Hastekasen farm Association (HFA) study visit in Ukraine, winter 2023

Sweden-Ukraine-Sweden 5200 kilometers. 18 days. 10 days in Ukraine. 14 places visited.
Uzhhorod, Kolomyia, Chernivtsi, Vinnytsya, Kropyvnytskyi, Cherkasy, Bila Tserkva, Rivne.
Also: Tepla Gora, Kosiv, Charivne, Zeleni Kruchi, Emilianivka.
Sebastian and Jakob (HFA members) in the car.

I personally got very upset when russia invaded Ukraine a third time. I don´t really know why. Maybe because I felt it was a real breach of 70 years of peace in Europe (apart from civil war in Jugoslavia). Maybe because it is fairly close to my country. Maybe because I know some Ukrainians. Or just the sheer cynical act of killing so many people just for what… building an empire… geopolitical reasons.
HFA owns a van financed by Erasmus (EU). We are suppose to do youth work with it, and spread the idea of Erasmus. I am also interested in eco-communities and have heard about a few in Ukraine. Why not do three things at the same time: bring down some aid, and visit some projects. The third reason is about me being bored and in need of a adventurous vacation. I am also interested in politics and wanted to check out what kind of country Ukraine is, that wants to join EU and even Nato.

We passed many road blocks, there was a night curfew and “bomb sirens” in some of the cities visited… may sound dramatic for those that are not at war. But compared to the war on the frontline… these were small issues. Roadblocks and curfew just made us feel safer. It has a limiting affect on possible crime, I suspect.
One estimates that 7000 civilians have died so far in the war (maybe not counting Maripol), the amount of civilians killed by rockets in the west and middle of Ukraine and outside of Kyiv was when this was written about 200. That is 200 during nearly a year in a huge country in an area of maybe 20 million people. My estimation is that road traffic and covid are more deadly that rockets in the areas we were travelling.

What I realized.
Ukraine is huge.
Lots of people live in Ukraine.
It is a country with modern cities and very simple villages.
Not as poor as expected.
While media was reporting on war, suffering and victims… I was travelling in a modern country where there was lots of (for us, cheap) fuel, ATM´s working, hotels and restaurants, credit cards accepted. Roads between big cities was good, but much worse on the country side.
Yes there were many dark cities and electricity cuts came and went. But since I am a person that has lived off-grid and partly was brought up in a country with regular power cuts – I don´t take electricity for granted. And the association HFA does train youth to be more independent from modern luxuries.
I am aware of that behind the scenes Ukraine’s economy is in collapse, unemployment and inflation. And some millions of internally displaced people. What keeps this country going is support from the west and hard working Ukrainians.

We got organizational support from GEN-Ukraine (Olha Simon) and Youth centers Ukraine (Dmytro)

The journey first went via the ferry to Poland and down to Krakow where the association has partners. Further to Slovakia which I wanted to see as I had never been there, and closer to the Carpathian Mountains which I also wanted to see.
A trip like this naturally depends on a working car. This was a Renault Master Van that had only done 5000 km, but had many problems before. I filled the car with “car equipment” and equipment for very cold weather. In addition, all gifts to Ukraine.
The border control was as expected frustrating – more or less non-existent English by the staff – even on the Slovakian side which is an external EU border! We were treated as “goods”. They wanted a list of everything and a receiver and would like stamps on everything. Took time. Now we know what is required.

In the city of Uzhorod, at the community center in an old Soviet movie theater, we were greeted by teenagers singing in our honor. Then pizza and conversation via an interpreter. Young people spoke more English than the older people. In the evening we went out into the forest to a hermit who lived in an imaginative mud house he built himself (our association deals with similar things).
Next day on to the mountains. Climate change is increasingly playing tricks with the weather and the journey began with mild weather and sprouting grass (January) over the Carpathian Mountains. We visited another youth center in Kolomyia and had dinner with two volunteers and stayed overnight with one of them. The next day up in the beautiful mountains where we spent the night in an “eco-village” (Tepla Gora) where we met the first internally displaced persons. Good conversations by the fire and overnight stay. We left some stuff here. We had coffee with a young guy who was an NGO volunteer in various eco-village initiatives. Heard our first “air alarm”. “When in Rome do as the Romans do” – which meant: we did nothing. On to visits to youth centers in Chernivtsi, Vinnytsya, Kropyvnytskyi and Cherkasy on the Dnipro river (Sorry for all misspelled city names). We were very well looked after by “the locals”. And got full descriptions of their activities.
One night we had dinner at a simple guesthouse and drank a glass of wine and rented a room. Cost SEK 35 euro in total, lovely country to tourist in for westerners.

We had misunderstood a lot about the situation in Ukraine. The situation can change fast in Ukraine. And the media picture is not always accurate (much focus on war and suffering). On the contrary we found western and middle Ukraine very functioning. A modern country. Until now, no one really needed the winter clothes we mostly carried with us. We had asked private individuals in Sweden to give us warm clothes and other things (see list of donors at the end). It’s not that the Ukrainians don’t have winter clothes – they had winter even before the war. What Ukraine needs may shift. HFA could not afford to buy electricity generators or material that frontline soldiers need. We and some donors had bought things for total of 1000 euros and on top of that second hand things. Most of it was left in places where internal refugees could get access to it. Our 2500 candles was very appreciated, also flashlights and power banks and sanitation items.
We soon learned that the meetings themselves were a form of “aid”. People in Ukraine became grateful that we in the West care and that they can talk to us “face to face” and reflect, talk and exchange ideas. To be seen and not forgotten.

The electricity went out from time to time in the cities we visited. We heard “air alarms” three times, but no missiles came to the regions we were in.
We turned off from the main roads and drove through simple dark villages. Houses in a row along kilometer-long village streets. High fences and closed gates. Most houses old and worn, and mostly made out of mud, logs and some bricks. Cement tile roof. We left some of our stuff in a village school. On to two eco-villages. Cherivne and Zeleni Kruchi. Well received with beds and home-grown food on the table. Pickled vegetables from the underground cellar and home-baked bread. Good conversations. Came across some internal-refugees in one of the “villages”. Left more stuff here.
There are many different cultures in Ukraine. City dwellers are clearly different from country dwellers. Ecovillagers often have little in common with ordinary villagers who sometimes(not always) live in social misery (did someone say “vodka”?). There is also some tension between the Ukrainian and the Russian culture in the country. Being a native Russian was rarely a problem before Russia invaded the first two times – but lately Russian has become a problem (see below).

Since I have been studying this war for more than 500 hours and visited Ukraine during war – I have an opinion about this war.
I do not like when some media portray it as “Putins war”.
This is not putin’s war. This is not russia’s army which is the main opponent. This is the russian people’s war. The war against Ukraine has broad popular support in russia (moscow). If putin disappears, the second most popular leader is Prigozhin, the leader of the ruthless war criminal-terrorist force.

It is difficult to get even the russians who fled the mobilization to distance themselves from the war. The average Russian believes that Russia has the right to dominate its neighboring states. Russia and its people are an empire that takes land with the help of weapons (Afghanistan, Georgia, Chechnya e t c). russia is an active colonizer – displacing 100,000s of people as a method (Under Stalin, under putin – same method). Russians settlers are moved into occupied territories.

Russia attacks with language. Therefore, many Ukrainians have stopped speaking russian and even if their mother tongue is russian, they practice Ukrainian. Libraries clear out Russian books. Moscow takes the presence of russian speakers as a pretext to invade and “protect” a minority. (Just as Germany annexed Sudet, Austria and other German speaking territories.)
russia invades with russkiy mir – a russian world of peace and russian culture that comes when they subjugated a neighboring state and made them a vassal state with second class citizens. That is why the Baltic countries quickly joined NATO, they know russia well. (That is why it is a problem that there are many russian speakers in for instance Lithuania).
Sidenote: I once wanted to work with an association in Lithuania that was led by russian speakers. I wanted to know their stance on the war. They could not denounce the invasion – they said the situation was “complicated”. I cancelled our cooperation.

The russian population are experts at feeling like victims, but being perpetrators. They think they are defending themselves against NATO attacking them. They do not consider Ukraine to be its own state that has the right to choose its own path. After Russia broke the Minsk agreement, in my opinion there is no point in sticking to it anymore. There are indications that 3 out of 4 russians are now against the war. I am convinced that these russians are against LOOSING the war, or against THEMSELVES taking part in the war. They still would not mind a russian victory.

Yes I acknowledge that this is a proxy war where USA enjoys seeing their age old rival suffer – but it is mostly a war where Ukrainians are fighting for their freedom. Just as Finland fought of the russians some 75 years ago and thus became a prosperous free country within EU.

It will take generations of Ukrainians to forget all the war crimes: the terror against hospitals and electrical installations. The executions of tied up prisoners, the torture, the rapes. The stolen children. And even if 100 years has passed, things like the Holodomor is not forgotten.

The worst that could happen to the Kremlin is that Ukraine develops like its Slavic neighbor Poland (which is booming). Belarussians will take note of that, and in time the Moscow residents will too.

An imperialist russia will always be a threat to its neighboring countries – and Sweden is also a neighboring country that russia has made explicit threats against. As a person driving aid to Ukraine, russia has put a price on my head (I have heard they pay 20.000 dollars for dead or captured aid workers). And if Sweden send Archer (the World’s best artillery system) we are basically at war with russia (according to me). And it will be a long war. And the strongest economy wins (russia is a tiny economy compared to the EU). As long as the EU’s population endures longer than the russians. Unfortunately russians are tougher then western people – they can suffer longer.

russia must learn that it does not pay off to attack in the westward direction.
I would prefer that russia is beaten down down to its knees and the russia federation is broken up so the colonized 30+ languages/cultures of the eastern russian federation get autonomy.
Hopefully, after the war, the EU can prevent a revanchist Russia. A European democratic Russia would be a good alliance partner for the EU in a future geopolitical landscape. The US will not be around forever.
There is every reason to hand out a “carrot” to the people of Russia – “if you seriously “normalize” your country and respect your neighbors, we will cooperate with you”. But as for now I think they are too proud. They think they should be an empire – above the rest of us. Nationalism in its most ugly face.

Until then… russia is paria to me…. and will be until I die most likely.

… maybe the core of the conflict.
Russia could have been sufficed with Crimea if it was not for the fact that Crimea needs the Kherson oblast – it can not function without it. Khrushchev knew this when he transferred Crimea to Ukrainian administration. Crimea itself is neither Ukrainian or russian – it is a multicultural place… or was… before the russians started displacing people.
Deep down, West don´t really care who Crimea is controlled by (west did nothing much 2014). Of course it would be in the wests interest if Ukraine owned it, but it is a fact that Crimea is the one oblast where there were most opposition to Ukrainian rule. Many referendums have been held, the one I trust the most was the one being done 1991 before different parties started to meddle in Crimea. About half the Crimean population was positive to Ukrainian rule. That may not mean that the other 50% wants to be ruled by Russia, I guess many of those votes wished for independence from all other countries.
But if Crimea remains russian it means that the west has accepted that borders can be changed by invasion. Europe’s borders have been frozen for 70 years – 70 years of peace (apart from Yugoslavia falling apart) – russian invasion ended that.

I had planned not to go to Lviv or Kyiv because “everyone” goes there and because they are popular missile targets (Jakob is young and has many years left to live). However, I forgot to mention that we were supposed to stay away from Kyiv and the navigator took us on a route to the outskirts of the capital and past Irpin and we saw burnt out houses and collapsed bridges. We left quickly and drove out into the country and the last eco-village – an Anastasia village (google it if you are interested) good dinner, playing children, interesting houses and good conversation. After that, there was only Rivne left, visiting a youth center and a coffee with a former volunteer from our farm (who will now move out into the country with her husband and live country life).

All the youth centers we visited was run by women. Good social and organizational skills. I missed the male perspective on many issues.
I have written to EU-Erasmus with a request that they contact “Kyiv” and ask if they can relax their policy on men not allowed leaving the country.
I would like the Erasmus/ESC Brussel office to approach a suitable department in Ukraine and ask them to let out Ukrainian men to take part in Erasmus/ESC projects in Europe/EU. Erasmus is part of a future possible EU membership of Ukraine and can be used to slowly link/merge our cultures. This is a process that should start imminently. And the men are needed. Not all 20 million (?) Ukrainian men are suitable for the military, but many could be a positive force developing the civil society. Just as Ukrainian soldiers are trained abroad, so can Erasmus participants be trained abroad.

Didn’t see much corruption during the trip, but hear a lot about it. It is extremely sad when I hear about donations disappearing. Rumors of 50 new cars not being used for what was planned (Med-evac)(some instead ending up for private use by politicians). Or truckloads of material disappearing (likely being sold and money in private pockets). Or how people working for the state (for instance the national bank) enriching themselves. All this will slow down Ukraine’s integration with EU. And I for one would never give support to the Ukrainian state, I would prefer to see the things directly given to the people that is going to use the stuff.

So are Ukraine ready for EU? Off course not. There are remnants of “sovietism” that still has to be “cleaned out”. Ukraine has had problems with corruption on all levels. And war usually does make probability of corruption increases. There are still people in the power structure that walks away with unexplainable sums of money. Has there been a brain drain of Ukraine due to Ukrainians leaving to work in the west. Has the liberals left? How will it be to incorporate some 40+ million conservative Ukrainians into EU. How will that shift the power balance within EU?
According to my observations – Ukraine has a lot to offer EU. Not just a new bigger market, not just the nature resources of the country. Not just its geopolitical importance and buffer to imperialistic russia. But the toughness of the people. they are hardworking in general and ambitious.
Steps have been taken to modernize its administration, taxes in many cases stay locally, and thus power is decentralized.
I really hope that all the aid Ukraine receives are connected to clear expectations for the future, in a way that “Kyiv” is held accountable.

Not all in Ukraine think EU and Nato is the way forward. There are many who feel comfortable with the Russian language and culture. Many that feels that the west is weak and decadent. Many that adhere to family values and/or are religious. Many that distrust capitalism and globalism. I for one think that this should be respected. A democracy can always be judged by how it treats its minorities.
One should not swallow liberalism without criticism. And EU is not doing that – there is a tension between conservatism and liberalism. And in a democracy such tensions should exist. The situation in Ukraine, as with any country in a war for survival, is that there are no total free speech. One can simply not stand up and say one is pro-russia, maybe not even say one would like Ukraine to be neutral and stay out of EU and Nato (a solution that once may have been viable, but due to the actions of russia, no longer are). I hope Ukraine can keep its nationalism checked.

I can understand the minority of russian speaking people in (the eastern) Ukraine can feel threatened by Ukrainian nationalism.
But I am sure even they would prosper under a liberal EU oriented state. Look at slavic former soviet Poland… Ukraine could prosper like they are doing.
But I guess etnic russians have been fed for generations the ideas of Russkiy Mir, failing to understand that they would just be second class citizens under Moscow. The way Moscow treats its citizens and its soldiers should be enough to choose sides.

One can say being a patriot is compulsory during a war – but where does the line go between being patriotic and a nationalist. It is my impression that it is “the people” that fights this war, not the state. It was the people (citizens that took personal initiative) that saved Kyiv those first crucial days. And if the state had done its job, the russians would not have walked into the Kherson oblast that easy.

I have understood that Zelenski is unanimously respected by “all” in Ukraine for one thing – the way he “markets” the war towards the west and brings in aid.
And with “him” I mean Zelensky and whoever are behind or beside him. Many are critical to his economic policies and even how the war is conducted. Making Ukraine a prison for all men is another thing to debate.

It is no doubt in my mind that the real test of Ukraine democracy will start the same day the war ends. Lets say all hell will break lose on the political scene, that is my belief. I hope they will prevail.

EU – Erasmus
FRAMSIKTEN Lysekil kommun.
Bergsgården Bil & Släpvagnscenter
Allsports Henån Gym
Hästekasen Gård
Ulla och Agne Olausson
Ulf Vinjehag
Gratisbutiken Waldorfskolan
G. Niklasson
Eva Karlsson
Niklassons Gummi & Mek. Verkstad AB
Jakob Synott
Jacob Johansson and the Vikings
Anders Robert Larsson
Johan Leek
Maria Leek
Kristian Bäcklund
Joseph Barsi
Sebastian Näslund
Gimle Lajv
Marie Murgat
Marcus Göthberg
Josef & Nadja Larsson
Anna Jörnås
Emil Sergel
Anneli T. Johansson
Anne-Lie Holm Karlsson
Harumi Larsson
Marie Kristensson
Petra Andersson
Ulrika Olausson
Anders Olausson
Erik & Johan Olausson