When war comes to your home, everyone wants to step up and come to its defence. Famous, popular, poor, rich, Ukrainian-speaking and Russian-speaking. Pavlo Kazarin, one of Ukraine’s most well-known journalists and a household name, picked up a machine gun and is now fighting for Kyiv.
Only two months ago, he hosted a morning show, a political-analytical programme, on Ukrainian TV. He had his own radio broadcasts and reviewed columns in Ukraine’s top papers. He is the author of ‘The Wild West of Eastern Europe’, and the winner of two of the three most prestigious Ukrainian awards for journalists.
Kazarin is from the Crimea and in 2014, due to the occupation of the peninsula by Russia, was forced to move to Kyiv.
Now that Russia has attacked Ukraine on a grand scale, Kazarin decided to defend the country, not on the information front, but on the real one. He told us exclusively about who is defending Kyiv now, and how. During some “down time” he found the strength to tell readers why Ukraine is now fighting for European values, and why victory in Ukraine is important not only for its people, but also for the whole civilised world. This interview was conducted before the latest missile strikes of 28 April in Kyiv.
GS News: How did you find out the war had started?
PK: I host morning broadcasts on one of the major Ukrainian TV channels. I have to be in the studio at 6 am and therefore I get up at 4 am. That Thursday, 24 February I woke up earlier than usual. Something flew outside the window, something exploded. I could hear strange distant sounds. I did not know then that Russia was attacking Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities. By the time I went to work, I already knew that the war had begun. But it was unclear how to react to the changed circumstances, how to broadcast… All the topics and stories prepared from the evening suddenly became irrelevant. That day was my last day as a journalist.
On 25 February, together with my colleague, I went to the enlistment office and registered for the army.
GS News: Why did you decide to defend yourself not on the journalistic front, but on the military front?
PK: It so happened that I missed the 2014 war. I was in the Crimea then, the main events and military actions in the Donbas passed me by. I had many excuses for myself as to why I did not go to defend Ukraine with a machine gun. I was engaged in journalism, Crimean people were not called to mobilise, I was taking care of my parents...
I have found a million wonderful excuses, but I did not want to “miss” the second war. When everyone talked for about a month about "whether there will be a war or not," I could not answer the question of whether I would go to war. It is impossible to answer this question in words, it is possible to answer only in deeds.
GS News: Was it difficult to enrol in the territorial defence? (A new military unit in Ukraine, which in addition to the regular army, defends cities).
PK: There were queues at the military registration and enlistment office. People waited for hours to apply. Some came, waited until noon, left for lunch, and returned to stand till evening. Some stood for five hours. Someone stood for more than seven hours. I was lucky, I managed to do it pretty quickly. I wrote a statement, signed papers, and we were assigned units. About 5-6 hours later I was given a weapon. I was also lucky that I was taken without combat experience. For example, friends [with the same level of experience] were not taken. And on the first day of service, I went on my first combat mission. In fact, there is no shortage of people willing to defend Ukraine. Demand exceeds supply, so now it is mostly those who have real combat experience.
GS News: You are a well-known figure in the country – are you recognised? Does it bother you or not?
PK: I am often recognised, in a queue, or walking around. Some are surprised, as if "we saw you on TV, and now you're here." People often ask to take pictures. The war is now both national and patriotic, it has erased all boundaries between people. Famous and not, rich and not – all together. Society has become homogeneous. In my company, there are people who are directors of large law firms and car mechanics. The war has erased gender boundaries: there are two girls in my company who are younger than their guns, but they are very motivated and very brave. There are no age limits: I have people in the unit who could be my parents, and there are people who could be my children. My gay friends serve in the next unit, they came together and signed up to serve.
GS News: Why is everyone so united? Can you explain that?
PK: I don't know if this is understood in Europe, but in fact, Russia’s president denies Ukrainians’ existence. He directly says that we as a nation do not exist, he says that our culture and language do not exist. It nullifies everything that makes a person a person. This is not about money, not about the economy, but about existence. According to Maslow's pyramid, it is about the basic level – about existence and security. Seeking the protection of Ukraine unites everyone, because it is about us, about the right to live here and because we want to.
GS News: You have written a lot of analytical columns with "what and why" answers. Why did this happen?
PK: I think Putin has become a hostage of mistakes and misconceptions. I don't think they told him how everyone here really is. I think he was sure that Ukraine would fall apart like a house of cards, that the army would not resist. And he got himself into a difficult spot, where each subsequent move only made things worse. Now the point is between losing now "devastatingly" or a little later "deafeningly devastatingly". It seems to me that this story will last not just a couple of months, but many. And I think it is important to understand in Europe that this war is not just against Ukraine. To a large extent, this war is against European values, against collective Europe, against the collective United States. And Ukraine became the first test because it dared to become a part of the civilized world. If, God forbid, Ukraine does not survive, the next may be the Baltic countries, Bulgaria or Moldova.
GS News: And tell us about the enlistment process. Those who were not taken to the military registration and enlistment office, what are they doing now?
PK: It’s an amazing story, the enlistment is manifested in everything. One day a guy came and said he was a chef from a restaurant. He was not taken into territorial defence, but he asked us if he could prepare food. And now our unit feeds one very fashionable restaurant in the capital. I will honestly say that I did not always have time to eat so well before the war. Volunteers come to us and offer help – from medicines to bulletproof vests and weapons. And these people come in old cars, or in the latest Mercedes and Teslas.
GS News: What will you do after the victory?
PK: When we win, I will get on a motorcycle and go all over my Ukraine. I wanted to travel in Europe this year, but I don't want to now. I want to go around my peaceful and very strong country.