Author’s Note: The following post is a guest post written by Kat Argo of A Red Rover. Kat recently released a book called “In the Shadow of the Bear”, which discusses her experience while working as a journalist covering the ongoing Ukrainian Civil War. I’ll be reviewing Kat’s book in a coming post, however I wanted to give her this space to promote her book prior to my review, as well as to give some context to the book itself.
Igor was an activist, who truly believed in mother Russia, and that the Russian people of Donetsk were being persecuted by the “junta” in Kyiv. On his shoulder blade were the two thunderbolts, making up the Nazi “SS” tattoo. Over his heart was a hammer and sickle.
For almost three weeks, we had been companions during the war in Eastern Europe; unlikely friends in the pro-Russian rebel held territory of Donetsk, Ukraine – both members of the Press. Me, a writer who stumbled into a Press Pass from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, and him, a member of the same government’s Press Center. He bares the psychological scars of having been a political prisoner, protesting the concession of Russian lands to China back in 2009.
How I ended up in that situation is a long story, one chronicled in my book The Shadow of the Bear. It begins with my arrival in Kyiv where I met nationalists, striving for a non-Russian identity and a closer relationship with the European Union. I met soldiers in the hospital who had been critically wounded fighting in the east against the Russian-backed separatists.
After several weeks, I drank with people who screamed “Slava Ukraini” Glory to the Ukraine! We raised our glasses as we screamed “Heroyem Slava” Glory to the Heroes!
I had become a believer.
Then a French photojournalist who saw me get caught up in the rhetoric, challenged me to go to Donetsk and see for myself what the Pro-Russian side was like; he dared me to speak to them, and retain my new found convictions.
My view changed. I met old women, whose houses collapsed around them, coming out with their crooked backs, cleaning broken glass and shrapnel with their bare hands as they began the impossible task of restoring their homes. I met a man who was in love with France, who was a decorated member of the French Foreign Legion. He invited me into his home, to meet his mother as she slaved over a stove in her soviet apartment. I met the journalists responsible for bringing the message of Ukraine to the rest of the world – some had their camera lenses pointed towards themselves in a selfie-journalism, others pointed it outwards and lost themselves in what they saw. I met countless others who were playing a small part in the conflict, some voluntarily, others a victim of geography.
And I met Igor.
Before I left Donetsk, Igor had said “You, good girl!”
I remember saying “You’re a good man”, in response. Because he was. Even if we did not believe the same things, even if we never look at a globe through the same colored glasses, he was a good man.
I wrote In the Shadow of the Bear about the people living through the Ukraine Crisis. I wrote it about the people who let me into their lives, and gave me a glimpse of what they were going through, from the perspective of those most affected – from the civilians caught in the tug of war in the class of civilizations between the European West, and the Russian East.