“What is my work right now? I always remember that this is only possible because there are people who are fighting on the frontlines with the weapons. If there were no people there, who are actually protecting our land with weapons in their hands, we would have no time and we would have no possibility to build support, to protect civilians, to manage how to get through this winter, which will be hard for all of us, and to save us as a nation. Because we see that the Russian federation is once again trying to destroy Ukrainians as a nation and try to erase Ukrainian identity of children on invaded territory, of civilians on the territories which were occupied. We see these mass graves in Bucha and Izyum, we see these cases of rapes of women and children, we see these cases of forced abortions, we see these filtration camps, which are now working on the occupied territories. And the main aim is that there would be no longer any Ukrainian culture. And when we liberate our lands, we see that one of the first things which the Russians have done is changing the names of the cities into Russian language, changing local names of places to Pushkin´s and representatives of Russian culture, changing the books in the libraries and actually changing their cultural background and trying to convince Ukrainians that they are Russians. So for us this is a war for the possibility to stay Ukrainians and to share our culture with our children. If we fail, there will be no future generations of Ukrainians.”
„For all these eight years I actually was feeling guilty that I left Crimea, that I left my Yalta. All the work, which I was doing for these eight years, doesn´t bring me the feeling of not being guilty. I am working from 2014 in a human rights organisation, I am working on documenting war crimes, and I was working on Crimean issues for all these years. But I still was thinking: What if? What if all of us had stayed in Crimea and had fought till the end? What would have happened? How many of us could they have killed? How many would have need to die until our soldiers would have started doing something? There were a lot of thoughts on my mind about this and actually the same thought was on minds of many Crimeans with whom I was talking. So when the full scale invasion started and I woke up in the morning, I already knew what to do. I took my backpack and went to the military checkpoint to try to join the army. Now a lot of my Crimean friends are serving in the army. I was not admitted, because our army is still kind of sexist.”
„During the referendum I went to this election point, because we decided as an organization to document what is happening and to make pictures of how many actually answers there are, how many people actually there are. To make pictures of the Russian soldiers who were standing near these election points and to show that actually everyone could vote, to record this procedure and to take also samples of the ballots with the questions. I came to one point. I wasn’t on the list because I had never participated in any elections before and they just added me to the list. My friend was added at five different election points on five different lists. We have the samples of the ballots, just to record that this was totally illegal and no results could be obtained from this. I mean, looking back, at that point we still believed that if there would be enough evidence, something could change. And then we came to our office, it was small, on the second floor just under the roof. We got drunk. All of us got really drunk and then at eleven, the salutes started and the Russian music started playing all around the city and it was awful.”
“It was a small group of people in November, because we organised it on the day when Yanukovych should or should not sign these documents of eurointegration. There were Ukrainian flags. It was so hard to buy in Crimea at that time! There was a blue flag and we painted the stars to make it a flag of Europe. And we prepared two big lists of pros and cons of the eurointegration, so to have dialogue with people who come there. There was like twelve of us, maybe a little bit more. It was not a huge crowd of people. But there were two buses of police around us.
This is how the first event was. Then it became more crowded after the first deaths on Euromaidan and after the shooting on the last night, there were a lot of people with Ukrainian flags and with black ties and flowers, who came to show that they are supporting this and they are remembering people who died for our freedom….”
„Yalta is my hometown, it is the town of my dreams. It’s small, it´s cosy, it’s near the sea and near the mountains. From the window, if I turned my head to the right, I could see the see and if I turned to the left I could see mountains. It was fifteen minutes to walk down to the city centre to my school and my school was just two minutes from the sea. I spent all my childhood and my teenage years there. It was amazing. I never feel as free as I felt there. In this city, you could be yourself. It was actually multicultural city. There are a lot of people of different nationalities living. And in my class there were also people of different nationalities. There were Crimean Tatars, there were Armenians, there were Ossetians, there were Ukrainians, there were Russians, there were Greeks, all different cultures and so mixed! (….) And also, it was amazing, because it is a port city. And a lot of different ships and liners came to Yalta and people of different cultures also were there on the pier and just speaking with us. This is where we found out that the world is much bigger than just our small city.”
I would like to be allowed to return to Crimea one day and be as free there as I was in my childhood
Mariia Sulialina was born in 1996 in Yalta, Crimea. Ukraine had been an independent country for five years, and Crimea was an integral but autonomous part of it. Only in Sevastopol did the Russian war fleet, a relic of the Soviet legacy, remain at anchor. Mariia enjoyed the multicultural environment of Crimea, while always feeling Ukrainian, as many of her generation did. In 2012, she experienced disappointment when President Yanukovych extended the contract for the temporary stay of the Russian naval fleet in Crimea for another ten years. When the same president was reluctant to sign an association agreement with the European Union in the autumn of 2013, Mariia Sulialina became one of the organisers of the numerous protests in Yalta, the local equivalent of Euromaidan. The mass demonstrations in Ukraine were ultimately successful, Yanukovych left the country and its European integration progressed, but Crimea itself was quickly annexed by Russia afterwards. Mariia Sulialina was involved in the citizen monitoring of the independence referendum organised by the Putin regime on the peninsula under the supervision of armed men. Soon afterwards, however, she left Crimea to study in Kiev. In 2022, immediately after the start of the Russian aggression, she tried to enlist in the volunteer military units, but she failed. Today, the trained historian works on educational projects, monitoring human rights in the occupied territories and war crimes caused by Russian gunmen in the war. She visited Prague and Brno in October 2022 at the invitation of NESEHNUTÍ, to whom we are grateful for arranging the interview.