Time to fly back to Sweden

After two months in Ukraine, I am getting ready to travel back home to Sweden. Meanwhile, I have been transcribing some of the interviews that I have conducted in Odessa and Donetsk. I have conducted very important interviews with some key research participants during my journey to the Donetsk region. This allows me to answer my research questions by having more reliability in the gathered material. I have met volunteer fighters at the frontline from such battalions as Dnipro 1, Aydar and the Right Sector. I stayed some time with these fighters and made a participant observation. This enabled me to better understand how my research participants interpret the world around them, and also how they act in the real life setting. The field notes that I made during my participant observation help me to understand the everyday experience of these fighters both during combat and among their comrades in general.

Transcribing the interviews and writing my thesis
Together with a fighter from the Dnipro 1 battalion

One thing that I noticed during my trip to Donbass was the sharp division of the population living there. People are divided into two campaigns. Pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian attitudes are eminent whether an issue concerns the language, religion, political or historical standpoints. In some cities of the Donetsk region there is a straightforward de-Sovietization, which can be observed by the removal of Soviet monuments and other symbolic items. This process of Ukrainization has achieved the removal of Lenin’s monuments and the abandonment of symbolic items that spread separatism and violence.

Lenin’s monument is removed in the town of Krasnoqorivka in the Donetsk region
Lenin’s monument is removed in the city of Pokrovsk, Donetsk region

All in all, my field study in Ukraine was very interesting, exciting and productive. I have met new people and made contacts that can be crucial in the upcoming master or even doctoral field studies. Most importantly, I have filled an essential research gap that existed in academia. Previous research within the social science describe the motivations of the Ukrainian volunteer fighters in ambiguous and simplistic ways. Despite some minor similarities, my results promise to reveal different motivations of volunteer fighters. The attractiveness of the battlezone for these fighters will also differ from the conclusions of the recent studies in this area.

The view of the nature resembles the blue yellow Ukrainian flag

Farewell Ukraine!


Donbass trip

This week I traveled to the Eastern Ukraine to conduct my final interviews and engage in participant observation among the volunteer fighters. This trip was necessary and I decided to realize it when I saw that I can’t answer my research question by doing my study in Odessa only. Therefore, I had to extend the sample of my research participants. Another alternative could be to reformulate the whole topic, which means the reformulation of the purpose, theory and the method as well.

My first stop was in the city of Pokrovsk or the former Krasnoarmeysk. The city was renamed after the hostilities broke out in this region. I was met by a wonderful and hospitable Ukrainian family to which I am very grateful. I wouldn’t be able to accomplish my data gathering in the field without the assistance of those people. They shared their expertise and helped me to reach some important research participants. Thanks to their contacts, I can say that my data gathering has reached the saturation point.

Pokrovsk Central Station
Ukrainian hospitality

The next day after my arrival, I participated in the posthumous award ceremony at the Donetsk Technical University in Pokrovsk. The event was dedicated to the fallen combatant of the Aydar battalion. This event was followed by a very powerful and emotional anthem singing. Michael Billig would call this banal nationalism, albeit it can provide human beings with solace and a sense of fulfillment in times of war. It was interesting for me whether Ukrainians were so patriotic from times immemorial or there was a particular factor that fueled this nationalism. Almost everyone I have been in contact with describe the conflict in Ukraine as an international conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Only people who have become the victims of the Russian hybrid war with its powerful propaganda understand the Ukrainian crisis as a civil war.

Donetsk National Technical University
Posthumous award ceremony
Posthumous award ceremony
Aydar fighters at the posthumous award ceremony of their comrade
Emotional poem telling by a patriotic Ukrainian woman


Together with the volunteer fighters from Aydar battlion
Visiting the grave of the posthumously awarded soldier at the local  cemetary in Pokrovsk

Despite the evidence found in the battlefield that indicates the presence of the Russian military and weapons in Donbass, most of the international community is also reluctant to admit the Russian factor in this bloody war. Although the OSCE is present in Donbass, the organization mostly takes a neutral position in this conflict. However, it is evident that Donbass is the next region of Ukraine after Crimea that Kremlin administration plans to grab from Ukraine. The international community has to support the tenets of international law and not to be indifferent when there is a threat to the territorial integrity of any UN member state. Because such indifference is a real threat to the international peace and security. Separatism spreads violence and there are many peacebuilding techniques, which can be used to stop the hostilities and provide the conflicting sides with a win-win outcome.


Kulikovo field

This week I have conducted some interviews, and I was also involved in participant observation where I took plenty of field notes in relation to my topic. I was invited to a birthday party by a woman who voluntarily enrolled as a paramedic during the most intensive fights in the Anti Terrorist Operation (ATO) in the Eastern Ukraine. This woman had a rich war experience since she was wounded and taken to hostage by the pro-Russian insurgents. During the mingle I met other women paramedics, as well as some former volunteer fighters who have participated in ATO.

Together with former volunteers of ATO and their friends
Together with former ATO volunteers on the beach of the Black Sea

The most remembered event of this week was the fifth anniversary since the events at the Kulikovo field. As a result of the provocation on May 2, 2014, almost 40 people died in the Odessa clashes. Five years ago violence broke out between those who wanted to see Odessa independent and those who supported the territorial integrity of Ukraine. On this fifth anniversary some perceived this day as a tragedy, while others perceived it as a victory and the end of war.  During my observation, the contradicting perceptions were evident at the Kulikovo field where one could observe black and red balloons, which were speaking for those who held them. Despite some conflictual situations and quarrels among the participants of two camps, violence was mainly avoided. This was thanks to the professionality of the local police and the new strategies that were adopted by the Ukrainian police in recent years.

Ukrainian flag on May 2, 2019
Kulikovo field, May 2, 2019
Ukrainian police forces during the commemoration at the Kulikovo field
Kulikovo field
Kulikovo field
Together with the Ukrainian patriot for whom the 2 of May is remembered as the end of war in Odessa
Odessa remembers the second of May…

This was all from Odessa and I will be back with new stories next week!

Celebration of the Orthodox Easter

Easter is celebrated somewhat late in the Eastern Europe in comparison with Sweden. The celebration was today, the 27th of April. Tomorrow people will go to the church to conduct some religious rites. There will be holidays for some days in the whole country.

Easter cake, Пасха
Cossack figurines in the streets of Odessa

This week was full with both meaningful experience and failures. I have conducted more interviews with volunteers from various battalions. The most remembered was the time spent at the headquarters of the Ukrainian Voluntary Army or Українська Добровольча Армія in Ukrainian. I made both participant observation and conducted some interviews there. The building of the headquarter had a symbolic meaning since it was build in the pre-Tsarist era and hosted various meetings of Ukrainian nationalists. Saturated with historic symbolism, the building also resembled features of a museum with patriotic spirit. One could encounter Ukrainian maps from various historical periods, as well as the drawings of children and adolescents.

At the headquarters of the Ukrainian Voluntary Army
A map in the building of the Ukrainian Voluntary Army showing the loss of Ukrainian territories to the neighboring countries
Lost Ukrainian territories in rose colour, post WW1 period
Inspirational drawings of school children that praise volunteer fighters

This week I met people from the international office at the Mechnikov University. The person who initially promised to be my contact person and assist with the practical issues advised me to contact international office since they were “more competent” to assist me with practical issues. However, I just wasted my time with these people. Because in the end, they told me that it does not work this way, and that Malmö University had to inform them about me from the beginning. I understood one thing here in Ukraine very clearly! It is very difficult to make progress if the issue concerns signature or stamples. But it was still unclear to me why such simple things can become that difficult in this post-Soviet country. The international office in fact rejected the decision of their own colleague who initially agreed to be my contact person in the field. Nevertheless, this surprise did not disappoint me. Fortunately, during my time in Ukraine I became acquainted with so many kind people who are ready to assist me at any time. Some of my new Ukrainian acquaintances call me almost everyday, ask me how I am doing and try to help even when I don’t ask for it. For a week ago I had a fever, and I told this to a former volunteer combatant during our telefon conversation. After 20 minutes he was in front of my door with some medicine and food that he bought for me. I did not ask him for this, but it was a pleasant feeling, especially when a person is in a foreign country. All in all, I would like to thank the international office at the Mechnikov university for wasting my time! Unfortunately, I can’t be uncritical about the existing bureaucracy in the governmental structures of Ukraine. These norms, I believe are the remnants of the old regimes, and they are saturated with Soviet mentality.

This week I also spent some time in exploring the city of Odessa. Odessa is one of those cities where you can’t get enough satisfaction. You want to come back here again and again. It is really the pearl of the Black Sea. I have to confess that Odessa is one of those few cities in the world that I have become in love with.

I love Odessa

Glad Påsk! Happy Easter! Щасливого Великодня! Счастливой Пасхи!

One month in Odessa, Ukraine

One more week comes to an end in the beautiful Ukrainian city of Odessa. It has gone one month since my arrival and I have to say that time runs really fast here.

This week, with the help of some former volunteer combatants, I was introduced to the local Odessa battalion called “Shtorm”. Shtorm’s paramilitary battalion was formulated from the existing self defense personnel and included people from police squads, as well as civilians who enrolled as volunteers. The preceding week Shtorm and its personnel celebrated the fifth anniversary since the creation of the self-defense battalion. According to the stories that I have heard, all Ukrainian battalions including the Shtorm were not created randomly, but due to the anticipation of Russian aggression, as well as the further advance of the pro-Russian separatism into regions other than Crimea and Donbass. So, the paramilitary battalion Shtorm was created in responce to the events of 2014, and the fifth anniversary since the creation had a strong symbolic importance for the Ukrainian independence, as well as the capability of Ukrainian people to defend their country.

The flag of the Shtorm battalion
A child on an armored military vehicle

I had the honour to participate in this important event for both the battalion and its members. Everything began from the military parade ground with the singing of the Ukrainian anthem. Thereafter, the combatants were awarded with rewards and certificates for their deserts. Shtorm’s volunteer fighters played a significant role in impeding the advance of the pro-Kremlin insurgents in the Eastern Ukraine. Therefore, the deeds of the fallen soldiers were met with great respect both under the military performance and the joint lunch. Thanks to my acquaintances within the battalion and the hospitality of the Ukrainian people, I was invited to participate in this joint lunch. During the mingle, I was acquainted with more volunteer combatants who had very interesting stories to tell about their experience at the frontline.

Volunteers at the military parade ground
Award ceremony
At the joint lunch with the volunteers from Shtorm
The poster of fame dedicated to the fallen volunteer combatants

I liked the delicious Ukrainian dishes, especially those dishes with herring.  Herring can be found in almost all dishes such as sallads, sandwiches and in a warm meal with cooked potatoes and dill.

The combatants in the Shtorm battalion were very friendly. What I found interesting was the number of women in military uniform, which indicates a relative gender equality within the Shtorm. The upcoming week I plan to meet more volunteers from Shtorm and talk about their experience during the military operation in the Eastern Ukraine.

Hasta la vista!:)

Talking to volunteer fighters

This week I conducted quite a lot of interviews with people who enrolled voluntarily to various military battalions. We talked about their motivations for voluntary enrollment, as well as their experiences in both civilian and combat zone. Moreover, I met and interviewed the friends and mothers of fallen soldiers. This helped me to get a better insight into the motivations of volunteer fighters. I have to say that these meetings were very emotional, and especially the interviews with the mothers of fallen soldiers were very difficult to conduct. The stories that they told me were very tragic and sensitive. It was very difficult to hold tears during some of the interviews.

I was invited to the environmental event by some volunteer fighters. The purpose of this long planned project was to plant trees in commemoration of fallen soldiers. The event took place in the Maksim Gorkiy park, in Odessa. After the planting of trees was completed, the participants of this event mingled and enjoyed drinking tea with some Ukrainian sweeties. During this mingle, I was acquainted with more volunteers, as well as their friends and relatives. Consequently, thanks to these contacts my schedule is full with planned meetings for the upcoming weeks. I will conduct more interviews with volunteer fighters, and even participate in a celebration event.

Tree planting with Donbass war veterans in commemoration of fallen soldiers
Planted trees in commemoration of fallen soldiers in Donbass
Together with volunteer fighters and their friends

The tenth of April some residents of Odessa were celebrating the 75th anniversary since the liberation of the city from German occupation. To my surprise, the city administration of Odessa and some governmental structures supported the organizers of this event. However, this event was not welcomed by all residents of the city having in mind the Soviet nostalgia evoked by this commemoration. On this day, the police was mobilized in great numbers to prevent violent actions.

10th of April, in front of the monument to an unknown sailor in Odessa
April 10 – in front of the monument to an unknown sailor in Odessa
Celebration on the “square of 10th April”
Soviet remnants
Together with Ukrainian Guard of Honor in the “Park of Victory”

I was also invited to Rukh’s office in Odessa by the former volunteer fighter who works there. Rukh is people’s movement and a political party that mostly attracts Ukrainian nationalists. I have met many Ukrainian volunteer combatants who support right wing political movements and parties. However, it is important to mention that these nationalists differ from those in Western Europe and Scandinavia. My encounter with Ukrainian nationalists was always nice, and at least out of my experience, I can conclude that these people express civic nationalism rather than ethnic. I would call these Ukrainians passionate patriots and not radical far right nationalists as some call them in various media outlets. These are people who love their country. They welcome all ethnicities who respect the sovereignty of Ukraine.

Rukh’s office in Odessa

This was all from the city of Odessa. See ya next week!

First interviews and participant observation within the Right Sector

Another week in Ukraine came to an end. A week ago approximately 30% of Ukrainians voted for a comedian Volodymyr Zelensky. Most of my Ukrainian acquaintances here said to me that they voted for Zelensky. They believe that the elections were conducted transparent and democratic. I have also met some people who think that it is not the right time for Ukraine to play democracy during the ongoing crisis. Therefore, they support the current “conservative” president Petro Poroshenko who will compete with Zelensky for the presidency. The second round of the elections will be held by the end of the April. Meanwhile, Poroshenko and Zelensky will engage in debates to win the minds and hearts of their voters.

This week I became acquainted with the Right Sector’s activities more closely. I met some key individuals within the organization and had an interesting conversation about the motivations of volunteer fighters. I met people who have recently returned from the frontline, but also with those who plan to depart soon. Two interviews were conducted this week. A lot more interviews are planned for the uppcoming weeks. I make use of the snowball sampling technique and I strongly recommend it to everyone who use interviews as the data collection method.  With the help of snowball technique I am constantly introduced to new people thanks to the social network of my research participants. Although I have arranged many meetings for the next week, the saturation point seems to be far away . So, to answer my research question I will need to get multiple insights on the phenomenon of voluntary enrollment in military battalions.

Together with the members of the Right Sector
Confiscated items with Russian or Soviet symbolic

I have also engaged in the activities of the Right Sector and made my first participant observation in the field. The Right Sector plays an active role not only in the conflict zone, but also in somewhat relatively peaceful settings of the everyday life. For instance, I followed with the members of the organization to Bessarabia in South Ukraine, close to the Moldavian and Romanian border. This trip played a preventive role and counteracted the attempt of a certain church to be incorporated into the Moscow Patriarchate. There is an ongoing competition and tension between the Moscow and Kiev Patriarchates. Both compete for the control of the churches located on the Ukrainian territory. According to some members of the Right Sector, churches that belong to Moscow Patriarchate take their orders from Russia and frequently engage in conspiracy to undermine Ukrainian sovereignty. Consequently, this trip was aimed to impede the possible conversion of a particular church to the Moscow Patriarchate. Fortunately, everything went without violence, though similar events in the past usually resulted in unpleasant incidents.

A conversation with the church abbot
Ukrainian police during the manifestation in front of the church
With proponents of Kiev Patriarchate in front of the church

Later on we had a lovely picnic in the forests of Bessarabia where everyone mingled. During this mingle I was introduced to some former volunteer militias whom I plan to meet and interview next week.

With the members of Right Sector during the picnic

Lastly, I would like to mention about the politicized and militarized stand posters that can be encountered in the streets of Odessa. These posters carry agitational character and express ideological aspects of the confrontation between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian exhortations. The frequently encountered slogans remind people about the Russian agression, while other posters inspire for voluntary military enrollment. There are also posters that glorify the actions of the Soviet Union during the World War Two, especially the victory over the so called “Fascist” occupation. Despite these conspiratorial posters, the Ukrainian people live with the hope for a peaceful future.

A poster in Odessa calling for the volunteer enrollment to the army
A poster that reminds people about the Russian aggression
The poster text says: 75th anniversary of the liberation of Odessa from Nazi occupation

It was all for this week and I will be back with more stories next week!

Вибори Президента України – Ukrainian Presidential Elections

My second week in Ukraine was very successful and progressive. I eventually met my contact person at the I. I. Mechnikov Odessa National University. We discussed the purpose of my study and my contact person expressed her readiness and willingness to help with possible practical issues in the field. The fact that the I. I. Mechnikov Odessa National University and Malmö University are partner universities made me even more comfortable. Nevertheless, I did not like the remnants of Soviet bureaucratic procedures such as unnecessary long waiting times for solving very simple things. Moreover, the  existing hierarchy with varying power relations that one has to deal with is another shortcoming of the post-Soviet educational system.

I. I. Mechnikov Odessa National University

After the efforts of my gatekeeper in the field, I was introduced to the key informant within the Right Sector. I also met the head of  the Right Sector and described my project in detail. Thanks to these contacts, I will hopefully meet and interview some volunteers who will soon depart to join the military squads in Eastern Ukraine. Some of these volunteers have already been at the frontline, and some others are recent recruits. It is very exciting to interview these fighters and to get insight about why they join the non-state paramilitary batallions and squads instead of the regular Ukrainian army. These interviews are planned to be conducted earliest next week since the whole country is getting ready for the presidential elections.

The Ukrainian elections will take place tomorrow, March 31. Although there are plenty of candidates in this presidential race, people are skeptical about these elections.  Most Ukrainians are convinced that their country is still far away from honest, just and accountable elections. Some are indifferent and don’t want to waste time on something they can’t influence. This indifference is explained by the influential role of high ranking oligarchs in the country who usually have the final word.  Recently, I had a conversation with a taxi driver who told me a real life story about his experience of Ukrainian elections. This middle aged man went to one of the municipal electoral boards to confirm his participation in the upcoming elections. However, his name was not found in the voting list, whereas the electoral comission found his dead father who was registered as a voter. The man just laughed and said nothing when I asked him whether this incident was an accident, a technical error or a deliberate strategy!?

The poster of the current president Petro Poroshenko

Regardless the distrust towards their politicians, considerable number of voters support Yulia Tymoshenko who can become the first ever woman president in the history of the post-Soviet Ukraine. Tymoshenko’s campaigners told me that Ukraine needs a new hand, a new breath, a new start, and finally a mistress who will rule the country differently from her masculine predecessors.

Yulia Timoshenko’s electoral tent

I really wish Ukrainian people  successful elections and I hope that these elections will be held without any violence!

A country in crisis:(

My first impression about the generous Ukrainian people, but also the rotten Ukrainian system that makes one’s life intolerable began with an incident at the airplane. I was flying with Ukrainian International Airlines (UIA), which I strongly don’t recommend to anyone else. This is because the personnel working on board did not fulfill their obligation. When I bought my ticket I paid for a meal, which I was supposed to get during my journey. However, despite the indication of this information in my ticket, the personnel tried to find various excuses and persuaded me that UIA did not inform them about this. I was told that I have to pay for my meal anew. Seeing me somewhat disappointed Ukrainian passengers sided with me and criticized the personnel of UIA. A middle aged man who was sitting next to me said ironically: “welcome to Ukraine”! Then I thought and wondered how bad the situation should be in this country that the “best” airlines skimped on its passengers.

I did not know what to expect from a country that has experienced a revolution, coup d’etat, annexation of its territories and military conflict during the last five years. Moreover, Ukraine is literally on the verge of bankruptcy. I recall what the man sitting next to me in the airplane said when we went into conversation. He said that “people in Ukraine do not live, they survive, and make a living as they can”. Nevertheless, Ukrainian people are very kind, hospitable and always willing to help. When I arrived to Odessa a friend of mine came to the airport to meet me and followed with me to my accomodation. This was very kind of my friend who lives in Odessa. Because when taxi drivers see visitors and tourists, the price from airport to downtown can vary from 50 to 100 $.  Thanks to the local knowledge of my friend the taxi costed only 5 $. In general, during my short period in Ukriane I clearly understood one thing that Catherine Wanner wrote for more than twenty years ago in her book called “Burden of Dreams: History and Identity in Post-Soviet Ukraine”.  Ukraine is one of those post-Soviet countries where you still have to know someone or to have “blat” so that things can work efficiently.

The flags of Odessa, Ukraine and EU

The city of Odessa is located in the south of the country. It is also called the pearl of Black Sea. The city was founded in the 18th century. One can encounter plenty of buildings and other architecture built during Tsarist and Soviet eras. Everyone who has visited Odessa would say that this city is frozen in time.  It is still possible to see plenty of Soviet cars in the streets that were manufactured in the Soviet Union. Even some people I have met here express Soviet nostalgia from time to time.

Volga, Qaz 24, Made in USSR.

Russian language is widely spoken in Odessa, which makes my everyday encounter with locals somewhat easy due to my proficiency in Russian. The city of Odessa is very multicultural, and beside the majority Ukrainians the city is home to Russians, Bulgarians, Jews, Moldovans and other ethnic groups.  Potemkin stairs, the famous Deribasovskaya street and Arkadiya beach are the favourite sites visited by tourists.

Potemkin Stairs
Potemkin stairs from the bottom
Odessa Maritime Station
Richelieu square
Port of Odessa

There is one thing about Odessa that I can not be silent about. Although there are beggars in almost every city of the world, the poverty in Odessa is expressed differently, especially by the youth. Instead of asking for money, teenager boys and girls can approach someone in the street and simply ask to buy them food, water or a bus ticket. It is heartbreaking to see the young generation in such condition!

I could not meet my second contact person at the Odessa National Mechnikov University this week since most of the lecturers were busy due to the ongoing examinations. My gatekeeper had also a tight schedule at work and could not meet me this week. So, I will meet my contact person at the University, as well as my gatekeeper next week. My gatekeeper will inform me about the Right Sector’s activities and introduce me to the research participants that I plan to interview and observe.

It was all from me for this time but I will be back with new stories next week!