I lived out of that backpack until June. I still remember that amazing feeling when it got really hot in May and I finally decided to change my wardrobe. But I did not have a working bank card, only a small amount of hryvnias exchanged along the way or transferred to me by the editorial office through someone in Warsaw. I really wanted to stop wearing a sweater and down jacket. I went to an open-air clothing market in Kyiv, near Minskaya metro station. I bought sneakers, as I remember now, for UAH 400, a tracksuit for UAH 500 or UAH 700, a T-shirt for UAH 150.
And with what pleasure I threw away those clothes in which I had arrived from Moscow and traveled to all these bomb shelters and cities! It’s cold in the bomb shelters, people sleep there in hats, gloves, shoes; you cannot take off your clothes there, and no matter what you’ll most likely wake up sick, everyone gets sick there because there’s no normal ventilation. But when you sleep in clothes, they spoil. So, I got great pleasure from finally throwing everything away and coming back from my work trip to Riga, through several European countries, a completely “renewed” person.
So you were in Ukraine during the first, most terrible, three months of the war?
Yes. Returning to your question: how does the feeling of a job well done combine with the feeling that you are experiencing one of the biggest national and personal tragedies in your life?
When I just graduated from university and went to work for Dozhd, it was just the beginning of the war in 2014. I remember how my peers and I asked to go; were upset that we were not allowed to go; were concerned with, discussed among ourselves how great it would be to go. I always wanted to go to war. It was rather an infantile desire to feel like in a movie.
Last spring, I recorded a podcast with our wonderful Meduza podcaster Vlad Gorin, over the phone, and at the end I suddenly burst into tears and told Vlad: “you know, I would give everything in the world for that old dream of mine to never have come true in my life.”
I am still physically ashamed that I thought that war could be a “platform” for me as a journalist to prove myself. People are going to die there, and you are using it as an opportunity to be a voenkor?!
From Ukraine you went straight to Riga, where there were Riga residents for whom life had not changed at all. When I found myself in Europe in 2022, I had some kind of emotional... shock: they go to IKEA, paint garden gnomes... For you, this contrast should have been even more pronounced, [since] you had seen the war.
I was relieved that my work trip was over, I was very tired. But, of course, I was preoccupied with the burden that I brought with me – the burden of a life devoid of normality. I reacted to the sounds like anyone who has lived even a little under shelling. And I felt joy when I woke up at night from a noise, and it was not a plane or a siren, but just someone slamming the door.
I made friends with local guys – not emigrants, not journalists – my friends in Riga are into gardening. But so far my integration into Latvian society is minimal. It was as if I had come from a work trip to another work trip, to the editorial office...
Overall, I had no cognitive dissonance that people were painting garden gnomes.
How has journalistic and editorial work changed? Or because Meduza was in Riga from the very beginning, was there no need to reorganize editorial processes or change anything much?
Yes, it was an incredibly far-sighted decision in 2014 to establish the editorial office in Riga and launch all the main administrative processes from here. By the time everyone who worked at Meduza from Russia moved here from different cities, it was not just an emigrant community waiting for us – our colleagues were waiting for us who already knew everything here – where to find a family doctor, how to rent an apartment. Still, we had the same problems with documents and objective difficulties with obtaining bank cards and residence permits as everyone else.
But the Meduza community made it a lot easier, and I still don’t fully feel that I am in exile. Latvia is a wonderful country, I say this consciously, despite the problems that Dozhd has encountered here. So, I did not have a hard form of emigrant trauma.
They say that the relationship between editors has changed. Whereas before there was competition and professional jealousy, now it has been smoothed over and everyone feels like a single team. As if it really became one big editorial office. In your opinion, has the professional community rethought itself or not?
I believe that competition, of course, still exists, and all the old grievances and ambitions have safely flowed here. But, indeed, the temperature has been taken down a lot. Everyone has thought together about the future. There is a willingness to exchange contacts; unite; make joint statements; organize big processes for the future, human rights or human rights-related work – in this sense, everything has become much easier. And, of course, the basis for this is general anxiety.