Train from Kramatorsk with the cutting brakes screech. Photographer Anders Hansson (Anders Hansson) and I were already ready, standing at the door and being the first to crawl to the apron. We make our way through the train station in Kiev, burdened by our bulletproof equipment that we brought in a reportage trip East of Ukraine.
We’re in a hurry. Time eleven, and in exactly half an hour, we got an interview in one of the hotels on Khreschatyk street with fighter pilot Nadezhda Savchenko. Half past twelve at night is the only time when she can give an interview, because on the next day Savchenko she was leaving for the front.
The war in Eastern Ukraine is the third year. According to the Minsk agreements, now there must be a ceasefire, but in practice, the shooting is incessant. During this time, the world had to deal with other worries — trump, brexia and flows of refugees to Europe.
Nadezhda Savchenko is called by many different names. Some call it the Ukrainian Joan of Arc. Other — the tramp in a skirt. The last epithet she, not surprisingly, received from the Russian liberal intellectual by the name of Nikolay Svanidze.
In fact, it would have to be with Savchenko on the same side, as they both have the same critical attitude to Vladimir Putin. But Savchenko — person, inconvenient for everyone: for Russian liberals and Ukrainian nationalists.
In 2004-2005, Nadezhda Savchenko became known in Ukraine as the only soldier-woman in the part of the Ukrainian peacekeeping force in Iraq. After that she wanted to become a fighter pilot, and that education is denied to women. Savchenko managed to obtain a special permission from the Minister of defence and become a pilot of a fighting helicopter, that her point of view was a failure. She wanted to be a fighter pilot — but the defence Ministry was not allowed.
Savchenko was often a discipline problem. Its management calls it a crooked and unstable. Twice expelled from the University when she studied at the prestigious Kharkov Institute of air forces. Twice she was able to return.
In June 2014 there is a war between the Ukrainian army and separatists in Eastern Ukraine supported by Russia. Lieutenant Nadezhda Savchenko is with his air regiment in Lviv, but at the front it does not send. Then she leaves his regiment and volunteers in the battalion “Aydar”.
June 17, 2014 in Lugansk she was taken prisoner by the separatists. Shortly thereafter, the separatists have uploaded a video which questioned the wounded, thin and tortured Savchenko, handcuffed to a gas pipe.
In early July, Russia suddenly announced that Savchenko voluntarily crossed the border of Russia disguised as a refugee. There she was arrested and placed in jail in Voronezh. Russia has started the trial of the most famous fighter pilot of Ukraine for the murder of two Russian journalists who were killed by a grenade explosion near the city of Lugansk.
Everything points to the fact that the separatists handed Savchenko of Russia. To kidnap citizens of another country and the judge is prohibited. When the trial began against Savchenko, it really helped Ukrainian propaganda — simply because the illegality of this play was too obvious.
However, Savchenko is far from the perfect hero. She is not behaving like some kind of magnanimous Nelson Mandela. During the trial, the Lieutenant sat there, casually resting his feet in the bars of the cage, staring at all, as a teenager, and showed the judge the middle finger.
Several times she staged a hunger strike, and when it was put in a cage in the courtroom, often her face was pale and exhausted. But the look always remained the same: full of cold contempt for the process, in which it appeared.
When she was released in exchange of prisoners in may 2016, and her plane landed in Kiev, at the airport there were thousands of people to meet their heroine. Savchenko shouted at them, that they had not been close — it is so long in prison that “estranged from the people.”
A day later she speaks in the Ukrainian Parliament — the Rada, where she was elected in her absence. Barefoot, she delivers a violent speech, where scolding was worth the entire Ukrainian political establishment, calling them corrupt scum. Several months later, she leaves their party, “Fatherland.”
The fact that those in power are corrupt — argument, unquestioned in Ukraine. But the call for dialogue with the enemy — that is, with the leaders of the separatists in the Donbas — just doubtful. And that’s what it calls for Savchenko. In Minsk she personally met with the leader of the Donetsk Republic Alexander Zakharchenko to discuss the exchange of prisoners of war. She talked with the leader of Luhansk, Igor Plotnitsky, who personally interrogated her, chained to the pipe.
And now another rumor went around Ukraine. Those nationalist circles, who praised Savchenko, turned away from her and began to call a traitor. They claim that Savchenko signed an agreement with Russian authorities while he was in prison.
The truth is that Nadiya Savchenko’s just a very awkward person. She never plays the imposed roles. She didn’t do any when you were a soldier or a pilot, nor as a captive in Russia or becoming a Ukrainian politician.
And I am absolutely convinced that it is not going to do it and as the object of the interview. I was waiting for her at the last moment will refuse, or that she will appear not earlier than two nights. I’m preparing for a heavy interview, during which she, as it happened in other interviews that I’ve read, declare that to meet journalists is useless. I know its Russian, like all the inhabitants of Kiev, perfect, but ready for what she will answer in Ukrainian. In any case, she has every right, even though it will mean certain practical difficulties for me.
Twenty minutes to twelve. Nadezhda Savchenko stands together with her sister Faith down at the reception. We say Hello, and I thank her for what she had agreed to give an interview to DN in the middle of the night.
“You from the front came. If you took the trouble to go to the front, I can take the trouble to meet with you so late.”
Her voice low, diplomacy and beautiful. Savchenko smoke cigarettes one by one.
In addition, she is a pragmatist, so we all interviews speak in Russian.
Anna-Lena Lauren: you Recently called the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko enemy of the people. What do you mean?
Nadiya Savchenko: I meant only what I said. Poroshenko didn’t sell his chocolate factory (under the brand Roshen), and he has a lot of property in Russia. That’s not the only chocolate factory in Lipetsk, but also all enterprises which are engaged in repair of warships of the Russian fleet in the Crimea. We have a war, and the President earns money with the help of the enemy. It’s bad.
I asked Savchenko, why she decided to meet with their bitter enemies, the leaders of the separatists Alexander Zakharchenko and Igor Carpentry.
“I’m ready to shake hands with the devil himself to free our prisoners of war. In Russia and in the separatist territories is at least 44 political prisoner and 50 confirmed prisoners of war with Ukraine. In addition, a lot of people just disappeared without a trace. It’s all our fellow citizens, we are responsible for them”.
Savchenko says calmly and very clearly.
“I met with Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky in Minsk. They are different. With Carpentry I met when in captivity. Crafty type. Zakharchenko more character, you can talk to him. But the problem is that both are very dependent on Russia. But this does not mean that we should not try to negotiate with them”
— The problem is probably that if they agree on something, Russia will eliminate them immediately and put the other direction?
— Yes, they can fix them and appoint a new one. But in such situations there is always a large element of unpredictability. Everything can suddenly and radically change. You know, life has forced me to start to trust people. Even the worst person can find something good. And even the worst person in the world can be persuaded if fighting for what is right. Come to agreement is possible, at least in regard to prisoners of war.
— People call you a traitor for that opinion.
— I don’t care. I have very little time to devote to the Ukrainian politicians, because they are regular clowns. Of course, many Ukrainian politicians were not profitable, I was a hero. The more they call me a traitor, the more they’re terribly afraid of me.
Savchenko, soldiers ready to die for Ukraine, it considers that it is necessary to show understanding towards the people on the other side of the front.
“In those areas our people live. They believed in the Russian world, they circled around the finger. But this does not mean that we should abandon them, we need to talk to them. If you establish contact with the enemy, this makes more than you. Therefore, all these three years we had to talk to these people. We had to say, listening to them, that we love them and we want them returned to our family. That we can live together. If we did, as we were flying would be much less machine-gun fire from their side”.
She thinks the whole format of the peace talks should be changed.
“The Minsk group has worked for three years without result. In this case, you should at least change the negotiators, and possibly the format. The Minsk group should be people who know what they are talking about. There must be former prisoners of war, the military, relatives of the prisoners. It doesn’t have to be some politicians who never at risk”.
— You were ready to lose a lot. You were sentenced to 22 years in prison.
I would never have stayed all this time. Never in my life. In this case, I would go back to Ukraine in a coffin.
— So you were ready to continue the hunger strike until the end?
— Yes! — Savchenko says almost happily. — I’m sure not have stayed in prison longer than she wanted to. I knew that going back to Ukraine alive or dead. I didn’t care how.
— Where you have such strength of spirit?
I don’t know. Perhaps because I was brought up in severity. Our parents survived the Second world war. They knew the life, knew what hunger is. They knew that you can never afford more than allow others that need to help people. So we were brought up. It influenced me. When I was in the army, I handled it better than many men.
— What, for example?
— I was stronger and often better cope with the heavy workouts that we had. I never whined and was always ready to work. Many didn’t like it. I always chose the most difficult path and therefore considered stupid.
When Savchenko says about it, it becomes obvious that she got used to the fact that it is considered strange. She’s not even expressed regrets in this regard.
“After all, it is only in the desire to work. No one worked as hard as I am, and therefore they resented the fact that I coped with things with which they can cope — if I stood up. And yet many did not like my principled attitude to justice. I hate injustice, I cannot keep silent when I see it. It is not like the command”.
— Some of the command you called undisciplined soldier.
Savchenko laughs sardonically.
They’re calling it, Yes. They call it discipline. But what actually constitutes a discipline? What do you do well what you have. In the army, they tried to have me sometimes get to do some stuff just to break. So I became a sheep, the same in which the Russian leadership is trying to turn its citizens. When I protested, they called it “bad discipline”. But I have always polished his boots and rubbed the buckle. I was trimming the hair. I’m never late. I have nothing to blame, as for my appearance or performance of duties.
Why do you want to become a pilot?
I like to work with technology, not with people, it is much easier, because all the time people any problems. I love heights and speed. I love airports. But first and foremost I love the smell of jet fuel!
And Hope Savchenko disappointed that she, a woman, was never allowed to learn to fly a fighter.
— I can fly a Yak-52 and combat helicopters Mi-26 and Mi-24. Led fighter when I was a pilot, women were not allowed. No reason for such a prohibition is not, in any case, neither reasonable nor legal. We in Ukraine are very big problems with discrimination, huge gender inequality, especially in the army. All my life men have told me that I can and what can’t, and I had to prove to them that I can actually.
Is it true that you are ready to give the Crimean Peninsula to certain conditions, as reported in the news?
No, that’s a lie. They distorted what I said. Here’s how it is actually: in 2014, when Russia invaded Crimea, I was a fighter pilot. I waited for the order to join the battle, like all others in the army. But for some reason we never got a team. We had to fight when we had the chance. But our government chose to give Russia the Crimea — the same people who shout in all throat: “We will not give the Crimea!” The fact is that they gave up Crimea. They shout “We will not give up Donbass!” And I’m afraid they’ll just do it with the policy, which they held before. If we now want to return the Donbas in a peaceful way, this can be done only at the cost of the Crimea. After all, it already happened — our politicians sold the Crimean Peninsula.
— But you think that you need to conduct negotiations on the Donbass need to establish a dialogue?
— It should have been done three years ago. We still have a time on it, but a little. The problem is that Russia has in practice forced the Ukrainian government to take back the Donbass in the Russian conditions. And this is not the path of peace, the path to war. Because it will mean not peace, and that war will continue, as will the civil war that plagues the Donbass, and we, Ukrainians, will continue to squabble with each other.
Unlike many others, Savchenko believes that Russia is strongly interested in the annexation of Donbas.
“The fact is that Russia does not need this territory. It will only create difficulties. All the infrastructure and communications connected to Ukraine. If they Annex the Donbass, they will be forced to make the same large-scale investments, as in the Crimea, to build all of the mains and the water system again. To continue using the Ukrainian infrastructure would mean that the war will be eternal. And that Russia does not need. So Ukraine simply threaten: if you don’t do we, we are annexing the Donbass and you will be a second Crimea. The problem is that those in power do not meet each other and do not discuss this issue.”
Savchenko advocates for a broad political dialogue with the participation of Russia and all its neighbors in the region.
“All the countries that border Russia, must participate. The Baltic States, Belarus, Moldova, Romania and even Georgia and Turkey. When there are many of us and Russia alone would probably be able to achieve something. Russian communications pass through these countries. And under and above the ground. Close corridors in the air, shut off the gas! Do not buy Russian gas. Then Russia will be more accommodating”.
Nadezhda Savchenko believes that the Western world too late with their actions against Russia.
“The West would react much harder and much earlier. Show strength, not a soft restraint, like it is now. Followed immediately exclude Russia from the SWIFT system (which would result in the impossibility to conduct banking transactions between Russia and other countries). To convince Saudi Arabia to reduce the price of oil to $ 5 for six months. It would be a disaster for the Russian leadership because they are stealing from their own budgets. And it would give the result”.
— You want to tighten sanctions, but at the same time believe that Russia need to engage in dialogue?
Yes. You need to use the carrot and the stick. Thus, it is possible to train any circus animal, including bear.
— You said earlier that Russian and many have supported you. You received letters in prison, including from the well-known Russian actress Liya Akhedzhakova. How do you currently feel about Russia?
— There are no bad Nations, there are bad people. In Russia, a lot of reasonable people. Many people understand what is really going on between Russia and Ukraine, many are ashamed of it. Unfortunately, they are ordinary people, not gods, they can’t stop the war. And there are many who are not afraid to take risks and go to jail, for example, Ildar Dading (Russian political prisoner who is now released). I am very grateful to them, the Russian who chose to be real people. The others, those who want to be beasts, I just feel sorry for.
— Still not even a year has passed since the moment you were released. As you get used to living in freedom, after nearly two years in prison?
— I was easy to return to a normal life. The only thing I don’t like, I don’t like that so many people constantly want to be around me. I never liked close contact, I don’t like it when people want to hug me, and after prison I like it even less. So I kept my distance. But the work is not obstructed.
I asked Savchenko has not been whether it is some sort of therapy or perhaps counseling after time spent in prison.
Oh… I always made fun of psychologists. In prison to me they come regularly. When I was hungry, the priests came and told me that suicide is a sin. Psychologists sat in front of me and waving her hands. To me it was funny. I once had a brazen psychologist-a man who told me that I have a lot of problems with my female identity. I put it in place. Psychologists are not difficult to handle.
Your family mean a lot to you?
— My family is my mom and sister. That’s all I have. Of course, they mean a lot to me. My sister Faith is a fighter. If not for her, I probably never would have returned from Russia.
— Why did you decide to enroll in the army?
I like professions that are demanding. But when I went there, it seemed to me that everything is happening too slowly. Still I think it’s great when you get up in the morning, you can ponder what to wear. In the army there is nothing superfluous. There is only life and death. Now, when I do politics, I bought six almost identical suits, they only have different color. I never need to waste time choosing clothes in the morning, I just wear one of the costumes.
— You are forced to think more about their appearance, being a politician?
— No. This is the thing to which Ukrainians should change the attitude. We admire your political system in Europe, but many don’t understand why she is so far ahead. And that’s because your politicians do not believe they are in the sixty years should look like at thirty. In Europe there is no accident that women have gray hair. Women politicians don’t need to dress up, as do our.
— How do you feel about feminism?
Laughed a little, Savchenko thinks.
— In the 18th and 19th century women were considered mindless beasts took us a great job to get to what it is now. The struggle we must pay tribute, she allowed us now to live as free citizens. But I am a harmonious person and don’t like to overreact. I don’t like Femen and Pussy Riot, because the run with bare Breasts — this is not feminism, and stupid. Otherwise, I’m all for feminism!
The hour of the night and I go back to my hotel room. Suddenly the phone rings. On the other end I hear his hard voice Savchenko.
— I forgot to say one thing. Could you convey to all the readers in your country, I thank them because they supported me while I was in prison, everyone who showed solidarity. I such things are not forgotten.
Savchenko says that she will make the “front”. I read about this in “the New newspaper” a week later: Savchenko went straight into separatist-controlled Donetsk to meet with Ukrainian prisoners of war. In Instagram you can see her, surrounded by armed separatists in masks, in the darkness right outside of Donetsk. The thick steel door opened with a screech, and Savchenko enters the chamber.
“Glory To Ukraine!” she says the three prisoners.
Is a popular greeting among Ukrainian nationalists, which is often used on the Maidan. In Donetsk today, few people would venture to say it out loud.
She then moves on to practical issues.
“And there is not allowed any heaters?”
The warden says no.
“In Russian prisons is allowed,” — said Savchenko.
“The Russian is allowed and not here.”
“But it’s good that you are in Russia. Maybe, after all, think about the boilers?”
“Think,” replied the warden.
In the same article talks about the reaction of the adviser to the Ukrainian interior Minister Zorian Shkiryak. He says Savchenko should be judged for national treason due to her visit to Donetsk, which he regards as “provocation”.
I don’t need to call Savchenko, to comment on it. I know she will answer.
She wanted to spit on this guy.
Note: according to the message of concern “Roshen” to the press, published in January, a chocolate factory in Lipetsk is going to close.