Q: Were you surprised by the revelations about the atrocities committed against civilians in Boutcha while this town on the outskirts of Kyiv was occupied by the Russian army?
A. I was very shocked, but not completely surprised. Ukrainians have had experience of this kind of treatment since the beginning of the conflict in Donbass. The city of Sloviansk, for example, in the Donetsk region, was briefly occupied in 2014 by so-called pro-Russian separatist forces before being taken over by Ukraine. A mass grave was discovered there with a hundred bodies. At the prison in Donetsk, a city controlled by the [forces] pro-Russians, torture is commonly practiced. Journalist Stanislav Asseyev spent two years there and he tells about it in his book [Donbass – Un journaliste en camp raconte].
For us Ukrainians, these atrocities, little known abroad, are not new. Boutcha is also not the only town where such atrocities have taken place recently. There is also Sumy, Chernihiv and other recently liberated cities. Clues suggest that the same kind of events took place there. We will see in the coming weeks what the scale of the massacres was.
There are also reports from villages in southern Ukraine controlled by the Russians. There are reports of kidnappings, disappearances, summary executions.
What do these revelations tell us about the ongoing conflict?
I would like this to be a turning point, for the world to understand that this war is not intended to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO or to guarantee its neutrality, as Russia claims. That this is a war to annihilate the Ukrainian people, to destroy Ukraine as an independent state. The Russians attack the Ukrainians who resist, they torture, rape, massacre civilians and loot property.
An article published recently by the RIA Novosti agency (Russian official agency) asserts that all Ukrainians are Nazis, not only their leaders or opponents, that they therefore all need to be re-educated. Russia wants to impose its language and its version of Ukrainian history on us. In his eyes, any Ukrainian loyal to his country is a Nazi.
And now Russia is starting to attack the cities of Donbass which remained under Ukrainian control, in the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk.
Voices in the West wonder if it would not be better for Ukraine to cede these territories to Russia, to end the war. What do you think ?
I hear these speeches in Italy, in Germany. It’s naïve to think that ceding territories would end the atrocities. We have seen what happened in Donbass since 2014 and now we see what happened in Boutcha and other cities occupied by the Russian army. An Italian commentator recently said that it was better for children to live under a dictatorship [russe] than die in a war. But we also die under the dictatorship!
What hope can we put in the negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv?
I believe that these negotiations are a way of gaining time, that this conflict can only be settled by military means. Russia wants to eradicate everything Ukrainian. Ukraine gave up its nuclear arsenal by signing the Budapest memorandum [en 1994], while Russia is a nuclear power. It gives him a power of influence. Ukraine does not have this strength.
How would you like the world to react after learning about what happened in the cities occupied by the Russian army?
I wish it was a game changer, but unfortunately I don’t feel like it’s happening. Of course, there are denunciations, convictions. But the actions remain insufficient to stop the Russian war machine, which is financed by oil and gas. We must stop buying not only coal, but also Russian gas and oil. Ukraine also needs weapons, not just defensive, but also tanks and jets to be able to liberate other occupied cities.