He was a prisoner of war for two years but hasn’t lost his faith in humanity. He wasn’t afraid of speaking to militants and smiled even after he came back after having been tortured. Ihor Kozlovsky, a scholar of the religion who spent two years in the militants’ captivity, told about lost time, Donbas, main lessons, and Ukraine in general.
Ihor Kozlovsky is a well-known religious scholar in Ukraine and throughout the world, a specialist in religious, spiritual and psychophysical systems, a public figure. For more than 25 years he has worked as a chief specialist in religious affairs in the Donetsk Regional State Administration, taught religious sciences at the Donetsk National Technical University. In January 2016, the scientist was captured by militants of the so-called “DPR”, who broke into his apartment in Donetsk. In May 2017, Kozlovsky was sentenced to two years and eight months imprisonment. Ukrainian political prisoner was released in December 2017.
About the captivity
Two years spent in basements, tortures, condemned and solitary cells are taken by Ihor Kozlovsky as… sort of experience, not just for himself but also for those who were around. And there were different people around: criminals, militants, and regular citizens.
“When I am asked about that time, I always remember one moment: I am taken back from tortures to my cell. They take off a bag from my head. I am blooded. And I am… smiling! My cellmates asked me, “Why?” And I was smiling because… I wasn’t afraid of death anymore. And it meant they wouldn’t get me. I was free inside.
On the other hand, I was constantly telling myself that I had to live. Why? Because I love it! I love my family, my children, my students. I am a debtor of love. And I have to repay. Constantly! Because it is impossible to do it at once. It doesn’t matter how much you have repaid, your debt is getting bigger. And basically, it means that I have to live forever. So when I noticed desperate eyes of my cellmates, even saw their suicidal intentions, I reminded them all the time, “Remember you are loved. You have what to live for!” People believed in that, and it cheered them up. I am sure that if somebody stops wanting to live, it is selfishness. You have to live, move, bring the truth about what was happening to you. It is also a responsibility.”
About main Donbas issues
The main problem according to Kozlovsky is that the war is overextended: there are fear, pain, and suffering from both sides. There are many players in this “arena”. If it were just a “civil conflict” as Russian propaganda tries to persuade us, everything would be a way easier.
“The problem started from people’s consciousness. People of Donbas stood for some position just because of lack of knowledge. Because of some social issues and low level of humanitarian intelligence. People got used to chewing informational gum and lost their thinking skills. Most people learnt to “eat” information taking it as knowledge.
I believe we should start from de-occupation of our consciousness here, on this territory, to influence the processes which take place there, in Donbas. Other regions also have similar issues. But Donbas is different because it was economically forced to be shaped. Most people who came there to work possessed a worker mindset, they left their roots, and the idea of earning money prevailed among them. Anything connected with humanitarian intelligence hasn’t grown yet.
Utilitarian way of life – lack of invisible values, it wasn’t respected. It is neither good nor bad, such utilitarianism is present in any corner of the world. But when this mass of people is provoked by some camouflage slogans (for example, by the ‘ideology of the Russian World’), people’s consciousness gets successfully manipulated.”
About actions after de-occupation of Donbas
The scholar believes that the first thing to do is to begin working with the consciousness of people – to make de-occupation of their consciousness, not just the territory. Because, according to Kozlovsky, we faced not just conflict but confrontation.
“The conflict is a military issue; confrontation is a humanitarian one. And we should provide policy as for the consciousness of Donbas. Not only the state and its bodies have to engage in it. Each of us has to do it. Anywho realises the problem is responsible. It concerns establishing dialogues and people-to-people communication…
I suppose we will have this problem for many years. We will have to move forward realising that we have such a wound on the body of Ukraine. But it doesn’t mean we have to give up. We have to treat this wound. Even if Donbas is de-occupied now, confrontation will remain.
If we open a line of separation – it will bring a problem for the whole of Ukraine because the situation will be used by our enemies. They have plenty of arms – it will appear in Ukraine; some people will fight actively against Ukraine. This is why the process should be gradual.”
About three key lessons he learnt
The former POW believes: you can change this world only if you start from yourself. And the main thing in life is not your ambitions or you. The key thing is the responsibility for values: life, love, people, vocation values.
“We had a panel discussion where we talked about traditional tolerance issues. I say that it has taken me several stages to learn to be tolerant. First, I guess it was my childhood because I lived surrounded by different people with different views, world outlooks, religious believes. I saw my parents’ attitude toward it. My mother always created an atmosphere of love and she didn’t care what person it was. The main thing for her was love, she was open. This was my first lesson.
And the second lesson is my children. First of all, my elder son which has Down Syndrome and has been incapable to stand up for twenty years because of the broken spine. He is incompetent, can’t move without his wheelchair but he teaches me how to love. He is ready to hug any person and it doesn’t matter what sex, race, nationality this person is and what religion they believe – he loves everybody and teaches me to. My younger son also teaches me. He was taught love by his elder brother, he still helps. He is always conscious of the need to help not only me but all people in general.
The third thing is that I have been involved in professional studying religious organisations and believers issues for 40 years. It is also a huge experience because I not only communicate but have a good friendship with them, there are many of my students whom I watched grow from little children to priests, muftis, etc. I teach them, and they teach me. They sat at the first desk in front of me when I launched a College of Religious Studies in the 1990s. I remember up to 300 people gathering in a lecture hall even then at the beginning when it was new to people. They listened, made new friends, they are still friends, they love each other. I guess a certain role is played by the fact I love them as well.”
About Ukraine and Ukrainians
Ihor Kozlovsky calls Ukraine and its people variegated. He believes that now both our good and bad traits are observed.
“Our best trait is that we can group together when there is a big threat to our existence – we have demonstrated that. We a baroque nation, our emotions, feelings, world outlook are very variegated. It was the period of the Cossack Baroque when the hinge of the future Ukrainian nation was shaped. It has been shaping gradually, it constitutes many Slav, Turkic elements. The main one is Slav, but many ethnicities have lived on this territory, and they have become a part of the Ukrainian nation, they are also Baroque constituencies.”
The scholar thinks that as any nation, we have our own mission, own destination. As any nation is a hyper personality with their own psychology, history, own representative systems.
“Ukraine’s destination? We are now regenerating Europe. Europe starts with each of us, not somewhere there. We shouldn’t think, ‘When we are accepted to the EU…’ we should build Europe here, starting with ourselves, and this way regenerating Europe. We provide an example as we have died for Europe when it started to fall asleep; it didn’t fight for itself well. It also concerns not only Europe but the whole world. We should give an example of something new, a new vision in particular. And we are, it should be highlighted, quite a tolerant nation, we have been challenged in different historical situations, and we survived.”
Text by Dmytro Zhuravel
The publication was collected from numerous interviews, speeches, and appeals of the material’s protagonist.