Source at ZN.UA
IZOLYATSIA International Cultural Foundation left Donetsk in 2014 after the nationalization, by the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), of the factory that housed its creative platform and its subsequent transformation into a special prison. Today the Foundation staff joined the action of their fellow countrymen against the possible signing in the Minsk protocol on creation of the Advisory Board and legitimation of the representatives of the uncontrolled territories of Ukraine at the negotiating table.
Some people transformed, in 2010, the territory of the former Donetsk insulation plant into a temple of contemporary art. Other people, residents of the same city, have been torturing prisoners in its cellars for six years now. It is unlikely that the founders of the art space (already established around Europe by the beginning of the war in 2014) could have imagined what kind of a large-scale ‘installation’ of the collision between good and evil they would co-author. But it happened.
Only flat and light artworks could be taken away from Donetsk and rescued. The rest were either blown into the air or cut for scrap metal by the current owners of the place. The IZOLYATSIA crew was scattered around the world. Some of them have gone abroad and now represent the best creative brands in the world. One part moved to Kyiv and continues what was started in Donetsk under the leadership of Luba Mikhailova.
When we saw the former IZOLYATSIA prisoners and journalists addressing the President, we immediately joined the outcry. Like 28,000 Ukrainians, we signed an online petition to the President. However, we still want to make our point clear to the politicians, communicating the opinions of young creative people who had to flee from Donetsk. Who lost their loved ones, their homes. But who remained united and found themselves anew, and did so without the help of the state, Mikhailova wrote in her letter.
We got in touch at WhatsApp overnight. Both sitting in quarantine. One in Kyiv, the other in London.
— Luba, you are a successful businesswoman and have lived in London for twenty years. Pardon my candour, but what’s your stake here? I’m sure you've been asked this before.
— I have held a European passport since the 1990s, and I lawfully gave up my Ukrainian citizenship under Leonid Kuchma's presidency. Today, thousands of officials in Ukraine keep three passports in their pockets and have no scruples about it. I confess, even having gone through so much with my project in Donetsk, and now in Kyiv, I did not risk to record a video to the President without being a citizen of Ukraine, as my crew did. To avoid speculations and criticism. And it hurts me.
— What hurts you so much and why?
— Wherever you live, home is where your heart is. It is an axiom that has been proven for twenty years of successful life abroad. I always returned home. In different roles. As an investor, as a manager of my own business... I always wanted to make my home better, cleaner, stronger, truer... IZOLYATSIA as a cultural project was born out of this feeling. That’s how our team was formed. All that we were fortunate to do in four years of work in Donetsk and what we had to go through afterwards, can be found on the web. And now is the moment when we want to make the whole country stronger and truer.
Last December 5, I attended a conference in Chatham House, London, under a very optimistic Dickensian title, ‘Ukraine: Great Expectations.’ The event was held on the eve of the Normandy meeting and gathered many journalists, politicians, policymakers, bankers and businessmen in Europe. Although the speakers included ministers and other distinguished people, the first speech was given to Andriy Yermak, at that time Aide to President Zelensky. As a special guest. Even then, it became clear that this person had a ‘special status’.
Answering the first question about Ukraine's policy in resolving the conflict in the east of the country, Yermak began by saying, ‘To quote the main character of my new film that will be presented at the Berlin Film Festival…’ — and then he spoke about the film for 15 minutes on. At the end of his speech, however, the presidential aide finally said that he was ready to reveal to the audience the secret of ‘a new formula he came up with for the Minsk negotiations.’
— Yermak spoke about representatives ‘from the people’ on both sides of the dividing line who would form a united group. And it’s with these people that the Ukrainian side will discuss further actions to resolve the military conflict in the east. He also assured, at the end of his speech, that the local elections in Donbas will be held in the fall of 2020 as in the rest of Ukraine, that the authorities will take control of the border, as per agreement with Russia, and will maintain order on the election day jointly with the local ‘militia.’ People in the hall scoffed and remained generally confused.
It is obvious to me today that the script of the Return of the Donbas movie and holding the elections there was written and handed over to the director Yermak by a very famous producer. Someone interested in this scenario. The recent initiatives by the Ukrainian authorities and the protocol of intent signed last week to create the Advisory Board, as Yermak promised in London, only confirm my fears. The picture of our world has already been drawn for us. And the first step to legalise it is about to be made. It may turn out, though, that this ‘movie’ will have catastrophic consequences for Ukraine.
— How is this move of the Ukrainian authorities commented in your circles?
— In Ukraine — like in much of the world today—populists came to power. But even they are ‘sandwiched,’ as one famous English proverb goes, between what one wants and what one can. You need to swerve a lot. And that’s what the authorities are doing. There is no long-term national policy of Ukraine. There is a desire to keep ratings high and to end the war as if fulfilling the campaign promises. There is an attempt to follow the line of Trump who, quite unequivocally, sent Ukraine ‘to negotiate with Putin directly.’ There is a clear intention to smooth things over with Russia.
I see it clearly from the business side. I’ve been receiving more and more calls lately from wives of famous Russian businessmen who I know through the art department calling from Kyiv and inviting me for coffee. ‘But I'm in London!’ I said. ‘Oh, we thought you’re back in Kyiv now, like us.’ In fact, Ukraine has already opened the door of opportunities for Russian business. It's no coincidence, but a thought-through strategy. We see what kind of people have joined the government and what ties they have to Russia.
However, there are some quite obvious aspects that are very little discussed in the press and political circles. But they are the main arguments against Yermak's ‘peaceful’ film that he’s now pushing for theatrical release.
— What are they, in your opinion?
— First, issuing of Russian IDs in the Donbas. Does the Security Service of Ukraine have full information on how many citizens of Ukraine in the occupied territories have already received passports of the Russian Federation? Today, you can only get a Russian ID if you hold a ‘DPR’ passport. Does the Ukrainian intelligence know that there is a queue until December 2020 for obtaining a Russian passport? DPR can’t process so many applications and issue passports fast enough. Children are required to obtain a ‘DPR’ passport upon reaching the majority. Hence my question to Mr. Yermak: can the citizens of Ukraine who received the ‘DPR’ and Russian IDs vote in the election? The answer is also obvious: the government's recent moves towards dual citizenship (it seems they have already amended the law) play into this situation.
Second, the full integration of the Donbas into the Russian economy. The currency of the occupied territories is the Russian ruble. All banking operations of all state-owned enterprises go through Sberbank of Russia. Commercial transfers are made through the offshore system in the South Ossetian Republic. Gas and other energy resources are sourced from Russia. Transport railway connection is controlled by OJSC Russian Railways. The captured enterprises working through intermediaries deliver to and through Russia. Is this information available to the Security Service of Ukraine? Where is the official list of captured companies, in the sixth year of occupation? What is Ukraine's position on these enterprises? My lawyers have repeatedly approached the government with this question, and of course there is no answer.
Third, the development of ‘statehood’ of the so-called ‘DPR’ and ‘LPR’ (Luhansk People’s Republic). During the years of occupation, pseudo-states were created in these territories with all the formal attributes, from constitution and structure of government to the laws and order of life of their citizens. It is a vertical that regulates all aspects of life and has not a hint of integration into Ukraine. In fact, contradictions with our legislation are huge at all levels. For example, as of January 1, cars with Ukrainian plate numbers cannot circulate in these territories. Enterprises that have not registered under the ‘DPR’ laws and do not pay taxes there (under the laws of Ukraine, this means financing terrorist organizations) are taken over by the interim administration as being ‘abandoned’ and are basically ‘reprivatized’ by local elites.
In no way does Ukraine respond to these actions; moreover, authorities do their best to avoid direct answers to official requests. For five (!) years, IZOLYATSIA has sought the status of an affected company in the Ukrainian courts. For five years we’ve been kicked away by the courts. Like many other investors, by the way.
Fourth, it is evident that the ‘Voice of Donbas’ is being artificially shaped by the Opposition Bloc and Donetsk oligarchs (Rinat Akhmetov & Co) who will endorse the policy of peaceful dialogue with the ‘people’ in the occupied Donbas. But we’ve already seen Akhmetov's ‘factory horn’ for peace in 2014, and now again the same hot air will be spread through media and public influencers belonging to this oligarch. There are more than enough information resources already singing the ‘Peace at Any Cost’ song.
Finally, the question of justice when it comes to punishing war criminals and masterminds of the fake states. Here’s a good example: Mr. Roman Liagin, formerly a political technologist of the Party of Regions; later the one who organized and held elections in the ‘DPR’; the very person who made a fatal call to us saying that IZOLYATSIA would be nationalized by the new ‘republic.’ By the decision of the Shevchenko District Court of Kyiv, Liagin may now enter the state programme of protection of valuable witnesses. For one year that the case has been in court, not a single hearing was held. That is a prime example of the impotence of the Ukrainian state.
— Luba, but there are many people in Ukraine who left Donbas and lost everything. There are also people who represent neither Akhmetov nor the Opposition Bloc, but who support the government’s peaceful line. Including this format. What about them?
— Voicing your opinion is everyone's right. Let them speak. As for IZOLYATSIA, we are putting forward our arguments and want to be heard. In particular, by those of our fellow countrymen who have not quite understood the situation. IZOLYATSIA and the people who had to leave Donbas and have lost everything there (and among us there are children who have lost their parents, widows who have lost their husbands) have an opinion that is incompatible with Yermak’s new scenario or the old ‘Voice of Donbas’ baloney by Akhmetov and Opposition Bloc. We have a clear feeling that in the case of a hasty and ill-considered return of the occupied territories, it is not Ukraine that will integrate the occupied territories, but vice versa.
In the summer of 2014, we had to close our offices in Donetsk. We knew for sure there were no more laws, and brute force was the only thing that worked. Anyone with a machine gun had the right to decide. Nothing has changed in the occupied territories since then. However, today offices are being closed in Kyiv. For different reasons, it’s true, but inside there is a very disturbing feeling that the law is no longer working throughout the country, if the President of Ukraine makes decisions that threaten a 38 million-strong nation in the centre of Europe to lose its independence and sovereignty.
When we called our art project IZOLYATSIA, keeping the old name of the factory, we opened doors to the world of art and new meanings for everyone. I am afraid that the temporary isolation of the occupied territories of the Donbas is another tragic image of our live installation in Donetsk. But we will open these doors once again. When we become strong. Economically. Institutionally. Politically.
As for now — don’t do it, Mr. President!