Dean O'Brien's Blog

Mariupol – Soviet Monuments & Decommunisation

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The Decommunisation process in Ukraine is a tough one.  I personally love Soviet history and all it left behind.  So do many others.  For them it takes them back to a time before the oligarchs and greed that came with independence.  Not to mention the poverty, corruption, alcoholism, sex tourism and everything else.

Whilst wandering around taking some images I chat to a babushka sitting on a bench who asks what I’m doing.  We exchange small talk and I ask her how she feels about the decommunisation process.  She says ‘They took Lenin.  They are trying to get rid of our history.  Our past.  We fought against the nazi’s in the war and now they are coming again from Kiev’.  It showed me that some people in people in Mariupol see the Ukrainian army coming there as an invasion and make a comparison between that and World War II.

I recall seeing memorials to Soviet soldiers in villages that still look spotless and have fresh flowers laid at their feet.  This isn’t about politics.  It’s about remembering those who fought and died.  Showing some respect to those who gave their lives.  They left their villages, cities and towns never to return.

A tank sits high on a plinth on a typical Soviet apartment block estate in Mariupol.  People pass the time smoking, chatting and drinking.  A typical summer evening and you’d never guess that the conflict was so close.

 

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Out of all the monuments, I’d say that the ‘MiG on a stick’ is a personal favourite of mine.  Always has been.  These fantastic machines mounted up high create such a powerful presence.  These aren’t only found in parks.  You’ll find them in the remotest of places, like just at the roadside in the middle of nowhere.

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As is the norm, Lenin was torn down in the middle of the night by ‘persons unknown’ and has been ‘replaced’.  The remaining area around the monument is neglected and overgrown.

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Soviet mosaics still remain on the side of buildings.  They crumble away with little or no chance of ever being restored.  Each tells a unique story.  They portray sport, leisure, science, space, history and so much more… These are beautiful works of art and it’s a shame to see them in this state.

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IMG_5859Only time will tell how far the decommunisation process will actually go.  The tanks on plinths, MiG’s on sticks and similar monuments seem safe for now at least.  But only time will tell if these start to disappear also.

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Written by Dean O'Brien

July 25, 2017 at 11:14 am

U.K Government Release Latest Travel Advice for Ukraine

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Well the FCO have released the latest travel advice for Ukraine and it makes for a rather interesting read.  Reading between the lines one could think this is the FCO firing a few warning shots (excuse the pun) at those of us who want to document both sides of this conflict.

With Ben Stimson being the first Brit to be jailed for travelling to (apparently) fight with the non-government forces in eastern Ukraine.  Those who know Ben have said he was in Donbass to drive an ambulance (not fight) but stitched up by the BBC when he agreed to be interviewed and was asked to hold a weapon during the filming of this.  Needless to say, this obviously did him no favours and he was jailed for just over 5 years.  The word naivety springs to mind.  Below Ben explains a bit more about this to Graham Phillips.

I’ll not take sides in this dispute, but make clear that I believe in free press.  Free press on all sides of this conflict.  As there are hardly any westerners covering the conflict in eastern Ukraine its hard to get a handle on what’s really happening there.  So we ‘do’ need them there reporting their findings, whatever that may be.

After the fiasco with Ben Stimson it’s clear to see that big organisations such as the BBC can’t be trusted.  Independent journalists, photographers and reporters being our only hope.  They answer to nobody and have more opportunity to tell it exactly it how it is.  They face the real danger of being injured (for little or no reward) and now the risk of being detained and questioned when they head back to the U.K.

If the British government are planning a campaign to silence those who wish to cover the ‘other side’ of the conflict then that’s worrying.  Very worrying.

 

Written by Dean O'Brien

July 23, 2017 at 10:39 pm

Posted in Ukraine

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Mariupol – My Meeting With Former UA Soldier (Part 1)

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I arrange to meet Sergei at my hotel near the beach on Mariupol.  He tells me he’s ten minutes away when we speak on the phone.  I know he’ll be late.  Everyone you arrange to meet in Ukraine is always late.  An hour later I’m still waiting, but I get to have two more pints at the hotel bar.  Every cloud eh?   Eventually he arrives.  We shake hands and head off for a walk around the area close to my hotel.

I’d communicated with Sergei a few times via email so he’s already had the heads-up about what I’m wanting to see etc…  His command of the English language is fairly good so we’ve no problems communicating.

He’s a former Ukrainian soldier who now works at the local metal plant Metinvest.  Ironically enough they played a huge part intervening in the uprising here in 2014.  Something he tells me not every employee was happy about.

We discuss the happenings of May 9th 2014.  He tells me ‘Nobody knows how many died here but it was very bad.  Nobody went to work for days afterwards’.  First we visit the site of the Police Station and what remains of it.  One can see by the bullet-riddled holes that this place saw a really intense battle which totally destroyed the building.  It’s currently under armed guard so I discreetly grab some shots and we leave.

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Next stop, the city council building which was destroyed by fire.  Again, this was the site of some serious disruption also.  This building too remains abandoned although no armed guard was visible.  I’m guessing as the trouble here is far from over, there’s little point in attempting to do anything with these buildings just yet.

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The streets around Mariupol are fairly quiet but theres definitely a tension in the air.  I’ll cover the rest of my time in Mariupol over a series of blog posts as theres too much to do in one post.

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Dean O'Brien

July 19, 2017 at 8:17 pm

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Mariupol – Part 1

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I’d never been to Mariupol before but I understood the strategic importance of it to both sides in this conflict.  At present, Mariupol is under the control of government (Kiev) forces.  It was under control of non-government (pro-Russian) forces briefly in 2014 but was captured back shortly afterwards.

Initially I did ask a Ukrainian friend in Kiev to accompany me to Mariupol be he declined fearing that he would be drafted into the army.  Like many of the youth here, he told me ‘I don’t want to fight in this war’.  So I headed down to Mariupol on my own.

Once there, wandering around Mariupol was strange.  A local told me that all the empty buildings in the area ‘had been overtaken by the military’.  Although a heavy military presence was fairly obvious, there were still signs of anti-Ukrainian feeling within the population.

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In the evening most bars were closed by 10pm and night clubs were virtually non-existent with people telling me that they only open at weekends.  In all honestly, hardly surprising with it being so close to the contact line.

I did manage to meet up with a couple of people here who offered to assist me in what I was looking for.   One of those people was Annie.  She works with various NGO’s in Mariupol including the Red Cross and regularly makes trips over the contact line.  She told me first hand how this war is affecting people on both sides.

She explained how Mariupol has seen a huge influx of refugees, or to use the official term, ‘IDP’s’ (internally displaced people).  These people receive little or nothing at all from the Ukrainian government, having to rely on NGO’s and charities to help them.

Annie then arranged for me to interview two NGO’s who currently help those directly affected by the conflict.

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Another meeting I had was with A Pro-UA lawyer Yehor.  He seemed like a nice intelligent guy, and I liked his stance on anti-corruption, but his empathy towards those suffering from the conflict left a lot to be desired and it really took the edge off the meeting for me.

I managed to post a couple of tweets throughout my meeting with him though.

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There was no getting away form the conflict here as the streets were full of adverts for the UA Army and National Guard.  And whilst in Mariupol, I managed to meet with a former Ukrainian soldier who held pro-Russian views.  I’ll be running a separate blog post on that soon.

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Written by Dean O'Brien

July 16, 2017 at 7:18 pm

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Video Tribute to Viktor Tsoi of Kino

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I’ve been fan of Russian rock band Kino for a while now.  Hearing the music blasted through the speakers of a taxi racing me through the streets of late night Kiev.  It brings back so many memories.  I came across this gem on youtube.  A real tribute to Viktor Tsoi who died in 1990.  A true pioneer of Russian rock music.

I’ve translated what’s written beneath the video.

‘To the 55th anniversary of Viktor Tsoi, Yandex presents a video to the legendary musician.
One of the most famous songs “Kino” – “Star by the name of the Sun” – performed by modern Petersburgers: musicians, actors, students and just passers-by.
In the video there are several dozen hidden references to songs, films and episodes from the life of Tsoi: from the blood group on the sleeve of one of the characters to aluminum cucumbers. Most of the details are not accidental, and finding them from the first time is not easy.”

Written by Dean O'Brien

July 14, 2017 at 8:42 am

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I’m Back..

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Well I’m back from Ukraine.  There were a number of reasons for my visit.  One was to document signs of Decommunisation in Ukraine, and the other was to head East, down to Mariupol and speak to people close to the conflict zone.

Whilst in Kiev I managed to catch up with Niels Ackermann who just published his book  ‘Looking For Lenin’ with Fuel Publishing.  Fuel produce some great publications so this one is a must.  It’s a brilliant project which documents the removal of Lenin monuments throughout Ukraine under the new decommunisation laws.  We enjoyed a nice afternoon lunch and discussed the current situation in Ukraine.  I need to spend more afternoons like this.

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Kiev is quiet for this time of year.  Very quiet.  A lot of people do go away for the summer, but the ongoing conflict in Ukraine is keeping people away.  And this was the main purpose of my visit.  I wanted to speak to people close to the contact line to see how they are affected in their everyday lives.

So after staying in Kiev for just 2 days, I caught a train down to Mariupol.  18 hours on an overnight train for around £7.  Impossible to beat.  2nd class is the way to travel.  A 4 berth cabin where you’ll get to know your fellow travellers, practice your language skills and exchange food.  Highly recommended.

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Throughout my trip to Ukraine (both in Kiev and Mariupol) I came across numerous OSCE workers (mostly in bars).  They all had the same opinion.  Not to head any further East.  I explained my purposes and told them that I felt that the conflict was not being documented fairly, particularly by western media.  In fact, many people in the U.K believe it to be over as they constantly tell me ‘well it’s never on the news is it?’.  And that was my point.  People are suffering on both sides and yet there seems to be some kind of biased media blackout.

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As for my time in Mariupol, I will cover this with more ‘in-depth’ blog posts.  These will follow over the next few weeks and will include my time spent with a former Ukrainian soldier who shares pro-Russian views.  I’ll also show the places I visited there including the former council offices and Police Station that were destroyed in 2014.

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I’m on Twitter Instagram and Facebook so feel free to follow or ‘like’.

 

 

Written by Dean O'Brien

July 11, 2017 at 1:38 pm

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Next Stop – Mariupol

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In the next couple of weeks I’ll be heading down to Mariupol in the south east of Ukraine. The area came briefly under control of DPR forces in 2014 before being taken back by Ukrainian forces.  In all honesty, I’m not sure what to expect.  Although it’s outside of the ATO zone, it came under attack a few days ago in the east of the city.  It’s of great strategic  importance to both sides of the conflict due to its key location.

There’s no set agenda.  I’ll take an overnight train, my camera and go and speak to people about the current situation there.  Hopefully I’ll also be able to shoot some video footage, but it’s hard to say until I actually get there.

I’ve added a link to a video below from Victory Day  in Mariupol on May 9th 2014.  Be warned, some of the scenes are fairly graphic but it shows to some extent the brutality of war especially when it directly involves the civilian population.

You’ll see from the comments below the video, just how divided people are with what they witness in the footage.

Written by Dean O'Brien

June 13, 2017 at 2:43 pm

Posted in Ukraine

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