Independent journalist Vanessa Beeley recently interviewed Steve Sweeney, international editor of The Morning Star. An anti-imperialist who founded Media Workers for Palestine, Sweeney is widely travelled and prefers to report on events directly from the ground. Here he speaks about his recent experiences during his time in Lviv which has been Nato’s hub for military training, the main route for western arms shipments and is the historical home of the most extreme “ultranationalist” factions in Ukraine [audio improves at about 15 mins].
Sweeney relates that: “My friend joked with me before I came in – he’s an American journalist and he’s based in Berlin and he laughed and told me, ‘Steve, you know your body is illegal in Ukraine!’ My body’s been many things, but illegal? That’s not one of them!
“I didn’t think about this at the time, but he said, ‘Well, you’ve got a tattoo.’ And well I didn’t think about this. You know I’m a communist so I have a tattoo of Marx, Engels and Lenin on my arm. I mean this is illegal because, you know, all communists been banned across Ukraine, and we know the communist party has been banned. And all this you know: the communists and the left and any sort of political opponents [are banned].
“So they knew that I was a communist and they said, ‘We know why you’re here’ and I said, ‘Okay why am I?’ They said, ‘You’re a spy.’ And you know I’m not a spy – I’d be a pretty useless spy I think – but no, I mean I’m not a spy. And they said, ‘You will be tortured. You will be arrested.’ And indicated that I would be executed. And they told me that I would never make it out of the country.
“Now obviously I did because I’m here speaking to you, but I think I was incredibly lucky to get out, and I got out in amongst a group of refugees actually. And I just decided not to speak. I took a package of food and water and walked through, and managed to get out. Then I escaped across the border and made it – I made it eventually to Berlin although there was a hairy moment when the armed police came on the train before we crossed into [Poland], but they seemed a little bit interested in me for a minute, but…
“But I mean my kind of treatment is nothing compared to the many thousands of leftists and journalists operating in the country at great risk, who are being disappeared or killed – placed on list like Eva [Bartlett]. So my situation doesn’t compare. But what I did find in the country when speaking to people – I mean what they were very clear about – I spoke to a woman called Maria from Mariupol (or just outside Mariupol) and she spoke to me in kind of broken English and… the first thing she did was she showed me a picture of what was her apartment block [now] completely obliterated. She was distraught, but she pointed and she said ‘Azov.’
“She told me then who was responsible for destroying her home. And she managed to get out of Mariupol with her daughter. Her son and her husband had remained in the city. I’m hoping that everything is okay with them, because you know the situation is very bad. But she explained that the people living in Mariupol were not afraid of the Russians – she said Russian soldiers gave them food, gave them water and helped them. They brought medicine, you know. I don’t think they had much of it, but they gave them. They felt safe. And, as she said, it was the Ukrainians they were terrified [of]. I mean you could see the fear and you could hear it in her voice.
“And she said that they tried to leave much earlier than they did when they got out, but they were threatened that they would be shot dead if they tried to leave by Ukrainians not by Russians. She told me that most people in that part of the country are fleeing to Russia because they feel safe, and she didn’t feel safe in Lviv because she’s a Russian speaker – she knows, I mean this is her country: she knows very well, but she was very clear that in Mariupol they’ve been terrorised for eight years by Nazis.” [from 19:00 mins]
Click here to watch the same interview as it appears in the original post on Vanessa Beeley’s The Wall Will Fall website.