Baytown Police Department, which is in jail
I share my cabin on the train from Kiev to Bratislava with 25-year-old Veronika Mykhalska, among others. She studied law at the University of Kiev and is now working in the legal department of a Ukrainian company. The war in the east of their country is a great burden for them.
In an interview with her, she explains to me where her knowledge of German comes from and what she thinks of the war and rampant corruption in her country.
Veronika, how can it be that you speak German so well?
I learned German in depth at school and took part in an exchange program with Germany during my time at university, which enabled me to spend three months in Freiburg, where I was able to improve my language and meanwhile worked as a saleswoman in a McDonalds branch have.
But why German? Shouldn't English be more important?
So I couldn't decide that at the time. When I started school at the age of six, my mother only had the choice between a school that focused on art and one that taught a lot in German. My mother then probably thought that German would later bring me more than being able to paint well.
Well, she was absolutely right about that. But now to the subject that concerns your country the most: the military conflict in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. How safe do you still feel in your own country?
I feel safe in Kiev. But when I watch the news, it hurts to see simple people like me die. I'm glad I wasn't born a boy, as otherwise I might be in the combat zone myself. I myself know a lot of people who have since died there in the war. My neighbor from Shytomyr, my hometown where I grew up, fell near Donetsk Airport. Likewise my fellow student from my student days, he died because a grenade exploded in his hand. He had done something wrong.
I'm sorry, that sounds very tragic. But it sounds like young people are simply drafted into the army by the Ukrainian government without receiving any training. Or did you fight for paramilitary groups?
There have been six to seven waves of mobilization in the country since last year. All men between 18 and 60 years of age can be drafted. Either from the army or from militias.
I know that the men who study get a gun training once a week. Many of my friends are drafted or go to the East on their own and then join military units. I also know people who refuse to go there and then pay a doctor from the military commission who is responsible for the medical examination a corresponding bribe. There is nothing in Ukraine that cannot be bought. Corruption is widespread in our country in every part and at every level. Some make it loud, some quiet.
Is Corruption Really That Bad in Ukraine?
Yes. For example, my friend's child is now of kindergarten age and when she wanted to apply for a suitable place in a kindergarten, it did not exist. After she paid 200 euros, the place suddenly became available. And so there are hundreds of examples.
Has corruption got worse or stayed the same with the war in eastern Ukraine?
I think she stayed the same. However, many people think that corruption has gotten worse since Poroshenko than it was under Yanukovych. Under him there was the US dollar for 8 UAH, and now the rate has fallen to 22 UAH per US dollar. This annoyed a lot of people who have loans to pay off or who go abroad a lot. Therefore, many people see these facts as evidence that corruption is worsening. Since Poroshenko took office, 30-40 banks, including three important ones (Delta Bank, Bank Forum, VAB), have gone bankrupt.
I think the reasons for this can certainly also be found in the civil war in the east of the country. Can one even speak of civil war here? Who do you think is primarily to blame for this military escalation?
In fact, one can speak of civil war. In eastern Ukraine we have the separatists, almost all of whom are Ukrainian citizens, but received money from Russia.
Almost all of them because Chechens and Russians are fighting alongside the Ukrainian separatists.
Russian soldiers who are currently active members of the Russian army and are personally sent by Putin?
Yes I think so. There are the Russian soldiers who are sent there. But there are also many Russians who are there voluntarily, either out of a sense of duty to support the local population or those who allow themselves to be attracted by the pay.
In Russia the opinion prevails that there is massive instability in Ukraine, that there are very many extreme nationalist and right-wing National Socialists who are terrorizing the population in the east. Should these groups take over power in Kiev, Russia could not accept this, perhaps rightly or wrongly. How do you see the situation here?
In my opinion, this is speculation. It is very convenient for Russia to say that there are so many radical parties here. There are a lot more parties in Ukraine than in Russia. I don't see our radical parties here as badly as the Russian media portray it.
Then what do you think of the grenade that was thrown into a crowd by these extremists on Monday? That day, the parliament debated the extent to which the Luhansk and Donetsk regions should receive more autonomy. This is an important part of the Minsk Agreement. There were dead and injured.
Well, of course this is the wrong way to go. Many people just think that the Minsk Agreement is not worth the sheet of paper on which it was adopted. One should demonstrate with one's head and with one's voice, but not with violence and weapons. This of course applies to everyone.
Don't you think that the establishment of extensive autonomy for these two regions in the east of the country would significantly improve the situation and end the war?
No. I think this is not that easy. To a large extent, the war in eastern Ukraine is a proxy war between Russia and the United States.
Why the USA? How does the US have a hand in this?
The USA is constantly provoking Russia and contributing a great deal to the financing of this conflict. Since July 4th, the United States has been funding the full training of the Interior Department's police department. However, the lead time was a whole year, during which a lot of money was already flowing, the structures were changed according to the wishes of the Americans and the Americans also shape the policemen intellectually under the protective hand of the Interior Ministry. By the way, of course, Kiev also receives a lot of loans from the USA to fill our gigantic deficits in the household budget. Of this money, which is used in a completely opaque manner, a large part is certainly invested in the purchase of weapons. Although we also produce many weapons ourselves, we buy a very large part in the USA. Two years ago, the equipment of our military was quite ailing, almost at the level of the Soviet era. Since the United States started pouring money into our country, our army has become much more modern and powerful.
But then should the Ukrainian army in the east get the upper hand really quickly?
But they do not do that, since the East receives not only a lot of food but also soldiers and weapons. As long as Russia and the USA play along, this conflict in our country can never be ended. However, I see the problem that neither Moscow nor Washington will give in in any way. For example, I and many of my friends chose Poroshenko and are now very disappointed. He is nothing but a US puppet. The revolution on the Maidan was also partly financed by the USA.
We know about the Maidan. But what makes you so sure about Poroshenko?
Because he needs money. And he gets money from the USA. He acts in the interests of the USA. On the other hand, it must also be said that Poroshenko still owns its candy companies in Russia. He's doing big business here - with the country, which he claims is attacking him and against which he is demanding further sanctions from the EU. Under Poroshenko, prices in the country for ordinary people have also risen and the average wage has now fallen to the equivalent of 50 euros. But there is always money for guns.
It all sounds very complicated.
The war is just a very great burden on our country. You know, we are a poor country with hardworking people. Nobody wanted this war, and now it's here.
Then we state that this is, among other things, a proxy war between the two world powers Russia and the USA. But without the mutual hatred between Russia-oriented East and Europe or US-oriented West, wouldn't such a proxy war be possible? Where does this hatred come from between people who live in the same country, speak the same or similar language, eat the same thing, drink the same vodka, worship the same god and support the same team in their own country during the 2012 European Championship. Where did the hatred come from?
I think the lifestyle has a decisive influence here. In the east of the country, people work more with their hands and not so much with their heads. Most of the people there are farmers or workers, cities like Donetsk are nowhere near as diverse as, for example, Lviv in the west. For a long time, the people there were far worse off than the people in western Ukraine. They are more likely to be influenced by propaganda and act very emotionally. If a politician says something against the west of the country, then people do not question it, but respond to it emotionally. The seeds for violence are thus laid.
What makes you so sure about that? Isn't it possible that you are now simply repeating what the West Ukrainian media are leading you to believe?
No I do not think so. It is also the case that the people in eastern Ukraine are predominantly active in mining or in the field and are therefore perhaps easier to influence. Envy can also play a role, since in the west of the country or in Kiev there is certainly more of Western European prosperity than in the east. In addition, many Eastern Ukrainians still feel that they belong ideologically to the Soviet Union and have always been critical of what comes from Kiev.
What is your personal proposal for a solution to this war? Or to put it another way: If you were the President of Ukraine, what would you do?
Phew, the environment is very difficult. As President of Ukraine, you have to do what your backers say. And these come mainly from the USA. Your biggest opponent is Vladimir Putin, who also manipulates wherever possible. I can't tell what I would do.
Back to corruption again: How stressful do you find this rampant corruption in your country?
Very bad. I think there is a little bit of corruption everywhere in Europe. But with us you have to pay bribes as soon as you want better education, better medicine or anything. As soon as you deal with government bodies, you have to pay. Corruption is simply extremely bad for our society and in no way improves the current situation.
How do you see your country's future?
I am an optimist. I hope that our people will someday be so good that no one has to worry about food or medical care - and that we can live in peace. My grandma always said as a toast: “I wish all of us never to have to experience a war again.” Back then I always thought, yes, grandma ... war in the 21st century ... how unrealistic. I thought we are ready to solve problems with diplomacy and words. And now we have war. In Europe. I find it tragic that in the end the common people cannot change the situation much.
Do you actually speak russian?
I only speak Ukrainian at home, 80 percent Russian at work. It's actually a paradox. But since the Soviet era, all Ukrainians have spoken Russian. Russian is easier than Ukrainian. I would say: all Ukrainians speak Russian, but not all Russians understand Ukrainian.
So isn't it frowned upon to speak Russian in Kiev?
Then I hope that the language will be such a connecting element that perhaps one day it will again contribute to peace between these brother peoples of western Ukraine, eastern Ukraine and Russia. And one last question: what do you think about the fact that Crimea is Russian again?
Historically, it has to be said that Crimea has always been part of Russia.
Khruschow, Stalin's successor as leader of the Soviet Union, had donated Crimea to Ukraine at that time. Khruschow was a Ukrainian.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union and Ukrainian independence in 1991, Crimea was an autonomous republic in Ukraine. With its own supreme council and prime minister. There is no doubt that the vast majority of the Crimean population wanted to return to Russia. The way in which Russia proceeded here, however, was not civilized. They simply occupied Crimea and changed the balance of power.
But weren't the Russian soldiers officially stationed there? Besides, wasn't there a referendum?
Yes, the former is correct. Of course there was a referendum. However, I do not see it as an expression of democracy, but only as a sham election and argumentation strategy against the West. Nevertheless, one must of course say that the vast majority of the Crimean population, perhaps not 90 percent, as in this referendum, but certainly 70 percent, are happy to return to Russia.
Veronika, I wish you the best for your future, peace for your country and the continuation of your sovereignty.
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