Text and photos by Agne Dovydaityte
Edited by Darya Malyutina
In Roman Catholic theology, the limbo is an idea of a liminal afterlife condition or space. In its colloquial sense, the term means a state of in-between-ness, uncertainty or neglect resulting in an unresolved status. Nowadays this phrase might be applied to describe the situation of dozens of individuals, social groups, or even populations of whole regions and countries – from Middle-East refugees floating in the boats or waiting at the borders for days and weeks, to territories in Eastern Ukraine waiting to be either saved or doomed. In other words, the 21st century finds itself stuck in the biggest limbo since the Cold War.
The documentary ‘The Way to Ukraine’ was screened at Pushkin House in London on 10 September. The film features a group of asylum seekers of the modern age who are slightly different from those who we have become used to reading about in the news. Sarah Hurst, a journalist who has been covering Russia and post-Soviet countries for years, travelled to Ukraine to interview anti-Putin activists who were forced to leave Russia and seek asylum in Ukraine due to continuous arrests and oppression they faced in their ‘motherland’.
Hurst’s interviewees included Pavel Shekhtman, a civil rights activist who was prosecuted for a Facebook post, and Yekaterina Maldon, a pro-Ukrainian activist from Moscow known for throwing a toy gun during a performance at actor Mikhail Porechenkov, who had earlier been filmed shooting at Ukrainian Army at Donetsk Airport while wearing a ‘Press’ helmet. The film subjects talked about their lives back in Russia and in Ukraine, describing the uncertainty they’ve been living in while waiting for decision on their asylum status. Even though Ukraine is undergoing democratic changes in its move toward Europe, the process is slow and not without its flaws; the country’s migration service is one of the examples. The majority of officials remained the same here, the reforms are yet to be implemented, and for Russian individuals it is quite hard to get the asylum status, or sometimes even enter the country. According to Hurst, these people who once were activists and campaigners for democracy and change now have to fight for their own survival. With no means to legally work in Ukraine and no way back to Russia, they are stuck in waiting and quiet resistance. Some of them think that it is better to avoid expressing their political views, as it might affect the decisions on their asylum applications.
Hurst came back to Ukraine in August to show the film and to talk with her interviewees again. Some of them are facing difficulties while still waiting for the authorities’ response, struggling to get money, and get out of this limbo. At the same time, after the film appeared on YouTube more activists contacted the journalist and asked to be interviewed. This has inspired Hurst to film even more people and post their experiences in the format of short clips on her blog XSoviet on YouTube, Twitter and WordPress, rather than as one long documentary.
The post-screening discussion at Pushkin House revealed yet another problem which feeds into the understanding of Russia’s potential of influencing minds in the contemporary information war. For example, one member of the audience commented on the presentation by challenging the meaning of Maidan and claiming that it was funded by the USA. After having this comment dismissed as a line of Russian propaganda, the person got frustrated and asserted that ‘there is no such a thing as Russian propaganda, it’s Americans’’. In this respect, the development of the discussion followed a pattern that is already all too familiar to anyone who has ever heard or participated in talks tackling the Maidan, the Ukrainian Revolution, and the ongoing war. This suggests that the limbo condition, which has been perfectly portrayed in the movie, is way broader than the situation of people having nowhere to live and work legally. It may also describe people stuck in their beliefs and stereotypes as the products of the current information war. Escaping this kind of limbo might be significantly harder than the one shown in the movie.
Tags: Russia-Ukraine conflict