Steven Struwe, a retired sheriff from Nevada, the USA, visited the war zone on Donbas together with some Kharkiv volunteers last week.
The American volunteer points out that he planned to come to Ukraine, not as a tourist attending museums and churches. His main purpose was to see how the people live in the eastern Ukraine near the front line and how the war affected them.
For several days the group attended military units and schools. The American was able to see the ruined buildings and to hear the sound of close shellings from occupied territories. He met the soldiers and the people in “grey zone” who keep being strong and optimistic. In town of Toretsk, Steven Struwe met with primary school pupils, who were excited not only to get biscuits from the guests but to speak live English to a real American.
When the group came to Pravy Sector battalion, the soldiers gave Struwe their symbols and a flag of the Ukrainian Nationalists Organization. The gifts brought to soldiers – some warm clothing, boots and tools – were bought by the volunteers. Part of the money was collected by ex-Kharkivites who live in the USA.
On the way back to Kharkiv the volunteer and activist Artem Fysun, who took part in the charity trip, made a video with Steven Struwe who explains his decision to visit the Eastern Ukraine and shares his impressions of what he saw there.
“Before I came here I did not really know what to expect other than what I read and saw in the news, on the Internet and in books. Many friends did not understand me and thought it was dangerous to come here,” says Steve. However, he discovered that actually he “felt safer in Ukraine than in other places.” “Now I would tell anybody who wants to come here not to be afraid and to be prepared for a very informative trip!” says Steve.
Steven Struwe notes that the war attracted America’s attention to Ukraine as many Americans did not know much about the country before. He thoroughly followed the events in Eastern Ukraine since 2014. Nevertheless, the information from media was not enough; it is necessary to check it and to see everything with your own eyes.
What impressed the visitor greatly were the local people and particularly military men who were very respectful to him because he represented America and who were “friendly, hospitable and generous.” He faced quite the opposite attitude in Russia, which he visited before Ukraine. According to Steve Russian people made him “feel uncomfortable.”
“In Russia, when you are a tourist you can see only what they want you to see. In Ukraine you can see the real thing, the real life, there is no suspicion or distrust,” says the former sheriff adding that an average Russian is influenced heavily by Russian propaganda machine which is depicting the USA as an enemy. He is sure that the countries of the world should realize the threat and danger from Russia and Putin.
Also, the veteran gave his vision of Ukrainian future with NATO. He is sure that the Ukrainians need to stop corruption in their governmental structures and to improve the country’s court system, to make it more credible and transparent, to be accepted by the world community. The veteran believes that it is a realistic task to be done till 2020.
Steven Struwe wished the Ukrainian military to become stronger, better equipped and receive proper training to “get prepared to deal with Russia the best they can.” “Slava Ukraini,” said the brave American at the end of his interview.
Text: Olena Sokolynska
Photo: Olga Risnychenko