This is a translation from Russian of an interview with the Dutch journalist Olaf Koons, published in “Argumenty i Fakty” on the 8th of October 2014.
Dutch journalist Olaf Koons, visited many times the hot spot in the east of Ukraine, and shared with the “AiF” his opinion about what he saw.
The western journalist has an opportunity to cover the conflict from both warring sides.
Vladimir Polupanov, “AiF”: Olaf, you recently returned from another trip to the Donbass. I know that you were in Lugansk, Donetsk, Ilovajsk, Mariupol. What did you, a foreigner, understand about this war?
Olaf Koons: That it is completely pointless, unnecessary and fratricidal.
– In your opinion, who is fighting whom there?
– First of all, the state propaganda wages war from both sides. This is a very powerful thing. The truth in this war plays a small role. The most important role is played by the desire of people to win at any cost. This is what kills them …
Certainly, there is a big geopolitical conflict between Russia and the West, but in the Donbass local people are fighting. 90% of the militias are locals. And in Kiev, they stubbornly do not want to believe it. Two weeks ago I was in destroyed to the foundation Lugansk airport, where there were positions of Ukrainian security forces. In the basement, where the soldiers, they left a lot of books – Andersen’s fairy tales, for example, some men’s magazines. Guess what is the language of these books? Correct – they are in Russian.
– The picture that you saw with your own eyes, is very different from that shown on television?
– The picture is not different. It is one and the same. The question is – how it is all explained and interpreted. You probably read “Life and Fate” by Vasily Grossman. It’s the first time I saw first-hand how it looks in reality. Under Lugansk I saw a village with such level of destruction that is beyond words, – the remains of huts, the church with a fallen dome, tanks and burnt bodies.
About 30 destroyer battalions are fighting on the side of Kiev against the militia of the self-proclaimed republics.
– And a strong hatred on both sides?
– Yes, hatred is very strong. And it’s terrible. To understand where the virtual front line is, it is enough to see which search engine is used by the parties. If Yandex – it east, if Google – then west.
– Is a real peace possible there?
– I think that this war is there a long time. Everything’s destroyed, nothing works there. At best, these self-proclaimed republics will be similar to Transnistria. Among the militia they are in a mood to go if not to Kiev, then at least to Slavjansk. The National Guard and Ukrainian battalions (of which there are about 30) also have a desire to continue to fight. Moreover, the elections are coming soon in the Ukraine. So in the near future I think peace will not come to the Donbass.
– What difficulties are faced by the foreign journalists in this hot spot?
– It is difficult place to work. But what’s interesting – you can cover the conflict from both sides and give a more or less objective picture. Because in Syria or Iraq one can only work on one side. In Donbass, after every half kilometre there are roadblocks, where there are all kinds of people, among them there are inadequate. One of the features of this war – everyone resembles each other. Battalions and militia are sometimes completely indistinguishable from each other. Last time I was present at the prisoner exchange on neutral territory, where representatives of the Ukrainian army and militias met. At some point I ceased to understand where is the Ukrainian army, and where are militias. They are all in camouflage, all rough, all swear with Russian obscenities.
But the prisoners, by the way, are very different. They are quite different from each other. The prisoners who were captured by militia are the people of about the same age – young privates. Prisoners captured by Kiev party are usually ordinary people, farmers who only yesterday were digging potatoes. We see that it is certainly not the military.
And another interesting point: in places where the prisoners were exchanged, the reporters of, for example, the First and Perche channels come face to face. And they look at each other with the same hatred as front-line soldiers.
A lot of nonsense
– How is this conflict covered in the Dutch media? You surely have your own propaganda.
– You know, there’s a big difference between propaganda and stupidity (bad journalism). In the Netherlands, a lot of the bad, stupid, journalism. Most Dutch journalists writing about the conflict in the Donbass, have never been there and do not understand what they write about. After the fall of the “Boeing”, the country was awash hatred of Russia, and the people (not at the behest of the state) just splashed out their emotions. But it did not last long. In our embassy here if there are three people speaking Russian, then it’s counted for a lot. In Dutch universities if there are three departments, where they teach the Russian language, Russian literature and Russian politics, then it’s considered as much. There are at most 5 Dutch journalists working in Russia.
If at the university and diplomatic levels there are not many experts, if there are so few journalists, we can understand what the picture of Russia consists of in Dutch society.
– Why do the Dutch not show sufficient initiative to investigate the disaster of “Boeing” at the Donbass?
– A large investigation is under way in the Netherlands, but very slowly. You know, the Dutch have a problem – we all want to make the Dutch way. If in some faraway country where there is war, a plane falls with Dutch citizens on board, then in the Dutch view the crash site should immediately be cordoned off, closed from outsiders and investigated in the Dutch way: very clearly, prolonged, surveying everything meter by meter. It didn’t happen here. I can not say that everyone is happy with how the process goes. For example, I do not understand why I got to the site a day after the fall, while the Dutch experts came there a week later. Spent there a couple of days and left. Because they were afraid. I do not understand why I could work there, but they could not.
– What conclusions could you make while at the crash site?
– I do not know who shot down the plane. If I had my own version, I would have published it on the front pages of all Dutch newspapers. I also do not know what happened on September 11th in America. I was not there. But we have some consensus about what happened there. I think that after some time we’ll get a consensus also in the case of the crash of the Malaysian “Boeing” in the Donbass.