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10 November 2015

Be empathetic, not judgmental

To paraphrase Walt Whitman, I ask you to support people who find themselves in difficult circumstances, and not to judge them on the basis of residence stamps in their passports.

When four years ago I moved to Lviv for work, I did not tell people that was born and lived most of my adult life in Lugansk. Just because I was confident that these details were not relevant to my work in an international organization.

When in the summer of 2014 I had to look for a new apartment to rent, I did not tell my prospective landlord that I was from Lugansk. It occurred to me that I could not answer all the questions that may come not so much about me, as against all my compatriots who were on the other side of the fighting line.

Today, however, continuing to live and work in the socio-cultural space of western Ukraine, I am ready to declare loudly that I am a Luhansk native. I want to give people the opportunity to see the pro-Ukrainian Luhansk residents, make locals question their established opinions about residents of Donbas, shake a little their stereotypes.

One of the latest alarming examples that I encountered, occurred during a discussion of the documentary "Where Does the Dust Come From and Where Do the Money Go" at the “Docudays” Travelling Documentary Human Rights Film Festival in Lviv. A young girl, apparently a local resident, commented on the film about the rights of voters and electoral technologies with the general message that Lviv residents learned how to make the right choice because of their better development, which can not be said about the inhabitants of eastern Ukraine.

It was good that an experienced moderator immediately made a feedback and spoke about her own experiences with the residents of Lugansk and Donetsk regions, saying that any generalization is false and can not reflect the whole story. Also the moderator noted that she personally spoke with very active and interesting guys from the Donbas, who were pro-Ukrainian. However, it was not the first time I encountered in public discussions the thought of East Ukraine residents voting “wrong”.

My experience is that the majority of Ukrainian voters, regardless of registration, are ultimately disappointed in their political choices. Our politicians, including the so-called "pro-Western", can not deliver on their pre-election slogans. The most recent situation which explicitly confirms that is the President’s protection of the General Prosecutor Shokin who sabotages reform of the prosecution and prevents Ukraine’s achievement of the visa-free regime with the European Union.

During the four years of my life in Lviv, I met a lot of interesting and decent people, with whom I developed warm friendships. Lviv, in my opinion, is a beautiful city, which gives space for development and creativity. But unfortunately, being constantly in aggressive media environment, and losing loved ones in the armed conflict in the Donbas, residents of western Ukraine are beginning to have a negative attitude to people from the east. And it further deepens the aggression between people, aggravates the conflict, helping Russia in its "hybrid war" against Ukraine.

There is a thought expressed by a Ukrainian philosopher, professor of the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy Mykhailo Minakov, which, in my opinion, gives the direction of thought to solve this situation: "We have to think about the people, not the territory".

Donbas will return to Ukraine, the people of east and west of the country will have to communicate and somehow restore their social ties. Yet by following the lead of negative stereotypes, by pounding oneself in the grip of hatred and alienation, one can never restore social contacts. In that case the Ukrainian land of Donbas, which defense and liberation comes at such a heavy price, will thus continue to be torn away and not understood.

What would I advise in these circumstances to myself and to the people with whom I deal / interact / communicate / make friends with in Lviv?
  • Look deeper, analyze and concentrate on the positive things;
  • Do not believe the gossips, listen to other points of view, have a glimpse of patriotic, intelligent inhabitants of eastern Ukraine; 
  • Do not generalize, any generalization is wrong. Believe me, not all of Luhansk and Donetsk residents share the separatist ideas (and those who do share - are in thrall to the aggressive propaganda); 
  • Think about the fact that not all people were born to become leaders, volunteers. Just imagine for a moment that someone sees him/herself as just a good engineer, a parent, a good performer, just an everyman. Are not such people an essential component of our society? Could a society exist without townies-engineers?
  • Use any chance to learn more about Luhansk and Donetsk residents, if an opportunity arises. You may be very surprised. Among my fellow Luhansk natives there are public figures, writers, programmers, and representatives of medium-sized businesses. All of them support the idea of the United Ukraine; 
  • Try to put yourself in the shoes of people from Donbass. Imagine for a moment that you lived a normal life, have not been too active or passive, raised children, went to the polls all voted the same as most others, and as a result of that lost your house, family, work, respect, access to the graves of your parents, your livelihood. Stay a little in this state of mind, and think how would you act? What would you say? And maybe somewhere deep within you will be able to grant to other people the right to make mistakes. We all make mistakes. If this error is not directly related to human lives, give a person the right to be wrong, to feel the effects, and to find an opportunity to correct or prevent the recurrence of this error.

What would I advise in these circumstances to myself and the people with whom I deal / interact / communicate / make friends in Luhansk?
  • One does not choose a Motherland, does not sell or change it. Donbas is an unalienable part of the Ukrainian state. So it was, and so it will be; 
  • Do not identify the state of Ukraine with the political elites, who represent this state in this historic period of its development. Politicians - are just politics;
  • Remember, reputation - is a set of impressions about you that are very hard to create, but are very easily to lose, and so difficult to restore;
  • It is always possible to fix things and to return to your own people. We are waiting for you in Ukraine.

That's all I wanted to say. Thanks to those who read to the end. Like many of my fellow Luhansk natives, I'm a little traumatized psychologically by what is going on, and I am not ready to answer for all the offenses committed by my compatriots. But I hope to be heard. It is necessary to return not the land, but the people.

Natalya Datchenko

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