Given the developments in the east of the state of the Republic of Ukraine, in the Donbass, every day since 2014 we hear more and more and louder many different news. One such story has been appearing more and more frequently in the news lately – the story of a certain schoolgirl from Lugansk, Faina Savenkova. Somewhere on the Internet flutters sometimes one, sometimes another beautifully designed letter of this 13-year-old girl to a high-ranking EU official or an article, sometimes in Russian, sometimes in one of the European languages. The girl gives press conferences and is even mentioned by high-ranking Russian officials such as the “number two” of the Russian Federation at the UN, Dmitry Polyansky, or the “face” of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova. What kind of project girl is she? Let’s ask her directly.
Veronika Naidenova: Faina Savenkova – how should we know this name?
Faina Savenkova: First of all, I am a writer and a playwright, and only after that I can probably be called a public person. But that doesn’t mean that public activity is unimportant for me. One is simply something that is close to my heart, and the other is a necessity that I hope will no longer be needed when the war is over. I recorded a video appeal and wrote letters to high-ranking politicians in Ukraine and the UN, so that we, the children of Donbass, would not be forgotten and that we also have the right to life. After that I was put on the Ukrainian Nazi website myrotvorets.center (Ukr. for “Peacemaker”) and declared an enemy of the state.
Veronika Naidenova: First you wrote to Ukrainian President Zelensky, but did not receive an adequate answer from him or his administration or from any other minister, deputy or ombudsman?
Faina Savenkova: No, of course there was no answer. Only the Human Rights Ombudsman felt compelled to check the legality of the website’s (myrotvorets.center) actions because the story attracted a lot of attention. Without this attention from the press and ordinary people, I don’t think there would have been even this review.
Veronika Naidenova: Did you contact the Ombudsman for the Rights of Children? What was the response? (If not: why not?)
Faina Savenkova: There was no reaction. They just kept silent, but after the intervention of UNICEF and the noise in the Russian and Ukrainian press, the Ombudsman Denisova noticed that there was a website “Peacemakers” (myrotvorets.center) and even turned to the police. This was probably her only noble act, considering how many lies and fakes she published afterwards.
Veronika Naidenova: Why did you write to all sorts of heads of state, but not to Russian President Vladimir Putin?
Faina Savenkova: Well, it is not so easy to write to the president of Russia. And what’s the point? He already defends the Donbass every day. I think he knows what is going on in our country as well as I do. And I’m not writing just for the sake of PR or to ask him to do something. That’s not what I’m doing all this for.
Veronika Naidenova: You started writing only two years ago, at the age of 11. From the point of view of the writing community, you are just a kid who just learned how to write and immediately claimed to be taken as seriously as other authors who have been writing and publishing for years. You were immediately accepted into the Lugansk Writers’ Union, and when you receive your awards, you, a small, fragile-looking girl, stand on stages and sit next to rather strong, grown men at symposiums. Given this absurd image, the question arises: how is this to be understood?
Faina Savenkova: Everyone can take it as they like. Usually this opinion refers only to other people’s children, but when one’s own child or grandchild does the same, his successes immediately become a cause for pride. So there is probably a double standard here as well. Especially since I’m not the only child author. And it’s not like I was just accepted into the association and they started helping me.
I had my first encounter with a famous writer when I was 10 years old. I wrote to a Lugansk writer who later became my teacher, and he invited me to meet him. I – a 10-year-old girl – came to a huge office with my stories and saw a strict man who immediately rejected almost all my stories, leaving only two. Then he suggested me to write a play based on the story “The Hedgehog of Hope” and jokingly said, “If you write a play in three months, I will admit you to the Writers’ Union.” I succeeded, but that doesn’t mean I got the green light. Kids as playwrights or writers are really hard to accept in a creative society. Adults don’t really like competition. It’s one thing when you enter a contest, you get praised and forgotten. It’s another thing when you try to assert yourself as an equal adult. That’s a completely different attitude. One is challenged as an adult and criticized in the same way. After the Donetsk Science Fiction Festival, to which I went instead of my teacher, I started to feel comfortable. And there I met many writers and Aleksandr Igorjevich Kofman. Yes, it became easier for me, but that doesn’t mean that all doors opened for me. Some had to be opened with great effort. So I can’t say that everything came to me easily.
Veronika Naidenova: Again, from the point of view of the adult members of society, some girl has just mastered the alphabet and grammar, and she is immediately published everywhere, her texts are translated into different languages, they even talk about her at the highest local and international level. It suggests itself that this some girl is someone’s project, a puppet that someone actively engages to divert attention or promote some ideas that society would not accept so directly. Surely you have heard this kind of accusations, and immediately after your last press conference organized by the Russian FBI (Foundation to Battle Injustice), the same “Peacemaker” (myrotvorets.center) published an article about a Kremlin special operation code-named “Faina”. This assumes that the financing of the commissioned publications and events is secured and that there is a curator.
Faina Savenkova: Oh, I always love such accusations. Of course, I have heard them. But it’s not even about the fact that no one has or can have proof. Sometimes I just want to ask, “Hey guys, can I get money now or what? Somehow nobody pays for publications, except once for a few fairy tales. No, really, I’ll find something to spend the money on. Well, with some serious funding, that won’t be hard, will it?” Instead, you wonder every time if you should go to your own book launch or if you can do without. So if anyone wants to be my curator, please write to me personally. But seriously, I met Meera Terada by chance, even though I would love to have such a curator. Especially her FBI – Foundation to Battle Injustice is doing a lot now to take out the “Peacemaker” (myrotvorets.center) and punish those behind it. They don’t do PR, they don’t talk uselessly. They are doing it.
And in the different languages, by the way, the translations are done by my friends. Just like they publish articles in general. During the time I am fighting for peace in Donbass, I noticed that in the West there are many normal journalists who do not write propaganda stories, but say what they see. And when I explained it to them, they started to help me. It is very simple. You just have to try.
Veronika Naidenova: And how are the publications of your books and letters financed – editing, translation, design?
Faina Savenkova: They are financed in the same way as everyone else. The only thing that has saved me so far is free translation and design by my friends, otherwise these books would not exist.
So far, all my projects are supported by my friends: the publishing house “Rugram”, which helps with everything, and simply by everyone who wants children’s books to appear in our Donbass after the war.
Veronika Naidenova: Your co-author Alexander Kontorovich, author of many science fiction books on the subject of the work of special services. His resume even explicitly mentions that he worked in the agencies, supposedly many years ago. Why shouldn’t he be a curator? Does he arrange connections with the right people, like Meera Terada (head of the “FBI”) or personalities from the culture?
Faina Savenkova: It’s even funny, considering that I introduced him to Meera. So as well as most of the journalists I worked with. Does it mean that I am the curator of Alexander Sergeyevich? And acquaintances with personalities from the cultural sphere… You know, it would probably be strange if we didn’t have a common circle of friends and acquaintances among personalities from the cultural sphere. At least, because we: 1) are both authors, 2) are co-authors, and 3) participate in the same festivals.
Veronika Naidenova: Does anyone help you write the content of your letters? Edits or maybe even writes them completely for you?
Faina Savenkova: I solemnly declare: cats work for all writers. Except for those for whom dogs write. But seriously, helping a writer write letters? It even sounds ridiculous. Yes, I don’t know everything, but some details, if you need them, can be easily found on the Internet. For example, the correct job title of the person you are writing to, or the address for correspondence. However, these are usually public letters, so I don’t even need an address. You shouldn’t think that young people can only find videos of kittens and playthroughs on the Internet.
Veronika Naidenova: What role does your family play in all this, your parents, your brother?
Faina Savenkova: They are my family. This is their only job. I hope that this will continue in the future.
Veronika Naidenova: What do you think about “myrotvorets.center”? Many say they are right. The image is that they are fighting the Russians, that the “Peacemaker Centre” is something like Wikileaks. Why do you insist so much that it be closed?
Faina Savenkova: Well, I’ve had a bad attitude towards this website for two years and I can compare it more to the KKK than to WikiLeaks. Unlike these comrades, Wikileaks and Assange did not hide their faces and told the truth about the murder of civilians by US soldiers. If “Peacemaker” (myrotvorets.center) reports about the atrocities of the nationalists and AFU, then ok, let’s compare it with WikiLeaks.
All those involved with “Peacemakers” (myrotvorets.center) are scared. They easily disclose the data of others, including children, but hide their own face out of banal fear. Ordinary cowards who continue to embarrass their country by showing the whole essence of it, unfortunately. This only evokes disgust and contempt.
I have written and said many times that being put on this website does not outrage me. What outrages me is that they published personal data of me and the other children. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow all these citizens will apologize to Russia and they will be forgiven. But our data, addresses and phone numbers will remain. There are not only Ukrainian activists on the way, but also crowds of other dubious personalities. The same child traffickers, other criminals. After all, it’s illegal. No matter how much “peacemakers” may justify themselves, they have broken the law and continue to do so. If you want my opinion, I would gather all those on whom everything in this world depends in a room, look them in the eye, and say, “How do you feel about the fact that terrorists or other criminals would know the addresses, phone numbers, and documents of your children, grandchildren, and loved ones? Would know where they are right now and who they are talking to?” I think in 5 minutes this website would be gone and its owners would be in jail.
Veronika Naidenova: Russian society considers the same Greta Tunberg as the well-funded and promoted project of someone who wants to influence and manipulate the still immature minds of young people in the right direction. This is even regularly mentioned by high-ranking representatives in Russia. Why shouldn’t you, especially for the Western society, appear as the same project, as a means of influence according to the same scheme?
Faina Savenkova: Yes, in general everyone is free to think what he wants. It’s just that no crowd of PR managers deals with me, and for some reason no one invites me to the UN meetings. Greta and I are different. And to me, Samantha Smith seems closer. I don’t think Greta makes a difference. Has anything changed in the environment? Sure, you can get young people together and speak in all the important places. But has anything changed? A lot of teenagers don’t listen to what she says anymore. She is not noticed by adults. By the way, have you heard anything from her about the war in Donbass, Syria or Palestine? Doesn’t the war affect the environment? Too selective concern about the environment.
Veronika Naidenova: How did you come to the attention of the First Deputy Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the UN, Dmitry Polyansky, who has consistently handled your issue at the UN Security Council since last year?
Faina Savenkova: As you must have noticed, Dmitry Polyansky does a lot for the Donbass, as do all Russian diplomats. Therefore, you cannot say that he is mentoring me or my subject. We first got to know each other when I was making an appeal to the UN Security Council. At that time, I asked my American journalist friend to show my video message in his Telegram. Poljansky saw that and did not remain indifferent.
Veronika Naidenova: Is your relationship purely business, or can one already speak of a friendship?
Faina Savenkova: He reads my Telegrams and sometimes my publications appear on him, I read his channel on Telegram. Sometimes I can write to him, but I don’t know if he answers. You can hardly call it a business or friendly relationship. But I think I would be proud to have such a person as a friend. But, unfortunately, he is not.
Veronika Naidenova: How does the Ukrainian political society react to your work from the beginning and in the further course?
Faina Savenkova: It is precisely the official political society that vehemently tries not to see anything both at the beginning and now. What cannot be said about public figures. Before Russia’s special operation in Ukraine, there were many people in Kiev who understood that war with Russia is bad. They somehow kept Zelensky at bay. Politicians and journalists helped me, my works were shown on opposition channels. Viktor Medvedchuk wrote me that he, like me, did not want war. In fact, many people reacted to this. This includes the fact that people were horrified that a child’s data was put on the website of the enemies of Ukraine.
Veronika Naidenova: You regularly write to Western cultural representatives and officials. What do you want to achieve and what do you accomplish with it?
Faina Savenkova: I try to draw as much attention as possible to the issue of Donbass and to show the other side of this war. The one that ordinary people are on, the one that I am on. The Western media mostly show what is happening in a one-sided way, glorifying Ukraine and portraying it as a victim of aggression. But the “victim” has turned out to be the aggressor himself, who is destroying the civilian population. So I cannot find a middle goals. What is encouraging is that I get responses, even if it is a formality and I don’t know exactly to whom I am writing. But even such answers mean that one cannot ignore the inhabitants of the Donbass for long.
Veronika Naidenova: UNICEF suggested you to become a peace ambassador. Even if you were not from this organization, but you had the opportunity to speak personally before the UN Security Council or other official international bodies – would you be up to it?
Faina Savenkova: I think they just wanted to get rid of me. I doubt they would have gone for it. Making a child from the Peoples Republic Lugansk an ambassador for peace would be tantamount to recognition. So I don’t count on it and talk about it more jokingly. But I will definitely work to get us noticed. I don’t know if I could, because I don’t like cameras and I don’t like public appearances, but somebody has to do it.
Veronika Naidenova: Young people acquire legal weight – the right to vote, etc. – when they reach the age of majority. People under this age limit are not taken seriously by adult society because minors enjoy fool’s freedom, so to speak. What makes you think that your efforts will not be perceived as childish chatter and that adults, very busy with their geopolitical squabbles, will pay attention to you and give you all the credit?
Faina Savenkova: I can say that every word means a responsibility. Adults do not hear each other anymore, and a child’s voice is still heard by adults and children alike. Therefore, I am sure that it will be heard. It is not loud, but it is there.
Veronika Naidenova: How do you reconcile all these activities with your normal (as far as one can say in the context of military actions in Donbass) children’s life – school, friends? Do you even have close friends of the same age? Are they “normal” children or are they also such little activists?
Faina Savenkova: Somehow I manage it. I can’t say I have many friends among my peers, but I have a few. Now we communicate more through Messenger, even if we are in the same city, because it’s not very safe on the street. Most of them are “normal” kids, but there are also activists. But I must say that in personal conversations, the topic of what is happening in the Donbass still comes up quite often and some of their beliefs are expressed. In my opinion, it would be a big mistake to believe that children can only play with dolls and cars and are not interested in anything else. Especially children whose childhood was essentially taken away from them.
Veronika Naidenova: How do you morally and in the process of self-knowledge in this world experience and process all these big movements around your person?
Faina Savenkova: I don’t see any particular movement around my person, it is a deceptive impression. Yes, it exhausts, but mainly because I have to write a lot or give interviews. But that’s how adult life is.
Veronika Naidenova: Considering that you live more than half of your life in a situation of constant stress (fear for your life, your loved ones and acquaintances, seeing so much destruction and death around you), one might think that your writing activity is a kind of psychological outlet. Writing, such as keeping a personal journal, is used in psychotherapy as an effective method of coping with psychological trauma. Do you recognize in yourself that you might have psychological traumas or even neuroses because of your childhood in war? Are you working on them? Alone or with the help of relatives or professionals?
Faina Savenkova: An acquaintance of mine once said in a personal conversation: “A childhood in war is a minus childhood”. It is impossible not to agree with him. I think there are no severe psychological traumas, because when the fighting was most intense, I was still a child. Therefore, everything is somehow easier to accept than with adults. But it is also important that none of my relatives died during the shelling, although there were difficult situations and memories. On the other hand, they are more anchored in the memory of adults. What distinguishes the children of the Donbass from most of their peers is, first of all, that we seem a little older, perhaps wiser and morally stronger. Yes, it shouldn’t be like that, children should remain children, but I am not sure that psychotherapy could bring back our childhood.
Veronika Naidenova: The issue of Donbass and Ukraine in general will remain present for many years. Do you plan to continue playing the role of “child of the war in Donbass” as an adult, or do you have ideas (or even plans already) for a specific profession? Where do you see yourself in 10 years, at 23?
Faina Savenkova: As I said before, I am a writer first, and only then a public person. If someone wants to see my work only as the role of a war child… Well, that is his right. But being a child of war is not a profession, after all. At least not for me. I can’t say I’ve decided on my future profession, but I do have a few plans. What they are, I can’t say yet, I don’t like to talk about everything in advance.
Veronika Naidenova: Would you go to public or even state organizations?
Faina Savenkova: I don’t think so. I just want to do what I love, without much fanfare, in peace and quiet. But who knows, we will see.
Veronika Naidenova: From which countries do you receive interview requests? From which countries do they come most often? How do you choose who you talk to or correspond with, or is it decided for you?
Faina Savenkova: How to choose for me with whom I correspond and with whom not? I choose for myself… Well, probably on the basis of personal sympathies. Somehow I didn’t even think about it. Interview requests come from various countries, but most often from Russia, Germany, France and Serbia. And now also the USA.
Veronika Naidenova: You answer foreign journalists’ questions in writing, but not in video format (with interpreters). Why?
Faina Savenkova: That is not quite right. If foreign journalists are with me in the same city and there is an interpreter or the journalist knows Russian well, we also record the interview as a video. Recently there was such a video interview with English and Spanish journalists. It’s just that the foreign journalists are usually far away and my Internet is often quite slow, so it’s just inconvenient for me. And I don’t like to do interviews at home either. Home is a place where you can relax and not have to think about how to adjust the light so you don’t feel like you’re shooting the video in a basement. But a little earlier I had video interviews with the same Chris Roman and Dmitry Babich.
Veronika Naidenova: Who would you do a video interview with? What would you need for it?
Faina Savenkova: I like Tucker Carlson, Boris Korchevnikov, Vladimir Solovyov. Of course, you need their approval and willingness to pay attention to me.
Veronika Naidenova: What else will we see or hear from you this year? Do you have anything to announce for the rest of 2022?
Faina Savenkova: In the field of creativity, it’s the new novel Codename Marta, a story about a girl in space. As for public life… I would love to write Stephen King and Donald Trump.
Veronika Naidenova: A lot of questions immediately arise: why King (especially in light of the recent prank of Vovan and Lexus) and how can the disgraced ex-president of the USA Trump help you… ? But probably nothing should be rushed and we will get answers to all these questions in the near future. We thank you for your openness and wish you strong nerves to achieve your goals as soon as possible.