‘Whoever's guilty, put 'em up against the wall’ What Russian locals in Rostov think about Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko's trial
At the central courthouse in the small city of Donetsk in Russia's Rostov region—not to be confused with the large city in the eastern Ukraine that shares the same name—the trial of the Ukrainian helicopter pilot Nadezhda Savchenko is coming to an end. She is accused of abetting the murder of two employees from the All-Russian State Television and Radio-Broadcasting Company (VGTRK) in Ukraine. For the Russian Donetsk, with a population of 50,000, standing on Ukraine's border with Russia, Savchenko's trial has become the most notorious event in the small town's modern history. What is more, for many Russians, it is the first time they learned a city named Donetsk existed in Russia, too. Meduza special correspondent Ilya Azar spoke with Donetsk residents about their thoughts on Savchenko and her trial.
Dressed in camouflage. He introduced himself as a self-employed entrepreneur. After our conversation, he demanded to see some ID.
Savchenko? She's guilty. I take a negative view of Savchenko. Put her in front of a firing squad. Actually, you know what—let her out, and when she's running, say, “Hey-hey-hey, where are do you think you're going?” and then shoot [her]. Every day in this city, everything's all backed-up. Millions have been spent on her already, like, carting her here and there, across the region. And they feed and clothe her with our taxes.
She should be executed with all that evidence—because she violated the border, because she fired artillery—for all of it. But a prisoner exchange can only be 1 for 50—her 1 for our 50 [Russian citizens detained in Ukraine]. An exchange for two [Russian citizens Alexander Alexandrov and Evgeny Erofeev, who are currently standing trial in Kiev] isn't possible. It's better to shoot her, and then buy our guys back or do it some other way.
A doctor. She moved with her daughter and husband from Lugansk to live with her parents in the Russian city of Donetsk, because of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Savchenko is guilty and should go to jail. Thank God she's on trial. It's just that so many are guilty, and somehow all of it has been focused on her. If there is a [prisoner] exchange, then the only way is to return them all home, then it would be right. The lives of these people [the Russians on trial in Kiev], they are all important to us and they should be returned to their families.
We'll be returning home to Lugansk with a couple of days. They have been good to us here, but we want to go home. We are not afraid of going back.
Andrei and Victor
They refused to say what line work they are in. They were drinking beer in the middle of the day near a bus stop.
We really don't care. Whatever happens—we don't think anything about her. We live right on border. Let them have their revolution over there—these Ukrainians. Savchenko, of course, she must be judged. In general, it needs to be done like Stalin did it—put 'em all up against the wall. Whoever's guilty—all the fuck up against the wall! In general, we don't care, understand?
A taxi driver.
I don't know if she's guilty. I don't understand why they are drawing the thing out like this. Is it fabricated or something—all by Russia? Aren't there any witnesses? Or are they just telling us nothing? I read and read the newspaper. I got an achin' head from it, and then I just fucking gave up. And about what comes next. What would they execute her for? We don't even have the death penalty here. Go ahead and execute the drug addicts and child murderers, but her? What for?
You're not from LifeNews, are you? I watch them all the time, but they don't explain anything. I'm media savvy, and I watch RenTV, too. Dozhd? That runs on cable, and I only got a [satellite] dish. And Dozhd is the same as LifeNews—just a little bit more intense. And [Dozhd] is getting taken off the air for that, right? [Dozhd] might be telling the truth, and the ruling party doesn't like it.
A housewife, walking the street pushing a stroller.
The case gets written about too much in the newspapers, so already I'm not following it anymore. I think Savchenko's guilty, of course. Why did she do it? Killing our journalists. When it's soldiers against soldiers—that's alright. When they point the artillery at peaceful civilians—that's wrong.
We have always lived peacefully with Ukraine. It's a brotherly country. The war brought it all down. All our relatives live there. But I [still] have a good attitude towards the Ukrainians. Nothing negative. Everything that's happened there is the state's doing. Ordinary people know better.
As soon as you've been arrested, it means you should've been arrested. Why did she cross the border? If she’s a spy, then arresting her was all the more justified. You can't kill journalists. Why did they kill them? Because they spoke the truth?
But from this, they've made the story bigger than it should be. She must be exchanged. And she won't be sent to jail once she's [back in Ukraine]. Our people are sitting [in jail] in Ukraine, and waiting. Put them in jail and then exchange them—it's good both for them and for her.
A tenth-grader walking home with his backpack.
What do I think about Savchenko? In general, I can't say much. I don't know the details of the case. I just know the gist, and still not very well. It's her life and she brought this all upon herself. What justice will determine… Things will be what they be….
Let me put it a better way… What she did was bad. She ruined her life with her own actions. She knew what she was doing and she will pay with her own freedom. Me personally, I can’t feel anger towards her despite what she did, because every day people die for different reasons. But I am disgusted by her views.
You don't kill journalists. Journalists are not the military. Even though allegedly she is a prisoner of war, this doesn’t change what she did.
Everyone is fed up with this Savhcenko already. She needs to be thrown in jail without any kind of trial for her attempting to escape, and that’s it. Then they wouldn't have to agonize over everything, and neither would we. Every time [the court is in session], the whole street is closed, and there's no way to drive through or go anywhere near the park. There's no way to get to the store.
In general, I'm not interested in the trial and I'm not reading the newspapers. There was a time when I was reading just the headlines. Now, I don’t even touch the [the newspaper], unless I need to start a fire to make kebabs. Also, they lie all the time on TV. You watch the news, especially about Ukraine, and our side lies, and the dumb Ukrainians lie, and it's everyone against everyone.
I wasn't there, and I haven't done much investigation into it, so I can’t confirm anything. She was spying, that's for sure. On the other hand, she’s a soldier and she was following orders. Therefore, from this point of view, it is hard to accuse her. The politics going on there is a game of sorts, and so it's hard to understand who is right or wrong. You cannot try a soldier for murder.
Tatiana Serafimovna and Louise Vuarovna
We don't really understand. What's the point of this trial? And they're dragging it out. She's guilty, and they should punish her. It is a pity, of course; it's all for nothing. She'll be tried, and it'll go on and on, and then she'll be released all the same. All this—just to send her back to Ukraine. We are against this, because she must be punished. Give her a life sentence—she deserves it!
She sits here for a year growing fat on our bread. Don't ask me about those hunger strikes! Go look on the Internet, and see that mug of hers! [Laughter.]
Works “where he has to, and does pick-up work” as a loader in the warehouse or delivering home furniture.
I don't know anything about it. I know that it's happening, but unfortunately I don't read newspapers. I haven't ever heard anything about it. What are they accusing her of? Damned if I know. We don't talk about it at work. Although, there practically no workers in our town. Everything's closed. I just see the security down by the court house, and we avoid it. Whatever's inside, I don't know.
A young man with a beard, who was born in Donetsk, in Rostov. He graduated from an institute in Moscow. He is looking for work in the Russian capital, and is building a house in Donetsk for his parents.
For Russia, she's the enemy. Her actions helped to kill our journalists, who were working in a hot spot. Maybe she is a hero for Ukrainians, but I believe Ukraine isn't any different from Russia. But they have gotten lost. An prisoner exchange does not make sense, not even for our soldiers. She is an icon in Ukraine, a kind of superhero.
I still have the summer of 2014 stuck in my head, when Savchenko committed those crimes. I remember her words about Russians—that they are bad and evil. For me, a good person is someone who doesn't join in military actions against eastern Ukraine. I still don't know what all this was for. Why did the US pressure this illegal government [in Kiev] into carrying out such actions against [the Ukrainian city of] Donetsk?
Why are people in Donetsk not interested Savchenko's trial? Entertainment here has become ubiquitous. National TV channels don't broadcast scientific or historical programs. There is a mass dumbing down of the population. No one's following the trial as they should. They only discuss that one big event: main street is being blocked off.
An employee at the Donetsk Ultra bowling club. He has a bandage tied around his head.
How do you think I feel about Savchenko, having given 11 years of my life to the Russian Army? I'm against her, of course.