Dual Life

Kyiv Post - - Front Page - BY ALYONA ZHUK [email protected] Kyiv Post staff writer Alyona Zhuk can be reached at [email protected]

Some res­i­dents of the Azov Sea port city of Mar­i­upol train for a pos­si­ble Rus­sian in­va­sion on May 24, while women sun­bathe on the beach. Some Ukrainian sol­diers are an­gry about the un­equal sac­ri­fices be­ing made in so­ci­ety to de­fend Ukraine. Rus­sia’s war against Ukraine is in its 16th month with no end in sight. See story on page 5. (Volodymyr Petrov)

While young, care­free revel­ers take self­ies on the dance floor of a Kyiv beach club, a fu­neral pro­ces­sion is tak­ing place in another part of the city for a soldier killed in Rus­sia’s war against Ukraine.

For more than a year, Ukraine has been liv­ing a dual life – a peace­ful one in which civil­ians go about their nor­mal lives, or try to, and another mired in an ever-blood­ier war that has killed more than 6,500 peo­ple and up­rooted more than two mil­lion from their homes, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions.

Many who have risked their lives to fight are hav­ing trou­ble read­just­ing to civil­ian life, where they face bu­reau­cracy, in­dif­fer­ence and un­em­ploy­ment.

“So­ci­ety doesn’t feel that there is a war go­ing on,” says Artem, an Azov Reg­i­ment soldier on tem­po­rary leave. He re­quested anonymity for safety rea­sons since he is plan­ning to re­turn to the Don­bas war front. “There is no at­mos­phere of war.”

He told the Kyiv Post that a fel­low soldier went to Kyiv on leave and took pic­tures of a peace­ful life – peo­ple walk­ing around and sit­ting in cafés, seem­ingly un­con­cerned about the suf­fer­ing and sac­ri­fice of the troops.

When he came back to the war front, he showed the pic­tures to other sol­diers and said: “Look, they don’t care.”

Such sto­ries, es­pe­cially when sol­diers face dis­crim­i­na­tion just for be­ing sol­diers, make them an­gry, Artem says.

He once was banned from en­ter­ing a col­lege in Ivano-Frankivsk when he showed his mil­i­tary doc­u­ments. There is a pop­u­lar prej­u­dice that sol­diers “are in­sane, they bring grenades, and they need treat­ment,” he says “The gulf is brew­ing be­tween so­ci­ety and those who are on the front line.”

Ac­cord­ing to Artem, who left his home in Luhansk last spring to join the vol­un­teer bat­tal­ion, ev­ery per­son should be in the fight to de­fend their home­land.

“If you are a man, why aren’t you at war?” he asks. “Some of them even man­age to post online their pic­tures on the beach, or while they grill shish ke­bab… Ev­ery­one knows how you live, ev­ery­thing is fine, but there are peo­ple dy­ing for you to live like that. Maybe just to show re­spect you could be more mod­est.” Oth­ers feel the same way. Volodymyr Shumeyko from Ukraine’s Don­bas Bat­tal­ion is ir­ri­tated by men who “are danc­ing here dressed to the nines.” Shumeyko was se­ri­ously wounded last sum­mer dur­ing the fierce bat­tle now known as the Mas­sacre of Ilo­vaisk, and is still re­cov­er­ing. But he plans to go back to war as soon as he can.

“This is my land, my home, I have to de­fend it,” he told the Kyiv Post. “If you don’t fight, do some­thing, sup­port the army, but don’t tell peo­ple in so­cial media that you are a hero.”

So­ci­ol­o­gist Iryna Bekeshk­ina, head of the Demo­cratic Ini­tia­tives Foun­da­tion, a Kyiv-based pol­icy cen­ter, said that so­ci­ety has got­ten used to the war and un­der­stands that it will go on for some time.

“Let’s re­mem­ber World War II. Have you seen the pic­tures from oc­cu­pied Paris? We can’t say that Parisians were happy that their city was oc­cu­pied (by Nazis), but the ma­jor­ity con­tin­ued liv­ing their lives,” Bekeshk­ina told the Kyiv Post. “We can see that from the photos - restau­rants were work­ing, con­certs were held, etc.”

Dmytro Ney­man from the Dnipro 1 Bat­tal­ion said more Ukraini­ans need to see what’s hap­pen­ing in the com­bat zone. Ney­man, who went to the front as a par­ti­san last spring and later joined the Dnipro 1 Bat­tal­ion, told the Kyiv Post he is also an­noyed by those who con­tinue to be obliv­i­ous to the na­tion’s war.

“Some­times I want to break into one of those night­clubs, to send them all to the front line – for a short pe­riod of time, just to show what’s there,” he said. “They shouldn’t be in­dif­fer­ent about this sit­u­a­tion. If they don’t want to end up there, they have to start do­ing some­thing in the rear. There are many things to do to change this coun­try.”

Iryna Tur­chak, a vol­un­teer in the Povernys Zhyvym Foun­da­tion (Re­turn Alive), knows many an­gry and dis­il­lu­sioned sol­diers.

“These are two dif­fer­ent worlds, here and there,” she said.

Tur­chak thinks that peo­ple are ready to welcome their he­roes, to help and sup­port them, but said “the state isn’t ready.”

The first prob­lem re­turn­ing sol­diers en­counter is get­ting an of­fi­cial cer­tifi­cate of mil­i­tary ser­vice, a pre­req­ui­site for so­cial ben­e­fits. A per­son needs to visit nu­mer­ous state agen­cies and col­lect a pile of doc­u­ments.

And sol­diers of­ten aren’t told where to go, Tur­chak says.

“Imag­ine if he lost his leg or his arm, it’s in­hu­mane to make him go from of­fice to of­fice,” she says. “This pa­per- work is so ex­haust­ing. Many of them just give up. ‘I don’t need it,’ they say, ‘I will earn ev­ery­thing on my own.’” Un­for­tu­nately, many don’t. When war vet­er­ans come home, they of­ten find that their va­cated job has been filled by some­one else, Tur­chak says. When em­ploy­ers, pressed by fi­nan­cial prob­lems, need to re­duce staff, they de­cide to choose a soldier, who is far away any­way.

“And then they de­cide to go back to war,” she adds.

Oth­ers make the read­just­ment to civil­ian life.

Leonid Ostalt­sev from Kyiv is one of them. Af­ter spend­ing about four months in the com­bat zone, he es­tab­lished a lo­cal vet­er­ans as­so­ci­a­tion to pro­vide for­mer sol­diers with psy­cho­log­i­cal as­sis­tance, in­for­ma­tion and just lend a hand.

He says that only about 15 per­cent of his fel­low sol­diers were “sound of mind, un­der­stand­ing that they were in a war, that their head might be ham­mered with all the ex­plo­sions and shelling, and who didn’t drink. The rest were those who just learned how to be­have with the guns. They come back and need to do some­thing. What can they do? Drink and shoot. I am wor­ried that we will get many new found crim­i­nals.”

He said many sol­diers think men who avoid the war are all jerks. But he tries to per­suade them that peace – in­clud­ing danc­ing and the sum­mer plea­sures of bar­be­cue – is what ev­ery­one is fight­ing for and not some­thing by which some­one should be alien­ated.

But it would help if more would join the fight, one way or the other.

“We fight there for peace here. I see chil­dren go­ing to kinder­gartens, I see en­trepreneur­s that work, peo­ple mak­ing money, grow­ing, liv­ing, new peo­ple be­ing born,” Ostalt­sev says. “Me, per­son­ally, I stand for that.”

A Na­tional Guards­man watches as beach­go­ers stand on the shore of the Azov Sea in the coastal city of Mar­i­upol in Donetsk Oblast on May 28. (Volodymyr Petrov)

Many sol­diers feel lost af­ter they come back from the war, fac­ing bu­reau­cracy, in­dif­fer­ence and un­em­ploy­ment. The pic­ture was taken on Sept. 15, 2014, when ap­prox­i­mately 150 sol­diers of the vol­un­teer Azov Bat­tal­ion ar­rived in Kyiv from the com­bat zone....

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