FEAR INTO ACTION
funded by the British Council
The teams of Teatr Neft and Parade Festival are from Kharkiv in Ukraine. The city is under intense attack, including being targeted by cluster bombs, a weapon banned by 30 countries. Many people in the city have been killed and injured. The teams of Teatr Neft and Parade are currently trying to get to safety.
Between 2020 and 2021, we interviewed people in Ukraine about their fears and how they translated this into action.
Through these exchanges, we heard experiences of pride, moments of celebration and acts of resistance.
War quickly forgets the people who are facing brutality and violence. So whilst the project is ongoing, we have decided to share parts of these interviews over the coming days.
They are not a response to the current Russian invasion but simply moments of bravery, ingenuity and creativity in the fight for survival & self-determination or in the face of everyday discrimination.
They are snapshots from Ukraine of people’s everyday experiences & fears and how they are transforming where they live into a place of inclusivity and change.
People were interviewed separately, and anything that identifies them is currently removed for safety.
New extracts will be uploaded in the coming days.
Extract uploaded 24/03/2022
'The magazine was something my friend and I started together... It was a period in my life when music played a huge role.
I was fond of certain bands, and mysteriously, the top five that I listen to non-stop came from Kharkiv.
I felt that Kharkiv was trying to bring me a message… that it was somehow calling for me through music and literature. It was a mystical story.
At the same time, my friend was having the same impressions of the city. So we decided to move there and start writing about the culture we already knew. Then the network started expanding, and we would get more and more recommendations for different music, theatre and interesting people to write about.
Our web grew bigger and bigger, and I realised that what I knew about culture in Kharkiv was just the peak of the iceberg, and there was an even more significant part underwater… That one could learn about Kharkiv endlessly. Even if an interesting place closed or disappeared, something new would soon grow, and the city's equilibrium would be restored.
When my relationship with Kharkiv started, it didn't mean so much to me, but the city became a great friend. I believe the media you read about a city has an important impact on its image and perception. That the stories about a city and its people create a phenomenon, that media and our magazine can help to feel and understand Kharkiv.
We continued to write about culture in the magazine, but we also began to focus on the human rights agenda. This was important for our team and us. We want a diversity of people from different cultures to feel comfortable in this city, which is not only about love, it's also about struggle. The struggle not only against something, but for something, the changes we want to see happen here. We believed highlighting human rights was an instrument to change our reality, so why not use it.
I feel sceptical when I hear people say there are things they don't like about this city, but there is no way to change it. I believe we can change things if we want to because there is no war here. This is a peaceful city. We feel pretty much in comfort here. We feel at ease. We feel freedom, which is a huge resource…. So we must share this resource and use it to express and communicate the things we feel and the things we experience with other people. '
Extract uploaded 10/03/2022
'We did not know what they were supposed to expect from the Russian invasion of Crimea. It was my ninth month of pregnancy, and I was waiting for my fourth child to be born.
People did not know how we should behave. We just packed suitcases with the necessary items so we could leave at any moment.
I have never in my life seen so many units of military machinery. Tanks, vehicles, military, aeroplanes flying above our heads. So many people with uniforms. You must note, that Russian troops took control all of the critical infrastructures in my city. They took over the roads, the municipal administration and the hospitals, things like this.
I was already in the hospital, and from my window, I could see uniformed people trying to enter. The hospital's chief physician stepped out in front of the soldiers, saying: ‘there are ladies here in this hospital, and they're about to give birth to their children. And I don't want anything to happen to them. If anything happens to these ladies, you will regret it.’
This was a man without any weapons, and he was standing up for us. At this moment, I was terrified. I could feel that things were shifting.
The scariest thing about these events is that we did not know what to do or how this will end. And everyone, I suppose was expecting that the global community would react somehow. That sanctions would be introduced, that declarations would be made. But nothing happened, and the Russian troops remained in Crimea.
On March 18, there was this so-called referendum in Crimea and on March 28th, I gave birth to my fourth child. There was a birth attendant next to me and she said, ‘You already have three children. Your older children will be citizens of Ukraine, and your youngest child will be a citizen of the Russian Federation.’
It was just a moment, a sentence spoken by a regular woman, but it struck me. This was the moment that I realised that something had happened in front of my eyes, that Russia had occupied Crimea and that Russia was planning to be here for a long time.
This was the first time I believed that people felt this fear, and I also felt it.
In the first year, I was taking care of my child. But I kept following the news on the TV and the internet.
When the mass arrests started, I realised that this would only continue and increase. I could not imagine just sitting at home and watching.
I felt that there was no other way to react, than to do just something.'
Extract uploaded 04/03/2022
'I know many activists in Ukraine from the previous generation and when I was young 18, 19, 20 years old I had my own revision of how to fight for our rights and so on.
I always thought hey you old people go to your bed and stay there, you don’t know how to fight. But now I realise that their activities and their attitudes help me to be a successful human rights activist today.
Our organisation works to normalise human rights including LGBTI rights. Not to popularise them but to make these conversations normal.
Now in 2021, you can discuss these topics with members of parliament in Kyiv, it’s possible. But for now, in my city, we have these… emotions on the subject
So we are working to make this agenda, let's say, boring for people. It’s not something to discuss or a provocation… it's just boring.
We want to show the general public that civil unions are not about sex on drugs in nightclubs. Because stereotypically gay relations are thought to be only about sex and deviations, rather than relationships, families, common connections.
So we try to show that the supermarket shopping list is an important discussion for gay couples. Quarrels over washing up are about gay couples. The task of having to visit the mother in law, and so on and so on.
This is the goal that we are trying to achieve, but yes for now this is emotional.
What we need is examples…. I do not want to say that I'm really an angel, but me and my partner show other LGBTI people that you can be open and everything will be ok.
This is really important because I know about fifteen young men who excepted themselves because of me. They saw me, and said, okay, he is not harlequin, he’s not a bad guy from the street, he is really cool. I am also really cool. Why can’t I be open?
And this is my personal achievement of being openly gay.'
Extract uploaded 29/02/2022
'I remember in February 2014 when everything started escalating in Crimea. My mother was on holiday and when the whole thing began with the tanks and military machines I gave my mother a call, ‘What are we supposed to do? Should we stay or should we leave?'
She told me one thing, ‘For 50 years we were struggling to come back and now we finally returned.’
So this was the moment I made my decision. I realised that I must stay on this ground and go on living the life that I want to live, to choose my lifestyle and fight for my rights.
These things require a contribution, and this was the moment that I decided to start doing something.
One of the first groups of citizens that started to protest was women.
We went on a big action, a big protest, making a column and standing along the highway. These women had many nationalities, and it was called women against the war.
At the women's march, I played three rolls at the same time. I was a participant, I was an organiser, and I was also a journalist. You can imagine how important this moment was. And the need to report these events.
The highway runs from one large city to another and goes through where I live. So there was no way not to take part. This is a very important highway for Crimea. A big one. So all the units of Russian military machinery went along this road.
The woman decided to stand in the way of the military machinery and block it from moving.
To see those women running towards the military machinery holding their posters and balloons you can imagine my feelings. I was in fear. The danger was very probable. Many people could really die at this very moment.
When the whole thing started with Russian in Crimea for sure, we were scared. Everyone is scared of war. But war is something abstract. You can't imagine war if you have never experienced what war is. But when the women were really emotional. When they ran on the road to block the way, I felt a different kind of fear because this fear was realistic. It was a very realistic source of danger.
As the situation developed in Crimea, your fears also develop. You begin to realise how these things work. Your fear transforms from a historical or genetic fear because of your history into a very specific one, and you learn exactly what you should be scared of.
I would say that over time my fears transformed. First into risk awareness, so you become aware of the risks that are present, and you rationally consider the dangers that you want to take.
The next stage is the emotional stage. When you have been watching and experiencing events for so long that you know this military machine. You understand what the future of this system is, and you become scared of future events. And most importantly it becomes a fear for the children because I am a mother and so I am terrified for the future of my child.'