Rostyslav Prokopiuk: “It is activists who generally are forced to defend the interests of the Ukrainian state in the Czech Republic”
Psychologist from Volyn who became known in the Czech Republic for helping people with addictions on his help for the Ukrainian military and the promotion of Ukrainian culture abroad
Originally from Volyn, psychologist Rostyslav Prokopiuk became known in the Czech Republic for helping people with addictions. In the 28 years of his life abroad, he has earned respect from the local celebrities. Quite a few of his clients parted with their addictions after 15 minutes on his couch.
In Ukraine, Prokopiuk was unknown for a long time. As the Revolution of Dignity began, followed by the war in Eastern Ukraine, he realized that help for the Ukrainian military and the promotion of Ukrainian culture abroad are his personal cause.
His experience as a therapist and connections with celebrities came in handy.
What encouraged you to take up civil aivism?
— I have always been nostalgic for Ukraine. But this sharp feeling of patriotism and the sense of belonging to Ukraine came in2013. As our rallies in Wencelslas Square began, I thought that itwould be good to create some other format of meetings. In my years of practice, I have had many patients including Czech celebrities. “If you ever need anything, we will lend you a hand,” many of the people I once helped told me. I never called them because I never needed anything personally. But the developments in Ukraine made me think of those contacts. I called themand all of them responded. In the rst year of the Maidan, I organized a big three-hour concert with 12 cappellas at the Broad-way Theatre. This inspired me, so I decided not to stop. That’s how the Forum of Cultures NGO appeared. We have organized adozen charity concerts ever since. Pikardiyska Tertsia [a well-known Ukrainian male a cappella band] performed here twice, Serhiy Prytula and his Variaty comic show performed three times. This helped us collect US $3,000. I know that these people are trustworthy and would donate all the money to help in the frontline.
How easy was it to find Ukrainian artists for charity concerts?
— In fact, it’s very difficult to negotiate with our celebrities. You’reasking them to perform for a military hospital and they are asking US $1.500 for four songs. For some, this is nothing more than business.
Does this upset you?
— We should not lose hope because of this. There will be people who will help you, no matter what. You just have to look for them. For example, singer Oleksandr Lozovskiy responded tomy requests. Singer Paul Manandise was a discovery – he’s noteven Ukrainian, but a French married to a Ukrainian woman. He has recently released his Ukrainian debut album called Miy Ray [My Paradise]. That’s how he referred to Ukraine.
Sergei Loiko, a Russian writer and photographer who worksat Priamyi TV channel in Ukraine, is another example. When hisbook Airport was released, it was translated into Czech. I was excited and called him. Quite soon, the translation into Czech was released. I started organizing the presentation. Now, we are working on presenting Your Look, Cio-Cio-San by Andriy Liub- ka. These projects have been made in cooperation with the Vaclav Havel Library. We were also working on the Independence Day concert at the House of National Minorities? Why are we doing this? The answer is very simple: we want to remind people of Ukraine. I have recently come across a Lviv-born young man with an amazing voice. He has just returned from ghting onthe frontline. This will be his debut. He’s very nervous. We have many talents who don’t know how to market themselves. They need to be given a chance.
How did you come up with the idea of working with Ukrainian military suffering from the posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
— An ICTV journalist told me two years ago that this is a very serious problem in Ukraine. They asked me whether I could help. This was a challenge I took up. I’m trying to help not just the en- tire country abstractly, but specific people. The most important thing is to make sure that they feel that they are not forgotten. It is important to support the ghter spirit in them. We have arranged a concert with the Czech standup comedy band Na sto-jáka to collect money for rehabilitation in Kyiv for one of the boys. I am extremely lucky to be able to work with decent volunteers. They are sending receipts and showing what they spend the money they receive on. The Czechs support such initiatives because they know that their donations are not wasted.
I’ve also come up with an idea of a talk show where contributions are made with medicines. One Slovak donated a EUR 1,000-worth of medicines and told me: “If you asked me for money, I wouldn’t give any. But medicines – no problem. I’m sure that if you decide to eat up all the medicines I’ve bought, you will surely die.”
But this is still not enough. So I’ve decided to sell the paintings I make when I relax. My of ce is in a nice building, so I displayed them on the stairs. I’ve already sold two paintings – andthat’s an extra EUR 300 for a military hospital.
What is the most important thing that the Ukrainian community in the Czech Republic needs today?
— We need a new Ukrainian center. The Ukrainian Embassy hereis doing quite a lot within its nancial capacity. But it is activistswho generally are forced to defend the interests of the Ukrainian state in the Czech Republic. The incident around the exhumation of the remains of Oleksandr Oles illustrates this [In January 2017, a Ukrainian newspaper reported about forced exhumation of the remains of Oleksandr Oles, a famous Ukrainian diplomat and poet of the 20th century, and his wife Vira from a cemetery in Prague. This was done in accordance with the Czech laws whereby a rent of 20,000 krons should be paid every ten years for every burial site. The rent was paid by a Czech citizen of Ukrainian origin who died recently. His son decided to bury his father on the site, removing the remains of the poet and his wife for that purpose. The incident triggered prompt reaction from Ukraine’s President and MFA, and arrangements were made to move the remains to Ukraine. - Ed.].
That was a horrible situation. We had to urgently look for contacts with thetop of cials in Ukraine. Roman Skrypin [a Ukrainian journalist] had these contacts – he was in Prague at the time. I still workwith him on a number of programs.
Prague once hosted the Museum of Ukraine’s Liberation Struggle. A portion of the documents was destroyed by one ofthe three bombs thrown at the city in 1945. I have a beautiful collection of paintings and books by Ukrainian emigrants in my basement. I would like all of this to serve a purpose, to grow into something. So far, I have no results.
Generally, people don’t want to change anything. I can’t help those who don’t ask. This would be a violation of ethical rules in psychology. But once I’ve promised to do something, this is a train I can’t jump off.
According to a research by Centrum pro výzkum veřejného mínění (Public Opinion Research Centre) from March 2014, 64% of the Czechs were intereed in the situation in Ukraine. Two years later, only a quarter were. How would you explain this dynamics?
— Some groups support Ukraine inexorably. They took it to the streets just a couple of days ago to remind people about Ukrainian political prisoners. They also screened a film about Oleh Sentsov. I thank them! We can’t underestimate this. But don’t blame the Czechs – they have their own problems. Their military were killed in Afghanistan just recently. There is a problem of refugees. There are elections and the government which has not been functioning for an awfully long time.
Why do you think they once again eleed the pro-Russian Milos Zeman?
— It is important to realize that many Czechs did not vote for the Zeman of today; they voted for the Zeman who established the Civic Forum and still had a clear mind. Another factor, with all of my deep respect for the Czechs, was jealousy. Zeman was elected by those who did not want success for academic Jiří Drahoš as president – and he did have a real chance to win. It’s some kind of suspicion about the accomplishments of others. “Hey, my neighbor has better tiles in his bathroom.Where did he get the money to buy it?” Human jealousy is the most fertile eld for populism. Sometimes it gets so strongthat people stop thinking about the consequences of their ac-tions here and now. This shortsightedness is very dangerous now.
— I would put it differently: we need to establish a balance between intuition and reason. The former is very important because it helps us act in advance and avoid many mistakes. We have lost it somewhat. But without it, the second aspect is im-possible.
Still, many Ukrainians and people from former soviet republics live in the Czech Republic who stick to this format of the “friendship of peoples” as if there was no war, just some misunderanding. What is this? A crisis of identity?
— There is a crisis of morality. Many simply don’t understand their identity. When you don’t understand who you are, you are easily manipulated. That’s what helps the hybrid war carry on.
I have personally experienced this. I was born in the Soviet Union and worked with kids in soviet pioneer camps. I still remember songs by Alla Pugachova [popular soviet and Russian singer] that kept us all on one wave. Then the collapse happened and it was time to return to our roots. Quite a few people never got rid of that homo sovieticus in their minds though. This is sad because Ukrainianness has its unique magic: the link with the earth, the ripeness of things that is incarnated in the language. We were a people known for its healers for many centuries. Sowe had to nd a way to heal ourselves. But that takes your own words.
We should get rid of our insecurities when we leave our houses in Ukraine, the insecurities of starting a conversation in Ukrainian. That’s the way to shape our common space. But how do you do this? You can’t do this by force. When I came to the Czech Republic in the early 1990s, my Czech was horrible. But the Czechs reacted enthusiastically to my attempts to speak it, encouraging me with «pěkně! krásné!» [Nice, beautiful!]. They praised me for that rusty language of mine. That’s how it should be in Ukraine. We should praise people switching to Ukrainian.
We did not realize on time what evil the Russians could do to us. We made a lot of concessions to them because of all this friendship of the peoples concept. It is now obvious that we can’t return to this harmful format of the friendship of the peoples. Wehave to think of relations that benefits both of us.
Rostyslav Prokopiuk was born in 1958 in Verbychi, a village in Volyn, North-Western Ukraine. He got his degree in Phsychology at the Mykhailo Drahomanov National Pedagogic University in Kyiv. Since 1999, Dr. Prokopiuk has worked in the Czech Republic where he founded his clinic for treating addictions. Apart from the Czech Republic, he practices in Slovakia, Austria and Germany. Dr. Prokopiuk has authored two books, Live Your Life and Not Smoking Is Easy.
Serhiy Zakharov is an artist from Donetsk known for his plywood caricatures of “Novorossia” leaders installed on the city streets in 2014. The installations resulted in his captivity in Donetsk that year. In his interview with The Ukrainian Week, Serhiy speaks about his complex relations with his city and the attitudes of the creative crowd to politicians