33-year-old Vitalii Deineha is a mathematician, IT specialist, one of the most famous volunteers in Ukraine. He is founder of the “Come back alive”, one of the largest charitable foundations in the country, which helps the Ukrainian military. In his interview to”Livyi Bereh”, Vitalii spoke about how the war changed society, why horizontal ties are important and what unites the political nation in Ukraine. UCMC publishes an abridged English version of the interview.
Has the war changed the Ukrainian society?
I think it made us a bit more cynical and opened our eyes a little. We understood who Russians really are to us. I mean the country, not people. I mean Russia as a system. It revealed its true face. We lost a lot of illusions about Russia.
Volunteer movement. Tell me about it. Why did you, for example, get involved?
My life plan looked like this: make money, become a dollar millionaire till I’m 35-40 years old, and launch some charitable project using my own money. I had a small charitable project. My friends and I collected money before the war and repaired the roof in an orphanage. I understood that there were people in the streets who were thrown overboard, and the only way to reduce crime was to take those people away from the streets. I had an idea of creating some kind of social campus where we could gather these homeless people, give them a wash-shave and a chance to start their life anew.
And what makes people donate money?
I’ll tell you honestly why I became a volunteer. I was afraid to go to the front. Honestly. I’m a Kyiv IT pro and when I first arrived in ATO zone and saw the weapons, I felt very uncomfortable. But I realized that I know how to make money and, as it happens, my money and what I could buy for it is more necessary at the front. I took 10,000 hryvnias and it all started. Then friends joined. Then I realized that I can not only earn money, but I also know how to fundraise.
Most people have a similar motivation. Men feel that they are not doing their duty and are trying in this way to square it with their conscience. I think it’s good. I believe that you ought, at least, to be honest with yourself. It’s absolutely your right – to go or not to go. You must be honest if you are afraid to go to war. No problem. How many men do we have? 10-20 million? The front does not need so many. And who will feed them? And who will pay taxes to buy ammunition?
A person comes and tells you: nothing has changed in the last three or four years, everything is the same in 2017 as it was in 2012. What will you answer?
When my girlfriend’s mother, who does not live in Ukraine, arrived, she said that people had become more affectionate to each other, people had begun to suggest, help. There are fewer people who, with a stony face, go past you in response to a question. They began to feel more sympathy, to cling more to each other.
When it’s cold and dark in a bomb shelter, you start to cling to your neighbor, even if you do not know him. People began to trust each other a little more. Besides, there is total disappointment in the government, but not in each other.
These links are being set up. The war made us communicate. It so happened that the war pushed us all together and we began to build a lot of horizontal social ties. It is felt. And this has a great future.
By the way, when the Kremlin invaded Crimea and Donbas, Moscow hoped that the Russian-speaking Ukraine would support this split. And it turned out that pro-Ukrainian Ukraine may well be Russian-speaking. And what, in your opinion, makes a person part of the Ukrainian political nation? Agreement on what postulates, what theses?
The first thing is what map of Ukraine is on their wall. With Crimea and Donbas, or without. If a person does not consider Crimea and Donbas to be Ukrainian, this is an immediate end of the story. The second thing is how much effort they are willing to make to restore this map within such boundaries. These are two decisive factors for me. The rest are derivatives.
I believe that we must never divide, on a national basis neither. One of the persons killed in Donetsk airport was Zhenia Yatsyna, I think he was from the 90th battalion. The boy came here from Israel. Staying in Donetsk airport, he said: dad is in Haifa, mom in Tel Aviv, what am I doing here? He died there.
Similarly, there are LGBT community representatives and there are ethnic Russians in ATO. I know a man who fought for Russia in Georgia and he is fighting for us here, having a Russian military pension and a military card. And he is 100 times dearer to me than a man in national clothes, who is sitting and reading Kobzar all day long during the war. A crucial issue now is territorial integrity. Further there will be other issues.
You are talking about the restoration of territorial integrity. However, we can sometimes hear that the occupied territories are inhabited by people with other views, so what is the point of returning them. What will you answer them?
I was shown one closed sociological study on Donbas. 17% of the people living there support the pro-European vector, Ukraine, territorial integrity, they are completely our people. However, they cannot leave. What are we to do with them? Give up on them? I believe that we, as a political nation, should say: this person is ours. How many people from Donetsk serve in the Ukrainian army? They cannot advertise it, because when they go home, they take off their chevrons and go to see their father, mother or someone else. And then they come back. There is no talking about this. Just like people with non-traditional orientation, serving in the army, do not talk about themselves, because this is a stigmatized category of people in our society and they will not be understood by those with whom they served. But they exist. And the fact that they for various reasons cannot state this loudly does not mean that we have to cross them out. This is the first thing.
Secondly, another 25-27 percent is people who, like in the Matrix, swallowed the wrong tablet, saw some distorted reality and they live in it, where they have both the junta and the nationalist vigilantes. But I think that they can really wake up when they see the opposite.
There are, of course, convinced separatists and it will be difficult with them. But between 17 and 27 percent there is another 60 percent. These are people who do not care. And there are enough of them in Kyiv as well. Let’s give up on Kyiv, shall we? We do not have a region where more than half of the people really support the ATO, go there, and really help, not just with 100 hryvnias. No. And Donetsk is the same. This is our territory, that’s all.
I had a very interesting dialogue with Dmytro Kuleba, our ambassador to the Council of Europe. He said a very right thing: Crimea was a goal, clearly defined, then they grabbed hold of it and the goal ended. Donbas is a tool, it’s not a goal. If we cut it off along the border line, this will not stop the war, because Moscow needs a destabilizing factor inside Ukraine that will send Ukraine to the bottom.
And what things, in your opinion, should Ukrainian society learn?
The most important thing is to learn to respect the contrary viewpoint, if it does not cross a certain boundary, where it becomes criminal. For example, if it does not recognize the annexation of Crimea. When I see people in Avdiivka who say: we want peace, we are fed up with the war, our house burned down, honestly, we do not care who will be, please, let it just stop. We need to learn to hear other people at the grassroots level of horizontal ties and understand that such a position also exists, but it should not be accepted and shared.
And what qualities do we lack?
There is no society with a capital “S” in Ukraine. There is a huge gray mass, and there is an initiative part, which is growing slightly. I think that horizontal ties and the habit of doing something without expecting that you will save the whole country are important. It is important to start from your own entrance. It seems to me that these things sooner or later will erupt into something normal and healthy for the country. Ukraine will be saved by the emergence of a healthy, correct political party that has grown from below.
I see that my foundation is of vital educational importance. Maybe, in some far-reaching perspective it is even more important than what we did for the army. It’s just the cultivation of the right values in people. The war will end, and we should help orphanages, the elderly anyway.
By this means we will build the country. Perhaps, this is our way. After all, not all countries can be Singapore.