I spoke here from Trafalgar Square at the start of February, about wanting to go to new places, to bring you unique reportage.
And so it was, I chose Serbia, and have now been reporting here for 10 days already. But, why Serbia? Here’s why –
- The current situation in Serbia is fascinating – the country is uniquely poised between the EU, and Russia. Which way it goes has huge implications for the whole world.
- The past is fascinating in Serbia – despite some excellent work, there is still much to be known about the NATO bombings of 1999, for example.
- There’s a deficit of real reportage from Serbia – the media here is state-controlled, there’s not much real coverages of events here. I know that my work can make a real contribution in gettig the truth out of Serbia.
- There’s unexpected, exciting themes to report on – look out for reportage coming up on themes you wouldn’t have expected of Serbia.
- As of now, protests continue in Serbia for the 17th day, but that’s something hardly being covered in the media.
- There’s connections to Donbass – murals of Motorola, and Givi, men from Serbia who volunteered to fight in Donbass.
- Themes connected to Serbia come up in the news all the time….
- … and it’s often not clear what the real situation is. For example, Rita Ora’s visit to Kosovo last year, and a general total misrepresentation of that whole situation.
- It’s not just Serbia, the whole Balkans are fascinating. Montenegro are joining NATO, there’s Macedonia, Bosia…
- For all of these, and more, I believe there’s really important work to be done from Serbia, and it’s very exciting to be reporting from here.
Last time back in London, in March of last year, I tried a few things. One of them, was setting up a shop on ebay, called the Support Donbass Shop. This ran at the same time as I arranged an event here in London to raise humanitarian funds for Donbass. The shop ‘went into hibernation’ after I returned to Donbass last summer, and despite the best efforts of the wonderful Kristina here, was just too busy to keep it going. Anyway, now back in the UK, am officially closing it.
On sale from the shop were originals of photos I’d taken, plus things like Novorossiya mugs, Donbass items, even Motorola t-shirts and, ok, there was a bit of fun behind this too. Motorola, for example, vilified in the Ukrainian, western media, the idea of challenging perceptions, putting him on a t-shirt. I also wanted to show that you could do something like this. There are any number of ebay stores raising money for the Ukrainian military, yet there were protests against this one operating, raising humanitarian funds for Donbass. We overcame them, went ahead, the shop was successful.
What was the point of all this? Well, firstly, it was to raise funds for humanitarian aid for Donbass. And it did that, in the 55 transactions of the shop, we raised over £500 of aid, which was given out in humanitarian aid distributions in Donbass, and also, we helped people on both sides of the divide in Donbass.
‘Graham.. If you can help me.. My father has the third group of disability.. He has a BIG problems with his head.. My grandmother has problems with her kidneys. sand goes, it was already 2 operations. One laser, then strip. She was very painful, but there is no money to go to the hospital and she suffers. I can not look at it .. though I found some work .. but 500 hryvnia is not enough even for one day in the hospital .. I beg you, you can help at least some means. I then return everything when going to work! I am also a graduate, how much money has gone ..‘
And on the 19th –
‘Hi, Graham, I do not know who else to turn 2 days ago again started to be shown gastritis and I have no money to buy some pills said that it began to appear frequently with symptoms such strong emotion and from junk food. please, we will return all money when we have it, have no strength to endure those pain’
I checked documents to make sure everything was legit –
And everything being in order, transferred 100 Euros to Yana. This was all raised on the Support Donbass Shop. She was incredibly grateful, and the necessary medicine was purchased. And that was all made possible by every single purchase from the shop.
It served its purpose, actually a few purposes – raised some money, made some points. I left living full-time in Donbass in January, and stopped my humanitarian activities then. For those interested in donating in that way, you should contact Patrick Lancaster.
I do still have some items of stock left from the shop, and will be putting them on my own ebay account, to raise funds for my upcoming MH17 documentary.
For now, huge thanks to all customers and supporters of the Support Donbass Shop, for the purchased, feedback, being a part of it!
It’s January 16th, 2015, NAF forces are consolidating their hold on the new terminal of Donetsk airport, I’ve filmed in there for half an hour when things get a bit hot, shelling is hitting near, the Ukrainians now near exiled from the once gleaming, now post-apocalyptic site, having taken to shelling it. A command is given to get out, quick, it’s hard to do so, there’s just so much to film. The command comes again, stronger, I make a move to the covered parking over from the new terminal. But still don’t want to leave the site, requesting to go back.
Until this point, Arseniy Pavlov, known throughout the world as Motorola (nickname from his billet in signalling during national service), has been his usual charming self, but he draws a line here, shouting at me ‘Graham, get out, you shouldn’t even be here, you were wounded recently, you won’t get wounded again on my watch!‘.
The command was given in such a way as to brook no response other than obediently climb into the waiting APC. And in that, is a lot about Motorola, a man I’ve known for almost a year now, starting in Slavyansk. He loves to joke, in times of semi-ceasefire I’ve filmed several interviews of his doing just that – as here –
But when it comes down to business, the man who pre-war worked in a number of vocations, reportedly from lifeguard, car washer to gravestone etcher, is a formidable commander. More, he’s a personality who has stood the test of time in a war which has seen many figures hit the scene, make waves, headlines, rack up YouTube hits, before fading from the centre of action – former Slavyansk mayor Ponomarev, Gubarev, Babay to name just a few.
Motorola has stood, endured, risen from a simple soldier in the self-defence forces / people’s militia anti-Kiev forces (‘rebels’ the favoured term of much western press). Having come of his own volition to Slavyansk (early on appearing at demos in Kharkov, motivated by a resistance to the anti-Russian sentiment of Maidan), taken part in numerous battles there before the order to withdraw, Motorola through his renowned bravery in battle combined with charisma, rose to the rank of commander, commander of his own battalion, Sparta.
Sparta were the one battalion to remain constantly at Donetsk airport, as the Ukrainian forces were pushed back, ceding territory month-on-month as Motorola masterminded the taking of arguably the most significant symbol of the war. Helped by a close relationship with fellow commander Givi (of Somali battalion), Novorossiya forces surged forward from September, much of the territory in their hands by October, old terminal November, early December, the new terminal mid-January, holding it despite waves of Ukrainian attacks. Even with the highly respected Vostok Battalion coming to the airport in December, it was still Motorola’s men holding the key positions there, a spirited bunch of volunteers, mostly local, some Russian (as Motorola himself).
Of course men were lost, I saw Motorola after men were lost, in no mood to talk to journalists at these times, in distemper, angry, hurt. Wounded fighters (Motorola wounded himself in November) quickly evacuated, tended, taken to hospital. Motorola has a reputation for caring for his men, he does that. He has a reputation as a joker, he can be that (upon Ukrainian rumours of his death, he answered me in Ukrainian ‘if you can see me, I’m alive’). But above all, and whatever he was before the war, he’s a warrior. More, he inspires that ultimate belief, both in his men and beyond, that if this guy is on your side, you’re on the winning side.
So, a Very Happy 32nd Birthday Motorola!