Afghan War Veterans – War in Ukraine

I spoke to Oleh Michnev, the head of the Afghan war veterans. He was very busy and was holding an important meeting, but Eduard who I wrote about in a previous article got me a few minutes with him.

When I asked him what role the Afghan war veterans played at Maidan he said, “Roles are for actors in theaters, we are Ukrainians and our most important function is to protect Ukraine.” He said that an unjust was done to Ukraine and the veterans want “European standards, not Yanukovych’s standards.” He went on to explain that under Yanukovych there were six different living standards depending on who you were, and those who have the least would get the least governmental support, and this is not the European way.

He told me that protests started with students who were living below normal standards. When they were beaten for protesting, their parents and grandparents were angered and joined the protests. “We don’t support any political party,” Michnev said, “we stand between protestors and aggressors to avoid the spilling of blood, and we of all people understand the value of blood.”

I asked him when they will leave Maidan. “We will leave last,” he said, “we are used to fighting for life.” He explained that Ukrainians can’t trust anyone; some of the politicians could be “wolves hiding in sheep skin.” They won’t leave “until the promises of new politicians are fulfilled.” They believe that it’s necessary not only to change the

government, but the entire system. They want a “birth of a new system,” he says, adding, “we will stand until then.”

https://olenakaguiukraine2014.wordpress.com/2014/03/16/afghan-war-veterans/

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Czechs Celebrate Independence Day by Protesting Rusia’s War on Ukraine

The greatest surprise came when we got to the castle. When we got to our destination there was a man wearing a large paper-mâché mask reassembling Russian president’s Vladimir Putin’s face. He was holding a puppet with Zeman’s face on it. The group stopped by the puppet while the group leader, wearing a Putler shirt, explained through a microphone that the group was pro-democratic and against Putin’s influence in the Czech Republic. The speaker was Czech like most of the organizers and attendees.

October 28th is the Czechoslovak Independence Day. In 1918 it was the day that Czechoslovakia was created and it continues to be celebrated in the Czech Republic and Slovakia today. All students and most adults have the day off, some have the entire week. While most Czechs celebrate the day outside of the city, with their families or relaxing at home, today a handful of Czechs attended a protest in support of Ukraine.

Every weekend such events are held at the famous Old Town Square by the group Prague Maidan. There are concerts, speeches and people gathering signatures for pro-Ukraine petitions. This holiday had a special agenda. A lot of Czechs, especially those living in Prague, don’t support the president and his policies. President Milos Zeman is often called a communist by those who oppose him.

The fliers advertising the march from Old Town Square to the Prague Castle had slogans such as:
– Demanding a pro-democratic president, and
– We don’t want Putin’s puppet living in the castle.

There between 30 and 40 people in total – a mixture of Czechs, Ukrainians and even one or two Americans. Right away we were told that there will be people protesting against us and that we are not to interfere verbally or physically. Before we even left the square, a Russian-speaking woman dressed in yellow pants and a blue jacket started arguing with one of the protesters wearing Ukrainian ‘nationalist’ colors, black and red. She was arguing that we shouldn’t be protesting against anything but rather for something. The protester said a few words back but the march proceeded as planned.

The group had Czech flags, Ukrainian flags and several anti-Zeman and anti-Putin signs in Czech. People on the street called out at us: some yelling insults and others voicing their support. At least ten police officers walked with us and interfered when people approached the group in an aggressive manner. There were also two police cars and one police van that helped us cross roads safely and escorted us the entire way. There was one particular park on the path up to the castle where a group of pro-Russians was gathered with signs and a Russian flag. The signs were illegible from where we walked. The group was slightly smaller than ours and yelled out unintelligible words.

The greatest surprise came when we got to the castle. When we got to our destination there was a man wearing a large paper-mâché mask reassembling Russian president’s Vladimir Putin’s face. He was holding a puppet with Zeman’s face on it. The group stopped by the puppet while the group leader, wearing a Putler shirt, explained through a microphone that the group was pro-democratic and against Putin’s influence in the Czech Republic. The speaker was Czech like most of the organizers and attendees.

After the organizers’ speech, a Czech man yelled from the castle saying “shame!” Everyone responded by laughing saying, “yes, shame on Zeman!” Before marching back to Old Town Square, a Russian man stepped forward. He pulled out his passport to prove that he was truly a Russian citizen, before delivering an anti-Zeman speech. He referred to him as a ‘man who gets drunk with Russian buddies’ and expressed his discontent with both Zeman and Putin.

Everyone in the group was very friendly and despite the several anti-Ukrainians around us, the atmosphere remained friendly and peaceful. I didn’t follow the group back to the square for the concert that was to follow, but I was grateful to have experienced the march. I look forward to reporting on any other events that Prague Maidan organizes.

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Officially published here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/olena-kagui/czechs-celebrate-independence-day_b_6064436.html

This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.

100th Anniversary of WWI – DOX Front Line Exhibition

Today many nations are suffering and thousands of people are being killed. The major current conflicts with headlines all over the media include Gaza, Syria, Iraq and Ukraine. While some conflicts remain mostly regional, others like Israel-Palestine and Ukraine-Russia are becoming a threat to global peace. Obsessing over protecting the economy and continuing harmful trade cycles keeps preventing the success of peace talks and finding concrete solutions. Now more than ever we can see that history repeats itself. This is why we need to refer to the past when building a better future. That is the reason that DOX organized this exhibition…

“In 1914 the Great War began… and has lasted ever since.”

This quote can be found at the DOX Center for Contemporary Art in Prague the capital of the ‘heart of Europe.’ August 4th, 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I. The Front Line exhibition tells the stories of several Czech men from all over the country who had to leave their home and went to fight at various war fronts. Many powerful quotes written by Czech soldiers cover the walls of the exhibition:

“The most shocking fact about war is that its victims and its instruments are individual human beings…” – Aldous Huxley from the Austrian front.

“… we could write anything, just not the truth.” “What is fear. Fear is man. Man fears only man.” – Frantisek Seda also from the Austrian Front.

“If the soldiers were hungry, the town’s civilian population was hungrier still.” – Jan Vit from the Russian Front.

The quotes written by Czech soldiers reflect the hardships that war inflicts on the soldiers, their families and on the human psyche. But there are also quotes from famous global figures who touch on the cause and nature of wars:

“It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.” – Voltaire

“I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” – Albert Einstein.

The total number of civilian and military deaths during WWI is estimated to be around 40 million. The war devastated Europe and tensions lingered long after the war. The drive of each country to rebuild their economies and recreate normalcy in a post-war society led to mistrust and political unrest – the second world war began only 21 years after the first ended.

The exhibition includes bits and pieces of the belongings of the Czech soldiers. The letters they wrote, the medals they won and the photographs they took; all reveal the horror of war. But the stories that the soldiers and their families pass on are more than memories of the past – they are a warning message to our generation and those that will follow.

Today many nations are suffering and thousands of people are being killed. The major current conflicts with headlines all over the media include Gaza, Syria, Iraq and Ukraine. While some conflicts remain mostly regional, others like Israel-Palestine and Ukraine-Russia are becoming a threat to global peace. Obsessing over protecting the economy and continuing harmful trade cycles keeps preventing the success of peace talks and finding concrete solutions. Now more than ever we can see that history repeats itself. This is why we need to refer to the past when building a better future. That is the reason that DOX organized this exhibition:

“(So) that some recollections of these ugly and horrible days be preserved for future generations, so they guard well against the ambitions of ‘dangerous lunatics’…” – Josef Lacina

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Officially published here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/olena-kagui/100th-anniversary-of-wwi-_b_5698759.html

This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.

Prague LGBT Community Supports Ukraine 2014

As a Ukrainian citizen, I was extremely touched by the gesture. This meant a lot more to me than seeing foreigners supporting my country. Although the world is becoming increasingly more open toward the LGBT community, there is still a lot of legal and social discrimination. I was honored that the LGBT community decided to spend the one day a year dedicated to celebrating their own freedom by showing their support for the sovereignty of Ukrainian territory.

The fourth annual Prague Pride Parade, held on Aug. 16, ended with a festival in Letna Park. What made this year’s event special was the Ukrainian flags spotted in between the extravagant costumes and rainbows. The largest LGBT event in central Europe chose to share their special day with Ukraine.

Just recently, on the night of Aug. 14, Russian military convoys were seen crossing the border. Some thought that this would be the official beginning of a war. This happened right in the middle of Pride week in Prague, and although the conflict in Ukraine didn’t escalate as much as people had feared, Ukraine felt a jolt of vulnerability.

As a Ukrainian citizen, I was extremely touched by the gesture. This meant a lot more to me than seeing foreigners supporting my country. Although the world is becoming increasingly more open toward the LGBT community, there is still a lot of legal and social discrimination. I was honored that the LGBT community decided to spend the one day a year dedicated to celebrating their own freedom by showing their support for the sovereignty of Ukrainian territory.

Today they showed that they truly believe that freedom belongs to everyone.

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Originally posted here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/olena-kagui/prague-lgbt-community-sup_b_5684607.html

This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.

Ukraine 2014 – Life During Crisis

It was volunteers who did the most at the protest, but politicians were necessary too, especially to help get people out of jail. The politicians also offered the protesters organization and helped them raise their demands. But although some politicians tried, “politicians couldn’t lead the revolution.”

The crisis in Ukraine began on November 21st, when the former president, Yanukovych had refused to sign an agreement with the EU that he had been promising to sign for over a year. He wanted instead to form closer ties with Russia. Students went out to Independence Square known as Maidan, to protest. The police used violence to disperse them, which brought a lot more people out onto the streets. More and more gathered to protest, and stood there through freezing temperatures and violent conditions. They are still standing there today until there are a new government and order in Ukraine. I applied for a grant from the Prague Freedom Foundation to go make a difference in Ukraine. In Ukraine, I spoke to Olga, Irina and Eduard. Their stories were originally published on my blog, http://www.olenakaguiukraine2014.wordress.com.

Olga:

Olga Azzuz, a dentist at one of the field hospitals describes what happened in Kiev as “the scream of the soul of the nation.” In her opinion it is important for Ukrainians to deal with this issue by themselves, however, “if the West can help out, then they should.” She spoke coldly about Yanukovych and his people, calling them bandits. She said that they “traded their bandit clothing for suits when Yanukovych was elected and stole money from the nation.” They then put this stolen money into Western banks. “They confused their own pockets with the nation’s pocket,” she said.

At the beginning people just wanted to go talk to those in power, “but when people went to the government, their way was blocked,” which angered them. According to her, there is no proof that it was the protesters who started the violence but violence did begin after almost 3 months of peaceful protesting. A lot of outrage came when the government enforced strict laws against protesting. Azzuz was particularly angry about this, saying “If we continued to live that way (following those laws) we would live as slaves in a dog house on a leash, seeing the sky only through bars.”

Before the protests even began, inflation was getting really bad; people could no longer afford food. After rent and food were taken care of, they had no extra money to spend on clothes or anything else. The gap between the poor and the rich expanded.

This revolution was a revolution of educated and intelligent people who had diplomas, who ran their own businesses, explains Azzuz, “it was the people who had something in their lives and wanted to defend it.” These protesters had no rights in the eyes of the government, and that was the problem.

The amazing thing about Maidan was that the self-organized volunteers came where they were needed. They would do whatever they were capable of to show support – cook, fight, draw, speak or pray. All the necessary ‘positions’ were filled by people who had those particular skills. The volunteers would meet and they greeted each other like family. There was a real sense of unity.

It was volunteers who did the most at the protest, but politicians were necessary too, especially to help get people out of jail. The politicians also offered the protesters organization and helped them raise their demands. But although some politicians tried, “politicians couldn’t lead the revolution.”

Azzuz then told me that everyone at Maidan worked together to keep it clean. When it snowed, they would clear snow from the paths and use the snow to build and enforce barricades. At one point the garbage collectors refused to come to Maidan. So the protesters gathered all the trash, filled up several cars and brought the trash bags straight to the dump. They demanded that next time the trash collectors came, and they began coming regularly again.

There was a big problem with taking protesters to hospitals because the Berkut would stop ambulances and harass the injured – Azzuz’s word of choice to describe Berkut’s behavior was “sadistic”. So volunteers decided to organize their own field hospitals and used regular passenger cars to transport the injured to protect them.

A lot of the patients who were stopped by Berkut were never seen again. There was one particular patient who Azzuz treated; he had very serious injuries, broken teeth, ripped lip and broken bones in his face around his nose and eyes. He told her that a Berkut officer was beating him in the face yelling “I will rip your head off.” He was one of the patients who a random stranger took to a hospital in his car. Azzuz called hospital after hospital asking about him. He had lost his passport and they hadn’t had time to give him fresh clothes before they had to run, and she was very worried about him. After very many phone calls, she reached a nurse who told her he was recovering from surgery to reconstruct his face. She reassured her that they are taking care of getting him a new passport and had been given clothes that were donated to the hospital. Azzuz thanked her and was relieved to hear that at least his story had ended well, considering the circumstances. During those times, any good news added a little hope and pointed towards a better future.

Irina:

“We are women but we can still help, at least morally,” said Irina, who’s been working in the Cossack kitchen for three months. She is a student in Kiev and when I asked her why she came, she looked at me like it was a crazy question, “all my people are here… I live here so I’m going to stand here until the end.”

I asked her if she was scared. “Sometimes,” she said, “especially that night.” She referred to the night when Berkut stormed Maidan. But she didn’t let her fear stop her from doing what she believed was right. She found a way to help her people, like everyone else at Maidan. Politicians and their parties are often mentioned when people speak about Maidan, but they usually have a hidden (or a not so hidden) agenda, it is ordinary people like Irina who are the true heroes of Ukraine.

Eduard:

I really wanted to speak to the Afghan war veterans, who were very active at the protests. But the man who had the authority to speak for them wasn’t there yet. So Eduard Kryhov offered to tell me his story and show me one of the field hospitals.

He was in and out of Maidan since it began, alternating between spending time with his wife outside of Kiev, and living in the veteran tent. He helped out a lot at one of the medical points, and one night, they were told that Berkut was about to storm them. He has had a knee problem at the time and knew he wasn’t able to help carry injured men out to safety. Instead, he grabbed a hand-grenade and walked up to where the Berkut could see him. The 64-year-old man showed them what he was holding and said, “Look at me; I have seen all there is to see, I don’t care anymore, if you come in here, we will all die together.” The Berkut did not attack the medical point; Kryhov had saved several lives with his bravery.

Kryhov took me to one of the field hospitals at Maidan, where people were still coming to get treated. One man needed stitches removed from his lip and eyebrow, he looked badly beaten. Others came to get dental work done, or to treat a fever or a sprained arm. Kryhov took me into an empty room, made me some tea, offered me bread and showed me pictures of his friends and asked me to put them online. He told me about how he used to live in Prague 9 and Brno and about his wife. He made me see what everyone meant by Maidan uniting people when we parted ways we hugged each other like old friends.

I was very lucky to meet such a wonderful and kind man. He had helped save the country not once but twice – first in Afghanistan and now at Maidan. He taught me that one person can make all the difference in the world.

This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.

Guest column: Foreign Support in Ukraine

Since the peaceful protests that began on Nov. 21, 2013 turned violent three months later, the whole world has been watching Ukraine. There have been talks between European Union member states, NATO, the United States and Russia on how to help stabilize the situation, but there is still unrest in Ukraine. People from all over the globe have been trying to help support Ukraine in non-political ways too, such as by sending reporters, doctors, money, clothes and supplies. But there are fun and simple ways to help as well.

http://www.kentwired.com/opinion/article_c3ec757a-c433-11e3-9043-001a4bcf6878.htm

One Field Hospital – War in Ukraine

I spent several hours in one of the field hospitals in the very center of Maidan. I spoke to several nurses there, but mainly Iryna Zakharchenko and Olga Azzuz. They pointed out the nurse who was treating the first victim of the protests, the Armenian boy who died on January 22nd 2014. The hospital had paper signs showing which room was used for what, and the furniture was rearranged to transform this office building into a hospital.

Another nurse told me that volunteers began coming in from all over Ukraine, including regions such as Kievska Oblast and Poltava. During the most violent days they had an inflow of 100 – 120 patients a day. The doctors and nurses are still there now, and they come for free, “We have enough, we don’t need money,” one of the nurses told me. They all come because they want to, not because they were asked to. They take turns working, but some of them like Zakharchenko, the coordinator, work up to 15 hours a day 7 days a week. She was very hesitant to speak with me, because she isn’t doing this to get any attention from the media.

She told me that when it started they set up several different rooms for different purposes; therapy, surgery, psychology and dentistry. Humanitarian help brought in some medicine for them to use. During February 18th – 20th there were 100+ patients a day, 90% of the protesters came with bronchitis from breathing in so many dangerous fumes from the gas weapons. Some of them still have health problems as an after-effect of the gas. While Zakharchenko was telling me about this another nurse brought me a ‘souvenir’, I expected a flag or a badge, I was handed a gas mask.

The doctors and nurses at the hospital would help everyone who came in injured, protestors as well as guests to Maidan. “What about Berkut?” I asked, and a dark expression came over her face. “We would help everyone, Berkut too… but usually as a trade for them letting someone go,” she said, but pointed out that this was before February 18th when the most people lost their lives. On February 25th Berkut was disbanded.

She told me that Polish and Czech doctors came to help at the hospitals. Later, Azzuz took me to one of the other hospitals where the doctors from People in Need were stationed. Right now there are Ukrainian doctors from the Rod Cross as well as other foreign doctors who are being sent to Crimea in anticipation of violence. Although things are a lot quieter now in Kiev, Zakharchenko still works at the hospital for a lot more than the legal 8 hours a day, and she comes every single day.

“My soul called me to work here” she said. In the beginning they weren’t allowed to come to Maidan during work, so she would come after and brought food and clothes. When the fighting broke out – Kiev was closed – all over the internet people were saying that it was going to be stormed by Berkut. She wanted to stop people from getting hurt, so she came at 3PM and was trying to get women to leave, but they wouldn’t budge. There were 20,000 people there all from Kiev since no one else could enter and half of them were women. When the Berkut was supposed to come, Tyhnybok, a deputy from the Supreme Council came. He asked Berkut, “Will you really storm these women? What if your mother, sister or wife is here?” She stayed there until 8PM that night, and the Berkut did end up storming Maidan, and people were shot.

Once the shooting began, they set up the hospital. She brought her 19 year old son with her many times, because he would tell her, “If you don’t take me with you, I’ll come on my own.” They were very busy, people needed x-rays and surgery, and they needed all the help they could get. She wasn’t the only one who came with her son; many would come with their families, many students worked there all night.

Everyone would give first aid, but many of the injured needed more serious care. They didn’t have a fancy clinic for surgeries and they couldn’t create a perfectly sterile environment. But they had to preform surgeries, there was no other way, people had to be saved.

Her mother didn’t know that she was coordinating and working at this hospital. At one point reporters came to interview the doctos and got her on camera. This was shown on the news and the next day her mom called, demanding to know what she is doing and to know that she is safe. Everyone was scared.

The protesters were treated very roughly at Maidan. She found a boy sitting in a strange way with his hands bandaged up, she asked him if he was okay and he insisted that he was. She convinced him to come into the hospital; he had a really high fever. She gave him an IV and only then did he admit that he was in jail, beaten brutally, “they jumped on me, humiliated me, hurt me in every way they could,” he told her. He was only 18; he didn’t want his parents to know so they wouldn’t worry about him.

https://olenakaguiukraine2014.wordpress.com/2014/03/18/one-field-hospital/