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‘Ukraine Was a Totally Oligarchic State’

June 2, 2015. Interview with Aleksander Vladimirovich Kolesnik, Deputy of the Parliament of Novorossiya, by Roger Annis and Halyna Mokrushyna at NewColdWar.org on April 16, 2015 in the city of Donetsk.

How did you become involved in the movement for Novorossiya?

Aleksander Vladimirovich Kolesnik: I could not remain indifferent when during the winter of 2013-2014, the Maidan events were taking place and I saw how my former colleagues in the Department of Interior (police) where I once served were standing at Maidan Square, protecting the Ukrainian state and law and order but were being bullied and hurt by the crowd and even killed. They could only respond with their rubber clubs.

I served in Odessa way back during military conscription, and then I served in the police in Donetsk and Sumy. [1]

I did not share the so-called values that Maidan proclaimed. It was an aggressive movement of fascist youngsters, proclaiming a Nazi ideology at the state level. Such slogans as “Ukraine is for Ukrainians”, “Glory to the nation – death for enemies” and so on I cannot view as anything but a Nazi ideology.

Was it true, the slogans we heard about on Maidan Square such as “Hang the Moskals [Russians] on a branch”?

Of course. But you know, in a way, this was secondary to shaping my views. I was expecting this moment for 24 years. I assumed that sooner or later this would happen, because during the 24 years of Ukraine’s existence as an independent country [since 1991], there was a gradual but steady rise of Ukrainian nationalism, specifically at the state level. This was happening right before my eyes, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 when Ukraine separated.

Before, we could travel freely from Donetsk region [in Ukraine] to Rostov region [in Russia]. There were no border control posts. Then, customs and border posts and procedures began appearing. Inter-urban electric trains were abolished. Everything happened right before my eyes. It all happened gradually, but was aimed at reducing relations with Russia.

It turned into ridiculous measures, such as digging trenches along the border. Right now, Ukraine is building a wall.

During the Maidan events, it was in January [2014], I realized that I couldn’t just stand by. I joined a political party (organization), the Russian Bloc. It already had an active involvement in Crimea. There were units here which I joined, specifically the unit in Makiivka in Donetsk [an industrial city located 25 km from Donetsk city].

Was the Russian Bloc a party?

It was initially a party. At the call of the party leadership, we went to a rally in central Donetsk on March 1. Other pro-Russian organizations also took part in this rally. When I saw the masses of people, I realized that my compatriots share the same views with me.

According to police estimates, 60,000 of my compatriots took part in the March 1 rally, on Lenin Square. Not only was the central square full, so too were the adjacent streets. After this, I became actively involved in this process. As a representative of the Russian Bloc, I joined the Yugo-Vostok (South-East) Movement in mid-April, which was led by Oleg Tsarev. Other protesting organizations joined it as well, such as Oplot, Russkiy Vostok (Russian East), Berkut, and others. Together we began undertaking joint activities.

We actively organized rallies. We were the first to hold a motor rally which delivered humanitarian aid to Slavyansk. If you recall, by the end of April [2015], the city was blocked off by the National Guard of Ukraine. We loaded cars with humanitarian aid–there were approximately 100 cars provided voluntarily–we put up flags and we headed straight to the National Guard’s blockade posts.

It was right after Easter. Our women brought Easter bread along with us. When the soldiers of the National Guard stopped us, the women wished them a Happy Easter, gave them some Easter bread and asked if we could pass through. No one dared to refuse or shoot. This caused some confusion, but they let us go through.

After that, we took part in preparations for holding the referendums in Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts (regions). They were still oblasts of Ukraine at that time. The people’s republics had already been proclaimed, but we still needed to hold referendums.

After the referendums were held [May 11], when Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics were formed, an agreement was achieved by their leaders. The parliaments of the Donetsk and Lugansk republics authorized their representatives to create the parliament of Novorossiya.

We approved a constitutional act which proclaimed Novorossiya a confederal state. We adopted a battle flag of Novorossiya, which then became an insignia of the armed forces of Novorossiya.

When was the Novorossiya act adopted?

In July, I don’t quite remember the exact date.

Fifteen candidates from each republic were nominated, from among the deputies of the parliaments of two republics, and 15 representatives of public organizations from each republic were approved.

At the beginning of September, in deference to the first ceasefire agreement signed at Minsk [on Sept. 5], the Parliament of Novorossiya temporarily suspended its legislative work. The reason for this was the fact that, according to the Minsk agreement, an agreement with Ukrainian authorities on the status of the so-called districts of Donetsk and Lugansk was supposed to be reached. Since this status has not yet been determined, the status of the Parliament of Novorossiya is not determined either.

So we then became actively involved in humanitarian missions. And we facilitated measures to address the concerns of citizens in our respective districts. Deputies of the Novorossiya Parliament were assigned to districts. People would come with their problems and needs, which we tried to solve and fulfill.

This continues following the Minsk-2 agreement [Feb. 12, 2015]?

As I already mentioned, yes. Because of these Minsk agreements–where Novorossiya is not considered at all, the term Novorossiya is not even used–we cannot proceed with our work because it may be regarded as a violation of the agreements.

It is mainly because of the Minsk agreements that there are some structural difficulties. Everything has to be built from the bottom. We have first to create the mechanism of the Donetsk and Lugansk Republics. We could have adopted any kind of laws, but they would have been useless without an executive power system in place.

What are your expectations of the Minsk 2 agreement?

We are expecting that as a result of the Minsk agreement there will finally be some sort of recognition of Lugansk and Donetsk republics. If the Ukrainian side wants the agreement to function, it will have to recognize the Republics. If not, the agreement has no future.

What about the borders of Donetsk and Lugansk? Right now, Ukraine holds half of their historic territory.

It is difficult to say. It all depends on how the situation will further evolve.

Personally, I don’t think there will be a lasting truce. The same thing happened during the first Minsk agreements–the Ukrainian authorities and army waited some time, conducted reconnaissance, brought more troops, and then began a new offensive.

Unfortunately, everyone here believes that war is inevitable. No ceasefire will lead to peace until the main contradictions causing the conflict in the first place are resolved.

What is meant by ‘Novorossiya’. Is this the territories of Lugansk and Donetsk regions alone?

Of course not. Historically, Novorossiya is the territory from Odessa to Kharkiv, the south and east of Ukraine.

I am not sure whether you know this or not, but the city of Dnepropetrovsk, which prior to the Revolution of 1917 was called Ekaterinoslav, was for some period of time called Novorossiysk.

So the political objective is to have Novorossiya include these historical borders?

That is our goal. Fighting on the side of the military forces of the Lugansk and Donest Republics are very many people from Odessa, Kherson, Zaporozhye, Kharkiv and Dnepropetrovsk.

Do you think people in these regions want to join Novorossiya?

Of course. You saw during the Russian Spring last year that people held mass demonstrations involving tens of thousands of people. These protests were suppressed very violently. One example was what happened at the Odessa Trade Union House on May 2. [Dozens of anti-Maidan and pro-autonomy protesters were killed that day in an arson attack by extremist forces acting in the name of the government which came to power in Kyiv on Feb. 21, 2014.]

What have been the results of the actions of the Kyiv government on the people in southeastern Ukraine?

The actions of Ukrainian authorities were mainly aggressive. There were no attempts to negotiate. As a result of this aggression, the people living in Lugansk and Donetsk republics became even more united. More and more people joined our army.

The actions of the government have had a very strong influence on events. After Ukrainian troops began shelling peaceful cities—housing and infrastructure, brutal, senseless shelling–even those people that shared pro-Ukrainian moods changed their views.

Did that change happen in Odessa and Kharkiv as well?

Of course. Our example inspired them. We communicated with a lot of protesting organizations in these cities. Unfortunately, whenever they tried to show any activity, they were immediately arrested by the Security Service of Ukraine.

My personal opinion is that the repressive methods are a dead end for Ukraine. Even here in the southeast, when everything was just beginning, they tried frightening the people with repression and by arresting people. But this didn’t help them in any way.

Moreover, I am convinced that the end of the Kyiv regime will come about by the actions of Ukrainians themselves – the people who inhabit the territory of so-called Malorossiya [historically, ‘Little Russia’]—because, I think, we think that these people are being deceived. No lie can last for a long time.

What would a republic of Novorossiya look like?

I believe, as do many people living here, that most importantly there should be support of close economic, cultural and political ties with Russia. Not just friendly relations. Customs borders should be eliminated. Customs controls at the actual border should serve only to facilitate the free movement of people, capital and goods.

What form, exactly, this will take I don’t know. Maybe Novorossiya will become a part of the Russian federation. Maybe it will join the Eurasian Economic Union, or join the EEU with the rest of Ukraine. The exact form is not the most important thing.

Every third citizen of the Russian Federation is Ukrainian by origin. Citizens of Ukraine have moved to Russia in big numbers in order to work, specifically to the North and Far East where gas and oil are extracted and mined. Why should we separate ourselves by borders with Russia when, instead, we can cooperate economically—buying natural gas at domestic Russian prices, for example? It is silly to turn our backs on this.

Yes, federation with Ukraine is possible, but only on the conditions that the Kyiv authorities be held responsible for their crimes, that a new government come to power and, accordingly, the politics with regards to Russia will change.

What about relations with other countries?

Mostly, we communicate only with the Russian Federation when it comes to external contacts.

There have been attempts to help us made by people from Turkey and Germany. They tried sending us humanitarian aid, but there were too many difficulties with such things as crossing borders, going through customs, and getting necessary documentation done.

Would social and economic policy in Novorossiya be different from that of Ukraine?

Yes, of course it will differ. Ukraine was a totally oligarchic state. Most of the members of Parliament there–not all, but many–were funded and sponsored by oligarchs. We have nothing against businessmen or private initiative. We have nothing against even oligarchs, but they should serve interests of the state.

Roger Annis is an editor of The New Cold War: Ukraine and beyond. In mid-April 2015, he joined a four-day reporting visit to the Donetsk People’s Republic. He is reporting from Moscow for one week after that.

Halyna Mokrushyna is currently enrolled in the PhD program in Sociology at the University of Ottawa and a part-time professor. She holds a doctorate in linguistics and MA degree in communication. Her academic interests include: transitional justice; collective memory; ethnic studies; dissent movement in Ukraine; history of Ukraine; sociological thought.  Her doctoral project deals with the memory of Stalinist purges in Ukraine. In the summer of 2013 she travelled to Lviv, Kyiv, Kharkiv and Donetsk to conduct her field research. She is currently working on completing her thesis. She can be reached at halouwins@gmail.com.

[1] Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych abolished compulsory military conscription in 2013. It was reintroduced in April 2014 as part of the ‘Anti-Terrorist Operation’ launched that month by the governing regime that came to power in Kyiv two months earlier.



More articles by:

Halyna Mokrushyna, Ph.D., is an independent researcher and journalist. Her research interests include the challenges of the post-Soviet transition in Ukraine; social and economic inequality in the post-Soviet context; historical and cultural divisions within Ukraine; social memory and politics of memory; relations between Russia and Canada and the broader context of the post-cold war world and relations between the East and the West. Her articles on these subjects were published on Counterpunch, Truthdig, and Truthout websites.

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