An interview with Mykola Volynko, Head of the Trade Union of Donbas Miners
By Ilya Azar, April 22
For a second week, the Donetsk region has been shaken by an armed revolt, whose participants demand that Kyiv hold a referendum about the future of the region. The anti-terrorist operation mounted by the central government failed, the negotiations by the governor of the Donetsk region Serhiy Taruta did not manage to produce any results either. In the Donbas town of Sloviansk which was seized by the “people’s militia” there is regular shooting, and the “people’s mayor” there has again asked Putin to send peacekeeping troops to the region.
Up to now, the miners, with whom many associate Donbas, have not spoken out. In an April 22, 2014 interview for “Moscow Echo,” the head of the Independent Trade Union of Donbas Miners Mykola Volynko explains to journalist Ilya Azar why he is for a unified Ukraine, why he supports the ‘banderites’ and why Putin should to stay away and deal with Russia’s problems instead.
– So do you think that Ukraine is losing Donbas?
No, Ukraine will not lose Donbas; people do not want this to happen. Although it might seem like it from the outside. Especially from the side shown by the Russian media. I ask you: Do we have an uprising? Do we have a lot of blood on the streets? Barricades? Have you been on the streets? Is it the case?
– Not here, but it is the case in Sloviansk.
Well, in Sloviansk… This is all happening with the “help” of the local authorities and local law enforcement agencies and because of the indecisiveness of the central government. If you look at it, the army has been falling apart for years, not just the last few months, the police and the Security Services were being corrupted for years, the local government represented by the Party of Regions and their jackasses from the Communist Party were robbing the region since 1991, again and again. All those who disagreed either disappeared or left, and some were bribed. So there you go.
I would like to ask you! Why does Putin need this headache – Donbas? Why doesn’t he sort out what is happening in the Krasnodar region? You know that Krasnodar is already unofficially called ‘New Yerevan.” My father is from Krasnodar, and my soul aches seeing the things which are happening there. Why does he meddle with us? Why does he not sort out his own mess?
– ‘New Yerevan’ because there are many people from the Caucasus there?
Of course! Why do the Kuban Cossacks remain silent and tolerate this humiliation and outrage? We, the people of Ukraine, stood up because we were sick of the outrage.
– You were suffering in silence for a long time. No one stood up in Donbas until Yanukovych was toppled in Kyiv.
Yes?? Do you know how many members of our Union and the Independent Union of the Miners of Ukraine were on Maidan (Independnece Square in Kyiv)? Do you? There were many of us!
– How many?
Many, get it? Many. And they were constantly rotating, rotating, rotating. That’s why Putin can’t manage to execute his plan here in one go. The resistance is increasing. If the central government is afraid to arm the people and the separatists are armed, one day people will not pay attention to the central government and will wipe them out [separatists].
– Do you think weapons should be given to people? It looks like a civil war now.
And who is pushing the people towards a civil war? Who? Guys, why did you come here? I ask Putin: “Why did you come here? You have a mess in Russia. Russia is not just Moscow or St. Petersburg. First improve the life of the people in the provinces.”
– Putin maintains that there are no Russian troops in Ukraine.
No troops? Does he think that he will be believed as was the case with Crimea? What other army has AK-100’s?
Only Special Forces of the Russian people’s liberation army? Russian liberation army?
I respect Russians, but I do not like it when someone comes to my home and tells me what to do. Putin is creating a falling-out between our people, do you understand? Yanukovych united all of Ukraine [against him] and Putin by his actions united the whole world against himself. But it’s the ordinary people who suffer. Putin imagines himself like the Almighty, but he offends God by this.
You know, at one point, they were painting icons with Yanukovych’s face on them. The painted icon in Luhansk began to rot, and this is a bad sign. As far as I know, Putin is also a saint on an icon and this is also a bad sign. I hope that Russians will realize that it is not possible to live like this. I do not agitate them, but they must understand, that they can’t come barging into a neighboring place as if it were their own.
– Actually, the popularity of Putin has increased since the annexation of Crimea.
Really? The lack of information leads to gossip and rumors. Any rating can be made up, especially in your country (Russia). If you like living like this, great. I am just saying: do not come to our country. Putin has spoken about us, miners, with such disdain! (1)
Who speaks like that? A man? A statesman? Or a Khan? You know, in Russian the words Khan and ‘kham’ (cad) rhyme, and they are not too far apart in meaning. Right? He thinks that we will tolerate his spitting into our soul? Nooo.
– What will you do?
We? Why would I tell you now? You will see with time.
– For now it seems like there is no response to the separatists.
No response? Despite everything there is already a guerrilla struggle. While the central government is sitting on the fence the people are resisting.
– What do you think about Tymoshenko, who came to Donetsk and announced the formation of the people’s militia brigades?
Only recently she was saying that we need to have peaceful negotiations. I think one thing: it would be better if she continued to focus on her convalescence. I suggest that she first look around, and then talk.
– The anti-terrorist operation in Donbas started and ended in a very strange manner, it looked almost like a setup.
Yes. But good for the guys [servicemen] in Mariupol, who opened fire [on those who were attacking the military unit]. There is a charter, there is law, and they must be followed, especially considering that only Nazi SS and punitive forces used to put children and women in front, in harm’s way.
– What to do with them, by the way? When the ordinary peaceful residents surround the military vehicles, you won’t run over them.
“Ordinary”? We have already seen who they are. They say that they are unemployed but at the same time they wear expensive gear, carry photo cameras and drive their cars around everywhere.
Let the appropriate authorities deal with them. There, [in Kramatorsk] a brave soldier snatched the check from a grenade (threatened to blow up the crowd] and all [peaceful citizens] ran away. That’s the way to deal with them.
– The rally for “Unified Ukraine” on April 17 was the first one in Donetsk since March, people were too afraid before then.
Not to worry. This is only the beginning, you see. There is an information war and unfortunately Ukraine is losing at it. For now. For now. I was at the market yesterday and people were already complaining because the roads to Kharkiv are closed and they need to bring the goods for sale from there. People are already complaining.
– Closed by whom?
By Putin, by the separatists. Not by the central government.
– But you won’t deny that many people here are not happy with Kyiv?
We will always be unhappy with everyone. This is human nature; we hate those who are in power, no matter how good they are.
– Everyone talks about ‘banderites,’ that everything bad comes from them.
The Secretary of the town council of Donetsk, who unofficially leads the separatist movement, announced to everyone that 700 people from Right Sector are coming here and we must meet them head on. They looked for them and where are they? A few days ago someone runs into the mine shouting: “Right Sector is here, they are holding a rally!” They all run to look for the rally and no one checks that it is 7:00 a.m. Psychosis.
“Who are these ‘banderites’?” I ask everyone, “Who are they? What did they fight for?” They fought for their people, for their country and for their language. There were many Russians, Tatars and Jews among the ‘banderites.’ They fought against the Communist regime.
– This opinion is not very popular here. If you walk in Sloviansk, a girl walking with a dog checks whether you are a Russian and says: “Good thing you are not a ‘banderite’ – I would shoot them from a machine gun”.
You know, I had a conversation in the mine. One guy says: “I would shoot those ‘banderites.’ I answer: “No problem [in Ukrainian]. Start with me.” “Only bear in mind,” I say, “when you start to shoot you will be shot at. What have they done to you, have they taken anything from you? Don’t they let you breathe?” Lack of information leads to gossip and rumors.
– So why have you not managed to explain this to people in the last 23 years?
For the last 23 years the communists, who re-painted themselves as democrats, ruled in Donbas. That is why we now demand lustration; this law is so badly needed. Every official must go through lustration. Especially because Yanukovych revived the institution of snoops by an unofficial order when he became a president. Legal paid spies.
All these 23 years the communist propaganda remained.
How many languages do you know?
Two: Russian and English. I tell my grandchildren that they must know, at minimum, three: Ukrainian as a state language, Russian as a conversational language of brother Slavs and then English. It used to be shameful in Donbas if you didn’t know Ukrainian.
A few days ago they read out a document in Ukrainian and one [miner] shouted: “Translate, I don’t understand.” I asked: “How many years have you lived here?” He answered: “I was born here but I do not want to accept this language.” “Do not want? Then: suitcase – train station – Russia. How can you live here and not know the Ukrainian language?” I served in the army in Turkmenistan and after two years I was able to speak in Turkmen.
– You do not support the demand to make Russian the second state language?
Then why didn’t the communists change the Constitution and why didn’t they make Russian a state language? They pull this out every time before the elections [and then forget about it]. I’m sick of this Russian language problem! I’m speaking Russian to you. Has anyone attacked you here because you speak Russian?
– Not really. I would say I have a greater chance to be attacked for speaking Ukrainian here.
Exactly. It is Ukrainian language that needs protection here. It is very bad that they incited Russians and Ukrainians against each other. Next it might be “catch Jews!” Yes? Yes. Instead of living in peace, they incite.
– Many quote anti-Russian statements of [members of the national party Svoboda] Oleg Tyahnybok and Iryna Farion.
Listen. I often meet thisTyahnibok and I speak Russian, he speaks Ukrainian and we understand each other perfectly. Farion is not worth mentioning, it is her problem. My mother, God rest her soul, is from Ivano-Frankivsk. I go there, I speak Russian in the beginning and then don’t even notice how I gradually start speaking Ukrainian. If Russian will become a state language, will that change anything?
– No one will be worse off?
– And why not?
Why doesn’t Russia give other languages the status of the state language?
– Because there is no such obvious two languages separation in Russia.
Really? How many Tatars do you have? What, only one or two?
– Well, not half.
Really? Many! Give a second language to the Turkic peoples.
– Why do you always look at Russia? Let’s have a look at Switzerland, for example…
Guys, why do you meddle with our business? Your Lavrov tells us how we should re-write our Constitution. “[Change to] federalisation!” No one has got a clue as to what is a federative state. If you look at Germany, they united the country on the basis of federation, but here federation means to get away. I don’t want this. I want to live in peace.
– You do not live in peace now
All in its time
– By the situation is only getting worse.
Who told you?!
– Have you been in Sloviansk recently?
Is Sloviansk an indication of the whole of Ukraine? What is good in Sloviansk? There it is only worse and worse.
– Yes, that’s what I am talking about, there is nothing good there!
But why? Taxpayers who did not want to be robbed anymore came out on Maidan. Now in Sloviansk separatists want to separate. No problem guys, let’s have a referendum without guns. But if you lose the referendum, what are you going to do?
– But Kyiv refuses to hold the referendum!
It does not refuse. There is simply no law to authorize holding one.
– A law could be passed.
Why? Who needs it? Putin?! Why do you tell us how to live?
– Why not prove that you are right by holding a referendum?
Why are you so fixed on this referendum? Well?
– Because many people in Donetsk are fixed on it.
If they want to live in Russia, let them go there. The majority does not want to live in Russia. By the way, interesting, where have they all came from, with weapons? When we were at rallies, we did not have weapons. And here suddenly it’s “I want a referendum” and people with AK-100’s start showing up.
– Many of those with weapons are locals.
OK, but why should the minority dictate its will to the majority?
– How will you prove that they are the minority?
Why prove? If they were the majority, Donbas would be separate by now. Everything is stupidly simple, Vova Putin would give lots of weapons and they would separate.
– Is it not what is happening now?
No, not happening yet.
– Vova Putin gives weapons, a few towns are seized, and they hold a referendum.
It is their problem. We had a “registration of Jews” announced.
– It is fake! Even the Rabbi of the Donetsk regions admitted it.
I don’t know whether it is a fake or a “make”. Suppose it is true? I won’t be surprised.
– So you think there are no people in Donbas who truly want to separate from Ukraine?
And never were. There is nostalgia for the Soviet Union among many older people. Back then we were young and nothing ached and squeaked, so we remember those years because it was nice to be young.
– Well, not just that. They also say that the pensions are low, and in Russia they are higher.
Then I have a question for the Russian people: “Do you need such freeloaders, who did not pay a penny into the Russian pension fund, but want to have the same pension as yours? Do you need them?” These are dreams of freeloaders; only proletarians count money in someone else’s pocket. What did you do to have such a pension?
– Some also say that Donbas feeds all of Ukraine, and as soon as they stop paying taxes to Kyiv, they will start to live better.
What?? (chuckles) Are they out of their minds? I suggest you count up how much we are paying and how much we are being paid. We are being fed by Kharkiv, Poltava and Dnipropetrovsk oblasts. They are the givers and we are the takers. The two most depressed oblasts of Ukraine are the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. On a subconscious level there is a belief that we are feeding someone. How many mines were there once, and how many have been closed? Whom are they feeding if they are subsidized from the state budget?
We are a subsidized industry, so whom are we feeding? It’s the same information campaign that has gone on since the Soviet times, when we were constantly told that we are the cleverest, the most beautiful, that we are feeding everyone. I myself read in 1989 that we are the breadwinners, but then I looked into it and understood that it is not the case.
– So if everything is so bad, maybe it will better in Russia, where there is more money?
Run where? We know what Rostov region mines are like now, we know. We are members of the international independent miners trade union. The Rostov region does not have an organization because the mines are CLOSED. So will Putin feed us out of his generosity?
– So much time has passed and the miners did not come out to any rallies.
And they won’t! And now, thanks to that Putin speech, they are all the more reluctant to go to him.
– Ok, then against him?
All in time, you see.
On whose side do you think the local authorities are?
They are on your team. (Russia)
– The local authorities in Donetsk have even named a square “In memory of killed Berkut fighters…”
You know, everyone has quickly forgotten how much they all hated the police before March 1. Police raped a miner here with a truncheon and everyone was outraged. After the events in Vradiivka (2) last summer, everyone hated the police. And now Berkut are heroes. Nice. All in time, this propaganda will pass and life will become normal.
– What do you think is the difference between the seizures of the administration buildings in Donetsk and those in the Western Ukraine and Kyiv earlier?
You know what? There they did not ask Poland or USA to help and did not call for foreign troops to invade. And here these guys have seized the buildings and shout: “Vova Putin, send your troops here!” Do you want a better life or do you want to call an occupation army? This is a very, very big difference.
– What is more likely: that the presidential elections will be held in Donbas on May 25 or that on May 9 Russia will invade?
Won’t Putin suffer too much from heartburn? I hope that the people of Ukraine won’t let Putin do this.
– So people in Crimea are completely different then, not like people in Donbas, since they have accepted it?
OK, so how about if I let you vote but I stand over you with an automatic weapon? The Crimean Tatars were promised all sorts of privileges in the new Constitution and got nothing! The local authorities were promised that they wouldn’t be replaced, but they were!
Here is my favorite joke. Sarah asks Abraham: “Why aren’t you sleeping?” Abraham answers: “I owe Moishe a tenner, so I need to pay it back and can’t sleep because of it.” Sarah knocks on the wall: “Moishe, has Abraham borrowed a tenner from you?” “Yes.” “Well, he won’t pay it back,”, says Sarah and turns back to Abraham: “Sleep Abraham, let Moishe lose his sleep now.” So you took Crimea, and now it’s your headache. However, here, in Donbas, we won’t let you do the same.
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