Tape 1 Касета 1
(00:44:00) It’s January 30th, 1996, and we are here with Susan Viets in her apartment in Kiev. Thank you, Susan.
You were the first western journalist to live and report from Ukraine full time. (00:01:00) Can you describe a little bit to us how you were interested in Ukraine and in Eastern Europe in general and specifically in journalism in this part of the world?
Well, I began working first in Hungary in Eastern Europe in November of 1988. I’d been a student of Soviet Politics in London and I, for very personal reasons, decided that I wanted to go to Eastern Europe to witness first hand what seemed to be the beginning of very interesting political movements there. By 1990, the East European story was over. By March of 1990, Hungary had its elections and voted in democratic parties. And it was already clear from January of that year the way the things were going in the Eastern Europe that elections would take place in the various countries and from a journalistic perspective that the story would be dying very soon. So I started thinking about what I would do next. And I’d always wanted to work in what was then the Soviet Union. I initially, I suppose, [have] been more attracted to (00:02:00) the idea of working in Moscow, simply because it was a center of power. But I was also a very young journalist and the accreditation process at that time was extremely difficult and I just felt that I wouldn’t be strong enough to be able to break into the Moscow circle. And also I was aware that things were beginning to happen in the republics of the former Soviet Union and I guess what I did was in a way I psychologically took the East European model and applied it to the Soviet state, and I began to wonder, you know, what would happen with independence movements there and would they be worth monitoring. So I started talking to journalists who’d worked in a former Soviet Union, and what most people were saying at that time was that the two most interesting republics to look into would be Ukraine or Georgia. And so then I again started asking around, you know, what were these places like, what was the history, how easy it was to live there. And most people said that Georgia, (00:03:00) the telecommunications in Georgia were very bad, and it would be a bad place to work as a woman. And people, secondly, you know, from my point of view, Ukraine was a neighboring country to Hungary, so it was physically pretty easy to get to. I didn’t have a huge amount of money which meant just kind of buying a train ticket and heading off, so I thought, well you know, why not? Why not jump on the train and just have a look at this place? So, in February of 1990 I began a kind of mounting a campaign. I was working for the “Guardian” then, a campaign to try to persuade the foreign editor to back me, go into Ukraine for a trip, and hopefully to set up there as a permanent correspondent.
They did back me to go there for a trip, but they said “no” to the idea of maybe being based there as a permanent correspondent, because they said that would jeopardize the operation of the Moscow office because at that time there was a quota system in place, and X number of Soviet journalists were allowed to work in Britain, (00:04:00) and X number of British journalists were allowed to work in the Soviet Union, and everybody at that point was based in Moscow. Nobody was in a republic. So, they just felt on balance, that it would, you know, put their operation at too high a risk.
But any way, I went off, I bought a train ticket from a travel agency and then I got myself a tourist visa and I jumped on the train, my friends had waved me good-bye in Budapest, and I went off to Kiev with this single hotel voucher, I didn’t know anyone I didn’t know anything but about the place, and I had no idea that the train would get in at, like, two in the morning (laughter), which came as a good shock, there was a very long trip, very smelly train, kind of, shocking in many respects. So, I arrived in Kiev at two in the morning at the “vokzal”. And I’d never seen a train station like that in my life, it looked like a refugee camp. It was just, sort of, lots of scary people and big bundles and it was incredibly dark. (00:05:00) I got off the train and I thought: “Oh, my God, what next?”, all I had was the address of this hotel. I flagged down the taxi driver, and I had no idea of what the local of the economy was like either, so I just said to this driver: “Do you know this hote? – it was the “Rus” hotel” And he said: “Oh, yes, yes”. And I said: “Well, would five dollars be all right for taking there?” And he said: ‘Fine, fine”. So I got in the taxi and we drive off and I suddenly got very scared because it was dark outside and it was clear that we were heading away from the city center. I didn’t know where my hotel was but I knew that it was it must have been in the city center somewhere. And we were just speeding down these bumpy cobblestone roads, trees on both sides, suddenly I could see the river (laughter), we turned left, even further away from the city center and we were going across this huge bridge and I thought: “That’s it. He’s going to kill me or rob me, I mean, this is it, I made a (00:06:00) dreadful mistake, why did I come?” And so, we were half way across this massive bridge, heading towards this kind of bleak industrial- looking landscape when he suddenly did a U-turn and just stopped the car and I thought: ‘Oh, he’s going to throw me over the bridge.”
And then my Russian wasn’t good at that time either, so I could vaguely understand what he was saying but not really. But he just started using these arm gestures and so I realized that he wanted me to look at something, and then I looked up and I looked at the view and it was amazing, it was really beautiful. It was the view of the Lavra and, well, the Baba statue which isn’t so beautiful. But what he’d done he took me on the tourist ride ‘cause I obviously paid him way too much, and he felt that he had to do something to justify earning five dollars, he couldn’t just take me to the hotel. So he took me on a bit of a tour of Kiev on two in the morning just to get my money’s worth. And then, yeah, then he drove me to the hotel and dropped me off at the reception and the receptionist proceeded to interrogate me. She asked me why I was two hours late and the train should have been in two hours earlier, you know, (00:07:00) what had I been doing, what had I seen, where had I gone. But I think it became pretty clear that I was just naive klutz. (laughter). So I, you know, she checked me in and, yeah, then I just sort of just bumped into a Reuters journalist in the hotel lobby the next morning.
The Reuters journalist from Moscow?
From Moscow. He was down covering Kiev, because unbeknownst to me my timing had been very lucky. It hadn’t been preplanned, but I ended up in Kiev on election day, no, post election day, it was the March 1990 elections to the Ukrainian Supreme Soviet and these elections were very significant because they were the first elections that were partially free. Democratic candidates had succeeded in getting themselves nominated for the ballot and in fact during that election period the first, group of deputies—actually independent deputies—under the umbrella movement of Rukh succeeded in being elected to the Parliament, (00:08:00) so, you know, I’d landed on my feet in the sense I’d landed in a good story and this Reuters journalist then took me to the Rukh headquarters which on that time was on a side street that then became quite prestigious in the central Kiev called “Museyniy Pereulok”, but at that time it was just a rundown side street in the center of the city and [the] Rukh building was very dilapidated. You would go up these stairs and the planks of wood were falling apart. You had to grab the banisters so you didn’t slip down backwards. Then you’d get up to the second floor and the rooms were very ramshackled. But there was this amazing sense of energy. There were just all these people running around and, you know, the guy I was with was pointing to someone and saying: “Oh, that’s Mykola Horyn, he was in prison for so many years as a dissident”. There were all of these people who were there doing things burning with energy. So it was really a very vital center and that (00:09:00) was my lifeline from then on in for the next couple of days. There was a young journalist working for Rukh called Yaroslav Trofimov, who was putting together an English language press service, Rukh fax press service, designed to send information to western correspondents.
(Pause in film) Yeahh, so those elections were very critical because the results of the elections was that for the first time democratic politicians who were working together under the umbrella of the Rukh opposition movement, had seats in Parliament. These were political dissidents, men who’d been in jail not so long ago sitting in the same Parliamentary chamber with men who’d partially been responsible for putting them in jail. So it was just an extraordinary atmosphere during that period.
And these elections were for Ukrainian Parliament?
(00:10:00) Now my memory may not serve me correctly here but I believe they were elections that were taking place across the entire former Soviet Union, although each republic was holding them at a slightly different time. And I just happened to arrive in time for the Ukrainian elections. So it was a good political introduction to Ukraine for me.
It must have been very interesting and very difficult to start from scratch as a western journalist here. Can you describe the whole process of logistically how you went about meeting people and getting your job done and establishing yourself as a journalists here. What kinds of difficulties you encountered. You must have been the first person to do just about everything, I mean, in the journalistic field here?
Well, yes, this trip in March 1990 was a test trip. I came in on a tourist visa and I had troubles as a result of that. I still can’t figure out to this day whether I was thrown out of the country or what happened to me when I left. At the end of that short trip in March 1990 (00:11:00) … because eventually the people who sat at the reception desk in the hotel called me down and began to question me about why I was filing reports on a tourist visa.
And they were very nice about it, I mean, they told me I’d in fact broken the law. They weren’t particularly nasty about it. But, the thing that struck me was that they did want to know when, when I was leaving, when my train was taking me out of country again. And the next thing I knew I happened to be leaving in a couple of hours after this interview and there was a knock on my hotel room door and there was a man there and I was told that he was going to escort me to the train station, which he did. I mean, it was nice, he carried my bags and he put me in my compartment and put me on my train seat and sort of stayed until I left, until the train pulled out. But I could never figure out who he was or why that had happened, you know, whether it was service provided by the hotel or whether I had been kicked out of the country or whether they just thought I wasn’t just competent enough to go by myself. (00:12:00) What had happened before that was I’d gone to meet with the people from the Foreign Ministry. And I met with Valeriy Ingulskiy who was the…
This was Ukrainian Foreign Ministry?
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry. And I met with Valeriy Ingulskiy who was the Head of the Press Center and also with Volodymyr Chorniy who was the Head of the Information Center. He was technically Mr. Ingulskiy’s boss. And they were very friendly and very encouraging because basically I’d gone to see them to find out whether it would be possible to set up as a foreign journalist in Kiev. And they clearly wanted me to come. They said that they would arrange a visa for me, they said they would find me a flat, they said please come, come whenever you want. So, I left feeling very encouraged and thinking that it would be very easy to come and set up in Ukraine, which didn’t prove to be the case in the end. But that signal from the (00:13:00) Foreign Ministry was psychologically very, very important for me because for a foreigner the environment here was still quite hostile, and it was extremely hard to get things done and the bureaucracy really did have a strangle hold over foreigners.
Can you describe some of the hostilities or give specific examples of the things you found difficult?
Yes, I’ll explain that in a second, because step one was just getting a visa to get back into the country. Now at that point I had assumed from what the Foreign Ministry said that I would be able to get a visa within a matter of weeks with their backing. So I went back to Budapest and in the meantime I’d also been to London to find another paper since my previous paper wasn’t willing to sponsor me, another paper that would be wanting to sponsor me, and I did find a couple and in the end I decided to go with The Independent. So I got the paperwork for The Independent done and put into the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry. And then it was a question of every week from Budapest phoning up and saying, you know, (00:14:00) “Has my visa been issued yet?” And the answer was: “Oh, no you know, not quite yet, not quite yet. In another day or two”. But it was just getting ridiculous. Weeks were going by, weeks and weeks and weeks. And in the end I contacted Yaroslav, the young journalist who’d been working for Rukh, and explained my situation to him and he volunteered to get a Rukh visa for me.
By the end of June, I was getting very impatient so I just decided that I was going to go on a Rukh visa instead of waiting for the Foreign Ministry documentation to come through. So I phoned the Foreign Ministry to tell them that I was coming in an alternate way and they didn’t want me to come on that way, but I came anyway because I just figured that, once I was in the country things would work out better. o I came in on a Rukh visa and…
And this was in June?
I came in July, a couple of days before the sovereignty declaration, so it (00:15:00) must have been around 12 or 13th of July. But the fact that I wasn’t an official Foreign Ministry journalist that was appointed did pose a lot of logistical problems, for instance where to stay? At that point the rule was that you, well the Foreign Ministry wanted me to stay in the hotel, but I couldn’t afford it because hotels were 90 dollars a night and I just didn’t have money to be able to afford to move into the hotel. So I ended up, it was this whole bureaucratic game, you had to find somewhere to be registered because the registration permit process, the “propiska” system was still very heavily enforced at that point. So I ended up being registered at Yaroslav’s grandmother’s flat, but I didn’t live there, so then I went through a series of staying in different people’s flats short term. And the first flat I stayed in was on Yaroslava Val. And it was a cousin (00:16:00) of Yaroslav’s, a friend of Yaroslav’s cousin who’d gone away for three weeks. And it was just a nightmare because every night for the first two weeks, every single night at about two or three in the morning someone would come and ring the door bell. And it was frightening, you know, you were there by yourself and you didn’t have anyone to … I didn’t, I knew one person in the whole city, that was Yaroslav, and I only met him a two months before for two days. And so there was some stranger ringing my door bell every night, about two or three in the morning. And I didn’t want to open the door and you’d shout through: “Who is it?” And it was like a gruff male voice and the door bell would be rung every hour on the hour until six in the morning and it was just like by the end of the night your nerves were so frayed. So then I ended up moving in with Yaroslav and his grandmother just for a few nights to get some sleep. And, and then he gave me a little gas pistol. At this point, most people were afraid they are going to be beaten up. Everybody was carrying (00:17:00) around gas pistols. But that was just psychologically very distressing the first month very, very distressing and I ended up getting kicked out of that flat. So I then I was sort of scooped up by a very kind woman at Rukh at the end of July and I went to live with her for a couple of weeks. And Yaroslav in the meanwhile had left the country, he’d gone off to the States, so I kind of felt psychologically like “Ugh”, my last link was gone and I was left in this place without knowing anyone. So I moved in with this woman from Rukh, Mikhaylena, and she was very good. She was very kind and a sort of very comforting figure to have around at that point. But the living conditions were, how should I put it, (pause) well, spartan (laughter). We were sharing her one room flat. And when I say one room, she had two pieces of furniture (00:18:00) in the one room: it was a sofa and an arm-chair. And both pulled out into beds, I slept on the arm-chair, she slept on the sofa, but when both pieces of furniture were extended to be beds, there was no floor space in the room. You would hop from bed cushion to bed cushion. And then there was a kitchen and there was no hot water at that point and there was no telephone and it was in Akademgorok, which is a district that’s quite far out from the center of the city. So logistically it was incredibly difficult to work. So what I ended up doing was I turned the hard currency bar of the “Dnipro” hotel- which is a very centrally located hotel, into a daytime office. So I would just sort of come in at about 8:30 in the morning. I had a lap-top computer and I would just sit at a table there and as long as you ordered a coke every hour or two they were happy enough to have you there. And it ended up being quite a convenient place to base yourself, because any foreigner who was in town at that point stayed either at the “Rus” hotel which was the first hotel I had stayed at or at the “Dnipro”. So you were there, you saw people come in and you know westerners were novelty at (00:19:00) that point, so people would come over and talk to you, it was just a good way finding out what was going on. And I also used the Rukh Headquarters as my part-time office, but they were physically very restricted for space, so that wasn’t very convenient from their point of view. Also initially I have to admit that, I was regarded with a certain degree of suspicion by Rukh people because I was not a Ukrainian, I was not of Ukrainian descent. And I didn’t speak Ukrainian language, I spoke very bad Russian but I think that some people were very sensitive to the issue that I was an outsider and there was a certain degree of mistrust and suspicion which was broken through eventually but initially was a little bit of a problem. So that’s logistically how I operated in the first few months, and it was psychologically extremely difficult because I did felt very alone, and there just were no other westerners to talk to. (00:20:00) I remember taking the bus home once and seeing somebody on the bus reading the copy of the Guardian. And I thought: “An English speaker” and it was so pathetic. I actually followed this woman, I got off the bus when she got off and tried to follow her. I walked to make contact but she went too quickly and got away. But it was like that for any other foreigner it was like: “Ah, please’, to stick together.
Work-wise how did you go about getting things done, I mean, how did you know who to talk to, how did you build relationships to people that could explain to you the information you needed to know in order to follow your stories?
That was remarkably easy at that time because just by virtue of the fact there were no other western journalists, everybody did want to talk to you. Once the ice was broken with Rukh as well. I was a valuable tool for them in terms of getting information out and publicizing what was going on. So access was not a problem. Access to Kravchuk was not a problem. (00:21:00) At that point, he was elected, eventually in the summer he was elected Chairman of the Parliament, which at that time was one of the key political positions in the country. During that period it was Parliament that was the most dynamic political institution in Ukraine which was really passing the most important laws. Now, if you go into Parliament there are a series of human barricades that prevent you from reaching parts of the building where you would have access to key figures. Back in the summer none of those human barricades existed. There were security guards milling around on the floors but they didn’t even block entry to anyone’s office. I think because no one had ever been cheeky enough to try to get into the offices. But I wasn’t aware of that and so I would just walk into Kravchuk’s office and sit on the sofa in his reception room and, (00:22:00) and flag him down when he walked in. So you could just do that. You could do that with all the political figures at that time. The democrats were very, very accessible. Very, very good sources of information. That was a period when you could travel with them, well not travel with them because your travel was restricted but you could, it was a very different dynamic. You worked with them as friends. The barriers weren’t up. Journalists versus politicians, you were, kind of, part of the group, so you would have meals together, information was passed on very informally, verbally. Access was not a problem at that point.
You said that there were travel restrictions. What kind of travel restrictions were they?
It was still the former Soviet Union, and the visa system that existed then was that you had cities marked on your visas and you were allowed to travel only to those cities and nowhere else. In my case I had only one city in my visa and that was Kiev, so in effect, I was under the city arrest. I could not stray beyond the bounds of Kiev.
Did you ever try?
(00:23:00) I did try. I had a number of difficulties with visas in the early days, I can’t remember why. At one point the Foreign Ministry made me hand my passport in and it was for some registration purposes and my passport then proceeded to disappear and five days later I went back and said: “Where is my passport?” because your passport became this incredible talisman. It was a very powerful document because it was still the time when people would check your documents all the time and if you didn’t have your passport you had no way of proving who you were or establishing your status within the system. So you felt very, very vulnerable without your passport. And after mine had been gone for five days I began to get a little anxious. So I went back to the Foreign Ministry to make inquiries and was told very politely but firmly was told to go away, just go away and stop bothering us. So another five days passed and I began to get impatient so I thought, (00:24:00) I’d make some investigations. I found out that my passport was probably with the local police, UVIR, so I decided I would go down to UVIR and try to get my passport back myself. And, well, that was useless. No one would talk to me and I was pretty brutally shoved out of the building. So my passport was gone. And this was the time where I was particularly anxious to get it back because there was a big Cossack Festival taking place in the south of the country. It was an act that had been organized to raise the political consciousness of southern and eastern ukrainians who were much more soviet in the way of thinking than the westerners were and much more russified. So it was Rukh people and western ukrainians who were going down to have a cultural festival to try to explain to people down there, or just to make people much more aware of their Ukrainian-ness. To sort of, raise Ukrainian national self-conscienciousness, and I wanted to go. (00:25:00)
So I couldn’t get my passport back, so I thought of logging a protest to the Canadian embassy and then I thought well, you know, I’m on very shaky grounds here and I don’t really want to stir up troubles, so I thought I’d just go anyway. I went with a friend who arranged for private accommodations and we just went down on the train, and he got, I guess I don’t know how he got tickets, he somehow got tickets- maybe a friend of his bought tickets for me. So it was all done unofficially … went down there, had a very interesting time at the Festival. I also had a British passport. I had two passports which I carried with me. During the course of the Festival we ended up hooking up with a group of Ukrainian MP’s, who were down there first at the festival and later on a march through Zaporozhia. I think it was Zaporozhia. One of the southern towns. And we ended up (00:26:00) staying in a hotel with them and I made a stupid mistake of registering with my British passport, but I thought it was really far, far away, you know, and I’m with these deputies it won’t make any difference. But as soon as I got back to Kiev, there was someone knocking on my door, a KGB person knocking on my door, demanding to know what was I doing with the British passport and they knew exactly where I’d been, exactly what I’d done. And so those were the types of controls. I was warned not to try to pull a stunt like that again. So the system was very tightly controlled.
When did you first sense that the system was loosening up? We’ve talked with some other Western journalists who came after you did, who were surprised that they felt that there was no particular control over anything that they were doing there, even real sense of presence the security or KGB wondering what they were doing. At what point did it seem to you that things were changing?
(00:27:00) The turning point for me, I can’t remember the exact date but it was sometime in December, December of ‘90 or January of ‘91. And I was not aware about what my status was with the Foreign Ministry formally. They let me know that I was operating in a gray zone. The press center was always very helpful and there was a very controversial figure associated with the press center, Mr. Ingulskiy, who I have to say, although, I mean, lot’s of people think he was a KGB agent or whatever, but one thing I have to say in his favor was he always did stand up for me and he always made sure that I knew which press-conferences were going on and he always invited me to attend those functions. So they treated me so as though I were an accredited journalist but they also suddenly let it be known that I should be careful that I was operating in a gray area, and then sometime around December 1990 I walked into the press center one day and everyone gathered (00:28:00) around me and just shook my hand and said: “Congratulations.” I’d been cleared for accreditation. And it was at that point that it was a whole new ball game because once I was cleared for accreditation I was allowed to travel anywhere in Ukraine, although they still had a Soviet system in place and that you technically had to give the Foreign Ministry 48 hours notice of where you were going and you had to tell them what hotel you were staying in and stuff like that but you were pretty much a free agent then. You could, travel and go and do things. I was under, a sort of, an effective Kiev house arrest. So that for me was a turning point.
Do you know why the accreditation was approved and was it approved from Moscow or was it…
I don’t know.
Do you know any…
I don’t know. I’d love to know but I have no idea about what was going on in those months, I don’t know what. I didn’t even know I was being assessed for anything. No one ever explained the system to me. It wasn’t until, until the day I walked into the Foreign Ministry that I was entirely aware what was going, you know.
You hadn’t applied for accreditation?
(00:29:00) Well, they kept saying, things were just never spelled out clearly in those days. It was always, well things will get better, da…da…, but there wasn’t a sort of formal process laid out. They had never had a journalist. They didn’t know … They didn’t have an accreditation, they had to put everything in place and I had no idea what was going on in that period but once I gained approval however- I don’t know what, what that involved- things were different.
Can you describe a little bit your relationships with Ukrainian journalists and your assessment the way that they practiced journalism during the time that you were here?
Well, they were my lifeline, the Ukrainian journalists. They were all incredibly nice. Mykola Veresen, who is now my colleague at the BBC was great from the start. He was always a very outspoken, intelligent and critical journalist, so it was good to have him to talk to. Yaroslav Trofimov, the young journalist who was working with Rukh, who then later began to work for the European. He was a Ukrainian citizen but (00:30:00) he was functioning as a western journalist. We worked very, very closely together, we worked out the same room and traded information. We worked as a team because what he had what I didn’t have, were excellent contacts, I mean, he worked in Rukh and was well regarded in the organization and had language skills, which I didn’t have. And what I had was, you know, experience working with the western papers and native English. So, I could tell him how to pitch his stories so they’d get into the paper and could help him edit his stories and help him with his written English. And he helped me with content. He helped with analysis and to point me in a right direction because it was very confusing. Even if you had access to the sources of information, it was very difficult to weave everything together, (00:31:00) especially not coming from a Ukrainian background, I didn’t understand the underlying issues, because my experience with this region had been all through the Russia lens, all through the Moscow lens. So I had a very different perception of issues. It was a very interesting period for me because I was learning to perceive issues that I’d been taught in school from a totally different vantage point.
Can you give specific examples?
If you just look at the historical figures, someone like Catherine the Great. When you go through your Soviet Politics courses, you perceive Catherine the Great, or I perceived Catherine the Great as this amazing, strong female leader, who achieved great things for, I guess, it was Russian empire. But I never thought of the impact it had on Ukraine. But then when I came here, was suddenly made aware of the fact that Catherine the Great was actually the leader who dispersed the Cossack Sich and who destroyed what had been a fairly independent Ukrainian form of self-government. So she had a very destructive impact on this country, on (00:32:00) this region at that time. So it was just many, many issues like that. I was coming to see them through a very different lens. It was a confusing period for me because I was having to rethink a lot of issues. And it just helped to have people like Yaroslav and Mykola around who were able to put things in a Ukrainian context for me. They were great. There is no way I could survived here during those early months without those people.
Did you ever feel that there was an attempt to control the kind of information that you were sending to London? Or that what you were sending was being examined and watched?
It was clear it was being examined because, once I went to the press center and I sent an article to a paper in the Globe and Mail that wasn’t printed. It was in fact about this Cossack Festival, and the press center made reference to this article, to (00:33:00) quotes from this article, but it never appeared in print. I faxed it so they obviously got a copy of the fax somehow. So yes, stuff was monitored, comments were dropped to let it be known that they knew who I was spending my time with, who I was involved with, you know, those details. Yes, yes, comments were dropped to let it be known that people knew what you were doing.
Did they ever try to control the information?
Tape 2 Касета 2
(00:34:38) Well, one other incident which is stepping out of chronological order, which happened, which I found to be the most disturbing of all the incidents. Although, nothing really happened was – at this point I was already living with, I was living in a flat with a very nice woman who was the girlfriend of a former interpreter of (00:35:00) mine. And I was living with this woman and with her mother. They had a nice flat on Reitarskaya street in a very pleasant part of Kiev. And everybody had gone away for the weekend, [the] mother was at the “dacha”, my interpreter was working on a conference out of the town. My friend had gone away, so I was staying in the flat alone, which was – I felt like a grown-up, it was kind of like: “Ha!”, you know. This was the first kind of time I’d been on my own in Kiev, and I felt very empowered in a way. And there was also a friend of the family who was down from Moscow, and I came home. I think it was Friday night, and there was a pool of blood on the doorstep. And it wasn’t just a bit of blood, it was a pool of blood that you had to step over. It was like rain puddle that you had to step over to get to the flat. I thought: “My God, you know, the guy from Moscow has been murdered. What is going on?” And so it was with rather an enormous amount of trepidation that I opened the (00:36:00) door to the flat. It was scary, it was a big flat it was L-shaped, it was two flats for together and everything was dark and I was creeping around and looking for a body, just looking for something and, you know, in the end I found nothing, so I thought: “Oh, okay, I’ll have a bath.” So I got into the bathtub and then I could hear anything because the water was running. And then in the meantime while I was having a bath and sort of pondering this bizarre incident the friend down from Moscow came in and he went trough the same things, because he saw the blood, the door to the flat was open and he thought I’d been murdered. And so finally, we discovered we were both alive, and neither of us had been murdered and we went back to the hallway to figure out why there was a huge pool of blood on our doorstep and it’d been wiped up.
Yeah, so this was this bizarre incident that may be nothing but one of the things that just … it unsettles you. That was just another incident that occurred in that period.
Did any of these incidents or anything, related to the Soviet apparat at that (00:37:00) point, make you feel restricted in what you could say ? Censured in what you were allowed to report or…
No. I only had one very direct influence, when I was covering balloting- it must have been balloting in a by election, and this was already late winter, early spring of 1991. I went to a polling station with Dyma Ponamarchuk, who was working as a Rukh press officer, and I went with the American consul John Gundersen and a few other people. We witnessed some irregularities in the balloting, and it was in the constituency where the Prime Minister Fokin was up for election. Everyone was struck by the irregularities. It was people voting with eight different ballot papers (00:38:00) and stuffing the ballot box. And so I was planning to include this in my story, no I did include it in my story and I was taken aside by a man who worked in the Prime Minister’s office, and was treated in a slightly patronizing fashion. It was like the older man explaining to the misguided young woman how she misinterpreted information but, you know, he basically told me that what I’d written was wrong. That I’d got it wrong. Misinterpreted it, blah, blah, blah. So he definitely tried to persuade me not to write articles like that again in the future. But he wasn’t, in no way was he threatening and I just ignored what he said. So, no, I mean I was never, no, never threatened, or sort of, coerced in any way other than that.
(00:39:00) I’d like to back up a little bit and start going through some of the stories that you covered, especially in 1990 and early 1991. You were the only western journalist here really covering Ukraine on a full time basis and had a very unique perspective. Starting with the declaration of sovereignty in July of 1990. Would you like to talk about that a little bit?
That was another case of lucky timing. I should have been doing my homework I suppose but I was preoccupied with very practical issues like getting visas and such. I had no idea that a sovereignty declaration was tabled in Parliament, absolutely no idea. And I arrived on, I guess, the Thursday or Friday when it was being debated in Parliament. And I thought: “Oh, wow!”, you know, I’ve stumbled on a great story. This is excellent! My first week, I’ll have a good story in the paper. And at that time it was very difficult to get lines out to England, and so I tried to relay the information through the Moscow office, but the Moscow office hung (00:40:00) the phone up on me (laughs), so I was very upset. Didn’t get very far. But, yes, I think the vote went through on, it was the sixteenth. I can’t remember what day of the week it was, the next Monday or so. So, what can I say, it was great to be there. I didn’t have a very solid grasp of events that had led up to the sovereignty declaration and I don’t even think that at that point that I necessarily had that solid a grasp of the about the full implications. But it was certainly very exciting to be in Parliament when the vote went through. There was a tremendous sense of jubilation not just among the democrats who clearly had been the initiators but ironically also among the communists which was an issue that I found quite puzzling at that time because I perceived things in very black and white terms and I thought: “Well, you know, the democrats are the guys fighting for this and the communists should be the guys against it”. And, it didn’t work that way.
What’s your understanding, what is your analysis now of that?
(00:41:00) Well, even then I think that debate went through on a crest of emotion because the Head of the Ukrainian Communist Party, Ivashko, had a few weeks earlier been called up to Moscow to be Gorbachev’s number two in the Soviet Party system. And this for me was very interesting because the democrats felt very betrayed. They held this mock funeral in the streets of Kiev where they marched with Ivashko’s body and black wreath. You know, they felt betrayed that a Ukrainian was running up to serve his Russian masters. But what I found even more interesting was the degree of betrayal felt among the communists themselves, they felt equally insulted, which was one of the first instances that I witnessed, that gave me a sense that there was this (00:42:00) nascent sense of Ukrainian, that wasn’t just, the train of the democrats. It was something that people here felt. And I think that the sovereignty vote went through riding -to a large degree- on the crest of that emotion, crest of that sense of anger that this Ukrainian communist had turned his back on his own home and gone running to the Russian masters.
What do you think the impact was of that vote on the Ukrainian independence movement as it progressed?
It was enormous, you know, was huge boost of confidence, gave people a sense of tremendous empowerment, the provision system in the declaration was pretty radical, pretty wide-ranging. I can’t list them all off the top of my head but I believe they called for Ukraine to be nuclear free, because the legacy of Chernobyl was very fresh in people’s minds, but that had implications with nuclear weapon as well. I think there was a provision about Ukrainian soldiers serving on Ukrainian territory, I can’t remember the exact breakdown, but there were (00:43:00) certainly, there were elements in there that were pretty, pretty daring for a former Soviet Republic. And especially one like Ukraine, that at that time was very turgid and conservative in comparison with, say, the Baltics. So this was a really big step forward and, you know, duly noted in the West.
Papers gave it a lot of coverage and from my perspective it made it much easier to sell the Ukrainian story in that initial period. Instantly, I had this great editor on the Independent, Steve Crashaw. He really knew the region well; he was encouraging. I remember he said, “Well, you know, you’ve got to go to Western Ukraine,” which were up until then had been the real seat of Ukrainian national movement. And so he wanted me to go out there to check out what the reaction was.
So I jumped on a train and, when I got there, I was riding in a taxi and…wait… this must have been a separate trip because the chronology doesn’t fit, I don’t (00:44:00) think … The chronology may not fit because I can’t remember exactly when Kravchuk was elected Chairman of Parliament. I was certainly in Lviv. I remember hearing the news in the taxi over the taxi radio and shouting to the taxi driver, “Stop, you know! I have to file this story.” And then it was a dilemma of how you get the news out of a place like Lviv, which at that time was off the main telephone grid. And so logistically it was like, how do you get a telephone line to the West? So, I thought: “Ha! the post office!” So I wrote my copy in the back of the taxi and the taxi driver took me to the post office and I, kind of, ran in. Went to the window, to ask the telephone operator to book a line to England and she was like: “England? Ten days.” and slammed the window in my face and I said, “No, no! You don’t understand, I’m a journalist. I have to file my story”. She couldn’t have cared less, you know: “Ten days, you know, ten days…ocheri, ten days, queue”. So, anyway, (00:45:00) I ended up like scrambling around the post office, begging coins off everyone so I could make a call to Moscow. And I dictated the story to Moscow and they sent it to London, but, yes, it was logistically incredibly difficult to operate during that period, just because the infrastructure was bad. It was a period when you had to book telephone calls to the West a day ahead of time, so the way I worked was just every day I booked three calls a day, one in the morning to check in with the desk, one in the afternoon to report on what was happening and one in the evening to file. You know, the news volume wasn’t was such that I was producing materials on a daily basis, but you just always booked those phone calls ‘cause you could always cancel them, but if you hadn’t booked them that could be it. You might not get your story out that day.
And you filed directly to London, not to Moscow?
Yes, directly to London unless logistically I couldn’t get a line out and I had to go through Moscow.
We’ll get through some students strikes and other stories in just (00:46:00) a minute, but what stories were interesting from Ukraine for your editors and the readers of the papers in Britain that you were working for?
The most interesting story was what was happening with Rukh, which at that time was unclear. It was clear that it was an opposition movement, it was unclear how far it was going to take it’s opposition. In March of 1990 I already read Drach, Ivan Drach, who a poet and one of the early Rukh leaders, immersed from a meeting with a group of Diaspora Ukrainians and had said that Rukh would be including a point calling the Ukrainian independence, in its political manifest which I remember reporting at that time. That was for the “Guardian” article, and that certainly prompted a lot of reaction in the West. I remember getting in fact some hostile letters and comments from people who felt I’d misreported events, which (00:47:00) surprised me because I was just repeating what I’d heard, I didn’t realize that it was that, sort of, controversial of an issue. But over the course the next few months the debate did waver, it was never clear. I think the leadership was divided itself as to what path it was going to take, and not everybody was calling for an outward independence. The situation was very gray and volatile and people understood that there was movement and understood that something that had happened, that was not going to die out but there was a fear, there was a fear of taking it too far because there was a sense that the communists were still very strong and there was a fear of backlash. And so it was this sort of, delicate game of, pushing ideas forward and gaining this much ground, but then there would be put in a backlash and, you’d have to tactically shift and maneuver this way and that, so it was (00:48:00), I guess, the question at that point was, how far would Rukh try and push things and at what point would the communists lash back. That was the political making game during that period.
Starting in this summer and early fall there were students strikes in Kiev and you were here during that time. Can you describe what you saw?
Yes. I mean the strikes and the students’ movement came out the background like a bolt of lightening, because July had been a very politically active month. The sovereignty declaration was pushed through, there was a very critical flag raising session in central Kiev in front of the City Council office, that was the first blue and yellow Ukrainian flag to be raised in a capital and it drew a huge crowd in the street. So this was the first demonstration I witnessed that gave me a sense of people (00:49:00) politics and a sense of power coming from the streets. All these people hoarding through the central boulevard Kreshchatik, blocked off the traffic, saw this blue and yellow flag been pulled up in front of the city Council building. This was the heart of communist territory and were ecstatic and overjoyed. That was a very empowering moment. After that, it was dead, nothing happened.
Excuse me, where were the people from and do you have a sense of how many were on the streets?
Well, that was, in looking back now, that gathering was different in that later on many of the more organized and less spontaneous gatherings, did rely quite heavily on people being bused in from other regions of Ukraine, most notably from Western Ukraine. This, I had the impression, you know, I didn’t go around and asked everyone, but I had the impression this was a city thing, this was residence of Kiev who, I mean, some people obviously came specifically to see it but I think a lot of people heard what was going on and just came to see it. Because this was a big deal back then. It was really, really big deal to have a blue and yellow flag flying in the capital, you know, (00:50:00) it was just, everywhere else it was the former Soviet Ukrainian Republic flag, so this was, sort of, bastion and kind of hope in the city center.
How long did the flag stay up?
It stayed up, that was it, and gradually another flag went up elsewhere, but this was the first one.
And this was raised by the communists?
It was raised, well, there was a figure who later acquired a more dubious reputation, Ivan Saliy, who at that time was, I can’t remember exactly what his, of he was technically a mayor, anyway he was very influential on [the] Council and he was friendly with Rukh at that time, and it was courtesy, I think, that they actually got permission to raise the flag at the City Council building.
It was a Rukh initiative?
It was a Rukh initiative, yes, as everything was in those days, everything controversial. And Rukh at that time, you also have to remember, it was very much an umbrella movement that gathered in people who later came to form separate political parties at the Ukrainian Republican Party. But in that summer all the political (00:51:00) opponents, dissidents of every hue in the political spectrum were grouped together under Rukh, so they were. It was a very kind of controversial coalition but they were all there working together.
And as the student movement started gaining steam?
Yeah, the student movement had … I do not know the history of the movement. When I came in March of 1990 some of the students had already been arrested, so they had been demonstrating, I don’t know quite know what they’d been demonstrating against at that time, I think it was more mil.., conditions than military service. August, nothing happened, it was very quiet month. September was relatively quiet. I remember I went up to Hungary to put my car up with Yaroslav and we drove back in and the day we got back to Kiev, it was like, all hell broke loose. I can’t remember the exact dates but either the end of September, the beginning of October, the democratic forces, Rukh, had called a big demonstration, and one of the issues at the time was [what] would, would happen with the new Union Treaty because they were already beginning to talk about it. Moscow was already beginning to talk about (00:52:00) negotiating a new deal with the Constitution Republics of the Soviet Union, and you know, the democrats would be damned if they were going to let anything, that gave too much power to the center get through. So it was just sort of, a show of force really, and that, that also, come to think of it, that demonstration was very, very striking for me for a number of reasons. One was the sheer size and the sheer number of Ukrainian flags and the sheer sense of people’s power and anger that you could see on the streets. Also, a sense that the politicians were afraid of it, the communist politicians were afraid; they were inside the Parliament building looking out down to the street on these people waiving the flags, and they were afraid to go to the building. I think they could be strung up on maples and lynched, you know, there was a real sense of (00:53:00) divide here. And another thing that was very striking about, that demonstration was, again my Russian wasn’t very good at that time, was still not that brilliant, but I just remember Mykola Horyn coming up to me and grabbing me by the arm and dragging me and I just couldn’t, he was, all I could understand was he was saying the word “ax”, “topor”, “topor”, “ax”, “ax”, “ax”. And I thought: “Why does he keep saying “ax”, why did he…”, I just didn’t understand, so he’s dragging me into this building across the Supreme Soviet and sure enough there is an ax, someone was lowering an ax by a rope down from a window, it was just so bizarre and ponderous, and I just couldn’t understand what was going on, but as it was explained to me by the Rukh people, I guess it was, I don’t know, how to account for this bazaar flying ax (laughter), he said that the KGB was lowering an ax into the crowd in hope of causing mayhem and kind of, being able to crack out, as a provocation and being able to (00:54:00) somehow disrupt the demonstration, the ax ended up in a garbage can somewhere, I think. It was weird, it was just very bizarre. Yes, so that demonstration was very important, that showed, I guess, I think that made the communist politicians nervous about the possibility of some kind of popular unrest, and it gave the Rukh people the great sense of empowerment. And the next significant political development in that autumn, I mean, there were a lot of important debates in Parliament, but the next show of force was the students in October. And I just remember being, at that point Yaroslav and I had, well he was able to do this, he was able to rent a flat, informally, I mean, it was illegal to rent flats at that time but he was able to strike an informal deal with a family friend so we got a flat in the Podol, an old district of Kiev, down by the river, which we were using as our office. We lost it later because the (00:55:00) KGB started questing the landlady, and tried to betray Yaroslav as a black marketer, and eventually she was hospitalized from nerve stress, and we got thrown out of that flat. I felt very badly about that. But at that time we still had it as our office, and I just remember, well, no I didn’t. Yaroslav got a phone call in the evening, because he had been active in the students’ movement, and his friends were phoning to tell him that they were planning to set up a tent in the central square the next day. And so we went out and, you know, sure enough, they were there with tents and hammers and they were just like hammering spikes into the marble, [in] Independent Square, which then was called October Revolution Square. It was a square in the city center, and the surface of the square was marble and I thought, in the West you wouldn’t be allowed to smash out the marble on a city square, but you know, no one was stopping them, so they hammered it. I can’t remember one or two tents at first, but eventually the whole tent city went up. And the other funny (00:56:00) thing was, there was a telephone plugged in there, that, I guess, was place for the podium, where the Communist party leaders would stand in square to watch parades go by on traditional Soviet holidays, like May Day or the November Revolution parade. And apparently the telephone jack was still attached, so the students were able to plug another phone in and have their own communications with that little camp, although I think it was later cut-off. But that was really important, still unclear to me who gave the “go ahead” for that, for the police not to break up the camp. More and more students joined, they went on a hunger strike, they were very well organized. There was medical personal around, they are very sexist in the sense that they initially said no women could take part in hunger strike because they might damaged the ovaries or by starving themselves, so the (00:57:00) women were allowed to, some of them stuck anyway, which was good, good for them for showing the initiative, that strike demanded to do it, but basically the women were obligated to the role of sweeping out the tents and just being companions. And slowly, that movement built up momentum. They were well organized, they had a very specific list of the political demands … they wanted the man, who was Prime Minister then, Masol, Vitaliy Masol, to be thrown out, because they felt that he had, well that he was compromising the integrity of Ukraine. They didn’t want Ukraine to sign the Union treaty. They had a list of ten demands or so that were just posted in the camp. You could go and read them. They had graphic posters as well, very clever posters and one of them was a cow, cow is Ukraine, being milked by the Soviet system. So they were organized, and it was a fun camp too, that was the other thing. First time I’ve seen people having fun in the city space, (00:58:00), you go down there at night and people would have guitars, and they would be singing, it was almost like a camp fire atmosphere. [It] was just really fun to hang out at the students hunger camp. I met the most interesting people I’d met so far down there. And it was students from all across Ukraine, lots were from in the Western Ukraine, and they, coordinated themselves off. Every day, people were curious every day, people from around the city would just come and stand outside the cordon and just watch what was going on, and it had babushkas, these grandmothers, Ukrainian grandmothers coming, and they were very concerned, because it was beginning to get chilly, it was going on into October and the nights were getting chilly, these grannies would bring bundles of coats and hand them over, hand them over the, kind of, string to these students, and if they weren’t satisfied with the way students would put the coats on, they climbed under the rope saying: “No, no, you know, you have to wrap up well, put your hat on”, and they go around and wrap scarves around the students. So, yeahh, and then slowly (00:59:00) what happened was the democrats began to align themselves with the students, although it was a very controversial issue within the Rukh camp, because some of the democrats thought that this was not the way to issue political demands. They felt that all political demands should be issued from the floor of Parliament, and they felt that somehow this student camp was discrediting the opposition movement. That was one view in some democratic circles and other democratic politicians were 100 percent behind the camp …
Was the democratic movement at all involved in organizing the students?
Well, not initially, not according to the students initially, and no, I don’t even, that the democrats would say they were either. But they did come to join in, they came down to address the students in the camp. And then Stepan Khmara, who was a radical, or an outspoken democratic Rukh deputy from the West, was, I believe, the first (01:00:00) politician who actually donned the symbol of the hunger strike, students’ hunger strike movement, which was a white head band, and he wore it in Parliament, and so that gave them even more publicity because that was a period when Parliament was on TV, so, you know, the cameras were on the MP’s and focusing in on Khmara’s head band and he was speaking, he was publicizing their cause for them through the Parliament. So it became a very powerful political movement, and the students were remarkably well organized, very, very striking. What they said had happened was, a lot of them, that was a period when former Soviet student exchanges were still intact, and so over the summer a lot of these young Ukrainian guys had been to east European countries, and the ones I’d spoken to had been to Prague. And this was the period when Prague had just finished it’s own Velvet Revolution and the students had played, had played a very fundamental role in the political movement in Prague. And what happened, this Ukrainian guy said, it was just (01:01:00) they found these Czech student leaders and just talked to them and just asked them, how they did it, how did they organized, what did they do. And they got a game plan from the Czech students which they brought home and handed over, brought about, organized, you know, a variation for themselves, and it was like a military plan it was put into action. So, step one was setting up the hunger strike camp, that began to build, step two was how do you coalesce the students body behind your movement. It’s one thing to have a very visible protest in the central square of the city, it’s another thing to get a mass of people in the street, and so what they did, was they physically locked the university buildings, they locked the library, they kind of occupied the buildings, so that students would go to the campus in the morning and they couldn’t get in and they couldn’t get into the library to (01:02:00 ) study but they had already come into the city center. A lot of them lived on the outskirts and I would say, they weren’t going to go home again, and so they just began to drift down to the center because they have heard something was going on in the square. So you just started to get these huge, huge groups of students, and this happened over days and then, then the elementary schools started joining in. I remember seeing this class of eleven years old and their teacher, marching you from the Podol district in the lower part of Kiev up to the central square. And so it was really an enormous number of students. These were young people who were incredibly energetic. Just the pace of the march, marching was so I was panting to keep up with them. And the student leaders were prepared for it, they did have a plan which they put into action, and so they had megaphones and basically what they did, was they ordered people in columns and they formed their own student guard and physically linked arms so that they were like a very orderly (01:03:00) march. It was students strung in columns, banded in by the student guard, that kind of circled them as a line around the perimeter of a rectangle. So this was a very orderly column marching from the central square down Khreshchatyk past the “Dnipro” hotel up Hrushevskoho past Parliament. And I remember standing on a hill right by Parliament because I wanted to try and be scientific about this and figure out how many students were involved in this. What’d struck me is this hugely massive, massive march, and I did count columns and I, by my estimation it was about seventy thousands, between seventy and eighty thousand young people just charging up the hill. And it was a very different demonstration from the one organized by the Rukh opposition movement which had a lot of elder people who had a living memory from Western Ukraine of life before independence, but because they were older, they moved in a different way and carried their demonstration in a very different way. These young students just, they would just go before the Parliament. I remember going inside Parliament and again the communist (01:04:00) MP’s were scared, really scared, because this was even worse, they couldn’t even blame it on this radical Western Ukrainians who were traitors any way. These were their own kids the kids of their friends, this was like the younger generation turning against them. So they were very scared and upset, but what the students did was they stayed at the Parliament for about 15 minutes, they yelled their slogans, down with Masol, bla, bla, bla, held up their posters, and then they zoomed off, and broke into groups. And because they were energetic, they physically covered huge expanse of the city, and they were marching out to the factories, because their strategy, I don’t know if it was based on Czech strategy or if it was based on Lenin’s principles, I don’t know why they decided, but they decided that it was key to bring the factory workers out on their side. So they marched in groups out to different factories, mainly on the left bank. And it was amazing, this swarm of ants, just taking over strategic parts of the city. And they got some factory workers, but not, I mean, not a huge number, but there was certainly notice, and it (01:05:00) was, really, really tremendously, tremendously important movement. And they, again I don’t know, what was going on in the party debates at this time, it was all very closed, you could not have access to what was going on in hard-line party circles. At that point the Parliamentary majority was a group of 239 hard-line communist deputies, and that’s how they were identified as a group of 239. I don’t know what they were discussing in their caucus meetings at that time, but somebody, and I rather suspect it was Kravchuk, who was then the Parliamentary Chairman decided that they were going to give the students, give in to one of the students demands which was to have air time on TV, because one of the other buildings the students were targeting was the TV building as well. And so a group of leaders, including Oles Doniy, who was one of the most prominent student activists at that time, appeared on television. (01:06:00) He was very charismatic and magnetic, came across well, and, whether their demands which gave them more people to the movement, and in the end they won a qualified victory. In the, the Parliament voted, well, it was arranged in the way that things are that the Prime Minister Vitaliy Masol would tender his resignation, which was a students’ demand and Parliament voted to accept it. So, they got the Prime Minister out, and then they got verbal accession to many of their other demands although in the end verbal accession wasn’t good enough and the rest of what they’d been promised was never delivered. But it was a victory, it was perceived as the first significant victory of street politics and it really made a lot of people in the Parliament scared.
How did Masol’s resignation affect the Ukrainian political landscape and specifically the move towards independence?
(01:07:00) He was replaced by Fokin, Vitold Fokin, so I don’t think that it, I don’t think that it had that dramatic an impact, other than registered, it was a victory for the democrats and the students, and so that was a lost of rank for the communists. I think it was the biggest political impact in that time; it didn’t actually radically alter policies that the Government was pushing through at the time.
The students weren’t the only people to strike at that time, or I guess let’s back up and talk about Khmara’s arrest, which you saw the first Khmara, well I guess the very first, but the first in the 1990 in November.
Yes, this was a hiatus of a week or ten days between the student hunger strike and protest winding down at November 7th, which is a very key date. November 7th is the day of the former comm.., celebrated as the day of the former (01:08:00) communist revolution. And what happened on that day was, psychologically the communists were preparing to strike back. And Khmara by then was identified as a radical opposition deputy who’d sided with the students, who was a thorn in the side of the communists, a great irritant. And what happened on November 7th was, the communists wanted to stage the traditional Soviet military parade, the democrats were opposed to this, and insisted that no military hardware should appear on the streets. The debate focused on issue of tanks, whether or not tanks would be allowed to be paraded through the streets of Kiev, and the communists believed they wanted concession from this. Sorry, the democrats believed they wanted concession from communist organizers that tanks would not appear, although in the end the AVCs — tank like machines — were, kind of, paraded through the streets.
Now, November the 7th was (01:09:00) a key day for Khmara, it was a key day for students and it was a key day for the communists. I’ll start with the students. It was a key day for students because they were determined to stage another victory protest against the system. Their plan was they were going to pop up in the middle of this victory day, revolution day, celebration that started in Victory Square on Taras Shevchenko boulevard and march up to the center of the city. They physically positioned themselves in this underpass, camped out there and planning to pop up on the square in the middle of the march to stage a little protest, but they were driven away by security forces in the middle of the night. Some of them escaped into the Rukh building which coincidentally happened to be on the edge of the square. And they were barricaded inside by the OMON, who were the riot police, so they couldn’t get out, but what they ended up doing, was climbing up onto the roof and…
Tape 3 Касета 3
(01:10:30) So, their plan had been to pop up in the middle of the demonstration, disrupt it and again make a statement, pro-democracy statement. They were barricading inside the Rukh building…
The Rukh building was located…
It was located on the square, Victory Square, where the parade started. So, what they did was, they climbed on to the roof with flags and posters. It was a (01:11:00) protest that failed to reach an audience because what the communist had done was, they had sealed the city, you couldn’t go to witness the parade unless you had a special pass, and the passes were restricted. So if you wanted to be part of the parade, you watched on television, and that’s what most Ukrainians did, and so the television cameras of course failed to pan the Rukh building, and the mikes didn’t pick up the protests and screams, so what you saw, what you actually witnessed it on TV, which I witnessed it once as a spectator during the day, and then later in the evening on the television news broadcast, and it was just so ironic. The difference between seeing what had actually happened on the street and the way it was portrayed on TV, because on TV it was just portrayed as a … you didn’t see any of the military hard-wire lurking in the background and you saw the parade, you saw people with, Soviet hammer and sickle flags and bright red balloons and happy faces and flowers marching up the streets. And what it looked like on the ground was, it looked like a war zone. (01:12:00) They had, they brought, they just brought out every military truck in the entire country. I was due to pick my friend Yaroslav up and we were to cover the parade together. Unfortunately, we lived on opposite sides of the city and had to cross the parade route in order to meet, and the plan had been that I would go and pick him up in my car and we would drive back together.
I got up at about twenty past seven in the morning because I was expecting some traffic congestion. I was supposed to pick him up by eight, and I spent the next hour and a half trying to find a way of crossing the city, and that was impossible. The army had bisected the city in two, they had sealed every possible access route up from my side of the city over to his side of the city by army trucks that were wedged so closely together, that in the end I abandoned my car and I just went to make it to the parade on foot. Trucks were wedged so closely together, that I had to turn sideways and shuffle through them just to get through (01:13:00)
It was like this the whole for kilometers and kilometers, the city was just sealed, and it was kind of scary squeezing your way through because they were these huge army trucks, whose engines were on, so they were kind of rumbling away and you always thought; ‘Oh, my God, if that driver decides to back out now, I’m crushed”. But anyway, so I’d got through and I’d been issued a pass from the Foreign Ministry, and Yaroslav also got through from the other direction and eventually we did meet up. And then we, sort of, had to, the Rukh building had been barbed wired off, so you had to get through the barbed wire and the OMON were barricading the doors and so, eventually the only reason had let us in, was because they mistook us for students and they thought: “Better have them sealed inside the building than be a mass on the streets”. They kind of, threw us into the building, so we saw what was going on in there, which was, the telephone lines had been cut, they’d been isolated like this kind of malicious virus, that had to be contained within this one building and kept away from the Revolution day parade. So, yeahh, the parade just went (01:14:00) as it has preceded, we eventually got out the Rukh building after flashing press passes to the OMON didn’t want to let us out. I had a severe attack of claustrophobia, but we finally got back out and we watched the parade from a nearby hotel that had a good vantage point, and then we followed the parade route and made our way up past all the different check points to the central boulevard in the city, Khreshchatyk, where there is a large underpass. And we arrived just in time for commotion, we were in the underpass so we didn’t witness what happened, we only witnessed people coming out of the underpass, in a very agitated state, who explained to Yaroslav whom they considered one of theirs (at that point there was still very much mentality of you are either with us or against it, and he was perceived as being very much with the democratic cause, having worked in Rukh, and I as his tagalong was privy to lots of good information just as a result of that relationship) and apparently (01:15:00) what it happened was Stepan Khmara had been going through the underpass and had seen a woman, who on, who he in the underpass, who he said had asked for help, or who his supporters said had asked Khmara for help, that she was being harassed by a man. And so allegedly what had happened, Khmara had gone to her assistance and, I don’t quite know how the scuffle ensued, but a scuffle ensued, and Khmara and his friends disarmed this man, who elegantly pestering the woman and also took his identity card from him, and the man had a KGB identity card, so he was like an undercover agent and he had a pistol in his pocket, and they said that he’d been set up, Khmara had been set up, which he obviously had been set up. And so the next thing they, knew was he had been bundled off to police, and at the police station and imprisoned and was under arrest. And that was a beginning of the (01:16:00) whole Khmara saga which was a political incident that was, sort of, a subtext to the whole debate from November 7th of 1990 right through to independence in August of ‘91. And that, that was the beginning of the incident on that Revolution Day, during that Revolution Day parade.
Were any students’ leaders arrested?
Some of them were detained, some of the ones who were beaten up in the underpass, on the evening before November 7th were detained, but later released. They were, it was funny that was kind of the end of the students’ movement, it was this sort of flash of light that then subsided in a very, kind of, disappointing fashion … they just sort of, disappeared from the map of Ukrainian politics after that. A couple of their leaders were arrested in December, which made very many people nervous, because it was also the time when the Soviet forces were cracking down on the Baltics, and people did think this was part of major, this was also (01:17:00) during the period, the period when the Soviet forces were cracking down on independence movements in the Baltic states, Lithuania in particular, and democrats in Ukraine obviously sided with the democratic movements in the Baltic and in many cases physically went there to protest along side them. But it didn’t gender a very deep sense of unease in Ukraine that similar fate would be metted out to them soon, and so when these student leaders were arrested, a lot of people did get nervous and things just did, kind of, quieted, quieted down at that period.
Then the miners went on strike early 1991.
They did, yes, I’m trying to remember, I think it was around February when they first started agitating. What was interesting about the miners’ strikes during this period was previously, their demands had been economic, they wanted soap to make sure they can wash up when they got out of the mines pitch black, when they come (01:18:00) out horrible working conditions, and better pay, and self-guarding their economic privileges. But in this period the strikes also began to take on a slight political overtone as well, because the strikes were occurring at the time when Gorbachev was preparing his own Union treaty, basically to find out which of the republics were with Moscow and which were against. So, yes, that was a period of, you know, the miners appeared on the streets, they were colorful figures, because they always demonstrated in their worned hard hats and their gear for working underground. And there was a big political issue on the table then as well: it was the first formal challenge that Gorbachev had open himself up to from the republics to find out, where the center stood vis-à-vis the movements outside the center.
The Ukrainian results were not all union referendum were very ambiguous, because I forget (01:19:00) the exact wording of the questions, I certainly remember the campaign being used to try and encourage people to vote for the question which would be interpreted as a step towards implementing sovereignty. There were economic charts. The democrats had printed up charts, showing that Ukraine, which has traditionally being referred to as a bread basket of Europe, at that point the Soviet Union, they printed up these economic charts to try to scientifically prove to people that the Ukrainian economy was sustaining the rest of the former Soviet economy and particularly Russian economy, and basically that Ukraine was getting a really bad economic deal from its relationships with the other Soviet states. And that worked to convince some people, but the problem was there were two questions on the ballot, and I think people voted “yes” to both. So, on one hand they were voting “yes” for sovereignty and on the other hand they were voting “yes” to maintaining the Union, so the outcome of that referendum was just kind of confusing.
(01:20:00) Do you have a sense of how the miners were organized and what some of their goals were?
And their impact.
Yes, I’m trying to think, did I go to Donetsk at that point. One of my first trips outside of, well except for my one little venture in the summer, my first trip outside Kiev was to Crimea to visit the Tatars who were returning from Central Asia. Tthey had been exiled under Joesph Stalin from Crimea, which is a peninsula in Southern Ukraine, to Central Asia because they had been accused of collaborating with the Germans, and Gorbachev had basically allowed them to come back, so they were slowly packing up their bags and trickle back to Crimea. There were many violent incidents associated with the repatriation of the Tatars, because ethnic Slavs, who were (01:21:00) living on the peninsula felt that a complex issue of who’s land is it, and they felt that this these were their houses and their lands. The Tatars returning obviously felt that they were a dispossessed nation and they were determined to claim land back. They were not actually, I think the houses that had been taken away from them back, but they were asking for land back, and so there had been many violent incidents in November of 1990, extremely violent incidents between the local ethnic Slavs population and returning Tatars: petrol bombs, stoning, really kind of nasty, nasty incidents.
On both sides?
Yeahh, it basically boiled down to a conflict of land because the Tatars just what they did was they surveyed the area and found land that had either been set aside, designated for dachas or collective farm fields that weren’t being cultivated, and their rationale was: “Well this is their land, we have a right to reclaim land in our home land”. And so would just physically move on to the land. And they had a (01:22:00) very communal system for building the communities. What they would do, the men would come up from the Central Asia and they would work together as a collective, and they would all build. When I went to visit them with my friend journalist for the “Ukrainian Weekly” Marta Kolomaiets, we went to see this one sight called Komencaray on the outskirts of Simferopol which is the administrative capital of Crimea. I try to get back there every year because I found it very fascinating to see what’s happened to this community. When we were out there it was, it was very cold, and these men which are living in underground dugouts, in warmer weather they lived above ground in tents, but by the time we got there they were living in underground dugouts. It was like going down to a root cellar or something and they had their beds out, and they had this self-help policies. They all grouped together and built a foundation in one room for every prospective family, that they did together. And then, after that everybody was on their own and some family members came out to help, but once you had your room and your foundation then you were on your own to build the rest of the house as you , sort of, best saw further (01:26:00). I mean, there are huge houses down there now, all kinds of thriving community with roads and electricity, you know, schools and **machas.., sort of, religious centers, yeahh, so they are thriving communities now.
But you made a trip to Donetsk as well?
No, I don’t think, I’m trying to think, I don’t think I actually did go to Donetsk at that time, so the information and my perception of what the miners were agitating for would have been gleaned from trips by miners’ delegations up to Kiev. They were sending delegations up to negotiate with the government and they were also sending miners up to picket outside Parliament. I believe, if I recall correctly, (01:27:00) the issue at that time was, well the demands were becoming political, and I think that was the period … I can’t remember exactly which month, but sometime during that period the Ukrainian government also succeeded in arresting administrative control over mines located on Ukraine territory for the Ukrainian government. There was also an element of Ukrainian government versus Soviet government mixed in with it as well, but I’m afraid I can’t remember the details.
Okay, and then the All Union Treaty after the referendum had its progression on Ukraine go forward?
Well, even by this point, by the spring of ’91, Kravchuk had become the Parliamentary Chairman. Then Kravchuk had become a very interesting political figure. I just remember intuitively feeling around February of ‘91, that (01:25:00) this was the man to watch, and I think this was the first time when I put in a formal bid for and interview with Kravchuk. And by then he was beginning to take on the mentality of a communist politician, who was going to fight for implementing a form of Ukrainian sovereignty. This is not to say that he was, you know, I personally … many people have many different views on Kravchuk and he’ll certainly go down in history as an incredibly important figure, simply because he was the first President of an independent Ukraine. And whatever your personal views are of him as a man, he was the politician who led Ukraine out of union with the Soviet Union. My gut instinct was that I guess, I had negative feelings towards him. I just didn’t trust him and I didn’t trust his motivations. I was highly suspicious of him, but (01:26:00) he was clearly, for whatever his personal motivations were, maybe, he genuinely was a very heart-felt Ukrainian nationalist. I won’t be too cynical, but for whatever reasons, he was at that time becoming a figure who was increasingly maneuvering to represent the sovereignty argument at some level in negotiation with Moscow. So it was, this kind of sovereignty agenda which had existed on papers since the Parliament’s declaration in July, was slowly working through the government and state apparatus, so that it was actually becoming a negotiating issue with the politicians of Moscow, and the politicians of Moscow didn’t like it.
What was your sense of the relationships between, within the Communist party, specifically both inside Ukraine there is a much talk of split between conservative and nationalist communists, and with Ukrainian Communist party and the Soviet Communist party in Moscow?
Yeah … well I remember when I did get my first interview with Kravchuk, which was sometime in the spring, maybe late, I think it was March, or late February of ‘91, that was, what I wanted to find out from that interview, I nearly failed he’s very clever, but what I wanted to find out from that interview was, was he a nationalist democrat, oh no, sorry, was he a nationalist communist, in other words, was he a man who was going to use the nationalist argument to rest Ukraine, or not, to loosen the ties between Ukraine and the center for the purpose of consolidating power in the hands of Ukrainian communists, or was there something more to the type of politics that he was advocating, and I never succeeded in finding out ever, and I still have no (01:28:00) idea what his motivation was at that period. But in the more global sense, what was happening, what soon to be happening with the communists, who had Parliament seats, because those were the only people you could gage. At that time Parliament was the key institution for people like journalists, because you had no access to what was going on in Communist party Politburo meetings or any other structure. Those were totally separate from journalists, unless you were a party journalist had no access to these types of meetings, those, sort of, information forums. So the way you were gauging the Ukrainian political scene was through what was going on in the Parliamentary chamber, and what was, seemed to be gone on then was that a lot of the communists, the communists movement was fracturing in the sense that there were communists who were members of Rukh and, who were obviously trying to figure out what their relationships with the party was, and what were they, were they communists or were they democrats, should they be giving up their party cards. It was people, it was time of great turbulence, emotional turbulence for a lot of (01:29:00) people, because they were having to decide where the political line ran through their own heart. These were issues they had to decide themselves. They were obviously crystallized on August 19th, when the hard-liners of Moscow tried to institute, the coup, but they were already swelling in the hearts of a lot of politicians of that time. And so the political map was that you had this group of 239 communists, who were perceived as being a hard-liners in the sense that they would vote as a block group, as a group in Parliament, on following orders of their leader, Semen Saporenko, who was clearly a hard-line figure, and that, that was among the block that rarely cracked at that period. And that was highly significant because it meant to carry the Parliamentary majority, and they would do things even like, I mean, some of them were very lazy and they can bother show up to the Parliamentary sessions but, kind of, disrupt the voting pattern because they would give friends their voting card, their registration card, and their friends would just press the voting button in front and for me was like they all are going to vote (01:30:00) the same way, so why do they physically have to be there. So you’d see a lot of that, I remember hanging over the balconies, being outraged because you’d see this vote flash up 239 for such and such a bill, and you’d notice that the chamber was half empty, and so you’d be staring indignantly that these communists voting with their neighbors’ cards as well as their own, like double or triple voting at some places. I remember being chased down to the cafeteria in Parliament and been told very sharply by about fifteen communists that that was not just on, that I should be minding my own business, that was the only intimating incident that occurred. Yeahh, but that was the dynamic, but people’s allegiances were shifting, communists were playing democrats, and, you know, as long as that group of 239 remained intact, the political balance was in sort more hard-line communist favor.
Within the Parliament what did you sense the support for independence or (01:31:00) sovereignty or Ukrainian autonomy was, how is it developing, how is it progressing before the Coup on August 19th?
Well, it was never one hundred percent steady, there was never, I mean, nobody could have predicted then that the country was going to be independent, you know, come August that was going to declare independence. Some people had stronger sense of the inevitability of the movement, nobody knew exactly how it would play out. I mean, many of the Rukh people were convinced that ultimately, they didn’t know if it would take five to ten years that ultimately this place would be separate from Moscow. But it just wasn’t, it wasn’t clear at that time, there was always the fear of a crack down or people were afraid they were going end up back in prison. It was like they were pushing things, they couldn’t believe that they were getting away with what they were getting away with, they were determined to keep pushing, but it just wasn’t, it wasn’t a course that was straight as a narrow, there (01:32:00) were a lot of questions and fears and still compromise was going on during that period.
Where were you when the Coup happened on August 19th?
I was with many other journalists at that time in a Southern Ukrainian town Zaporozhia, which had also been the sight of a big Cossack festival a year before, at a Ukrainian musical festival called “Chervona Ruta”, which like the Cossack conscience raising festival was, you know, it was Ukrainian nationalist musicians brining Ukrainian music to origin of the country that was quite heavily russified. So it was fun, I mean, it was like Ukrainian little Woodstock. But there was the political message there as well. So, I was down at the concert and I was sharing a hotel room with another Western journalist, Marta Dyczok, who was writing for the “Guardian” at that time. And I rememberI remember getting up, we both got up, we’d been up very late the night before, we were eventually getting on this bus to drive back to Kiev. It was a long drive, I can’t remember 9 or 10 hours or (01:33:00) something, and I remember getting up and I remember Marta had this crystal that she worn around her neck, and she dropped the crystal and it smashed and I remember her saying: “Oh, something awful is going to happen”. You know, this is the symbol because apparently if you break your crystal, it’s symbolic of some kind of incredibly earth shattering event was going to take place. But I was too busy being hungry, so I just decided, she was, sort of, silly, kind of, waking up impression, and I ran down to get breakfast, but I just kind of ran into the restaurant ran back out of, I just grabbed something, coffee and something else, and I noticed that there was this really somber music playing on the radio, but I guess, this bad journalistic instinct, I didn’t stop anyone to ask what was going on, like there was this general sense of quiet, but I thought it’s early in the morning, so I ran back up. Marta and I ran out to the bus, and we met up with other journalists. There was Steve Mulvey, who was working for the “Daily Telegraph”, and Christia Lapychak, who was writing for the “Ukrainian Weekly” (01:34:00) and a couple of other people around. Anyway, Marta and I got up into the bus, and there was a woman, Irena Yarosevych, an American Ukrainian, who was working with Rukh at that time, who was … I think she must have been organizing the best-pack, anyway. She was there and she said: “Oh you know, I can’t believe, what an awful night was, we had a press-conference till three in the morning, everybody was drunk in my room, and it was a Coup”, and it was the third item on her list of significant events to report from evening, and we like thought: “coup, what is she just talking about … Some of the journalists got angry with it or something. So we had no idea that anything had gone on and we got on the bus and she is like: “No, guys, really, there was a coup last night”. And we are like: “Oh, yes, sure, sure”. She was like: “No, there really was a coup last night. Gorbachev’s out under arrest in Crimea bla, bla, bla”. So finally we believed her and so we thought: “Oh, my God, we’ve got to get back to Kiev, here were are stranded in the city about embark, on a kind of, slow bus ride back, we’ve got to get (01:35:00) back”. So we grabbed our staff, jumped off the bus, ran to the hotel, and the American Counsel, John Stepanchuk, was, we went into his room and we got on the phone and called our papers. I was told that I should go immediately to the Baltic, because the prediction at that time was the Baltic had gone further out in declaring independence and so the crack down would be harsher there. They wanted someone on the ground to report on that, but that I should go back to Kiev and go to the Baltic from Kiev. So then we were thinking logistically how do we get back, so Steven, Marta, Chrystia and I grouped together and we decided we should try and get air tickets, so we raced to the airport and, of course, everyone was trying to get on the plane to fly back to Kiev, there were no seats available, we were trying to negotiate with people to get their tickets, we couldn’t get a ticket from anyone, we thought: “Okay, this is a waste of time”. So we hired a taxi, cause we (01:36:00) thought: “Okay, the taxi will be faster, the second fastest way of getting back”. So I had my short-wave radio, and poor Steven was feeling ill, and the taxi driver was agitated. What was happening we were hanging the short-wave radio out the window and listening to the broadcast in English and then translating to him. It was Bridget Kendall of BBC reporting on tanks coming into Moscow, issues already talked about the end of the Soviet era and it was all high drama. Every time we translated one of these bulletins for the taxi driver, he would panic (screams) and put his full accelerator and going faster (laughs), and Chrystia Lapychak was sitting in the front seat of the car and she was terrified. She thought she was going to go through the windshield, and it was all this was like: “Oh, my God, how are we going to get back, what’s it going to be like”. So we thought: “Well, okay, we have to stop and ask people, what the reaction is, to this momentous event is event”. And every time we stopped, it was like life was going on as usual, and people were, some people were saying: “Oh, it’s a good thing, we’ll get more order back in the country now”. But there was no sense of, the sense of drama, that was being conveyed through this little short-wave radio, wasn’t being translated into reality, by what we were witnessing on this ride back to Kiev. So I can’t remember all (01:37:00) the twists and turns. We stopped in a town on the way and tried to make phone calls. Eventually we got back to Kiev after this very long, very hot taxi journey, and marched straight into the Rukh where a friend of us, Mary Mitsio, was putting out the Rukh daily digest, and she filled us in on all the developments of the day in Kiev. And then from then on I personally, spent my time shifting between the office of Volodymyr Hryniov, who was a Deputy Speaker of Parliament at that time, and a very intelligent and very perceptive political analyst, who kindly threw his door open to journalists. We used his office as a base and it was very important information base for us at that time, because he had communication channels with people in Moscow, and so he was getting very fresh information, what was going on there which he would relay to us. He also, he was astute. He predicted early on that the coup would fail, and…
What was his rationale?
Just that these were dinosaurs, who were reacting too late to events that had gone too far to stop. And that he just didn’t believe, his political intuition led him not to believe that from the moment that they had enough force behind them to carry out what they were planing to do. So he felt, it was, sort of, nice being with him because he, protected the sense of common security. In Kiev there nothing was happening. There were very small demonstrations, maybe two thousand people at most, really it was very, very quiet. The democrats were obviously an invaluable source of information. At that time as well they had regular press-conferences, they were the ones who came against the coup really on. Kravchuk set on the phones, he made a kind of wishy-washy statement early on, then, yes, so there wasn’t, there just wasn’t a whole lot of drama here during the days of the coup and not even a whole lot to report on. The most interesting thing, the first most interesting development was, it must have been day of the Coup, when it was clear that it was already falling apart. Either day two or early in the morning of day three, when Kravchuk called the press-conference for the western press, by then there were, I can’t remember, you know, maybe half of dozen of us or so in Kiev, and he said that he was going to resign from the Communist Party and various other things. He was clearly very nervous at this press-conference, really shaking in a way that I’d never seen him shaking. He was a smooth operator, very upset, very shaken, very kind of, seemed to be very vulnerable, and what I later found out from a source close to Kravchuk was really (01:40:00) what tipped the balance, was that General Varennikov had been sent down from Moscow and had just marched into Kravchuk’s office early in the morning and basicallytaken it over and said: “This is what we want you to do ta-da-ta-da…”. And again it was a sense of the indignity of it all, the sense that, the sense in Moscow that these communist party officials in Ukraine were simply puppets to be manipulated at the whim of the central powers. And that was just a slap in the face for these Ukrainians who had been loyal party members. But who also, I think felt innocence in a sense that they were masters in their own dominion, and just that sense of intrusion and kind of violation. When Varennikov marched into Kravchuk’s office, I think, my guess is that personally as a human being what finally, psychologically made him break were the communists and decided he was (01:41:00) throwing his lot, that he was throwing himself behind not just sovereignty now but independence, and there had been a whole series of negotiations. It was clear already by the summer that Ukraine was going to put a hard-line of resistance signing this new Union Treaty. They were issuing pretty tough demands, already over oil and gas and stuff, so they certainly weren’t playing, they certainly weren’t submitting to Moscow as well. But I think that that incident with Varennikov, I think really probably maybe is what tipped the balance for Kravchuk and made him throw his lot with the Rukh.
Do you have any sense of what was happening in Ukrainian Communist Party age old question during the Coup? What Hurenko’s position was?
No, there was as assumption that there were with the Coup plotters. I mean, none of this was ever published, what happened. Let’s see, I guess right after, I mean, it was the whole … there were the days of the Coup from the (01:42:00) 19th till the 21st where things were quiet in Ukraine, except for making big devel.., developments like Kravchuk saying he’s going to quit the party. Well, actually he may have not even said it right then, although he certainly indicated that, he indicated that psychologically he’d broken, although I don’t think he’d actually articulated that until a little bit later. And then the next, sort of, no, no it wasn’t clear what was going on with the communists, other than Parliament convened. The Rukh decided that it was going to put this proposal for independence, table proposal for independence. They call the special Parliamentary session for the Saturday, which was the 24th. Rukh decided that it was going to table national independence. Eeven then, it was far from clear. Obviously the political map had changed, it was chaotic, it was a lot of turmoil, no one quite knew what was going on. There was the sense that the democrats were on the rise and the communists had lost huge ground, but how it panned out was still unclear. (01:43:00) I remember hearing about this proposal the night before the Parliamentary session and kind of not knowing how to play it, when I spoke to my editors and mentioning it to them. I also remember that they didn’t really believe me when I said it would go through. I didn’t say it would go through, I said they were planning to table it, and they didn’t really necessarily believe that it was going to be a serious step, and I myself I didn’t know either. I’d mentioned it but I certainly did, kind of, beat the bandwagon and say: “This is the moment in history”. Yeahh, well, and then the day of the 24th was just an extraordinary day.
When I remember how the day started out … I had a flat by then, I had my own flat, I had kind of graduated in the world, which is actually the flat that I’m in right now, which is physically located … the balcony looks out onto Independence Square. I got up in the morning and opened the doors and already saw a huge mass of people in the square, (01:44:00) and went up. There was a little car driving around, shouting out of a loudspeaker something like: “If you don’t want to be a sheep, march up to Parliament, this is an important day”. The city was beginning to rally, people were beginning to come out and a pretty big crowd was beginning to gather in front of Parliament already. Went in there, spent most of the day in Parliament, and that was just an extraordinary debate. The independence issue was tabled, that was the day when it became clear that the communists were in some form of disarray, because their caucus session which was normally closed and journalists would never get into, was open for anyone who wanted to go into it. That was amazing, I wasn’t there for much, I wasn’t there for that caucus session period. I knew I could go in to it, but I wasn’t in it, although a lot of journalists were and they can tell you exactly what was said. I was milling around upstairs and kind of mingling with the crowd and talking to my editors and also getting very interesting (01:45:00) information from Moscow, from the Moscow office about what was going on there. That was an important kind of information, ‘cause that information about Yeltsin was meeting against communists in Moscow, and that information, which is coming in through our, certainly my office, someday Rukh told me that the information that was conveyed to them was fresh news, and it actually tipped, you know, the information was coming in through Moscow channels, actually influenced the way Ukrainians were behaving as well.
And also I believe the Ukrainian communists, because I think what was happening on that day was Ukrainian communists felt they were sinking, they were either going to drown with the Russian Communist Party Yeltsin was lashing out against, or they were going to have to break free to save themselves. I think ultimately that was what persuaded them to vote for independence, it was not as much an act of salvation as it was a vote for Ukraine. But, yeahh, all sorts of weird things happened that day. I was with the Canadian journalist from the “Global Mail” and I remember at one point, we went out (01:46:00) to the crowd to see what was going on, and they mistook us for communists, communist deputies, cause I guess we were … he was wearing a suit and I don’t know what I was wearing, and it was kind of scary. They started getting quite aggressive towards us, it was this huge crowd, and luckily this Rukh activist, Marina’s husband Sashko recognized me and said: “No, no, you know, don’t worry, she is a Western journalist, or whatever”, because basically he said what had happened was the crowd had just…
Tape 4 Касета 4
(01:47:09) Yeah, so what was explained to us afterward was that the crowd had assembled, or that this part of the crowd had positioned itself by the doors of Parliament, specifically to prevent any communists from leaving the building because they would sneak out, thereby depriving Parliament of the quorum necessary to push through the vote on independence. And so they were not going to allow that to happen by physically preventing the exit of communist MP’s from the building. And conversely, what was going on inside the building was the security guards were terrified. And were convinced them that the crowd was going to storm the Parliament building and start to kill people. And they barricaded the doors from the inside to prevent that. And I remember trying to go out earlier in the day and being told that I couldn’t go out (01:48:00) because it was dangerous for my life. So there was real … This was a day of tremendous, tremendous emotion. It was just a tremendously emotional, intense day. And when that vote on independence went through, I mean the people that voted for it couldn’t believe that they’d voted, couldn’t believe that it had succeeded. People were just hugging one another. There was this huge Ukrainian flag that the crowd had outside … And, they did open the doors of Parliament and they took the flag through. And Kravcuck had it draped over the podium. And it was just, it was…that was just a tremendous moment, really an amazing moment to live through, that day of the vote and the aftermath.
And then all sorts of things started happening after that. One of the most significant things to happen next, was that the communist building was sealed. Once they decided to sort of semi … to outlaw the Ukrainian Communist Party, they had moved to seal it. I remembered I had heard rumors that this was going to happen. And , (01:49:00) **March Entichok (Marta Dyczok?) and I in the morning, went up to have a look in the Parliament, in the Communist Party building. And you couldn’t get beyond the lobby. But, they had a shoe shine machine in the lobby so we shined our shoes in the lobby. And then we went away and then I went back up about an hour and a half later and by then the building was already sealed. There was a crowd outside and it had been sealed. And they had sealed it specifically because they wanted to go through the documents to find out who was implicated in the coup and who wasn’t .
Who, who, who sealed it?
It was sealed I, I guess on the, I’m trying to think if it would have been on the orders of Parliament or on the orders of the city council because it was technically a city council building. I don’t know the mechanism and I don’t know exactly who was behind it. But you know, the powers that be had shifted to the point that they wanted to find out who among the hard-liners was behind the coup. And then I, I went down, the next thing I personally did was I went down with a Financial Times journalist, Christya Freeland, to Crimea to find out what was happening there. It was interesting for a number of reasons. Partly because Gorbachev had been (01:50:00) interim there. Though that wasn’t the story we were working on. At that point it was already clear that Crimea would become a very sensitive issue in the relationship between Ukraine and Russia. Because it was dominated by ethnic Russians and, and had been transferred I think in ‘54, or I can’t exactly remember, when it was under **Kruschev. It had been transferred from Ukraine to Russia so it was in a sensitive territorial issue. So we went down there to get a sense of what was going on and also to find out if the local communist Nikolai Bagrov had—as was strongly suspected—been a Coup supporter. So.
Did you ever find out?
No. I mean, I guess one day the archives will be open and maybe there will be documents open to historians that will enable you find out. But at this point, you know, you can have a strong, you can have a strong suspicion. But no ultimate proof of exactly who was involved.
(01:51:00) Once Ukraine achieved independence it had to set about building a state, building an independent country, building the structures of an independent country, and government. Were you watching this process as presidential appointments were made to ministerial positions as Ukraine established: its military, its national bank, the institutions of a sovereign state?
Yes. It was a fascinating period. It didn’t have the emotional drama of independence and it didn’t have the dynamism of the street politics of the early independence movement. But it was intellectually a fascinating process and very interesting to witness. I guess, the first move towards creating an institutional structure besides declaring independence was the decision to appoint a Ukraine Minister of Defense to head up a Ukrainian army.
Was that the first ministerial appointment made?
Yes, as far as I recall. Yes, I’m almost positive that was the first ministerial (01:52:00) appointment made. And I think, Kravchuk was very sensitive to the issue of the role of the army in building a state, because I think he’d been reading a lot of Hrushevskiy, Ukrainian historian or first Ukrainian President I guess who later wrote history books about Ukraine’s previous experiments with independence. And I believe that the issue he singled out, or that, he singled out lack of strong armed forces as the main reason for the collapse of Ukrainian independence. And I think that this analysis is something that stayed with Kravchuk. He’d obviously been reading up a lot on independence. And, so, his first move was to appoint a first Ukrainian Minister of Defense, who I guess was a true Ukrainian patriot. And, so there, there he was. Mr. (01:53:00) Morozov – I’m confusing him with…yeah, the socialist leader- who was made Minister of Defense and told to build a Ukrainian army. And I just remember in the early days he had a little room in one of the commission buildings on what’s now **Brukofsky street, sort of, diagonally across from Presidential Palace. And you’d just sort of trot up to have a look at the Ukrainian defense and it would be Mr. Morozov and his assistant and a desk and a few boxes of files and that was it. And so you know gradually they got a building, and they got a press service going and gradually they kind of picked up the institutional trappings of a regular ministry. But, it was slow going. It’s amazing, amazing, what he did, what he accomplished. And it must have been a fantastically daunting task for him as well. I mean, he wasn’t, he wasn’t a politician. And he was dragged into both not only a prominent political role as the first Minister of Defense but also you know had (01:54:00) this fundamental task, this vast enormous task of creating a loyal, independent army that was, would be willing to defend the Ukrainian state and the material he was using was men who’d sworn an oath of loyalty to the former Soviet, the Soviet Union, to Moscow.
How did they make the transfer of allegiance from Moscow to Ukraine? I know you made some very interesting trips to military bases during that time.
Yes, there were several incidents. It was very unclear how that would pan out. There were certain dramatic events that occurred. Strategically, the first thing they did was move, they moved to create a national guard. Which was sort of a small elite corps of Ukrainian fighters, Ukrainian soldiers. That was the first kind of unit within the armed forces that had a very strong Ukrainian national (01:55:00) identity. I mean, that was Ukraine’s vanguard army. Then there were incidents, there was a major general, I think it was Major General Barshirov who was a pilot with the. A pilot in charge of a squad of nuclear bombers based at the **Oozen military base. Which is south of Kiev near a town called **Piliumotskirkov, about an hour or two’s drive from Kiev, maybe two hours. And there was an incident. I may not relate this entirely accurately. I’m flagging slightly. But in essence, he, I think his planes had been flown into Russian territory and he decided, this had been done without his, on the Russian command and he decided he was going to bring the planes back. I may not (01:56:00) have the facts leading up to this event 100 percent accurate But anyway, he ended up in a nuclear bomber that was based on Ukrainian territory, at the Oozen base in Russia in this nuclear bomber trying to fly it back to the Ukraine. And he was ordered by the Russia military, the Russian command to land his plane in Russia, to stop and bring that plane down, and he disobeyed the order and flew it back to Oozen and landed it in Ukraine. And so … that was kind of, the first act of real defiance and it was an act of defiance that was all the more significant because it involved a nuclear bomber. So that was a really interesting moment. And we were, I remember being in Parliament. Mary Mitsio, the journalist who now works for the Los Angeles Times, was the one who initiated this trip. She had a very good friend who worked in the Parliamentary Defense commission and through him was under the impression that she had secured permission for herself, me and Steven Mulvey and Marta Dyczok (01:57:00) to drive down, to drive down to this base and interview Bashkirov. And that was the period where anything, and all the old structures had broken down, all the old barriers had broken down and the new ones had yet to be erected. So it was an amazing opportunity for journalism where if you just had the guts to push you could kind of get away with almost anything. And so we thought, well this is a slightly ambiguous permission. It’s only verbal, but we’re going to try it anyway. So we, we decided, we just jumped in my Lada car and decided we’d just drive down to the base. But unfortunately my Lada had decided it wasn’t going to start that day and so time was ticking on. And also the headlights weren’t working And it was wintry weather, and so we kind of knew that we had to get back from the base by about four otherwise it would start to get dark and would be hard to drive. But we thought we could make it. Stephen was convinced that once the sun shined on the car for a while, that it would work and I was incredibly skeptical. I thought we’d never make it. But, (01:58:00) he was right. Went back to the car, started it up and it worked. So we jumped in the car and drove down, drove to the airbase. And the guards at the airbase didn’t know what to do with us, but they let us onto the base. We thought, great, step one was done. Then we got to the headquarters and Bahskirov was there and he was actually meeting with Russian officials that day and he was upstairs in the building. And we though great, they let us into the building. But then our luck began to end. Because, they clearly didn’t know what to do with us so they just stuck us in this room. And it was sort of unclear what our status was. Was this a waiting room and we would be able to see Bashkirov or were we in semi prison because there was an armed guard in the hallway? So we didn’t know and the hours ticked away. And we were there. We were also there with our Ukrainian interpreter, Sasha Sanko. We were just sort of there. We were practicing our Ukrainian homework together and we were just chatting away. And luckily Marta was a smoker, and so she went out into the hallway for a cigarette break and by this time the guard had relaxed his (01:59:00) vigilant guard and disappeared. And Marta, bless her, had recognized Bashkirov’s hat from a photograph. I think he wore this very tall, distinctive, furry kind of Chechen like hat. And she just came back in and said “He’s coming guys, he’s coming.” So we just raced back out into the hall and the guard was gone and so we were able to nab him for a quick interview and hear his side of the story and what had gone on. It was a very brief interview but we did get him in the end.
Did he express that allegiance to Ukraine was the motivation behind his actions?
Well, the motivation was murky. I mean, he was a bit reticent. He said basically, it was a plane that was stationed on Ukrainian territory and that’s, until he received written command, that, sort of stating otherwise, that that was where it was based. I mean, there were also, there were all sorts other shadowy allegations that these planes were going to be used for commercial purposes. And we never entirely got to the (02:00:00) bottom of the story. But, anyway it was the first real act of, act of defiance involving the a part of the nuclear forces of the Soviet Union.
When was this? How early on?
I thought you might ask me that? I can’t remember. I can look it up in my clippings book, but I can’t remember offhand.
Okay, are there other significant events that you can remember that had to do with the state building process? I realize there was a whole campaign, sort of electoral campaign both regarding the presidential elections that were going to be held on December 1 and the referendum, so this is probably all a back drop.
Yeah, I mean the state building was going on anyway. In my view the key moment was August 24. As far as I was concerned, that was it. And I think probably most people you speak to would say the same thing. Technically, formally, it wasn’t. I mean the formal ratification of independence through (02:01:00) the ballot box, through democratic means was December 1. And so technically in that period between August and December, the country had declared independence but it wasn’t independent. But it was certainly already building up the institutional framework, specifically the army to insure that, that independence couldn’t be encroached upon should the vote confirm the Parliamentary decision. The Foreign Ministry was already in good shape. Ukraine, you know, since the time of Stalin had a seat at the UN. So maybe therefore in policy was an adjunct simply to the line put out from Moscow. At least their diplomats had the experience of operating abroad in a, well, in a slightly autonomous capacity. Well, they could kind of point to the seat at the UN that gave them a kind of distinctive identity, vis-à-vis the other republics other than Belarus which I think also had a seat.
What about economic institutions?
(02:02:00) Economic institutions…well gosh, you know they had to build these institutions from scratch. They had to make a national bank. They were beginning, the democrats were already thinking through the issue of money. You know at that point it was Pylypchuk, I forget his first name…
Volodymyr Pylypchik who was the one who was first thinking through the ideas of Ukrainian money and he very early on said that Ukraine was going to have its own separate currency. I think in November of that year they issued these bizarre coupons. They were just these … I still have some. These flat sheets of paper that looked almost like heavy duty toilet paper. Kind of pink speckled paper with just black markings. And you’d go to the store and the cashier would have to pull out her scissors from under the cash register and cut out these silly coupons, which was kind of proto Ukrainian money that didn’t have perforations or anything.
And (02:03:00) they were beginning to think about issues like currency. They were beginning to think about how to set up a national bank. They were beginning to get a lot of diaspora experts coming in. There was one George Yurchyshyn who worked for the national bank people, and I think he really helped them. He brought computers over. Another Diaspora Canadian-Ukrainian, Bohdan Kravchenko, began to set up an institute to train civil servants. Because one of the ironies of the young Ukrainian state was the perception of the former Soviet Union that it was bogged down in bureaucracy. There were too many bureaucrats. And that in itself was an obstacle to the system functioning efficiently. But in Ukraine it was the ironic situation where they had no bureaucrats really. This had been really, the institutional structure had been simply that the alleged government and ministries weren’t acting independently. They were simply executing orders coming down from Moscow. So they didn’t need they didn’t need a big (02:04:00) bureaucracy. There were just kind of pushing the orders through. So, in the early days often you’d phone up the ministry, and there’d be no secretary. The minister himself would answer your telephone call. It made work very easy, because you could get your interview over the phone, but a system doesn’t work well that way if every Tom, Dick and Harry can get right through to the minister and sort of monopolize his time. What else was being put in place at that time. Oh I guess like the, the, the I think the **Giie started becoming, the **Dyie was, I mean the language was pretty well institutionalized before that at any way because they’d passed the language law certainly before I came out here. I mean all press conferences from day one were pretty much in Ukrainian. But I guess there was an even renewed emphasis on the language issues.
The referendum? People were preparing for the referendum and campaigning (02:05:00)and different, different sides. What was your analysis of the vote? It came as a surprise to many people that Ukraine, that so many of the oblasts in Ukraine, I guess all of the oblasts voted for independence on December 1.
Yes, I don’t…you know it’s funny, I don’t really have a…I don’t really have a strong memory, I don’t have a memory of surprise so I guess I wasn’t surprised. I think … I think I though that it would be… I think I thought that even on a cynical level that it would go through. I think I even thought that if necessary, the votes would be falsified to push it through or something because I don’t remember being surprised at the outcome. It was already massively clear from what was going on in the mass media at that time that it would go through. Because from August on, there were a lot of television programs on Ukrainian history. A lot was being done to explain to people here who, I’m sure that people felt Ukrainian but it’s one thing to kind of intuitively feel a sense that you’re different from (02:06:00) Russia and it’s another to actually learn the facts of your own history. And there were a lot of documentaries on TV about Ukraine, what went on. So certainly the groundwork, the state was laying the groundwork to make sure that, there was a campaign that would strongly encourage people to vote in favor of independence.
Were there any people or forces or organized groups who were campaigning against the referendum?
There was, I remember at that time there were concerns about what was going on in Donbass. You know there was the Interfront movement that was beginning to operate in Donbass and the Interfront movement was sort of a pro-Russian organization that was lobbying to maintain really the former Soviet Union, the links with Russia. So there was a little bit of concern about what would happen there. There was concern I (02:07:00) guess about the ethnic Russian population. But you know, it was a less. At that time really the economic argument still held strong, people weren’t thinking about oil and gas, they weren’t thinking about the fact that all of the oil and gas came from Russia. Houses were warm so there was nothing to make people think through those issues. And really the most effective sort of campaigning in favor of a vote for independence was the economic campaign. And people were very convinced even in Russian dominated regions like Crimea on the Donbass that they’d get a better economic deal if they voted for Ukrainian independence. They felt their standard of living would go up. They felt that this was where the wheat was produced. They had coal. You know, that economically this place would be better off separate, as a separate economic entity. There was good infrastructure (02:08:00) compared to the former Soviet Union. Ukraine has lots of roads linking all the cities, lots of airports. By former Soviet standards, it was pretty western. So…yeah, there was a lot to work with in the campaign.
We’ll do some analysis now, broader questions. Who do you think played key roles in achieving independence, what groups or individuals throughout the whole 88-91 period?
I can only speak from ‘90 on because I knew from reading what was going on earlier, but I don’t really have that strong a feel for it. Certainly from my arrival in Ukraine, Rukh was absolutely fundamental in the early days for articulating an agenda. One of the things that was quite striking about the agenda, I guess my previous background had been from covering developments in Eastern Europe, from Hungary, from Budapest. And the Polish and Hungarian (02:09:00) democratic parties certainly had far more sophisticated political agenda than the Ukrainian democrats. Here the notion of opposition was very much predicated on the concept of Ukraine. Were you a patriot were you for Ukrainian, did you wear a blue and yellow badge. So that is what defined the political movement. And on the one hand it was disappointing that it wasn’t more intellectually diversified and it was a little disappointing that it wasn’t a more sophisticated political agenda, political program that laid out how the country could transform to a market economy. It wasn’t even clear that everybody thought that that was the route that should be followed. It was really the kind of the Ukrainian idea that drove things. On the other hand, it was an easy story to cover. People felt very confident in a way that (02:10:00) East European democrats and politicians needed to feel because their countries already existed. They didn’t need to create a sense a national identity. They didn’t have to force this hidden country to spring out of the former Soviet maps. It was there. They had their flags, they had their money, they had their institutional droppings. It was on a different level. So, Rukh in the early days was critical to what happened. They had the guts to come out and say that this place was different. They had the memory, they had the language, they had the literature. They had the guts to fly the flag. They had the guts to pull people onto the street. So they were totally, totally vital to the movement. The movement fractured and kind of lost its political weight really after the former…well, I guess… after…different people would date it to different periods, but I think really after August 24, when Krarvhcuk aligned (02:11:00) himself with the Rukh. Because then movement in the autumn began to split into the Democrats who align themselves with former communists in power like Kravchuk and those that refused to compromise. In their view compromise themselves by going on with that Union. So it kind of, some people would say it **cooped. Some people would say fractured from infighting. For whatever reason, it lost its preeminence on the political stage I think after, after August 24. And then the key players became, I mean Kravchuk was always a key player, but then the key players became the people who actually held the positions of power, like the Parliamentary Chairman, you know, the Prime Ministers, the Ministers. Because they were the people on his (**whose?) shoulders. The task of building up the institutions of a new country lay…. And so that the balance pretty much shifted from that point on.
(02:12:00) What role did foreigners play in this process? The press corps, the diplomatic corps, the Diaspora, the Ukrainian Diaspora, different advisors that were coming in?
It’s a hard question to answer. Certainly for Kravckuk the Ukrainian Diaspora were incredibly important. I’m not from the Ukrainian Diaspora so I don’t necessarily have a very good feel for exactly what was going on. It seemed to me as an observer that he very consciously aligned himself with the Diaspora. I think that the Diaspora had a lot to offer Ukraine in that period. Just, it must have been fantastically comforting for people here to feel that the notion of an independent Ukraine was being nurtured and carried on outside the country when it couldn’t be (02:13:00) sustained here at home. And I think people in the Diaspora sacrificed a lot to sustain the notion of Ukrainian independence. I mean they sent their children to Ukrainian school abroad and so there was a new generation to speak the language. And could play a bridging role in the sense that they had the experience operating in a western society and understood the concepts, understood what made a western economy tick and yet they did have, they could bridge the two cultures because the had the language and family connections that gave them an insight into how Ukraine worked as well, even tough it was a pretty wacky place. Even a lot of Diaspora people had difficulties functioning here and relating to the types of conditions they found themselves working in. I also think that even though there was a lot of good, I also think that possibly as a result of some Ukrainian politicians placing too high an expectation on what it was the Diaspora (02:14:00) could deliver. There was inevitably a point at which people began to feel resentful and let down. I think it was by the West, but since their contact with the West was primarily throughout the Diaspora community because of their facility with the language, I guess that a lot of it did get projected onto the Diaspora and there was a sense of being slightly ripped off or things that had been promised early on weren’t delivered. Maybe it was miscommunication, maybe it was people who came over and were very excited by what happened or so excited by the independence movement that maybe they promised a little more that they were able to deliver. There was definitely ultimately in some cases a sense of let down and a kind of distancing. As for Western diplomats…
Or the position of Western countries like the United States, and Western (02:15:00) Europe, Canada towards Ukraine and towards Ukrainian independence.
It really wasn’t a factor. Let’s see, let’s start with what Western countries were represented here. When I came in July 1990 I remember my arrival coincided with the arrival of the first French Consul. The foreign ministry had a joint press conference where they introduced us. And before that it was just the Germans. So before that it was the Germans who were here. And I guess, I don’t know what they were doing, I think it was primarily economic. And then the French were here. And the Americans came out I guess in the autumn of 1990. It was a very small operation. It was John Stepanchuk and John Gundersen. The two John’s who were zipping around in their white Volga. One day one would be the driver and the next day the next. So you know, that was good. It was good to have an American presence on the ground. The Canadians came in. That was pretty much it for the pre-independence period (02:16:00). So I suppose that was a vital link from the Ukrainian point of view. I just don’t know what issues were being dealt with, because the country was still part of the former Soviet Union. So I just don’t know what the diplomatic machinations were at that point. I do know the Bush visit in the summer of 1991, shortly before the coup generated a lot of anger, because Bush was basically … it become known as the “Chicken Kiev” speech. He was basically telling the Ukrainians to drop any ideas of sovereignty or breaking with Moscow as it would be disruptive and they should just stay part of the Soviet Union and keep quiet. And that was clearly perceived negatively by a lot of people. So I guess Western diplomacy really kicked in after the December 1 vote when the countries began recognizing Ukraine.
(02:17:00) In this part of the world, much has been said about revolutions from above, meaning that change very often is instituted by a small group of leaders already in power in a country as opposed to mass movements. We’ve talked this evening about a number of different factors that were important and significant in the years that preceded Ukrainian independence ranging from mass movements and demonstrations and sort of, vitality of street demonstrations to inter-machinations of Parliament. As a final question, what do you see the Ukrainian independence movement, how do you think it is best described, as something that happened instituted from above, or something demanded by a populous or a combination?
I don’t think you can divide it into a black and white, one or the other. It was a combination because , you know without the sort of momentum of the Rukh people and early demonstrations, things wouldn’t have happened. But I guess the key (02:18:00) question that has to be answered and I hope one day it will, I hope one day that the archives will be open is, or I hope one day the communists will speak, you know. Why did the communists vote for independence? Because that really was what tipped it. And why did Kravchuk decide that he would fight for it? Because that was also was very, very important regardless of his motivations. But it would, I’d like to know why, and you know, it was a combination of both. It was a combination of what was happening on the streets, it was happening in the dingy offices of an impoverished Rukh early on that wouldn’t give up their fight. Those people were, they may not have known they were going to win, but their hearts were in it, and they just wouldn’t give up. And from above in the sense that ultimately the communists and, Kravchuk and the communists came on board and (02:19:00) without them throwing their weight behind independence it just wouldn’t have happened. So, both, both.
Thank you very much, for your time.
You’re welcome. (02:19:07)