I was really struck by this, because in this region there weren't even tourists from post-Soviet countries, because the majority of them are interested in beach resorts. And I didn't have any sort of external signs of being Ukrainian: symbols, clothes and so on.
When Maidan (mass protest movement in 2013-2014 against corruption and in support of the European direction in Ukraine's foreign policy) started, I was unable to return to the country because of problems with my passport. I got stuck in Indonesia. I wasn't even allowed to leave the city. So instead I tried to do everything possible to support it remotely: I helped a hostel that was taking people in Kyiv, I helped with information campaigns for foreign media, I organised appearances of foreign groups on the Maidan stage.
I went as far as possible from Ukraine because I was hurt a lot from what happened after Yanukovych's rise to power, and there was a feeling that there was no way I was able to influence the situation. However, I wasn't able to disengage myself, all the same I did something for Ukraine.
As with many others, my love for Ukrainian literature started with Andrukhovych, Deresh, Zhadan, Prokhasko. I really loved to read Yurii Pokalchuk. I was friends with him and from time to time stayed at his house. It was a strange experience for a 17-year-old boy to find himself in the company of Ukrainian literary figures. Not just to read books, but to converse with the authors. I really liked the openness of our writers.
In recent years at 'Ukraïner' we have taken part in the Frankfurt Book Fair. I brought my own books there, then editions of 'Ukraïner'. In the space of these few years, global awareness about Ukrainian literature and interest in it has grown many times over.
Each of my projects is also about justice. 'Ukraïner' is about justice in terms of the perception of Ukraine in the world. 'Sumno?' is about coverage of the country's own cultural life without placing it in a postcolonial and provincial context
The project was active for 6–7 years, and then for a few more years as an archive until 2015. Many journalists who are famous today started out in 'Sumno?'. For me, creating this opportunity was more important than doing journalism by myself. It is the same with 'Ukraïner': today it is more a space of opportunity for many rather than my own project.
I had a period of disillusionment with journalism, and I simply left the country for 5 years. I travelled a lot, during this time I went through a few countries. But I suppose that the country that was most striking to me was Indonesia. I lived there for a long time, even learnt the language on a basic level. This country seemed very similar to Ukraine to me, strange as it may seem.
In 2014 my community of activists and I organised 'Babylon 13' film screenings in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, in order to inform people about the events in Ukraine.
'Sumno?' was always a volunteer project, but then even that term did not exist. We were simply called 'stubborn idiots'
I was interested in journalism even in my school years. Having finished school, my friends and I founded 'Sumno?', an online cultural media project. We started to write reviews of contemporary Ukrainian literature and cinema there, reports from musical and theatrical events—at first these were completely unprofessional. However, in the early years we gathered a team of a few dozen people, and in the space of two years we became the main online platform about Ukrainian culture.
It seems that activism has also been with me since childhood. Apart from cultural journalism, I took part in social initiatives. I was an activist in the 'Save Old Kyiv' movement, we fought with illegal real estate developments in the capital.
At a certain moment I just started to ask myself a question "What am I doing and why do I need to do it?". If I feel that there is injustice happening, I have to intervene and do something about it.
Crimea is the place where I spent every summer of my childhood. It was a second home for me. It was hard to get figs then in Ukraine, and I waited all year for the trip and the chance to try one. The last time I had this was at the Koktebel Jazz Festival in 2013. Ever since then, I have constantly been thinking about what it's possible to do in a Crimean context. Last year we created the 'Native Crimea' project, where one can look at these places now using a VR headset. I am constantly searching for figs at Kyiv markets and looking for opportunities to bring Crimeans closer to us through communication. It is a daily task for all of us: to remember, talk, communicate, so that eventually Crimea returns to Ukraine.
It doesn't matter where you live. The world is global. For many who have left to go abroad, this time became defining in their lives, but upon returning, you value Ukraine and the connection with your native land even more
We started with a team of eight people. Now 'Ukraïner' has more than 500 volunteers and around 20-30 people in the core team. Apart from a website with stories about Ukraine and its residents, we are working on several books. In 2019, we released our first feature-length film, now we are preparing a second.
At first these were simple human stories about interesting residents of different reasons. Now we are trying to touch upon more complex topics: the Holodomor, Crimea. We are striving to find points of intersection between Ukraine and other cultures. Today, our texts are translated into thirty languages.
One of the stories which 'Ukraïner' started with was a story about a German guy Michel, who lives in the Carpathians and spends his time protecting buffalos. And since last year we have made the series 'The Country from the Outside', about Ukrainians who are creating a national context on a global scale.
We created 'Ukraïner' to show that Ukraine is open, and despite the warfare in the East, you can have interesting and safe travels here. Our goal is to develop a society open to changes. And to plunge into new, deeper layers of research of Ukraine
One of my brightest memories from that time is how I was walking along the main street of a small Indonesian city, and a local resident just came up to me with the words: "I know that you are from Ukraine. Everything will be OK, the war will end and Crimea will be Ukrainian"