“I was sitting in a cafe and talking to a friend of mine who was at the Maidan,” says Munich-based writer Christian Seidel in his blog. “Suddenly, his phone fell down and the connection dropped. But the smartphone’s camera kept on working. It showed a picture of the sky, which seemed to have cracks on it. I thought the camera was broken. A feeling of total helplessness overwhelmed me. […] The next day, I was in Kyiv. I will never get to see the friend I talked on the phone to again.” After the dramatic events at Maidan, producer and author of several books (Winning without Fighting, The Woman inside of Me) started raising money in Germany for the injured at Euromaidan and for relatives of the killed. At the beginning of March, the sum collected was equal to about 20,000 euros. Thanks to him, a lot of wounded received a chance to be treated in quality hospitals. After arriving to Ukraine, together with the organization Euromaidan_SOS, he coordinated the process of fundraising and allocation of funds for Maidan. He considers Heavenly Sotnia to be nearly the only heroes during the past centuries. He believes in Ukraine and thinks that the communication problem between Ukraine and Europe is very important. In order to bridge the information gap, he started shooting a documentary on the Heavenly Sotnia. He wants to imprint the fallen in the memory through the portraits of the living, because “Heroes never die.”
You call Ukraine your “second homeland” and say that your “heart beats for Ukraine.” Please explain, why do you feel so passionate about Ukraine?
“My wife is Ukrainian. I have lived here for several years, besides, I have a lot of friends here. I felt keenly the Euromaidan events, having followed Ukraine’s development approximately for the past 10 years. I saw that poverty is very widespread, sometimes it gets so bad that people don’t even have anything to eat. At the same time, other people in Ukraine become filthy rich ridiculously fast. I think, the reason for such people’s outburst was that there was no healthy economic development in the country. Besides, corruption was rampant. And in financial relations the Wild West principles prevailed.
“I have always considered Ukrainians to be very sincere. When I came here for the first time, the Ukrainian land reminded me of Germany. Nature is strikingly beautiful in Ukraine, it is hardly affected by the industry or landscape design. There is very little of such untouched nature in Germany. I am absolutely convinced that mentally, historically, and culturally Ukraine belongs with Europe. But to a part of Easter Europe, because Ukraine has a significant Russian part and the Russian heart beats here too. In my opinion, one of the most complicated problems is that Ukraine tears itself apart between the West and Russia.
“When I heard about the enormous number of people in the streets in Kyiv, about Euromaidan, I thought they were not going to achieve anything. It seemed to me that Yanukovych and other politicians would try to wait till these events were over. Besides, I thought that when it became colder (and it did become colder), people would disperse, because nobody can endure staying outside for a long period of time when it is 20 or 30 degrees below zero. I felt fear, emotions swept over me, a thought appeared in my head: ‘Dammit, politicians will surely use it.’ It was a great advantage that this winter turned out to be not that cold.”
Why did you make a decision to start raising money for Euromaidan and make a documentary about it?
“I was deeply affected by the dramatic events of February 18-20. During several days these events were the major topic of discussion in Germany. A lot of people expressed sympathy towards Ukrainians. But then all at once other topics overshadowed this tragedy: Syria, the escalation of the Crimean crisis... everyone started talking about Crimea. I asked myself, why nobody talks about the victims, about the deaths anymore? I have connections with several people in the organization Euromaidan_SOS, I asked them how many people died, how many were missing? People died even after February 20. It was not over yet. At that time, I published a lot of information about the events on Facebook. At first, I wrote ‘40 deaths,’ then – ‘50 deaths,’ and later – ‘90 deaths.’ I was shocked that people started correcting me in the discussion: ‘No, it is too many, it cannot be true, there were only 40 deaths there.’ And they referred to information in newspapers. I thought, what the hell could be accurate about German media covering the events in Ukraine? Ukrainian media indicated there were more than a hundred killed, hundreds of missing, thousands of injured. There was no information about this in Germany. It is not a local topic, it affects the whole Europe. Because it was said in Germany: ‘Europe will protect Ukraine!’
“But it was like that only during the first few days. I understood I had to act in some way, that I can do something for Ukraine myself. Besides, organizations have already been created, they just require help. Then I started raising funds. The main challenge was not even financial, but logistical, organizational problem. I called clinics where the injured could be treated. I received an answer: ‘Yes, we will gladly help, we have room. But tell us specific dates, when will the wounded arrive?’ There was no specific information, there were no diagnoses, one injured was here, another one – there. It was hard to coordinate all this.
“Why was I so captivated by Euromaidan? Recently, I have been thinking a lot about the ineffectiveness of democracy. I consider it to be an inconsistent system. But at the same time, I was asking myself, what an alternative to democracy can be. The Euromaidan movement can. It is a process when extremely powerful people’s force is created, which can develop the country on its own. When I came to Maidan for the first time, I was astonished by the absence of alcohol and the tidiness of the place. Luxurious boutiques and shops in Khreshchatyk Street were not damaged or vandalized. I was impressed by this, I felt that this is the soul of positive idealistic people’s qualities. There was nothing of the kind during the revolution in Egypt. This is something absolutely different. For me, Euromaidan is a unique phenomenon on the global scale. This is an absolutely positive movement of people. I also talked to the Right Sector representatives. And I did not get an impression they were radical fascist. They are just people who choose the uncompromising path to be free. They do not have anything in common with neo-Nazis, guided by Hitler’s ideology, as Europeans think. Perhaps, there are some separate cases, but those are exceptions.”
In your opinion, how do German mass media cover the events in Ukraine? Does the Russian propaganda influence public opinion in Germany?
“It has an enormous influence. There is no other influence on German and European media, except for the Russian one, because Ukraine does not have tools that could be used to transmit information to Europe. Ukrainian television is broadcast only in Ukrainian. And no one in Europe knows Ukrainian. When European correspondents go to Ukraine, those are primarily Russian-speaking journalists, who obviously will contact Russians and Russian mass media. Until recently, people in Europe, and in Germany in particular, did not know there is an extremely large difference between Ukrainian and Russian mentalities. The understanding of the huge gap between Ukraine and Russia appeared not so long ago. There was a popular opinion in Europe that Ukraine and Russia are two brotherly nations.
“I, as a person from the media sphere, consider it to be terrible that German periodicals distort the real facts sometimes. Journalists do not know a thing, they have no idea about what is going on in Ukraine. For example, Suddeutsche Zeitung has a column called ‘Seite 3,’ where large reports are published. I know people who do this, and I asked, what are these comic coverages about Klitschko at Maidan doing in ‘Seite 3.’ Why is a whole page occupied with an article about Klitschko? This is not interesting. And in the meantime, people in Ukrainian cities and villages have nothing to eat. It is so easy to get personal experience. Just come out to Maidan, talk to several people. You will hear voices: ‘I’m from Lviv, I’m from Donetsk, I’m from Cherkasy, and so on,’ and you will understand, that there are people from the whole Ukraine there. I am surprised that when some journalists who come to Kyiv and get a room at the Ukraina hotel, shoot videos through a window instead of going out there and talking to people, getting the firsthand experience. Journalists look information up on the web, instead of finding it by themselves, calling somewhere, finding witnesses, etc. What for, if Internet has it all already? I noticed that the impact of digital media in Germany is so large, that journalists don’t even go to press conferences. What for, if I a press release will be e-mailed to me later? These are the signs of the narrow-mindedness of modern journalism.”
What can we do to change the situation?
“You need to communicate with Europe. You need to go there and tell how things really are. After I was at Euromaidan, I invited three girls from Euromaidan_SOS to a press conference I organized in Berlin. Journalists were extremely interested, because they had an opportunity to receive first-hand information.”
Please, tell us about the documentary you are shooting. What did you learn about people who died at Maidan?
“I think they were the first true heroes in a few centuries. This is my personal opinion. People who fought in Instytutska Street and at Maidan had incredible will power. The pressure applied on protesters was terrifying. The police did everything possible for the activists to go away, to crush the revolution. People who died at Maidan, as well as those who survived, are heroes.
“When I was thinking what I could do for Maidan, I understood that the communication problem is one of the most important ones. That is why I decided to show the significance of everything that happened in the film. I want to do my best for the victims not to be forgotten. I want to immortalize them. I cannot shoot a film about those who died, but I can make one about those who remained. I decided to talk to the widows, children, friends of the killed. It is a film about close relatives of the Heavenly Sotnia. I am making an attempt to talk about the killed through the portraits of their close ones, with their help. I am doing this to bring them back to life. They are the soul of the Euromaidan.
“The revolution has won, but people cannot be satisfied with this victory, because the price was too high. A lot of people cannot go back to their normal lives. It is a mental tragedy. I talked to a man who was hiding behind a tree during the shooting. Others could not tear him apart from that tree, because he was afraid he would be shot at again. People have a lot of psychic traumas. Russia as a ‘brother’ should have been helping, sending doctors, psychologists, medical aid, food, drinks, money, etc. Instead, they started this damn annexation of Crimea. This drives me crazy! This is not a humane way to act. A political game starts again. What Russia is doing now, can be a distracting maneuver. Putin organizes a circus to distract people from the main point, from the changes that come after Maidan.
“Now, the most important task for me is to create the portrait of feelings at Euromaidan. The feelings of the heart.”