No matter what you do, there is a war in your country.
Kseniya Marchenko was born in Cherkassy (1989). Got MA in journalism at National University “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy” (2012). For three years was working as a correspondent for the most rated national TV news department of “Cannel 1+1”. Now is an editor and author of documentary projects for independent digital media Hromadske.tv. Contributed for independent documentary project “Realnost” (Russia). The author of documentary photoproject for BirdinFlight about postwar life of a young soldier who has lost his leg at frontline in the east of Ukraine when he was 19. She showed her first short documentary about Kyiv Metro on the several national film festivals. Her film “Who Owns Crimea? Festival of Annexation” is a part of exposition “Sentsow`s Camera” about Ukrainian Crimean director who is political prisoner of Russion court for 20 years. Exposition was presented at Museum of Modern Art in Leipzig, Germany (2016).
Kseniya is interested in the social-political transformation of the country which started after events of EuroMaidan revolution. Ritual of presenting public opinion on marches during EuroMaidan now at the postmaidan and warperiod is deconstructed for the interests of far right wings and opposition of nowadays government of the country. Being between journalism and documentalism Kseniya tries to fix how the public opinion is influenced by street activities, what messages are presented, how participants behave themselves and how conflicts are constructed.
Interview with Ksenia Marchenkoquestions by Juliana Höschlová
It is quite interesting that in Kyiv I have met quite a lot of people in the art field who have some link or background in journalism. Do you think it is just by coincidence or it is a consequence of some particular situation here?
Not only journalist are connected to some artistic projects now. You can see, that people from, let´s say, social and anthropological background, are into artistic projects and artists are into very wide scope of different fields and its topics. The turning point came with the Euromaidan revolution. People from different fields felt that they had to cooperate for one common aim. Those who could film were standing on Maidan and recording everything just because it was important. Now, the aim is to analyze and discuss the reality of the past 3 years of shootings at Maidan, annexation of Crimea, and ongoing war supported by Russia on the eastern part of Ukraine. We discuss what have happened and what´s the influence on our everyday life.
Here in Ukraine we have no modern film school, only conservative. That`s why people who are connecting to media visual piece of work often can be from different fields. I think, it is a kind of a crisis management. Culturologists starter to write articles for mass media, journalists makes film stories, artists have become a public leaders. We all work with the same topic but in different way.
When I started to work for a news department in one of the biggest channel in Ukraine (1+1 Channel), I was among several people who could film and edit by themselves, because we also had a special course at the academy. Working at Maidan gave us the feeling that we are in the middle of the history. The next day when Lenin`s monument - the symbol of Russian influence - was destroyed in Kyiv, I bought iPhone for fast filming and sometimes even took fragments for my TV stories. My first independent video was made by IPhone.
Would you consider that the situation of corrupted media here has brought some journalists to the position of showing a different point of view?
The interesting point is, that the Euromaidan was also a period of rising traditional journalism and social media journalism coexisting next to each other in a one room. People staying at home were watching the streams at laptops and TV news at the same moment. Ukrainian media are headed by oligarchs. Thus, during The Revolution of Dignity, it was visible in agendas, which media were pro-European or against Yanukovich and his government ideas, strongly connected to the Russian point of view.
In Ukraine, there is the only one state channel which is out of trend. The first and the only one digital media Hromadske.ua has super small budget and can’t propose modern format of stories. Journalists were streaming from the heart of the revolution. The new one media were open for dialogue with politicians from ex-government and pro-Yanukovich team was ready to be a guest for a public broadcasting. Hromadske.ua started covering the hottest Crimean topics, Russian`s invasion in the east of Ukraine. This is not the traditional sort of news, but these stories were about people whose life changed because of the war. It is the main goal of Hromadske.ua and it is the only one media which is out of inside propaganda. That’s why I joined their team for a half of a year after the war has started for experimental documentary project.
Concerning news and documentary. People usually need hard news during cruel events, when their life can be changed by the decision of the state or when they are lost and confused by all accidents. At the other hand, people want to be entertained. They don’t want to think, and analyze. Documentary makes you think. The purpose of TV news is to give you the information as clear as journalist and editor can. In documentaries you propose people to watch the situation being in a hand with a hero of the story, you show the moment of action. Viewers have option to think what made the hero act in such a way. Of course, I am talking about that type of documentaries which are not made with direct interviews, settings and decorations.
Did the experience of working for 1+1 Channel prompted you to start to create your own stories?
Working for news is perfect exercise. You compare the facts, meeting new people and make them talk to you in a short period, you are in a different moods, discuss conflict topics and feel, when the person lies. It is the school of a young media soldier when you have to predict several further steps of the conflict. It is also a director’s skills.
The story of a hero is the main story, even if the topic is about hard political changes. That was our rule for news department. These life stories gave us an opportunity to be very close to the people in need and watching their emotions. This experience from the news backstage opened my eyes and heart for film stories. News are about facts, but being in a hot topics helped me to find out the ongoing stories which can be the testimony of this generation. Generation of people who live with the annexation of Crimea and war on the east. It made people search for another home, we have got cultural and business decentralization, we have to know more about each other, now. You may write and film hundreds of stories, just because the rhythm of normal life changed and you can see how new experiences changed you and your city.
So the working experience in news is maybe the reason why I`m deeply interested in political actions which are happening on the streets. I’m filming sort of archive of nationalistic movements in Kyiv. For me, it is interesting how they are rising and what political message they give, all the time during public events.
I think you mentioned good distinction. Documentary also has a power to manipulate facts and reality but in a news the information has to be brief and simple and people have to understand clearly what it is about. In a documentary you can evolve the scope for rise the question.
If you do a news story, you will probably film the face of a speaker. It is more interesting for documentarist how the speaker cope with his or her hands during the speech. The wider real life context is important. The bright example can be a story about expert who was skyping with BBC and children came into the room accidentally. Before the entering the room- it was news, after his kids entered the room-a documentary started. As I said, during the revolution people knew which channel belongs to who. Several scandals with a fake information about the revolution were already done by Russian media. They sent a broadcasting team which worked without labels of the channels and usually consisted two girls. In post-soviet countries you can find a code: “young ladies cannot do a cruel job”. But they were producing sophisticated fakes. And for sure, if there were men they could be beaten for nasty job. So, informational” turns to “emotional”. Maybe it is the best period for documentary.
I can imagine that the situation in the east part of Ukraine is very different. Why did you decide to film Crimea in a time of New Year´s Eve?
Public actions are always about politics and messages, thus about manipulation, too. Crimea lives the life of annexed territory without public holidays, presentations, yard markets. During first two years of annexation, all Ukrainian media were put out of the peninsula, some journalists were arrested. Ukrainian filmmaker who lived in Simferopol, Oleg Sentcov, was imprisoned by Russian court for 20 years.
There are still people who have pro-Ukrainian position, but for different reason they cannot leave Crimea. I came to peninsula to see how people live and feel about the situation when one country is becoming the other´s one by political changes. It was my own interest what and how has it changed. As public events are naturally filmed, I also shot several episodes. We have a clear script for the New Year ritual. Speech of president at 23:50, fireworks, street concerts and party time. Since the war started in the eastern part of Ukraine, fireworks are prohibited all over the country. Crimea has used the electricity by schedule since 2015 when in November was totally blacked out. I was wondering how they will cope this for a New Year. People were sitting at home without light but were very happy with fireworks outside. It was crucial.
I was surprised, when I checked the website of the Crimea government and saw there are many activities even for small villages. I came to one small village and found only one place with the light. The small concert hall with the room inside where you could see all the New Year´s traditional features. I asked the people whether it is organized by government, the answer was yes because they also gave them the opportunity to use a light. When I left the place and was waiting for some vehicle to grab me to Sevastopol, after 20 minutes the light turned off. The moment when I stood in cold in dark Crimea was quite horrifying considering the fact that during that time 6 or 7 military cars drove around.
Sevastopol was also dark and there were only candles in coffee places waiting for its people till 10:30 pm. After 10.30 people gathered on the main square where the local singers were singing old traditional Russian songs, marches songs or some pop songs from 2000. There was a short time given to sing one Ukrainian Christmas song to show there is some freedom, at least. Of course, some people welcomed Putin´s speech even though they were complaining to the local deputies. But the respect and trust to a big leader is still there. At the other hand, there were angry people shouting: “Go away, we don´t need you”, because they know that nothing will change and the situation is not good. Anyway Putin´s speech raised many pro-Russian emotions. And at the end, there was a big firework which is in Ukraine prohibited since the war started. Later on, I checked this constructed Russian news from that evening. Predictably, they showed happy people and the fact there is still a life, in Crimea.
In the second part of your film we can see the combination of greetings to old war veterans during the Victory Day holiday in May and the celebration of annexation in the same time. It seems very astute strategy of using the public holidays and celebrations to support pro-Russian ideas.
This march started at about 11 o´clock in the morning of the working day. Streets were empty. Along the street you may see school children in a one crowd welcoming the military parade, self-organized rebels, heads of the Crimea parliament in the first line and journalists of federal channels (all Ukrainian channels and media offices are canceled in Crimea) with balloons, artificial flowers and flags. In several minutes after the parade passed, children gave away the stuff to teachers and have got free time out of school for that day (officially it was a working day).
This tradition of commemorating militaries goes back to the memorial and victory march of the Victory Day. When I was a pupil we had the same type of a march dealing with the idea “grandfathers took part in a war for as”, as it is now in Crimea with new idea of Russian Crimea. It was always the event with a feeling that “I have to do it because of the crowd”. Among the demonstrators were so called “symbols” of annexation appearing in different propaganda TV news stories with a necessary messages. One of them was a woman saying “Putin is our Lord”. Timetable for the event was very strict. Several military marches, public speeches of the first members, who used idea of “Ukraine is brotherhood”, but government is “fascistic”, “Ukraine will come back to the Russian world”, “reunion” instead of “acceptance”. There was a big screen showing Ukrainian “nationalists” with red and black colored flags concerning the idea that Ukraine is with EU, USA and NATO. Several flags of Tatars appeared only for several minutes and after filming were putted back. For the current situation it is very controversial act. A lot of Tatar´s are imprisoned, under pressure or they disappeared. This topic is uncovered by Russian media. Flags, clear messages, pictures. All those details worked for nice TV picture and news story which appeared in the evening with headlines “March with thousands of people celebrated referendum day”. No information saying that it was only military march.
In the third part, it shows the celebration of annexation at the main squire of Lenin. It was totally full of people. A lot of Russian`s flags, flags with USSR symbols, but no one concerned political parties. But comparing with this third year of celebration, the flags of political parties, appeared. Pop and marches songs played with the moderator who shouted the slogan “Crimea, Russia, forever” and supports the crowd to cry it laud. But people were quite silent so he repeated that for four times. There was a question why did they stand quiet. The context for the situation is that there is still a lack of electricity. Salaries and social payment were cut, people with Russian passports and Crimea registration can´t go abroad because of the EU-sanctions. The program of the concert in that evening was consisted in singing the USSR songs, old military marchers. The headliners of the concert were two bands who support occupation by Russians territories on the east of Ukraine.
Confusing situation happened near the main street. People were standing in a circle and singing Ukrainian lyrics, some people were dancing in couples under flags of Russia. I finished movie with the fireworks and two drunk guys singing Russian anthem. It is rather typical situation for public festivals. All public celebrations rather commemorating the war of death.
What is your personal vision about the whole situation happening to your country, now? It must be very difficult for sensitive, intellectual person to live in this plight.
There are two serious questions which stand for us. How to save the connections for both sides of political conflict and keep the interest in each other. And how to not act under the emotions. How to be strong to look out for the future years and shake hands afterwards. We have to work with the idea of Ukrainian memory. The most truthful, but not the easiest way is to be interested in motivations and wishes of both sides.
My video now is just a piece of history, but in further years it will depict how people´s moods were constructed through public governmental events. We cannot change the situation with our films now, it is better to fix this story on your side and share this experience.