By Nadiya Savchenko, letter to Meduza special correspondent Ilya Azarvia via RosUznik post
Posted on 02.15.2016
Translated and edited by Voices of Ukraine
In late December 2015, Meduza special correspondent Ilya Azar sent some interview questions to the Ukrainian servicewoman Nadiya Savchenko. Full answers from Savchenko, who is being tried in a Donetsk regional court (Rostov region) on charges of complicity in the murder of [two] VGTRK employees, could not be obtained. But Meduza received a letter from Savchenko, in which she painted a psychological portrait of Ilya Azar and explained why she refuses to answer the publication’s questions. The [Meduza] editors are publishing the background of this correspondence, as told by Azar, and the text of the Ukrainian pilot’s letter – in full.
• • •
The idea to interview Nadiya Savchenko came to me in late 2015. I forwarded my questions to her on December 23, through the Radio Svoboda correspondent Anton Naumlyuk, who has been continuously taping the trial in Donetsk. Time showed that getting answers was a difficult, almost hopeless, task.
A month later, on January 19th, Savchenko’s lawyer Nikolai Polozov tweeted: “Nadiya Savchenko has suggested that the network edition of Meduza, with their rotten questions about lawyers Feygin and Polozov, should **** off [far away].” His colleague, Mark Feygin added: “Yes, specifically **** off [the same action].” Later it became clear that the lawyers had exaggerated the degree of Savchenko’s discontent.
The first letter from the pilot came on January 25th. In it, she wrote that she “spent four hours writing up her answers to all 33 questions,” but that she won’t hand them over just like that. “If I see the Meduza correspondent at the upcoming court sessions, and if I see any sincerity in that man’s eyes – whether his feelings towards me are positive or negative – I will give him the answers to his questions,” were Savchenko’s terms. She added that “the questions, of course, are worded in a strange and rather crude way,” but now she understands, “what kind of questions she can expect from her opponents.”
Initially, I was going to cover the final stage of Savchenko’s trial – the debate and the verdict. Nevertheless, I arrived in Donetsk a little earlier, and attended the February 1st and 2nd sessions, at which Savchenko was questioned in court (I also reported on that). I was able to talk with Nadiya in the courtroom only briefly. She asked me to pick five of the most important questions from my list. Somewhat taken aback by that, I replied that wouldn’t be enough – five answers won’t make an interview.
After the court session, Savchenko’s sister Vira explained to me that the questions I sent were provocative, and she had the impression that they might have been written by LifeNews TV channel. She suggested that out of the 33 questions, I choose ones that are the most important to me, which will make obvious my “true intentions.” Another person from Savchenko’s support team said that some questions – for example, about the residents of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic – were an insult to Savchenko as a military person.
After that, I wrote Savchenko a letter, attaching the same 33 questions, with the “most important” ones marked in bold. However, instead of answers from Savchenko, on February 12th I received a letter via “RosUznik,” which we [Meduza] have decided to publish in its entirety. The Ukrainian aviator herself says she is not against its publication, and the editors of Meduza feel that this letter is a far more interesting read than the hypothetical interview.
Nadiya Savchenko’s Letter
The author’s spelling and punctuation are preserved. At the trial, Savchenko noted that she learned Russian during her time in the Russian jail.
P.S. Sorry in advance for any mistakes in Russian.
Letter to the Editors of Meduza
Well, the whole interview business ended up being a right mess! 🙂 But now you will appreciate how difficult it can be, working with those who are in jail. How difficult it is to actually be in jail – that, of course, you won’t understand, until you try it yourselves… 😉 )
Firstly: not everything sent to and from the prison passes censorship. They let your questions in, but did not allow my replies out. You can see now that looking for ways around this isn’t that easy… Your second, personal letter, never made it to me. Which is a shame, since I was very interested in reading it.
But this process has dragged on, and I value and respect human labor. This is the way my parents taught me, ever since my childhood, and I understand what a journalist’s work is like, since I too, once studied to be a journalist, although not for long. So you will get something different, and, in my opinion, something more than an interview – you will get a live conversation [with me] in a letter.
From here on, I will address you as – I’m sorry that I never managed to find out your name – the bearded editor from Meduza. I hope that this in no way insulting or offensive to you. I just feel that this will make it easier for both of us to understand who we are talking about.
I have already written to you that I honestly answered all of your 33 (thirty-three) questions, and that the answers are currently with my sister. I wrote that your questions came across to me as a bit aggressive and crude, but I understand that [tone] as a personal journalistic style.
Nevertheless, I did not consider them [the questions] disgraceful, offensive, or dumb. I understand and appreciate the fact that the media’s job, or rather, its noble goal, should be to tell people the truth.
Telling the truth means relaying facts without your own personal speculations, understandings, or commentary. You don’t need to teach people to think “with their brains” by using yours, the journalists’ brains instead – let the people evaluate and understand everything with their own heads.
That, in my opinion, is what fair and open journalism is. Of which I see very little of lately, especially in Russia.
Therefore: in my previous letter to you, I answered two of your thirty-three questions and invited you to personally attend my trial.
Now to answer your question: why has the interest towards my case dwindled, and why is the trial attended by so few people and not covered by the Ukrainian mass media? [After attending the trial], you were able to see with your own eyes, make an assessment, talk to my colleagues from Ukraine, ask them about how difficult it is for them to receive accreditation in Russia – that provided a detailed answer to your own question.
I also included one condition in my letter: if I like you as a person, regardless of your attitude towards me, I will answer your questions. I observed you during the court session, and now I will take the liberty of presenting my conclusions in this letter:
1) You are an arrogant man, accustomed to putting yourself above others, and you treat people like garbage. This was evident from the pose you assumed while sitting in the courtroom and by your facial expression reactions to the events of the trial.
2) As a man, you are not a gentleman – this was clear from the fact that you did not offer your seat to a female journalist from Canada, who had no place to sit. She was so ingenuous and unassuming that she didn’t consider it beneath herself to simply kneel on the floor and sit there. Of course, it’s possible that she needed that exact angle for filming, and that she would not have sat in your seat. But as a well-mannered man, you were obliged to offer it to her. The women’s emancipated world is not an excuse for men to be cads.
3) You don’t feel any sympathy or empathy, neither for Ukraine nor for its people, nor, generally, towards any other country or people, except for the specific place on Earth where you personally would feel good! You are a cynic.
All of my observations have revealed in you qualities that I do not consider those of a good man. But I am not a great psychologist, and could be wrong.
I have heard different things about you. Among the things that I liked was the fact that in your interview write-ups, you stay very close to the original speech of the person who gave you the interview, including everything that happens off the record, without censoring. I don’t know where this falls in terms of journalistic ethics, but everyone should understand that they are responsible for all their words – both on and off the record, and generally for every word they say in their life. A journalist is neither a medic nor a priest. So, I like this approach. If only you had also refrained from inserting your own commentary, but instead, included it as a separate note of your own personal opinion about someone. It is only fair that you should also be responsible for your words.
This is my personal opinion of what a journalist should be like, if they want to call themselves an honest journalist.
I’m not taking into account anything bad that I’ve heard about you, because I don’t judge a person by the words of other people until I get to know him personally.
I saw you, I heard about you, but I heard almost nothing from you. That was why I asked you in court: “Say something to me, so that I can see you!” – to use such a phrase.
I asked you to choose five questions from your list, ones that you think are the most important for your article. That would give me an understanding of how “dirty and sneaky” or how “honest and truthful” an article you would write. But, in principle, even your impassioned reaction to my proposal was already enough for me. You asked me, outraged and indignant: “Only five ?!”;) )) And now, without reading your second letter and not knowing which five questions you chose to ask me, I will try to guess them:
1) Am I happy with my lawyers? – with a side note that you believe they are too PR-oriented, and the mention of their participation in the Pussy Riot case.
2) My opinion of the Batkivshchyna party and of Yulia Tymoshenko, with an aside that you believe they used me as a bargaining chip to get elected to the Verkhovna Rada [Parliament] of Ukraine.
3) My opinion of Putin as compared to Hussein.
4) My attitude towards the fact that, in your opinion, the Ukrainian people are disappointed in Maidan, because corruption still exists in the country.
5) And maybe something about what I am going to do when I go into politics.
Amusing, isn’t it, bearded editor from Meduza? 🙂 Maybe I didn’t guess them all, but I’m sure I got at least three out of five questions right!
All these questions indicate that the article you will write is going to be rather cynical and despicable. But I cannot state this categorically, since I did not see your letter and your [chosen] questions.
So, basing my decisions on my conclusions above, I will answer the five questions I took the liberty of guessing.
1) I like my lawyers much more than you dislike them. And you do dislike them strongly, and, as I understand, the feeling is mutual.
2) I try not to judge the work of other people until I can do it better myself. This is why any judgments I could pass on the domestic and foreign policy of Ukraine, I could only make as one of my people. Now that I have become a politician, I will dare to criticize others as soon as I do better than them. Until I’ve done something [in that field], I will refrain from any empty claims!
3) I don’t think [form opinions] of people I don’t know. I didn’t know Hussein, and I don’t know Putin.
4) Maidan gave the Ukrainian people faith in themselves and their strength! The rest is a matter of time! We were not expecting an instant miracle! And we have no disappointment! Those who believe in themselves can do anything! Which definitely includes defeating corruption!
5) You will see it when I do it!
I promised that if I liked you as a person, I would give you answers to more than five questions, but I only liked one thing about you – and even that was from the words of others. That is not worth more than five answers.
Now, why did I make you attend my court session, even though you personally, bearded editor from Meduza, and, most likely, no one else from Meduza, was going to come there? Note that I succeeded in that. (Meduza note: Andrey Kozenko, a Meduza journalist wrote about the first sessions of the Savchenko trial).
Because I want to teach you that you shouldn’t treat people like garbage! You must have some respect for others’ feelings, and you can’t just throw thirty-three questions into a person’s face, through ten different third parties, without even including a few lines with greetings and thanks – and then expect that the recipient will fall over themselves to answer them for you!
I am a simple prisoner, and yet you had to do some legwork to get an interview from me. That is not because I’m hiking up my own worth, but because I want to increase the Human worth in your self-centered mind!
Even at war and in battle, I don’t view my energy as garbage! Even in prison, I try not to lose the Human in me!
Perhaps your second letter will change my opinion of you. If I see that I was wrong about you, I will apologize. For now, I allow you to use this letter as working material for your reports – in full or in part, whichever you like. I take responsibility for my words. But, just so that you understand how little I trust you, I am warning you: if your article fails to show in full extent the content and honesty of my words, then a copy of this letter will be published in full, unabridged. Copies will be sent to my sister via two channels.
[signed] Nadiya Savchenko
Ilya Azar’s full list of questions to Nadiya Savchenko can be read here.
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