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Interview: 'The Maidan Represents Love'

Photographer Victoria Ivleva (center) traveled across Ukraine in recent weeks, from the pro-West Maidan in Kyiv to pro-Russian demonstrations in Donetsk.
Photographer Victoria Ivleva (center) traveled across Ukraine in recent weeks, from the pro-West Maidan in Kyiv to pro-Russian demonstrations in Donetsk.
Russian photographer Viktoria Ivleva was curious about how ordinary Ukrainians feel concerning the ongoing crisis, and found a way to see for herself. Using funds provided by her Facebook friends, she traveled to Ukraine and met with Ukrainians across the country -- from Euromaidan supporters in Ukraine's west to pro-Russian protesters in the east.

Dmitry Volchek from RFE/RL's Russian Service spoke with Ivleva about her experiences upon her return to Moscow.

RFE/RL: Was this a preplanned trip, or did you choose your routes spontaneously?

Viktoria Ivleva: It was planned to some extent because, if you look at the map from Russia, you start the journey to Ukraine from east to west. I wanted to see what was going in Ukraine's eastern, central, and western regions, but I chose the cities and places spontaneously.

RFE/RL: You didn't try to meet with politicians, presidential candidates, or lawmakers there, as an ordinary reporter would do. Why so?

Ivleva: I didn't meet them because this is not what I do. I don't understand politics and don't get involved in it -- that is not my territory. I always meet with ordinary people. My entire trip was funded with the help of my friends and followers on Facebook from Russia and Ukraine. Along the journey, I met many good Ukrainians who invited me to stay in their homes. It was an amazing experience that proves the bond between ordinary people in the two countries remains strong.

RFE/RL: As a guest from Russia who was taking photos and asking questions, did you feel any negativity or hostility from Ukrainians?

Ivleva: I honestly did not experience anything like that. Moreover, I had a feeling that people in [the western Ukrainian city of] Lviv had become more tolerant because of the recent events there -- the revolution, Maidan, and the feeling of relief they had. Everywhere I went, I spoke Russian and asked questions in Russian, and they answered me back in Russian. There wasn't any problem with speaking Russian -- even though this is a different country that has its own language, and they don't have to speak my language.
A rally in Zaporizhzhya Oblast, in Ukraine's mainly Russian-speaking east.
A rally in Zaporizhzhya Oblast, in Ukraine's mainly Russian-speaking east.

RFE/RL: You spent some time with the Maidan [the months-long protests on Kyiv's Independence Square]. What does the Maidan represent now?

Ivleva: I've been asked this question many times, and the first answer that comes to my mind is that the Maidan represents love -- an endless and unconditional love for your country. I spoke to many people there, and nobody mentioned any financial gain. People told me about how they stood on the Maidan [Independence Square], how they fought, and how they carried the wounded. Young girls told me about the experience of a lifetime they had -- bandaging the wounded, helping doctors. This was all an act of pure love.

However, it also seems that the Maidan is somewhat turning into an operetta. Most of the people who stood on the Maidan and defended it have now gone back to their cities and their work. Some new people have come to the Maidan now. By the way, someone at the Maidan did get nasty with me over my Russian pronunciation. But others immediately took him away and apologized to me, saying, "Sorry, most of us suffer from post-traumatic stress."

RFE/RL: How were people's moods in the eastern regions?

Ivleva: When I wanted to take a small Ukrainian flag to a pro-Russian rally in Donetsk, my friends there asked me: "Are you out of your mind?" These were friends whom I met through Facebook. They told me I could get killed for carrying a Ukrainian flag to such rallies. I didn't believe them and put the flag in my pocket anyway. It was a small rally that took place near a Lenin statue on March 28. I asked several men and women there: "Why would you want to support Russia, when you have your own country?" They started shouting at me, and called me a "traitor."

I returned to Donetsk again on April 11, when there were already tents erected near some administrative building. I entered one of the tents because it was very cold outside, and you could drink tea inside the tents. I took a cup of tea, and wanted to take a few photos there. I just wanted to film the people and life there. I had been to such tents on the Maidan and never had any problems filming there. But it was altogether different inside the tents in Donetsk. An old man tried to confiscate my camera. An old woman poured hot tea on my hands. They shouted at me and demanded that I leave. They forced me to show everything I had on my camera. Ukraine normally is a calm, peaceful, and affectionate place, but my memories from Donetsk were not as fond this time.

RFE/RL: Russian state television channels talk about the Right Sector in Ukraine. Did you meet such people?

Ivleva: I saw that the Right Sector exists at the Maidan. I think they are people who have become professional revolutionaries. Professional revolutionaries are good during revolutions. However, their radicalism can become an issue once the revolution is over. I think the role of the Right Sector in Ukraine is being exaggerated by Russian propaganda. But in any case, this is none of our business. This is a different country, and no one asked us to help.
Translated by Farangis Najibullah. You can read the original interview in Russian here.