I was born in Leningrad in 1961. When I was two years old, my family moved to Kyiv. I’ve lived there ever since. I’m a novelist, essayist and journalist, and have been published in 60 countries. I consider myself a Russian ethnically, but politically I’m Ukrainian. I write in Russian, which is not an officially recognized language in this country.
I have been writing diaries, personal diaries, for more than 30 years now. I’ve always wanted to write nonfiction about Ukraine, to explain the country—especially to foreign readers who may not understand what’s going on here much, and who listen to the clichés of so-called international journalists who also do not understand. I agreed with my publisher to write this book. Then the protests began on the 21st of November, and my idea changed. I decided to publish a book about the protests, about today’s Ukraine.
I took an active part in the Orange Revolution. Things did not turn out the way we’d hoped. I didn’t believe that Ukraine would rise up for another 20 years. So I was surprised on November 21st. I was especially amazed listening to students who started the protests, who said they didn’t want them to be political; they didn’t want the political parties or the opposition to take part. Then the revolution unfolded, the protests became more and more political—and in the end everybody was talking about deposing the president.
I live 500 meters from the Maidan. I canceled some trips abroad, and went there two or three times a day, sometimes in the middle of the night—talking to people, listening to the speakers on stage, observing how things were happening there. People came from other cities and towns, people of diverse backgrounds and religions. There were open university lectures, a lot of things going on. I watched as people were educated by the Maidan. Sometimes it looked more like a festival of culture and philosophy than a protest. That is, until the blood spilled, and the president escaped. The Maidan went through many different phases. It’s still evolving today.
Now is the time to concentrate on economic reforms; changes to the culture may have to wait a bit. The former government of Ukraine never cared about culture. There are several private foundations which help promote Ukrainian culture both within the country and abroad. But the book market, for example, doesn’t really exist here today. The old Soviet market was destroyed, and things haven’t really improved much since then. To give you an idea: for a country with a population of 45 million, the normal print run for a relatively famous author is 3,000.
We don't have enough bookshops. We don't have organized book distribution. It should become a business, but it wasn’t a business from the very start. It was a hobby for publishers, and a hobby for writers; if they publish their work only in Ukraine, they’ll need to a day job to earn money. But now, essays and nonfiction are becoming much more important in this society. There’s a rise in interest in documentary literature.
I try to be hopeful about the future. As long as Putin is alive and in power, I don’t expect positive developments in Crimea, or in relations between Russia and Ukraine. His ego is growing more and more oversized; he seems to want to be remembered as a new Joseph Stalin, who tried to restore the Soviet Union and keep it under his control. But once he’s gone, well, everything depends on the next head of state.
Usually after a person like him, after a Stalin, there’s an abrupt change in government, in politics. Maybe the next president will want to show that Russia can be new again, will want to reopen negotiaitons about the status of Crimea. Until then, map printers all over the world will change the color of Crimea to match Russia’s. And there will be no way for Ukraine to get it back.