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”
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.
— 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.