady, Liubov, comes onto the stage every Sunday and expresses her dissatisfaction with Ukrainian authorities who continue the war.

“I want peace but there is no peace! Our cities are surrounded by tanks! Every night tanks move along our streets and the asphalt is already broken bacause of that! How long is it going to last?”, says Liubov.

Vasyl Khomenko calms the public down: “Please, be more tolerant. Actually, Liubov is on our side.

She is a patriot of her city as we are, but we are also patriots of our country. The same will soon be true about Liubov, I have already heard her speaking Ukrainian”.
When Liubov hears that Vasyl justifies her, she smiles and tries to prove that she can speak Ukrainian.

“Start with yourself” - this is ine of Vasyl’s principles. A scooter comes close to his car during the automobile rally. The man who is riding is asks: “Why do you have flags? Is it a public holiday? Well, Ukraine, so what? Sure, I support Ukraine, of course, but when will our life become better?”

“What have you personally done to make life better?”, asks Khomenko.

“Is there anything i can do?”

“Of course, there is. Come on Sunday and we will have a talk.”

“Ok, I’ll be there.”

Vasyl Khomenko is not sure that the scooter driver will come but this does not stop him. 

“We often go to neighbouring cities and towns. Sometimes you can see people crying on their balconies as they wave at us. Not everyone supports us, of course, but there are a lot of people who are waitng for Ukraine at their homes. These are the moments when we understand that everything is not in vain”, says the patriotic entrepreneur, expressing his belief in Ukraine’s future.

New service "Explain Ukraine". This is a daily mailout of five articles which were written about the situation in the Donbas by Donbas journalists and translated into English. Honest vision of people who work in the field is unbiased and fresh which is crucial in the world which is full of desinformation and propaganda. We try to share this vision in out daily mailout.  You can subscribe here.

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