Russian-speaking Dnipropetrovsk has always been impartial in its opinion on the rest of Ukraine. None of the local politicians sparked anti-Ukrainian hysteria, but there has been no uprise of Ukrainian patriotism here either. Back in February thousands of Dnipropetrovsk citizens, akin to those in Donetsk and Kharkiv, gathered for Anti-Maidans.
Everything changed in March, when local industrial magnate Igor Kolomoyskiy became the governor of the oblast, and the co-owner of the biggest shopping mall in the city “Passage” Boris Filatov was appointed his deputy. By the way, during the last days of Yanukovych’s presidency, when Filatov was outside of Ukraine, the government quickly made up criminal charges against the businessman because the big screen inside “Passage” shopping mall, instead of traditional advertising, started broadcasting Channel 5 during the clashes in Maidan.
When the businessmen came to power, they immediately suppressed the “separatist mess” in the city, formed the first self-defence battalions in Dnipropetrovsk, which patrolled the streets together with the local police. Kolomoyskiy managed to immediately take the law enforcement under control. The governor of Donetsk oblast Sergiy Taruta, as if making excuses, even told the journalists that Kolomoyskiy has it easier, as his oblast does not border Russia.
The Donetsk businessmen have already mass-re-registered their assets in Dnipropetrovsk. Thousands of Donbas citizens are fleeing war here. It is obvious that these refugees, for the most part, do not support the self-proclaimed republics and therefore are jealous of the locals: “They were saved from war, they were convinced of the right things on time, that Ukraine will not give away eastern regions as easily as Crimea. And the people in Dnipropetrovsk are currently the happiest in Ukraine,” says 37-year-old citizen of Mariupol Oleg, which has been living in Dnipropetrovsk for two weeks now, watching what is happening in his city on TV in horror.
However he admits that his compatriots for the most part are not on the side of the “happiest people” today: “Yes, many Chechens and Russians are fighting for the PRD. If the Mariupol moods were the same as the ones in Dnipropetrovsk, we would be able to chase this vermin out without any ATO. But this is not so. Donbas hates Ukraine. And the further, the more it hates it. And here there are people driving around in vyshyvankas,” says Oleg.
So if they wear vyshyvankas, that means they consider themselves Ukrainians. By the way, the local shopkeepers tell that it is practically impossible to buy a vyshyvanka, a national Ukrainian shirt or dress, anywhere in the city. They are being sold immediately after they appear in shops, regardless of the fact that the prices, in Ukrainian measures, are not small – $80-120. Many housewives have already organised businesses: they make vyshyvankas at home and sell them through advertisement websites and VK. Ready goods, they say, do not keep for more than two-three days.
It is true, everyone who has been to Dnipropetrovsk recently, has the impression that the city has “fallen in love” with Ukraine. The people are walking the streets with bunches of blue and yellow balloons, painting mirrors and hoods of their cars with the colours of the national flag. At least one out of four cars in the city has a Ukrainian flag both outside and inside. A new emergence in Ukraine was born here – the autovyshyvanka. They are stickers with the Ukrainian national ornament which are pasted onto the middle of the hood, roof and front of the car.
It is notable that this wave of patriotism did not make Dnipropetrovsk citizens Ukrainian-speaking. Ukrainian language is still rare here, like before. The locals see no ideological conflict in this. “I speak Russian, but I am a Ukrainian. To be Ukrainian means to feel the integrity of the country from Lviv to Donbas, and not speak Ukrainian. Ukrainians are different, but we love our country equally for the same things – for our freedom, which Yanukovych and then Putin tried to take away, for our humility and for our ability to love,” 37-year-old businessman Maxim explains his position poetically to “Rosbalt” correspondent.
Maxim’s friend Boris spent ten years in Moscow and says he has a good comparison. “It is easy to earn money in Moscow, but impossible to live. There you are always regarded with condescension, you are not considered a human being by anyone who has more money. Ukrainians don’t do this. We help each other, we speak more to each other. I will do everything in order for the Russian spirit to never set foot here,” he concludes.
“I have a feeling that Dnepr has fallen in love for the first time, really fallen in love. It felt how good it feels to love their country, so to speak. Everything becomes much simpler. A new feeling for the city. A wonderful one. For the first time it is enjoying immaterial values and is probably in shock in the style of, how did I live without you all these years?,” Kyiv jounralist Alexandra Kovaleva shares her experience of visiting Dnipropetrovsk. “Everyone has flags. Everything is so Ukrainians. The girls are walking around in vyshyvankas, fake blondes on high heels and in vyshyvankas – in Dnipropetrovsk! This is victory, I think. If pink blondes are doing it, then that’s it.”
Really, the external instances of patriotism are everywhere around the city. Even grannies that sell strawberries and cherries at markets put up Ukrainian flags in the berry crates. They – both the cherries and the flags – are being sold all over the city.
However the Ukrainian fashion here started with the government – in the first days after Kolomoyskiy’s appointment, hundreds of trams and buses in the city were pained blue-and-yellow – but it was caught by the citizens as well, who bought paint themselves to colour the sidewalk and concrete plates on crossroads and the riverside.
They say that for the most part this is happening because the people started “supporting peace” after hearing about all the horrors of war from the refugees and the wounded. “They had a lot of complaints about Kyiv and Maidan. But peace is the most important thing. We don’t want there to be shootings near our homes,” concluded 42-year-old plumber Sergey.