Dean O'Brien's Blog

Mariupol – Final Meeting With Former UA Soldier (Part 3)

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Life here is a struggle for many, and for Sergei it’s no exception.  Since leaving the Ukrainian Army he’s worked at the local metal plant Metinvest. It’s hard work and long hours for very little pay.  Long term, he’s hoping to get a job on a merchant ship which will mean better money, but the downside is that it’ll mean being away from home for up to 6 months at time.

Strolling the streets we discuss the current political climate, Decommunisation, the conflict and everything in-between.  There’s nothing better than being on the ground and speaking to real people who live and breathe these issues.  That was the whole point of me travelling here.

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Sergei’s not anti-Ukrainian but does see his loyalties more with Russia.  Being so close to Russia geographically this comes as no surprise.

I ask about his time in the Ukrainian army and he gladly shares with me a small number of images from his collection and a few stories.

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He looks back fondly at his time in the army but he’s quick to mention that he’s glad that he’s not in there now.  ‘Lots of people lost respect for the government and army when they came here straight from Kiev. Look what happened on May 9th.  We all lived together in peace until they came. They started all this.  Now look’.  Like many, he still has genuine fears about being drafted back into the armed forces.

The battle on May 9th 2014 (Victory Day) left a number of fatalities and casualties.  This date on the calendar will always remain a tricky one for people in Mariupol breeding mixed emotions.  On one hand they’ll be celebrating the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany and on the other, they’ll be remembering those who died in 2014 at the hands of Ukrainian government forces.

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Wandering the streets around the centre we grab a marshrutka to head to the outskirts of town.  We visit more Soviet monuments and accidentally come across what appears to be a Soviet museum.  It’s closed unfortunately but it gives me the opportunity to discuss the future of such places with Sergei.  Do they have a place in modern Ukraine or with the decommunisation rules in place, are they going to disappear in an attempt to re-write history?  Sergei said ‘I have a bad feeling about these new rules. The government I think will try to make it look like these things never happened.  But how can they do this?  My Grandfather died fighting in this war so it is only right that we know about this right?’     

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As it’s my last evening in Mariupol Sergei invites me back to his apartment where his wife Yulia is cooking traditional food for us all.  We travel the remainder of the way on foot and en route to the apartment he tells me ‘Everyone who lives on this estate works at the metal plant.  They finish work, then come home and drink.  They they get up and go back to work again.  Then come home and drink again.  It’s a very bad way to live’.  ‘The cheapest things to buy here are alcohol and cigarettes.  What chance have people got?’

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He’s got a point.  Things were tough in Ukraine before the conflict and long before the days of Big Vik.  The new government hasn’t brought about much of a change in my eyes.  It’s similar goods just packaged differently.  Ask anyone on the streets and they tell you the same thing.

As the evening draws to a close, Sergei calls me a taxi and I head back to my hotel.  People advised me not to go to Mariupol but it’s been an eye opening experience.  Great people living in hard times.  I didn’t know who I was going to meet or what I was going to find when I got there.  I just knew that I’d meet somebody.

 

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Written by Dean O'Brien

August 8, 2017 at 9:20 pm

Posted in Mariupol, Ukraine

Tagged with , ,

2 Responses

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  1. I have been to Mariupol numerous times and I must admit at first driving in via the numerous check point initially is very daunting but you soon realize these soldiers are looking for a certain profiles, a western middle age man doesn’t fit. I also know numerous young men who frequently visit relatives in Mariupol have no concern that they Ha Ha “might” be conscripted into the war laughable. Most people I know in Kiev don’t want to visit Mariupol because quite frankly why would any one in England want to visit Bradford or Birmingham when they could easily visit Devon or Wales. You only have to look at history to see mass immigration of Russians is the real problem of the Dombass region. Having said that I feel a hell of a lot safer in Mariupol than I do in the Muslim no go areas in the uk. The biggest threat to Mariupol isn’t the Keiv government, imperfect as it is, but the Russian mafia who with almost total impunity can apprehend any business it likes in the Dombass region. The rule of law, or lack of, fostered by the Russian administration is quietly straggling Mariupol. It’s a shame you weren’t able to make contact with the numerous French German and American missions that are swarming Mariupol this summer. That would have been a more interesting story. You missed a trick by only Interviewing one slightly disgruntle ex soldier.

    chris

    August 9, 2017 at 1:56 am

    • Chris, thanks for taking the time to reply to my post.

      I’ve never known any soldiers to look for ‘certain profiles’ at any checkpoints as you say. I’ve seen everything from babushkas to women and children taken out of vehicles and searched and questioned. Fairly standard really in all countries, not just Ukraine.. We all know that smugglers or terrorists come in all shapes and sizes.

      As for young men laughing about being drafted, I don’t believe that for a minute. I asked numerous people about this and they all feared being drafted into the Ukrainian army. Maybe next time when I’m there I’ll shoot some video interviews so you can see and hear it for yourself.

      Regarding the Russian mafia apprehending ‘any business’ in the Donbass region I can’t comment on that as I’ve not been to the ‘other side’ yet. It’s on the list though so watch this space. I don’t see them as the biggest threat though. Far from it in fact.

      And finally, as for making contact with the ‘numerous French German and American missions that are swarming Mariupol this summer’. Pleeeeeeease!!…..Could you get any more of a cliché? Interviewing westerners who are coming to ‘help out’ Ukraine. Chris that’s been done a thousand times over….and in all honesty, the stories are all the same and dare I say ‘a little bit boring’.

      Meeting an ex-soldier, not to mention an all-round nice, honest guy was a great experience and something worth sharing with others. His opinions may not please some people but they are his opinions and I’ll respect them. He served his time in the army, lost his Grandfather in the war and lives in Mariupol. The very least I could do was give him a voice.

      Finally, I would be interested in seeing a link to any blogs or images that you have though ‘Chris’ to add some substance to your comments. It’s all too easy these days for people to comment from behind a keyboard having never actually been to Ukraine.

      Dean O'Brien

      August 9, 2017 at 8:33 am


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