He made his first short film “The Return” there. The documentary brought about his victory at the cinema festival “Molodist.”
The director made his second film, “Simple Things,” in Kyiv, where he has been living for the last 6 years. He returned with it from the Cannes cinema forum recently.
Regardless of the film locations, says Oleksandr Ratiy, he is trying to convey the same theses that Donbas is attempting to express through his work. They, according to the artist, are really universal and understandable both in the East and West.
In an interview to BBC Ukraine he talked about the consequences of the weak cultural policies in Donbas, the reasons for separatism and the language that everyone is ready to hear.
BBC Ukraine: How were you greeted in Cannes? Did you notice special interest in Ukraine?
Oleksandr Ratiy: The interest towards Ukraine is, of course, heightened at the moment. Clearly nobody is queueing up to go to us. Therefore the farther the people are from Ukraine geographically, the more exotic it is for them – like Zimbabwe. And those who are closer to us both in mentality and borders are more concerned with the situation. The Polish, the Georgians. But the films themselves that we brought and showed to the European public, allowed them to feel what was going on. They were greeted with interest.
BBC Ukraine: What is your film “Simple Things” about?
Oleksandr Ratiy: This is a film about a situation, when a person ends up alone among other people, because of age, social problems of some kind. Because their children have left, they have their own lives. And it is more difficult to socialise as one gets older. New friends don’t appear, the old ones keep leaving. And the last one left. She goes to a funeral. The daughter of this woman, her friend, offers her to take her mother’s things with her after the funeral. The proposal is such that she cannot refuse. She takes them. She brings this suitcase home and at night it turns out that she has brought something else besides the suitcase. And the whole storyline develops around this.
BBC Ukraine: As far as I know, you were motivated for this script by some personal experience.
Oleksandr Ratiy: Yes, it was my senior project. I was looking for things to film. I came to Alchevsk to visit my parents, we were sitting in the kitchen with my grandmother, she was telling me stories… Then she said that her friend died, Aunt Zina. And her daughter gave her her things. She put them in the balcony because she doesn’t need them, but she couldn’t throw them away.
I was touched by this story. A person dies and leaves something behind… But nobody needs it. This turns into a strange metaphor in regard to the elderly, which are such “things” in themselves. And I immediately said: granny, stop, I have to go. And started writing the script.
BBC Ukraine: You made your previous film at home, in Alchevsk. What is the situation there now?
Oleksandr Ratiy: It is calm in Alchevsk at the moment. Everything is happening around it, but there is nothing there. Of course, there were no elections there, because they put up flyers at all polling stations that the so-called PRL is against the elections. And the people did not vote. And when the referendum was held, they all voted, they all went.
BBC Ukraine: And how did your parents react to the fact that they had no opportunity to vote?
Oleksandr Ratiy: My mom even wrote her second post on Facebook in her entire life about it. It’s a lot! Well… Someone decided something without us. Of course the people felt ostracised, left for dead in a way. They never really wanted to vote, but in light of the recent events that happened in the country, in their minds, in society, they wanted to do it someway, however they were not given the opportunity.
The Explosive Mix
BBC Ukraine: Calls to the rest of Ukraine to hear Donbas are frequently heard on the news. How would you formulate what has to be heard from Donbas? And is there anything to say at all?
Oleksandr Ratiy: No. Any protest movement, if it is built intelligently, has to be based on creation. So we are not against something, but for something.
Let’s take Euromaidan. We are against “the criminal government,” we are for integration of European procedures, we are for building a new society. And in Donbas there is only ‘against’: “We are against the Ukrainian language, we are against Yatseniuk, Turchynov and the rest of the ‘junta’, we are against-against-against.”
Donbas cannot be heard because there is constant interference. The people want something. They were offered all of it – guys, you will get decentralisation, we will decide something with the Russian language. And what next? Next came the people with rifles and started making mutually exclusive demands. The PRL declares war on the PRD. This is a circus, Makhno-style. What to hear? We don’t know what to hear.
BBC Ukraine: Why is this happening?
Oleksandr Ratiy: This virus was implemented into their minds starting the 70’s, when the heavy industry of the Soviet Union started losing against the West. In Donbas, a very simple move was made: guys, you are doing a very important job, you are feeding the entire country, you are making most of the money in the country. And this virus still exists. Though our industry has long stopped making most of the money, taking into account the subsidies and loans, the transfer of money through off-shore banks.
But this opinion has been rooted very globally – we are working here, making a living, and when we look around, a question arises: why are we so poor then? And they cannot manage to put together that the reason for their poverty is not in Kyiv, but in the locals that are stealing from them. Now they are trying to reach this conclusion in some way.
When Euromaidan happened they looked askance at it and they were sure that they were Banderites and sellout fascists. And then Maidan won. Who would have thought that Yanukovych would flee back then? Nobody believed in it! And the guys that are sitting in eastern Ukraine now are thinking: how did they decide without us? We want to rule too! This is where this entire cargo-cult with the tyres came from, with the burning barrels in the beginning of May, when the temperature was +20, with the sandwiches, so it was a total copy of the procedures that happened there, to do the same.
But while the crowd that stood on Euromaidan included numerous people with two university diplomas, which were able to lead this process to a more creative path, there are no such people there, everyone left. And the people cannot formulate their demands. So there is energy, they want to change something, but they don’t know what to change, which is why the people from Russian TV channels are whispering to them who the enemy is, and this is why such an explosive mix of God knows what emerges.
“Being determines consciousness”
BBC Ukraine: How many people support the PRL?
Oleksandr Ratiy: Quite a lot. For example, there are three people in my mother’s department at work. Two went to the referendum. Everyone except for my mother. And asked her why she didn’t go. My mother, during Maidan, became my “Banderite” helped, just like my grandmother. I brought my mom to Maidan especially. I bought tickets and brought her there.
BBC Ukraine: Let’s talk about culture. What did it look like before the beginning of the conflict in Donbas?
Oleksandr Ratiy: I don’t know whether we can even discuss a term such as culture of Donbas. The people are working in horrible conditions, the most difficult ones. There is no culture there at all, and nobody is doing anything about it. Just like they forced literacy on everyone in the first years of communism, something similar has to happen now on a compulsory basis. Because any closed system strives for degradation, and this system has been closed for some 20 plus tears, and it will continue degrading more and more.
BBC Ukraine: Who is to blame for this?
Oleksandr Ratiy: First and foremost, Kyiv is to blame for what is happening in Donbas, you and I are to blame in a way, having come here. Because everything good, eternal creative, growing and developing, which produces culture, was being squeezed out of there. Because in this eastern kingdom, given for purchase to the oligarchs, there was an “agreement” with Kyiv – that Kyiv does not interfere in the Khanate’s affairs, the Khanate does whatever it wants with the surfs. The Khanate existed for 20 years of independence, it was boiling in its own blood. And now, of course, where would patriotism come from there?
Patriotism develops based on language – this is the foremost basis ground, and the second level is the culture that grows from this language. There is no Ukrainian language there. There is no language to bear Ukrainian culture – no Ukrainian culture to popularise language.
The band “Okean Elzy” are cool by themselves, and it doesn’t matter what language they are singing in. And you see them, how cool they are, and how cool Ukrainian is in this case. And there, the Ukrainian culture is viewed on the level of clubs in the Culture Houses, where boys in sharovary and girls in floral crowns skip around.
BBC Ukraine: But now that Donbas is using the language of force probably means that cultural dialogue was insufficient?
Oleksandr Ratiy: This is exactly what I am talking about, there was no culture at all. Was there at least one attempt to do anything except for those pompous round tables? Take two school buses and to Lviv. Introduce them to the local students. And take those to Donbas. Let them also see and understand that people’s lives there are not sweet. And they are not pretty and not very educated not because they are this way by themselves, but because of their environment. Being defines consciousness. And if you are begin shaped by the geometrical space of mines instead of trees and the people around you, and hard work, industry, factories, which are miniature models of some army or prison. This is the entire cultural dialogue.
Interview recorded by Roman Lybid.
Source: BBC Ukraine
Translated by Mariya Shcherbinina