Zakhar Prilepin: We Already Won

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


ZAVTRA: Some believe that your participation in the war in Donbass is literary mystification. How would you respond to this?

ZAKHAR PRILEPIN: “My battalion, consisting of 200 fighters, already for half a year works on the territory of Donbass. I think, the Minister of Defence and all neighbouring units — and this is a good 1,000 people — see both work and the result of work of our battalion, which is on the very front line in the region of Panteleymonovka near Gorlovka (before this it was on the front line near Kominternovo).”

Why did you chose especially Donetsk, and not Lugansk?

“Here the military activity is more intensive, a more democratic leadership, ready for various innovations, and is open for contact.”

Who do you consider yourself to be today: artist or fighter?

“I don’t think about literature already for many months. I don’t write books, and in general I don’t really remember how to do it. I practically don’t read anything, I am completely submerged in the affairs of my battalion. Now nothing besides Donbass interests me.”

The people fighting in Donbass are very different — from different countries, regions, with different educations. Has some common image of a Donetsk soldier developed in your imagination?

“As a part of my battalion specifically there is an Armenian, a Kazakh, and a Serbian. There are also guys from Tatarstan, there are about 10-15 Russians from different regions of the country. 90% of the battalion are Donetsk or Lugansk guys. Somehow this is a special psychotype, of course, anyway they are in their main mass connected with the life of a local miner. But in general — it is the average Russian carefree type, something between Vasily Terkin and Captain Tushin.”

This type formed in Donbass when members of the Molodaya gvardiya were acting earlier?

“I think, it formed already at the time of writing ‘Tale of Igor’s Campaign‘. It was possible to meet such people at the time of Ivan GroznyStepan Razin, and in Aleksandr Suvorov‘s troops.”

When we watch on TV the militiamen of Donbass, it is their eyes that are striking — as if they are from icons. Pure, very honest, shining with some inner force and truth. To what extent does this impression correspond to reality?

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“There, there are really a lot of abnormally good people. Although you can meet also bad ones. But in general — yes, they almost saints. For miserable money, absolutely non-understandable for the Muscovite — 16,000 rubles — the 26,000 army of the militia during three years fights and dies, giving their lives for the highest human values. They do it with ease, with a smile, with enthusiasm. Probably that’s why certain wrinkles on faces in one way or another built themselves according to this relation to life.”

What super-idea unites them?

“Russian, of course. The existence of Russia in itself – this is indeed their super-idea. The present recension of this idea combines a flag with Christ the Redeemer’s face and a red flag with a five-pointed star. Of course, there are there also both pagans and anarchists, and guys out of politics, who are simply intuitively motivated. But as a whole the combination of the red and orthodox idea is the main thing, and it indeed happened in Donbass.”

Of course, in Moscow there is constant talk about the fate of Novorossiya. Some considers that Putin “flushed” Donbass, others — on the contrary, that everything is fine and goes according to the plan. And what do your colleagues say?

“Certainly, they think about it, but they are much more sane than most of Moscow’s comrades. In Donbass among the fighters the unconditional cult of Vladimir Putin reigns, they consider him as their commander-in-chief, and his historical role for them is absolutely obvious. I don’t remember any talk on the theme ‘Putin flushed’. It’s possible there was talk somewhere in other units, but I don’t know. In Donbass people understand and see the political, diplomatic, and material degree of interest of Moscow in the independence of Donbass is great. It was clear both in 2014, 2015, and in the 2016.”

It would seem that there is the same genotype, the same language, but meanwhile on the other side of the barricades the people are completely different. Why are they different, and what are they like?

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“I don’t know why … this is a very big subject. Yes, they strongly differ. A comparative analysis can be made immediately by the sight of prisoners. When it is Donbass ones who leave: they smile, hug, cross themselves, and some exclamations begin. While those [Ukrainians – ed] leave looking gloomy, frowning. They, in their own little bubble, load themselves onto their buses and disappear.

The Ukrainian propaganda machine works to its full extent. In Donbass the thought of drugging prisoner near video cameras won’t enter anyone’s mind, to film them, to elicit from them how different Right Sector humiliated them there, beaten and trampled. In general it’s not this that concerns people. While there, in Kiev, they distribute roles, according to which the prisoners who are released by us, who here nobody touched with a finger, they speak about tortures and other utter nonsense. The present Ukrainian power is false to some inconceivable degree! I as a person who worked for a long time in the media sphere see it. The West scrupulously teaches them to lie and to manipulate the consciousness of the people.”

What is the most disgusting thing in real war, and what is the most beautiful?

“As is the case in any war, the most disgusting, or more precisely the most intolerable thing is when civilians, women, the elderly, children die, when shells land on residential areas…

Beautiful is the selfabnegation of men, their joyfulness, their recklessness, the absolute ease of being that reigns at the places of direct contact with the enemy. It is absolutely remarkable when people become depressive, fall into a panic, being in peace cities with excellent salaries. While people who don’t have even a penny to their name, and who in any second can receive a deadly blow or wound, remain in the most excellent condition of spirit. It is remarkable! It is impossible to get used to it.”

Here let’s try to imagine that you have a holiday or the war ended (of course, with our victory). You returned to Moscow, and you are invited onto a political talk-show, and there you face some “intellectual” [Ukrainians and Russian fifth column are occasionally invited onto Russian talk-shows for balance – ed], for who you are a vatnik, and your fellow-soldiers are vatniks too, and all Donetsk citizens are vatniks, and in general all Russians are vatniks and kolorads. How will you react?

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“It doesn’t touch me and doesn’t trouble me at all. The victory in itself is much more important. Already pleasure from the fact that the wonderful lands of Crimea and Donbass were taken and defended — all this in itself is much more greater and important than the statement of some fool on some TV channel. They were sure that they will trample and crush all of us. This already will not happen, we already won! Now they can say everything that want. And we will laugh.”

Why do our “intellectuals” [fifth column – ed] so furiously and frantically support Ukrainian nazis, although in most cases it is uncomfortable for them?

“I reflected on this subject for three years, but still haven’t found the answer. Maybe the answer is hidden in the religious sphere. For example, here there is a certain envy to Russians, like competitors to be God’s chosen people. Or it can be some russophobia, elevated into absolute, which is similar to a certain mental illness… In reality there isn’t and can’t be a rational explanation after everything that happened — after all these massacres, the shelling, after Odessa, after the murder of Buzina, after rapes, pogroms in churches, robberies and marauding, the destruction of monuments! I don’t want to think about it anymore. Moreover, I noticed that nobody in Donbass reflects on these topics. The position of Andrey Makarevich, conditionally speaking, concerns nobody.”

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