The director of the Department of Mass Communications of the Luhansk Regional State Administration Yaroslav Halas talks about the working conditions in the front-line area and changes in the minds of the people in the region
Yaroslav Halas, who currently holds the position of the director of the Department of Mass Communications of the Luhansk Regional State Administration, is well known to Transcarpathian journalists. He is the author of numerous articles on life stories of people that leave nobody indifferent. For more than two months, the Transcarpathian has been in the East, where he actually performs the duties of the Luhansk Regional State Administration head Hennadiy Moskal’s spokesman. While staying for two days at home in Uzhgorod, Mr. Yaroslav took the time to talk to the "Den".
"We had to start everything anew"
– What was your reaction to the offer of cooperation? How long had you been in the East before that?
– I had never been in the East, on the contrary – only in the West. I had been to Europe, USA, Scandinavia, visited many countries, but I had never been east to Kyiv. When I heard about the appointment of Hennadiy Moskal as the governor, I immediately thought that I would receive the offer from him. I know that he had offered the job to several other people, but they refused. We’ve been collaborating for a very long time, I was the head of his press service when he was the governor of Transcarpathian region in 2001-2002. By 2012, when there was his office as an MP in the city, I was heading the public reception. We have always been in close contact, so I was not surprised about this offer. With Moskal one has to work almost without breaks, but working with him is very interesting.
– What was your family’s reaction to this decision?
– Very negative. This is still the most difficult and most painful issue. My wife is constatntly asked how she let me do it, given that we have two children. I talk to them on Skype, telephone, but being over 1.5 thousand kilometers away from them is hard.
– Was the adaptation painful?
– During the first 3 weeks, it was very difficult to get used to it. Not because it is a different region and new people, but because working conditions were very difficult. Hennadiy Moskal was appointed on September 18, the next day he moved the regional administration from Svatove to Sieverodonetsk. There, we started everything from scratch, I took my laptop, camera, voice recorder. We have only one car for the whole administration, which, during the attack on the RSA, was on a business trip, so the separatists did not get it. And now Mr. Moskal uses this 9-year-old "Volkswagen". All equipment, machinery, documentation was left in the RSA building in Luhansk. Here, we had to start everything anew, and we don’t have money for that. In our department, all employees use their own equipment. Now, it is a little better, but it is still in the process of setting up.
– What about the local media?
– In general, there are not many of them. Major regional publications were stationed in Luhansk. The former regional television channel was turned into the separatist TV "Luhansk-24", which promotes the so-called leader of the Luhansk People’s Republic Plotnytsky. The signal from the "Luhansk-24" sometimes even reaches Lysychansk (Ukraine controlled territory, 5 kilometers from Sieverodonetsk).There are several separatist FM stations, when we go to the near-front rural area, I can listen to them. I often hear our information, that we distribute officially, but they use it in their own way. Usually, nobody from these stations officially asks us for comments.
"Dialogue gives noticeable results"
– How often do you accompany the head of the region on his trips?
– Every week, we have a few trips to near-front villages. He is a very brave, sometimes even foolhardy man. For example, he flatly refuses to wear body armor or helmet. Definitely, he is very straightforward, easily gets steamed up, but also easily calms down. Sometimes we bring local people pensions, because "Ukrposhta" does not dare to work under fire. Accompanied by APCs and armed men, we take responsibility for the delivery of millions of hryvnias. Of course, local villagers line up and begin asking questions or make accusations such as "Tell Poroshenko not to bomb us". Of course, Mr. Moskal gets upset hearing that. Especially considering that he often goes with electricians to perform repairs in these near-front village. Words like that get him steamed up, verbal disputes start that are then covered in the media. Moskal goes to villages, which in peacetime were rarely visited by officials, especially for the last 10 years of the Party of Regions ruling there. He goes there, and it gives results, when he came the first time – they were hostile, the second time he came with electricians, pension or humanitarian aid – they were already softer, and subsequent times people would even come up to make photos with the governor. Such a dialogue gives noticable results, people see that the state did not abandon them, do not perceive him as a puppet of Kyiv or "junta". This is a huge advantage.
"Children must be saved"
– How do liberated cities live now?
– In Sieverodonetsk, there were no damages, in Lysychansk one living block was destroyed. Now these cities live as normal settlements, but volleys of artillery sometimes can be heard from 20 km away. Knowing that I was going to Uzhgorod for a few days, the governor’s driver asked me to bring yellow and blue flags in the car, because they are difficult to find there. The wave of patriotism has just recently reached there, but there is already a blue and yellow flag where Lenin was once.
– In any war, children suffer the most. Recently, you wrote in social networks about children, who were sent to a sanatorium. What can you tell about the children of war?
– We recently sent a group of children from frontline villages to Vinnytsya and Odesa regions. Those are mostly children from Tryokhizbenka, Shchastya, Popasna district. This initiative was also launched by the governor to take children from dangerous areas on holidays to other regions, especially in western Ukraine, so that children could see what kind of people are there and tell their peers and parents. By the way, parents flatly refused at first, but over time it got better, happy children call their parents, tell them about nutrition, good attitude. However, there are still exceptions. For example, a few days ago we were in Tryokhizbenka, almost all the children from there had been taken to a safe area. And then we met there a 9-year-old boy with parents who was pulling a sled with different fragments of wood to keep them warm. They had collected them in destroyed houses. The kid immediately began protesting against me taking pictures of him, but then I managed to engage him in conversation. His name is Andriy, he does not go to school, because soldiers live there, in fact he remained the only child in once large village, all the others have gone to safe areas. According to the boy, he does not want to go, and parents do not let him go anyway. Indeed, we sympathize with such children very much, we gave him sweets, but I will remember that face, those eyes forever. The most terrible mark the war leaves on children. Children must be saved, they all need to be taken away so that they never see these deaths, never hear those shots.
– On TV, there is a lot of talk that East and West are together. What do local people think about that?
– This slogan is not popular there. But the war in the East became the Rubicon, after which there will be reassessment of values. Today, there is still opposition to the central government, but there is no such rejection, as before. It takes time and effort to make the slogan "East and West are together" the motto of the Donbas.