Rostyslav Prokopiuk: “It is ac­tivists who gen­er­ally are forced to de­fend the in­ter­ests of the Ukrainian state in the Czech Repub­lic”

“It is ac­tivists who gen­er­ally are forced to de­fend the in­ter­ests of the Ukrainian state in the Czech Repub­lic”

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - In­ter­viewed by Yaroslava Kut­sai, Prague

Psy­chol­o­gist from Volyn who be­came known in the Czech Repub­lic for help­ing peo­ple with ad­dic­tions on his help for the Ukrainian mil­i­tary and the pro­mo­tion of Ukrainian cul­ture abroad

Orig­i­nally from Volyn, psy­chol­o­gist Rostyslav Prokopiuk be­came known in the Czech Repub­lic for help­ing peo­ple with ad­dic­tions. In the 28 years of his life abroad, he has earned re­spect from the lo­cal celebri­ties. Quite a few of his clients parted with their ad­dic­tions af­ter 15 min­utes on his couch.

In Ukraine, Prokopiuk was un­known for a long time. As the Revo­lu­tion of Dig­nity be­gan, fol­lowed by the war in Eastern Ukraine, he re­al­ized that help for the Ukrainian mil­i­tary and the pro­mo­tion of Ukrainian cul­ture abroad are his per­sonal cause. His ex­pe­ri­ence as a ther­a­pist and con­nec­tions with celebri­ties came in handy.

What en­cour­aged you to take up civil ac­tivism?

— I have al­ways been nos­tal­gic for Ukraine. But this sharp feel­ing of pa­tri­o­tism and the sense of be­long­ing to Ukraine came in 2013. As our ral­lies in Wencel­slas Square be­gan, I thought that it would be good to cre­ate some other for­mat of meet­ings. In my years of prac­tice, I have had many pa­tients in­clud­ing Czech celebri­ties. “If you ever need any­thing, we will lend you a hand,” many of the peo­ple I once helped told me. I never called them be­cause I never needed any­thing per­son­ally. But the de­vel­op­ments in Ukraine made me think of those con­tacts. I called them and all of them re­sponded. In the first year of the Maidan, I or­ga­nized a big three-hour con­cert with 12 cap­pel­las at the Broad­way The­atre. This in­spired me, so I de­cided not to stop. That’s how the Fo­rum of Cul­tures NGO ap­peared. We have or­ga­nized a dozen char­ity con­certs ever since. Pikardiyska Tert­sia [a well­known Ukrainian male a cap­pella band] per­formed here twice, Ser­hiy Pry­tula and his Vari­aty comic show per­formed three times. This helped us col­lect US $3,000. I know that these peo­ple are trust­wor­thy and would do­nate all the money to help in the front­line.

How easy was it to find Ukrainian artists for char­ity con­certs?

— In fact, it’s very dif­fi­cult to ne­go­ti­ate with our celebri­ties. You’re ask­ing them to per­form for a mil­i­tary hos­pi­tal and they are ask­ing US $1.500 for four songs. For some, this is noth­ing more than busi­ness.

Does this up­set you?

— We should not lose hope be­cause of this. There will be peo­ple who will help you, no mat­ter what. You just have to look for them. For ex­am­ple, singer Olek­sandr Lo­zovskiy re­sponded to my re­quests. Singer Paul Manan­dise was a dis­cov­ery – he’s not even Ukrainian, but a French mar­ried to a Ukrainian woman. He has re­cently re­leased his Ukrainian de­but al­bum called Miy Ray [My Par­adise]. That’s how he re­ferred to Ukraine.

Sergei Loiko, a Rus­sian writer and photographer who works at Pri­amyi TV chan­nel in Ukraine, is another ex­am­ple. When his book Air­port was re­leased, it was trans­lated into Czech. I was ex­cited and called him. Quite soon, the trans­la­tion into Czech was re­leased. I started or­ga­niz­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion. Now, we are work­ing on pre­sent­ing Your Look, Cio­Cio­San by An­driy Li­ubka. These pro­jects have been made in co­op­er­a­tion with the Va­clav Havel Li­brary. We were also work­ing on the In­de­pen­dence Day con­cert at the House of National Mi­nori­ties? Why are we do­ing this? The an­swer is very sim­ple: we want to re­mind peo­ple of Ukraine. I have re­cently come across a Lviv-born young man with an amaz­ing voice. He has just re­turned from fight­ing on the front­line. This will be his de­but. He’s very ner­vous. We have many tal­ents who don’t know how to mar­ket them­selves. They need to be given a chance.

How did you come up with the idea of work­ing with Ukrainian mil­i­tary suf­fer­ing from the post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der (PTSD)?

— An ICTV jour­nal­ist told me two years ago that this is a very se­ri­ous prob­lem in Ukraine. They asked me whether I could help. This was a chal­lenge I took up. I’m try­ing to help not just the en­tire coun­try ab­stractly, but spe­cific peo­ple. The most im­por­tant thing is to make sure that they feel that they are not for­got­ten. It is im­por­tant to sup­port the fighter spirit in them. We have ar­ranged a con­cert with the Czech standup com­edy band Na sto­jáka to col­lect money for re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion in Kyiv for one of the boys. I am ex­tremely lucky to be able to work with de­cent vol­un­teers. They are send­ing re­ceipts and show­ing what they spend the money they re­ceive on. The Czechs sup­port such ini­tia­tives be­cause they know that their do­na­tions are not wasted.

I’ve also come up with an idea of a talk show where con­tri­bu­tions are made with medicines. One Slo­vak do­nated a EUR 1,000-worth of medicines and told me: “If you asked me for money, I wouldn’t give any. But medicines – no prob­lem. I’m sure that if you de­cide to eat up all the medicines I’ve bought, you will surely die.”

But this is still not enough. So I’ve de­cided to sell the paint­ings I make when I re­lax. My of­fice is in a nice build­ing, so I dis­played them on the stairs. I’ve al­ready sold two paint­ings – and that’s an ex­tra EUR 300 for a mil­i­tary hos­pi­tal.

What is the most im­por­tant thing that the Ukrainian com­mu­nity in the Czech Repub­lic needs to­day?

— We need a new Ukrainian cen­ter. The Ukrainian Em­bassy here is do­ing quite a lot within its fi­nan­cial ca­pac­ity. But it is ac­tivists who gen­er­ally are forced to de­fend the in­ter­ests of the Ukrainian state in the Czech Repub­lic. The in­ci­dent around the ex­huma­tion of the re­mains of Olek­sandr Oles il­lus­trates this1. That was a hor­ri­ble sit­u­a­tion. We had to ur­gently look for con­tacts with the top of­fi­cials in Ukraine. Ro­man Skrypin [a Ukrainian jour­nal­ist] had these con­tacts – he was in Prague at the time. I still work with him on a num­ber of pro­grams.

Prague once hosted the Mu­seum of Ukraine’s Lib­er­a­tion Strug­gle. A por­tion of the doc­u­ments was de­stroyed by one of the three bombs thrown at the city in 1945. I have a beau­ti­ful col­lec­tion of paint­ings and books by Ukrainian emi­grants in my base­ment. I would like all of this to serve a pur­pose, to grow into some­thing. So far, I have no re­sults.

Gen­er­ally, peo­ple don’t want to change any­thing. I can’t help those who don’t ask. This would be a vi­o­la­tion of eth­i­cal rules in psy­chol­ogy. But once I’ve promised to do some­thing, this is a train I can’t jump off.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­search by Cen­trum pro výzkum veře­jného mínění (Pub­lic Opin­ion Re­search Cen­tre) from March 2014, 64% of the Czechs were in­ter­ested in the sit­u­a­tion in Ukraine. Two years later, only a quar­ter were. How would you ex­plain this dy­nam­ics?

— Some groups sup­port Ukraine in­ex­orably. They took it to the streets just a cou­ple of days ago to re­mind peo­ple about Ukrainian po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers. They also screened a film about Oleh Sentsov. I thank them! We can’t un­der­es­ti­mate this. But don’t blame the Czechs – they have their own prob­lems. Their mil­i­tary were killed in Afghanistan just re­cently. There is a prob­lem of refugees. There are elec­tions and the gov­ern­ment which has not been func­tion­ing for an aw­fully long time.

Why do you think they once again elected the pro-Rus­sian Mi­los Ze­man?

— It is im­por­tant to re­al­ize that many Czechs did not vote for the Ze­man of to­day; they voted for the Ze­man who es­tab­lished the Civic Fo­rum and still had a clear mind. Another fac­tor, with all of my deep re­spect for the Czechs, was jeal­ousy. Ze- man was elected by those who did not want suc­cess for aca­demic Jiří Dra­hoš as pres­i­dent – and he did have a real chance to win. It’s some kind of sus­pi­cion about the ac­com­plish­ments of oth­ers. “Hey, my neigh­bor has bet­ter tiles in his bath­room. Where did he get the money to buy it?” Hu­man jeal­ousy is the most fer­tile field for pop­ulism. Some­times it gets so strong that peo­ple stop think­ing about the con­se­quences of their ac­tions here and now. This short­sight­ed­ness is very dan­ger­ous now.

We did not re­al­ize on time what evil the Rus­sians could do to us. We made a lot of con­ces­sions to them be­cause of all this friend­ship of the peo­ples con­cept. It is now ob­vi­ous that we can’t re­turn to this harm­ful for­mat of the friend­ship of the peo­ples. We have to think of re­la­tions that ben­e­fit both of us.

Prag­ma­tism?

— I would put it dif­fer­ently: we need to es­tab­lish a bal­ance be­tween in­tu­ition and rea­son. The former is very im­por­tant be­cause it helps us act in ad­vance and avoid many mis­takes. We have lost it some­what. But with­out it, the sec­ond as­pect is im­pos­si­ble.

Still, many Ukraini­ans and peo­ple from former soviet re­publics live in the Czech Repub­lic who stick to this for­mat of the “friend­ship of peo­ples” as if there was no war, just some mis­un­der­stand­ing. What is this? A cri­sis of iden­tity?

— There is a cri­sis of moral­ity. Many sim­ply don’t un­der­stand their iden­tity. When you don’t un­der­stand who you are, you are eas­ily ma­nip­u­lated. That’s what helps the hy­brid war carry on.

I have per­son­ally ex­pe­ri­enced this. I was born in the Soviet Union and worked with kids in soviet pioneer camps. I still re­mem­ber songs by Alla Pu­ga­chova [pop­u­lar soviet and Rus­sian singer] that kept us all on one wave. Then the col­lapse hap­pened and it was time to re­turn to our roots. Quite a few peo­ple never got rid of that homo so­vi­eti­cus in their minds though. This is sad be­cause Ukraini­an­ness has its unique magic: the link with the earth, the ripeness of things that is in­car­nated in the lan­guage. We were a peo­ple known for its heal­ers for many cen­turies. So we had to find a way to heal our­selves. But that takes your own words.

We should get rid of our in­se­cu­ri­ties when we leave our houses in Ukraine, the in­se­cu­ri­ties of start­ing a con­ver­sa­tion in Ukrainian. That’s the way to shape our com­mon space. But how do you do this? You can’t do this by force. When I came to the Czech Repub­lic in the early 1990s, my Czech was hor­ri­ble. But the Czechs re­acted en­thu­si­as­ti­cally to my at­tempts to speak it, en­cour­ag­ing me with «pěKNě! KrásNé!» [Nice, beau­ti­ful!]. They praised me for that rusty lan­guage of mine. That’s how it should be in Ukraine. We should praise peo­ple switch­ing to Ukrainian.

UKRAINI­AN­NESS HAS ITS UNIQUE MAGIC: THE LINK WITH THE EARTH, THE RIPENESS OF THINGS THAT IS IN­CAR­NATED IN THE LAN­GUAGE. WE WERE A PEO­PLE KNOWN FOR ITS HEAL­ERS FOR MANY CEN­TURIES. SO WE HAD TO FIND A WAY TO HEAL OUR­SELVES. BUT THAT TAKES YOUR OWN WORDS

Rostyslav Prokopiuk was born in 1958 in Ver­by­chi, a vil­lage in Volyn, North-Western Ukraine. He got his de­gree in Phsy­chol­ogy at the Mykhailo Dra­homanov National Ped­a­gogic Uni­ver­sity in Kyiv. Since 1999, Dr. Prokopiuk has worked in the Czech Repub­lic where he founded his clinic for treat­ing ad­dic­tions. Apart from the Czech Repub­lic, he prac­tices in Slo­vakia, Aus­tria and Ger­many. Dr. Prokopiuk has au­thored two books, Live Your Life and Not Smok­ing Is Easy.

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