Ruslana: Belarusians and Ukrainians together stand for freedom!
10:39, — Interview
The artist is ready to perform on the Belarusian Square.
Ruslana Lyzhichko has recently visited Warsaw where she urged European politicians to introduce sanctions against the Ukrainian powers. Ruslana has spent the past 2,5 months mostly at the rallies in central Kyiv. Today she is the star and tribune of Maidan. That is why Ruslana and editor-in-chief of charter97.org Natallia Radzina talked mostly about politics, not music.
- Just call me Ruslana, forget about formalities, we don’t need them. We’re working with the same task, - Ruslana starts the conversation. - Do you know how I am feeling right now? Completely fearless! If they want to shoot at us, let them shoot. If they want to beat us, let them beat. We are not afraid! I was standing in Grushevski Street, a guy was covering me from snipers with a shield, can you believe that? I was standing there with no helmet, no bullet-proof vest. People were pushing me away saying “Leave, they’re shooting!” I was standing close to a barrel because it was warmer there and I didn’t want to move to a safer spot because it was colder (laughing).
I have no fear, even though they want s to be afraid. Look here, I’ve received a text message. Some people who call themselves “Russian monarchists” have announced a war against me and suggest that I should hide in the U.S. otherwise they’ll shoot me dead from a machine gun (laughing). All my friends and even lawyers get similar texts.
- As I know from my Belarusian experience, in the end such threats are translated into action.
- Yes, I understand. People called me and said that what happened to Dima Bulatov will happen to me unless I step aside. They even called my landlady to remind her that I had been warned. You’re right, they intimidate first and then decide what to do next.
- Do you think they will actually dare? You’re a celebrity…
- Let’s not speak about it, OK? God will protect me, I hope (Ruslana crosses herself).
- About your visit to Warsaw. You’ve been in to Brussels not long ago, soon you’ll go to Strasbourg. Does it make you an ambassador of free Ukraine?
- Sounds great! Will you be my image-maker? I like how it sounds – ambassador of free Ukraine…
I call Maidan a part of European Ukraine. This is an island of freedom that we have won and where it is easier to breathe despite all provocations. Cynicism was off-scale. Sick homeless people were brought to Maidan to contaminate others. Supplies of water, food, wood, bio-WC and electricity were hampered. Even the subway was shut down.
When I come to Maidan I see lots of provocateurs. Recently demonstrators have discovered and brought out several “titushkas” armed with knives. These people can do anything in darkness.
But where am I going with that? It is very important that I stay active in Europe. People here get used to the events in Ukraine…
- The way they got used to the Belarusian dictatorship.
- Yes, people can get used to anything. I do want to come to Europe and say “Stop!” First of all, people should not get used to that. Second, we must do something about it. Third, it may soon become Europe’s problem, too.
The European Parliament has taken a resolution regarding Ukraine. The voting was quick because everyone was aware of the threat. We don’t know the limits of potential aggression. If given an opportunity, they will not stop at anything: cleansing of Maidan, intimidation of people, split of Ukraine, conflict zone in Crimea, civil war… Where is the limit? What do they need – to destroy Ukraine, to give the power to their envoys? Nobody fully understands this scenario, which is very dangerous. You can feel the enemies with your gut, but you cannot see them.
All this time that I have spent at Maidan I have been asking myself and people around me from the stage: who needs all that, and why? We still cannot understand why the students were beaten up on November 30th. Everything is much deeper and worse that it may seem at first.
It is hard to believe that this is the country we’re living in. I have operated in the autopilot mode for a while. Before, at least my self-preservation instinct was alive. I used to wake up in the morning and ask myself, “Is it over now?” And now I don’t even ask such questions. I just try to do everything to prevent new victims, to help people.
You know, I had an odd feeling one year before Maidan. I made a video for my song Euphoria. Its story is a precise reflection of what is happening today at Maidan. How could I know this in 2012? In the beginning of the video a musician playing a bandura, our national instrument, is in prison. And there is this text: “Ukraine in near future”. Then I am thrown to prison and find myself among other young people who are being beaten, terrorized, tortured… They are assaulted by similar batons that the students have been beaten up with. Finally we storm out from the cages and see Kyiv. The city is partially destructed. Then the sun rises. We are seeing it all now, we will win, but the victory will be hard.
How could I see it back then, in 2012, during the European Championship in football? At first, we dedicated the video to the Pavlichenkos’ case (a father and his son were charged for murder of a Kyiv judge, both deny the crime), and together with football fans we demanded their release.
- Can Europe hear you?
- Yes. Moreover, these trips prove to be very useful. Some politicians are in the final phase of making decisions whether to support Ukraine. Some of them see that I raise awareness in the society, and they have to act. It helps many people to get a better understanding of the situation because they see that I’m not a politician, I don’t belong to any political party and that I stand on Maidan as an artist.
That is why I am glad that I still have this opportunity. In general, I believe that this is the first time I can make a change with my name, and I’m happy to use it this way.
- During a press-conference in Warsaw you urged Europe to impose sanctions against the Ukrainian regime and the oligarchs that support Yanukovich. Why is it so crucial today to have sanctions against our countries’ regimes?
- The power in the country is usurped. The police, courts, military – everything is tamed. Yanukovich managed to change the Constitution, subdue all ruling institutions and now he is taking all decisions alone. He has the majority of votes in the parliament and all tools necessary to sustain lawlessness. That is why he said that we’re not moving towards the European Union, but that we’ll join the Customs Union. He was convinced that he was given total control.
But there is a risk that a person who gains so much power starts to feel unpunishable. We need sanctions to stop such people who follow criminal orders and commit these crimes.
Only sanctions can stop Yanukovich’s team. You don’t need to go to school to understand that.
- Do you agree that Ukraine has been “lukashenkanized”?
- In the former USSR the powers use the same methods to suppress rallies. They have the same signature. As soon as people walk out to the streets with a peaceful protest, their demonstrations are broken up. We have seen it in Belarus, when it was banned to even clap one’s hands, and quite recently in Moscow.
The old school of keeping people in fear has existed since Stalin times. Today we’re living in the 21st century, but still we see same old Soviet Union – just from a different angle. But the young generation, all progressive people who strive for development will not allow restoration of the USSR. Only passive people whose individuality and personality have been demolished share this ideology.
Today there are many people who can think and analyze, and we choose to leave the USSR for a European future.
The Ukrainian powers ignored Maidan for two months. They try to break it up, even though all democratic countries allow peaceful protests. People have the right for peaceful gatherings to express their discontent. Otherwise it is a dictatorship.
Sanctions are the only language that dictators understand, so when they try to suppress peaceful demonstrations, we have nothing left but to appeal to the civilized world and urge them to freeze bank accounts of the dictators – in other words, to speak the language that they use with their people.
- In your opinion, how will the situation develop?
- I am an optimist. I know that my place is there at Maidan. We must send good thoughts of peace, optimism and tranquility. It is crucial that as many people as possible come to all Ukrainian maidans.
I can tell you one thing. I can feel that it will end well, because the Ukrainians have very calm and peaceful mentality, we are not an aggressive people. They are trying to make us look like some radicals, but it is mere propaganda, and it is obvious who’s behind it. But they are not telling the whole truth, which is sad. We act this way because people had been assaulted, tortured, intimidated even before the “laws of January 16”.
I am convinced that if any other country would adopt such vicious laws that prohibit street gatherings for any reason – wedding, concert or birthday celebration, its people would do the same thing. How can we live under such laws? This is much worse than just a curfew, this reminds of an attempt to restore Stalin regime.
We couldn’t live with it, and the freedom-loving people of Ukraine have demonstrated that they are fearless. Unfortunately, this was the only thing that Yanukovich understood. Until now he hasn’t even heard of Maidan, and suddenly he is ready for a discussion with the opposition. What a coincidence!
I can’t imagine a situation where Ukrainians would give up. No matter whether our fight will be brief or long, we will prevail. I don’t see another scenario. A freedom-loving horse always shakes a bad rider off its back. Nobody can put Ukraine on its knees.
- You have entered politics twice, and both times were crucial: first during the Orange revolution and now during Maidan. Meanwhile, you leave politics during “periods of peace”. For example, in 2006 you were elected a deputy of the Superior Rada, but afterwards you refused from the mandate.
- I enter politics when I know I’m needed there. It all started when I read online that our government put a halt on all negotiations on association with the EU because, according to the government, the Customs Union was a better option. I read the news five, or maybe ten times, then I said to my husband: “Sasha, I don’t believe it. Can it be true?” And he told me: “It must be a provocation. We must have misunderstood something.” And so we decided to join Maidan.
When we came there, lots of people had already gathered at the square. There was a car with two small loudspeakers. I took a microphone and started to perform. I couldn’t just be quiet. We had to show that we mean it. We were extremely patient with Yanukovich, we shut our eyes when common people lost their businesses, when middle class was being destroyed, when Yulia Tymoshenko and Yuri Lutsenko were thrown behind the bars. My friend who owned a network of radio stations lost everything. This regime has done so much bad for common people that nobody wants to support it even for money. Their Antimaidan won’t last more than a week.
That is why, just like during the Orange revolution, I realized that it was time. During the first days, more than 200 thousand people went out to the streets, the city center in Kyiv was filled with people. Then they left because they didn’t know what to do. But we decided to stay and spend night at Maidan. And gradually more and more people stayed with us…
- How does your family feel about you staying at Maidan for days?
- My parents used to be with me, but not anymore because it hurts too much. My husband Sasha is with me 24 hours, apart from my foreign trips. Sasha was a member of the Lviv student brotherhood of the 90s. He is a theoretical physicist, graduate of the Lviv University, student of Vakarchuk senior. He started lots of hunger strikes, was expelled and went to Georgia, where at those times there were military actions. Sasha is a very brave person. The student generation of the 90s has lead Ukraine to independence, and my husband is not afraid of any texts or threats. People of Lviv are generally very strong; we know what it means to fight for Ukraine. And this is not nationalism, this is simple patriotism.
- All this time at Maidan must have affected your job.
- I do miss giving concerts. I haven’t had a normal concert routine for more than 2,5 months. This has never happened before.
I miss the scene so much! I dream of music at nights, or during those hours when I sleep because I spend nights as Maidan. But I feel such profound satisfaction of being able to do something… It gives me strength. Great strength.
- In Belarus, pop-artists often get perks from the regime. People are told by their supervisors at work, school or military to come to their concerts. Many artists perform at concerts and corporate parties where Lukashenka or his officials are among the guests. What kind of phenomenon is it? Mutual love of pop-culture and dictatorship?
- Pop-culture differs between former USSR countries. Indeed, glamour pop in other countries is also fond luxury - gold, diamonds, very posh life style - but not to the same extent as here, in our countries. J. Lo and Lady Gaga are paid millions at corporate parties in the former USSR, which is impossible in the USA.
Our officials know how to party. Their parties are the most expensive, they can afford to book Elton John and spend massive amount of money. But whose money is it? It is the people’s money, which is frightening. They steal this money from the people.
That is why a protest of pop-artists would be very appropriate. They could at least take a distance from the powers. There are other ways to earn money. However, I will not call them to do anything, they are my colleagues and this is their business.
- Well, I really cannot call you a pop-artist.
- I work with pop-music, but my style is a bit different, unconventional, with elements of rock and folk. I’m more hippy than glam.
By the way, there are mostly rock-musicians at Maidan, only a few pop-artists.
- In Belarus, many musicians try to keep distance from politics because they don’t want to be blacklisted. What is your advice to these people?
- You can keep away from politicians, but politics is the life of our country, we cannot ignore it. We need to show courage. We should participate in the life of our country. If you disagree with the way your country lives, you should speak about it. You cannot just step aside, don’t be afraid.
- “Who but not us?” Why don’t people ask themselves this simple question?
- We need time, people should become more mature. I like how Ukrainians aren’t afraid. This is just great. It is not humble to say so, but we were the first to win the Eurovision and the first to start a revolution (Ruslana laughs).
- Fortunately, there is more freedom in Ukraine than in Belarus.
- Yes, it is true. I do agree that there is more freedom in Ukraine than in Belarus. Yanukovich cannot establish his dictatorship here. But what they have done to Ukraine during the past two months is terrifying. It wasn’t that bad even in the 90s, at the demonstrations during the collapse of the USSR. Even then the KGB used much more humane methods. How can anyone pour water from water jets at people when it is minus degree outside? How can anyone shoot people?
- You were in Belarus in 2012 and performed during the song competition for Eurovision. In 2010 our country went through what basically was a military turnover. Dozens of thousands of people came to a demonstration that Lukashenka’s military broke up. Political prisoners are still tortured in jails. Will you go to Belarus again under Lukashenka’s rule if authorities invite you?
- Let me reply with an example. The mayor of Prague banned Yanukovich from coming to his city. It was his protest against the dictator. This is exactly what we, demonstrating Ukrainians, need. In my view, the mayor of Prague deserves standing applauds for his move that in fact is very brave. I also appreciate that mayors of some Ukrainian cities have announced that they don’t want to have Yanukovich as the president.
That is why as a singer I will not go to Lukashenka’s Minsk – if it can encourage Belarusians. I just disagree with his dictatorship. This will be my solidarity with Belarusians. But I am sure that I won’t get an invitation to come to Belarus. They don’t need this type of Ruslana. What if I say something unpleasant in an interview?
- Today Belarusians are showing solidarity with Euromaidan. Many Belarusian have come to Kyiv, Belarusian Mikhail Zhiznevski was one of the killed defenders of Maidan. What would you like to tell those Belarusians who live in tyranny and fight for their freedom?
- Mikhail Zhiznevski was such a handsome boy, I even have a photo with him. I remember him well. At the funeral, I put a Ukrainian flag on his coffin…
By the way, the fact that it was a Belarusian who died doesn’t have to be a coincidence. It seems that the victims were chosen very carefully. A Belarusian, an Armenian and a person from Lviv died. Residents of Lviv saw that they can be beaten up to death in the woods, Belarusians saw that they can be punished for interfering with our life, the Armenians were taught a lesson, too. They don’t seem to be random victims, and nor does any other victim of Maidan: Dima Bulatov, Tania Chornovil, Igor Lutsenko. I believe that analysts from special services have been involved.
If a Belarusian dies for Ukraine’s freedom, then you can win your own freedom, too. And be sure that the Ukrainians will support you in this fight. It will be a normal reaction to the Belarusian’s death at Maidan.
- In other words, you will come to support the Belarusian Square?
- Of course. Support will be a normal reaction from our part. We need solidarity. We need not be afraid. Dictatorships are not as powerful as we think they are. We are many! We just should be together. Dictators are afraid of gatherings; they are powerless in front of many people.