Books and Ideas: Eight years ago also, you described the enormous Russian preponderance in the Ukrainian cultural landscape – whether in terms of books publishing, TV programs, etc. Have things changed since then?
Volodymyr Vakhitov: Yes
Partially because we now have a 25% Ukrainian quota on local radio and TV . Second, more and more young people are replacing the old Soviet population and simply do not understand what it has to do with Russia. They might speak Russian or Ukrainian, but they self-identify as Ukrainians, they listen to Ukrainian music, read Ukrainian books, watch movies with Ukrainian dubbing, and it has become a new norm. Publishing in Ukrainian has also developed a lot, as it is more difficult to get a Russian book in a store than it was eight years ago. On the other hand, Russia is still a producer of an enormous amount of sitcoms, comedies, movies, and books (including some important translations that are not available in Ukrainian), so it is difficult to neglect this influence. What is important, though, is that many people have seen that it is possible to live and work completely in a “Russia-free” environment. They watch Ukrainian movies (which have started to appear, though some of them are of dubious quality), read Ukrainian books, watch Ukrainian TV programs, etc. I suppose this is what Putin calls “Nazism” or “nationalism” and cannot stand. Russian culture is becoming obsolete and uninteresting, it does not generate new meaning, and in recent years, it has become extremely archaic, with all these “traditional values”, including state-supported misogyny, the undermining of the role of women, the public condemnation of abortions and anti- LGBT discrimination, not to mention the cult of the Great Patriotic War (as the fight against Nazi Germany on the Eastern Front is known in Russia).
These topics are not interesting to young Ukrainians, while older people got used to the fact that whatever comes from Russia is mostly rampant lies.
Books and Ideas: One of Putin’s main talking points is his insistence on the very deep connection between Ukraine and Russia, their « fraternity » – to the point where the former could never really be autonomous from the latter. How do Ukrainians themselves feel about this connection?
Volodymyr Vakhitov: Many people here believe this is just propaganda bullshit. Historically, Ukraine has always been suppressed by Russia. The number of times Ukrainian language was banned or restricted meaningful link in Russia reaches several dozens, going as far back as the time of the Cossacks. Russia generates these narratives, as any Empire does, and tries to assimilate all people residing on its territory. Since Russian and Ukrainian are close languages, this “brotherhood” myth has become quite strong. I do hope it will be clear to everyone in the world now that bombing and killing your brethren in cold blood is not exactly the expression of brotherly feeling. We are different, and have become more and more so over time. All similarities arose in the context of the Russian and Soviet assimilation. Yes, we can le Soviet movies. But after thirty years, our paths have significantly drifted apart, and it is very disturbing to observe that a leader of the neighboring state is in such deep delirium regarding a simple historical fact.
Russians do not understand “funny Ukrainian dialect” as they call it, nor do they understand the culture, or the relationships between people here
Books and Ideas: And what about this connection between Ukrainians and Russians from a personal point of view – I mean, how do Ukrainians perceive Russians as people, in a context where personal ties appear to be quite widespread, due to long-standing family and friendship networks?