Alors qu'une année s'est écoulée depuis le début de l'invasion de l'Ukraine par l'armée russe le 24 février 2022, notre journaliste Romain L'Hostis a rencontré la
journaliste ukrainienne Aleksandra Marchenko qui, après avoir travaillé
pour la BBC Ukraine et Deutsche Well, est désormais réfugiée en France. Elle nous partage son
Romain L'Hostis : Hello Aleksandra Marchenko. We have asked people around Strasbourg if they had questions about Ukraine, of course about the war, but more generally about what it means for all of us and what can we expect for the near future as Ukrainian, as Europeans. Aleksandra, could you explain us a bit your presence here in Strasbourg? What have been the different steps that have led you until here as a journalist?
Aleksandra Marchenko : Yeah, I worked as a journalist in Ukraine. I was a journalist with the BBC, Ukraine and also Deutsche Welle. So I worked on the international scale, if I may say so. But because of the war since March, I came back and I'm writing and telling about Ukraine and Ukrainians at war for international media. I think it's the best that I can do professionally in this situation. We are in war times in Ukraine. We are saying that everyone of us is now on their particular battlefield. And I guess since I know how to do unbiased journalism and I can work internationally, I chose this as my battlefield.
R. L. : And what type of writings do you do?
A. M. : I do mostly people's stories. I think it's really important to explain on human level what the war means, because the war is not only about numbers and names, geolocations on the map. It's about human pain, human suffering. I also write about cultural Ukrainian cultural heritage and how it is now destroyed by Russians and I sometimes do general stories about the situation on the angle that is interesting for international media.
R. L. : So, as I told you before, we have gathered a few questions from local French citizens here in Strasbourg. First question that I heard, it would be in one word : why? Why is this war raging in Ukraine? How did it happen? How can we explain that it's still raging one year after? We can guess a few elements of answers, if we could have your opinion on this first question, what would it be?
A. M. : Yeah, I guess this would be the subject of historical studies that will last for years after the war finishes. Yeah, it's really hard to believe that such war is possible in the middle of Europe in 2022 and I would say, that Ukrainians hardly believed that such large scale invasion is possible. Obviously before February 2022 there were a lot of reports and opinions of experts about what can happen. The news were in the air, but I would say that no one expected such brutal massive invasion here. It's important to remember that this war didn't start in 2022. It actually started in 2014 when the Russians occupied Donbass and illegally annexed Crimea. After that, after the hot phase of that war, it became kind of frozen for a little while and we still on human level and on the level of brutal disrespect to international law and borders of Ukraine. We felt it back then, but now, since it's happening around the whole country, the world around is more on alert. Yeah, it's difficult to explain in short why it is happening. To put it in simple words as simple as possible, I would say that in the past decades, since Ukraine became independent, it developed quite rapidly and we had revolutions as you know, Euro Maidan revolution and before that Orange Revolution. And every movement like that made us closer to be a real democratic state, like a real democracy.
R. L. : And closer to Western Europe.
A. M. : Yeah, closer actually to the main values of Western Europe, yes, and Russia couldn't stand it. And alone with the democratic development of the country. Along with the fact that people in Ukrainian really have voice, they can go to the street and change the political power there were. There was also quick economic development and modernization flourish of IT businesses. And Russia, which is completely opposite as a state that still maintains authoritarian regime, they simply couldn't see and couldn't let this program to progress to last longer. I think that would be the simplest explanation.
R. L. : When you say Russia couldn't accept it, do you mean Russian people or just Russian government?
A. M. : We say now that it's not only the government that is responsible for this war, again, because based on the example of Ukrainian people have power. They can go to the street and do something about it. Yes, we can say that the orders are signed in the Kremlin, but it's Russian people who pressed the buttons, it's Russian people who go to Ukraine with tanks. It's Russian people who send missiles, it's Russian people who work in various Russian media support, in Russian propaganda and spreading the hate towards Ukraine. These are this is this is done on daily basis, not by Russian government, but by Russian people.
R. L. : For example, here in France, we've heard recently documentaries about Wagner, the paramilitary group. Which has been, by the way, identified as a terrorist group by the European Parliament not so long ago. Documentaries who were showing how Wagner group was using prisoners in frontline. I suppose they didn't decide to go there, but they still participate in war maybe against their will or I don't know what would be your opinion of this?
A. M. : I can't say what is happening with Wagner group. They are definitely terrorists and again it's strange to see that. It's the known fact who they are and how they are mobilized, but coming back to the power of people. Yeah, I think massive soldiers, oppression, massive opposition of military leader leaders of Russia can lead to the change into the situation.
R. L. : And if this change was about to start tomorrow, and that was one of the questions I've heard in the street in Strasbourg, if tomorrow the war was about to end, thanks to a popular action from the Russian people, would Russian and Ukrainian still defining themselves as brother people or no longer?
A. M. : I think this narrative is gone forever. I think this is what we call Russian propaganda. It didn't start just before this war. It lasted for decades and maybe centuries, because Russia identified itself as kind of main state, whether it was USSR or Russian empire. For now, it's just a country inside Europe. And yes, it's our neighbour we are neighbours geographically, but this narrative that we are brothers, it was created by Russian propaganda long, long time ago to maintain domination. To legitimate the domination and at the same time to devalue our independence and our difference, cultural and historical.
R. L. : to compare with your own familiar situation, you have Russian Members inside your family. According to you, we should not make the confusion between this and the existence of two independent states ?
A. M. : Yeah, exactly
R. L. : Having mixed families does not mean we are a single and united country.
A.M. : Yeah, I should probably explain that the whole east and South of Ukraine is populated by people who are 100 % or partly Russian by origin. And yes, people from that part of Ukraine had relatives in Russia. They went to Russia very often, they had friends in Russia. So on daily life there were connections with russia, also explained by geographical neighbourhood. But it's as you said, it's very different from national identity, from having your own history, from having your own language now is was not borrowed from Russia. I would say quite the opposite. When we speaking about culture and art, Russia did everything and continued doing now. To make Ukrainian famous names theirs and part of their cultural heritage and to put the paints of Ukrainian painters to their museums. And now they're looting museums in order to enrich their culture, although this is Ukrainian culture and this gold and these paintings that they are now taking illegally from occupied territories.
R. L. : You say they are stealing parts of Ukrainian history.
A. M. : Yes, they do and they are using it in order to strengthen their own heritage, but it's actually ours. And yeah, if speaking about brothers on a national level, it cannot exist because we were separated as a country many years ago. And even before that Ukraine had their own traditions and they're very different from Russia and the language is different from Russian language and to say that we are brothers like putting us in the same family under the wing of big parent, we don't need it anymore no and I also think one of the reasons why it happened is because Russia had a voice as a big state and or as again as the USSR or as Russian Empire. Russian Russia had a voice and Ukrainians. Never had until now, until the war times. On the international level, everything was about Russia, and by Russia people understood also the neighbouring countries that were once part of the USSR.
R. L. : Conceiving ukrainian without the idea of Russia or the interests of Russia was impossible. Would you say it's possible today to treat with Ukraine without thinking about Russia?
A. M. : I think now it's the time. We have the possibility to explain to the world who we are, what is Ukraine, what defines Ukraine, why mentality and culture is so different from Russia. We have these opportunities on international level to explain it to people abroad and unfortunately the price for this is enormous.
R. L. : What if this conflict would end soon, what's next ? Who for example, in terms of rebuilding who would pay the bill? What would be the different steps of reconstructions until functioning a normal life in Ukraine? Because, for example, we see that in occupied land, it's a bit sad to see how fast, for example, the ruined city of Mariupol is rebuilt by Russians in Russian design with Russian architecture and Russian building. It's a form of reconstruction. Strange form we can say that, of course, but what's your opinion of that? If Ukraine was about to recover all of its territories, do you think we should, for example, destroy the Crimea bridge between Crimea and Russia, or to start from zero again, or just accept what Russian have built these past few years and rebuilt upon this, or complete what? What would be your point on this?
A. M. : As for Crimean Bridge, it was built illegally after the annexation of Crimea. So when it was bombed some time ago, the whole Ukraine celebrated it and people in Kiev were celebrating on the streets with champagne because it's a symbolic destruction of this illegal connection built by and established by Russian. So yes, Crimean Bridge should definitely go. And yeah, it's interesting what you're asking about Mariupol. I think what they're doing is, I would call it colonial politics policy, sorry. And that territory doesn't belong to them. And just, Ukraine doesn't need Russians to construct their structures on their territory. It should be a completely different procedure, made also according to international law, with international partners. And it's the Ukrainian state who should get the reparation and then rebuild Ukraine according to their plan and obviously with the help of foreign partners. Because we won't manage these on our own on the territory of Ukraine, the infrastructure of Ukraine is ruined day by day. And who is paying the bills? Well, the one who causes the price pays the bills, yes, but it should be done according to all the all the official procedures and to the hands of Ukraine. And then Ukraine will decide what Mariupol should look.
R. L. : I can give you another example, for example, a few months ago Ukraine won Eurovision and for a short period of time, ZeLensky promised that next year we will organise next Eurovision inside Mariupol. Eurovision in Mariupol apparently will not be possible, because it will be the United Kingdom who will host this competition. If after another international competition such as Eurovision would take place in a Russian built' stadium in a Ukrainian Mariupol. It would be strange now. Or could we imagine such a big event again to ask you about the place such a Russian building should occupy in the next Ukraine?
A. M. : I don't think that Ukraine would ever accept anything that is done by Russians on the occupied territories these days. During the war we don't need this help from them again and Ukraine is big enough. To find a place if we need for an international event like Eurovision and to do it according to how we would like to do it without any, any support from Russia. As Zelensky once said, we'd rather live without water, electricity, without gas, but definitely without you so. We don't need this constructions, but it's difficult question I think. I cannot tell you how the whole process of rebuilding Ukraine will be organised, but. We need reparation because this is justice. But we don't need their help in rebuilding what they destroyed. We know how their help looks like. Look at Donbas, which is which is living in poverty since 2015 And this help is not what Ukraine is looking for and definitely not from their hands.
R. L. : Here we live in a border region of France, very special territory : Alsace, who was along the centuries or German or French. This succession of different belongings of nations. And what we can observe is that first French state or first German state, no matter which one who was holding Alsace, it felt the need to build big monuments to its glory and today you can see the results of such binational architecture history. You have either German monuments, either French palace or big buildings and both of them are still used in modern Alsace in contemporary Alsace. But anyway, we still use buildings who were built by German. Apparently it's not yet the same relation to buildings in eastern Ukraine. What's their meaning?
A. M. : Yeah, I think it's not about relations to buildings. And yes, it's really interesting because I was asked the history of Alsace partly correlates with the history of eastern Ukraine. I think it's not the relations to the buildings. We are at the hot phase of war. And anything that is Russian is covered by blood, is connected with pain, is connected with shooting, with shelling, with torture, with suffering, with the imposing something. With power and it's not what we can accept or we want to see on our land. Whether it's a building, whether it's something else. Now it's the hot stage of war, a stage of war. And every single Ukrainian understands who sends the bombs and then I can't imagine how they will be living in the building made by Russians. But at the same time Ukrainian themselves are rebuilding their territories square metres after square metres in the villages, for instance in Bucha, which is now famous around the world, for all the horror. The local government installed the Christmas tree a couple of days ago and the centre of Bucha is rebuilt and it's rebuilt by local people. And the same is happening in other areas in the in the villages, people have nowhere to go and this is the 1st and the second. Ukrainians are very lively, they like to celebrate life, they're very positive people, which makes them extremely resilient. They want to leave no matter what's happening around. So once they get any ports, possibility, physical possibility to make order around them, to make this order back, they're doing it day by day and step by step and they're rebuilding their own houses. They're painting the fences that were full of bullet holes. They're painting flowers around them, you know, to overcome the tragic.
R. L. : Not hiding it, but using it in a better way.
A. M. : They are rebuilding small bridges with the tyres from the cars that are shelled and destroyed. And they are doing this with their hands on their territory. This is how Ukraine will be rebuilt, step-by-step. Ukrainians will just do it because Ukrainians like order. For Ukrainians, home means a lot. They are like homey people and people who wants to keep order around them in their garden, inside their houses. So they are just they're doing this now and they will continue to do it. They in Kiev after the recent missile in the center of kiev. Local services rebuild the asphalt within a day. I think in spring, local services that were still in control and under Ukrainian control, they planted flowers. Because they just want their territory to be organised in a nice way and by them, so they will just do.
R. L. : Thank you Aleksandra Marchenko.