This photo was submitted for the Den Photo Competition in 2013. It stunned me then. But when the Maidan began and I recalled it, I felt as if an electric shock darted through me. It was clear to me: a day will come when we will have to put up this photo. I only didn’t know when. And we put it up.
This picture is only one link of my long chain. It began a very long time ago. Even during the perestroika it was clear what things could end up with. I was alarmed because I understood that in the Soviet Union there were thin partition walls between us and Russia in the shape of supranational structures. And whenever songs were sung in honor of independence, which I also aspired for, I was alarmed because it was clear that we and Russia were “line-on-line” now. And after the Budapest summit we were one on one. And I knew they would surely “deal with” us some day.
As long ago as 1994 a feeble Ukrainian attempt at true independence came under a bitter attack. As Volodymyr Lanovy said, it was an offensive of the counterrevolution which the majority did not and still does not see.
From then on, all steps either increased Ukraine’s strength or led it to war. Obviously, Russia did not forget. They showed they would “tackle” Crimea and Sevastopol. This is why Russia has been obstructing patriotically-minded people in Ukraine. This was, of course, disguised as domestic conflicts. But when Kuchma dismissed somebody instead of decorating him for Crimea, he clearly did so – directly or indirectly – in the interests of Russia.
Then stage by stage…
The establishment of an oligarchic clan system – even though it may sound as a “hackneyed phrase” now – was an attack of what can be described as an organized crime grouping on the Ukrainian economy. Unscrupulous plunder… The creation of puppet parties… A host of controlled media… And this lasted for a long time.
There was a chance in 1999. But, again, unpreparedness of the strata let this chance slip away. I wrote at the time that national independence movements were inspired by 18th-century patterns. Meanwhile, illegal money was acquiring a decisive nature.
This tragedy had a lot of acts. It is aptly said that Waterloo, and in our case Ilovaisk and Debaltseve, occurred much earlier than it actually occurred. But both the first and the second Maidan were not analyzed.
I am often reproached: why did you write so little about this? But I understood the unpreparedness to hear this. I saw that everything would be clear when the crunch comes. I had been in a “state of war” for 30 years, when I came to see university mates who understood only this year what the newspaper Den has been doing. They understood it when they had to go to war literally!
As the Maidan was just in its infancy, there had already been signs of political ploys. When we were making our album People of the Maidan. A Chronicle, I said we were doing this to protect the reputation of the honest people who have risen up in earnest. But they did not know everything. Unfortunately, there are just a small number of people who have such an important feature as courage to think over, respond to, and reconsider unpleasant information.
Neither the first nor the second Maidan enchanted me. On the contrary, I think it is criminal negligence on the part of politicians to settle political disputes in this way. And when the second Maidan in fact caused Kuchma to be the current negotiator in Minsk, this became the sign of a catastrophe that nobody can see. This catastrophe is in full swing and not localized.
This picture, Old Dolls, is a flash of warning which, unfortunately, very few do and want to understand. If we are so proud of ourselves, let us answer this: why did it happen that national dignity pervades somebody just to a certain extent and these people are at the front, while for others this turns out to be a national humiliation? Take, for example, the invitation of peacekeepers. This means the country is unable to do the job on its own because it does not rely on its own brains. On the contrary, it is doing its best not to use the latter.
I get back over and over again to our conversation with Bohdan Hawrylyshyn who is deeply concerned about Ukraine and wishes it good. But his sincere admiration of our people’s fantastic nature gave rise to a question: is this fantasticality compatible with real life? I think it’s high time we express our fantasticality differently: to make pragmatic and well-balanced decisions, to be strict to yourself, not to get enchanted, to increase the quality of education and of our knowledge of history and “geography,” above all. It’s no accident that Den has been saying dozens of times that every Ukrainian politician should know all the factors that caused Ukraine to lose its independence. There was too much hypocrisy in our society. Incidentally, what most stung me in the story of Sonia Koshkina’s Maidan book launching is the fact that it was done at the Taras Shevchenko Museum in the year of the poet’s bicentenary. Long-winded speeches over a buffet table… You see, there is no other place to knock back a glass and grab a bite than the Shevchenko Museum! This is sort of an end of a simulation process at its most tragic point.
We must all muster courage and strength for a “long distance.”
Placing this photo again, we are, of course, aware of the risk that it may be misunderstood, as it was not understood at all at the time. Yet we are not blind playthings in the hands of fate.
We, at Den, would consider “safety devices”: “how not to be drawn in somebody else’s scenarios,” “if we topple Yanukovych abruptly and do not use a safety pillow, we may face Putin’s direct rule…” We didn’t want to be “dolls, puppets,” but we knew all the previous history. We remembered when and how the plan of Ukraine’s NATO membership had been foiled. Putin came and had dinner with Sarkozy and Merkel, and Ukraine was denied the membership plan. The Europeans were among those who prevented Ukraine from having its army rearmed. In Ukraine, too, nobody knew that it was necessary to make efforts and exert pressure.
The next stage is to think soberly… Then we will perhaps not have to shed blood so gallantly.
This photo made me think that there are grave risks. Back at that time we wrote that Russia was involved in the Maidan and in scenarios around Yanukovych.
Naturally, this photo can be interpreted in as many profound ways as possible. But, most of all, it is our honest warning plus our deep concern about this country and its people.
“I MUST’VE TAKEN THE PICTURE FROM THE RIGHT ANGLE”
Borys KORPUSENKO, photo reporter, author of the photo Old Dolls:
“It was on Andriivsky Uzviz on May 25, 2013. We were photographing the opening of a city feast, Oleh Skrypka’s ‘Montmartre on Andriivsky Uzviz.’ We mostly worked near the stage. Then something prompted me to walk a bit up the street. I almost reached St. Andrew’s Church. I walk on and see a woman who sits leaning against something covered with a European Union flag. It could be quite a picture, I thought. It’s like a cart covered with an EU flag, and she ‘arrived’ on it. But I did not push the button. You know, this may happen, especially with old-school photographers…
“This very thing happened to me: it all seemed OK, but there was something wrong. I walked around that woman with an EU flag and suddenly saw a heap of dolls in front of her. I thought: does this mean that we are, like these dolls, under the protection of a European Union flag? I chose to name this picture exactly like this: ‘Under the Flag of the European Union.’ Later, when the photo was submitted for the Den Photo Competition, it was renamed as Old Dolls. Incidentally, at the time of the competition, this name called up no special associations. It is during the Euromaidan that it ‘struck the chord.’ A successfully taken shot can always be viewed from a different angle, if necessary.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t see the Den which carried this photo on the front page. I was told, but I couldn’t find that issue. Now I think I must’ve taken the picture from the right angle.”
“HEARTFELT CHATS SHOULD BE HELD WELL IN TIME”
Hanna SHEREMET, deputy editor-in-chief of Den/The Day:
“I remember the day very well. This was perhaps the first time I became keenly aware that Ukraine had passed the point of no return. It will never be the same. But, frankly, I was even afraid to think about whether Ukraine would be a full-fledged state. So, it was beyond any doubt to me that the Kremlin and the local puppeteers of Yanukovych were only striving to eliminate our state as a phenomenon and, preferably, with the hands of the Ukrainians themselves. And it was so tempting to use the Maidan and most powerful and sincere fervor ‘in the dark’ to this end. And, let us confess, didn’t we see before that day there were attempts to manipulate the Maidan? Were there no warnings, including from Den, that this was possible? Didn’t we see that those whom the first Maidan had catapulted to power shamefully squandered all its gains? Therefore, my mind was aware that Borys Korpusenko’s photo, which Larysa Ivshyna decided to place on the first page, was not a challenge to ‘public taste’– it was an honest warning. But, emotionally, I was in doubt. Is it appropriate? For the most genuine hot blood is being spilled on Instytutska Street… Incidentally, here’s a small digression. I can remember well the way this photo was being selected for the exhibition. It ‘stung’ you at first sight. But it never occurred to me to attach precisely this meaning to it. We rather seemed to be basically prepared for the EU – to be more exact, prepared to work for this and demand that the leadership do the same. But let us face it: there has been no serious and honest debate on this topic in society, which is one of the factors that caused the Euromaidan.
“So, the editor-in-chief made a decision. The decision was not only right, but also, unfortunately, prophetic. Because we have seen attempts – more than once in the past terrible year – to use the people as ‘consumables,’ gradually upstage them, and throw out on the fringe. Do you remember another front page of Den about people of the Maidan and people of ‘the Maidan’s stage’? Who stands to win from this face-off and what can it lead to? If we, citizens, fail to understand this and learn to believe in ourselves, and build our country and our destiny pragmatically, soberly, and seriously, not only emotionally, unless we learn to call the leadership to book, this leadership (in both this and the neighboring country) will have a temptation to use us ‘in the dark’ and push this country ‘down the drain.’ I am against this.”