The 47-year-old Ukrainian businessman and co-owner of Mega-Press publishing group Oleg Svirko has been struggling with a serious oncological illness for more than 16 years. Neither Ukrainian nor Russian doctors were not able to give the definite diagnosis for the first six years. A German specialist helped diagnose B-cell lymphoma.
According to doctors’ initial forecasts, the patient had four to six weeks remaining. Fortunately, the forecast did not come true. Throughout these years, Svirko underwent different treatment techniques: from chemotherapy to starvation, cleaning of the body and Oriental health-improving gymnastics. Three years in a row the Fakty i Kommentarii newspaper was regularly publishing the businessman’s interviews in which he told about his illness and treatment in detail. "There are a lot of people who give up after learning about the oncological diagnosis," Svirko said to the GORDON edition. "They retire into their shell with all despair, fright and fear. I managed it in a different way, it seems to me, I need to tell the world about it to save many lives".
Four months ago, Svirko became head of Mega-Poligraf volunteer group taking care of about 1500 ATO fighters. Along with equipment, humanitarian aid and means of communication, Mega-Poligraf volunteers bring armored military vehicles converted from old jeeps.
Svirko commented in his interview to GORDON how the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) destroyed his printing house twice, about the ATO fighters’ mood and how Debaltsevo nearly became episode two of the Ilovaysk pocket.
– You have many acquaintances among the Russian businessmen. What do they think about Putin's policy towards Ukraine?
– Moscow businessmen fail to understand that Ukraine is not Russia, they consider it to be part of the Russian Federation, as, for example, Novgorod region. The Russian business is convinced that Ukraine is too well off for its own good with Maidan. They do not perceive and do not understand our country, they do not feel any difference between the Russian and Ukrainian peoples.
Russian business realizes that Putin behaves in a wrong way, but it is afraid to oppose the Kremlin. Businessmen are very vulnerable people, especially in Russia. The Russian President has not solved any business challenges for a long time, they are too boring for him. Putin likes to dominate and build up fear, he is so satiated with everything that the only pleasure for him is to manipulate the whole world.
- Rumors have it that Putin has a fatal oncological disease: backbone sarcoma or pancreas cancer. Do you believe in it?
– The Russian president’s actions quite correspond to the behavior of a death-sick person who is therefore terribly offended with the whole world. From the experience of talking to patients suffering from cancer, I know that many of them become terribly embittered after learning the diagnosis: why did it happen to me, I am so good? I assume that such an offense became one of the driving forces of Putin’s current actions. The Russian President is extremely dangerous to the whole world today.
– Do not your business partners in Russia call you ‘Banderite’ or ‘Ukrainophile’?
– I have not talked to them for a long time. They deceived and let me down long before Maidan and the conflict on Donbass. In 2004, I had a joint business with Aram Gabrelyanov…
– The founder of the scandalous pro-Kremlin Lifenews edition?
– Lifenews appeared later. In 2004, I launched a new project – Ukrainian newspaper Zhizn, and we took 50% of materials from Gabrelyanov. In two years’ time, Zhizn ranked the third among all daily newspapers in Ukraine. But our business and personal relations with Aram were broken off in 2006 when Gazprom came down on him and forced him to sell business.
Then they pressed on me, they made an offer I could not, or rather should not have refused. We sold our share in the Zhizn newspaper, and Gabrelyanov owed us some money. Generally, both business and personal relations withered away.
– On September 11, 2014, SBU and prosecutor's office carried out a search in your office …
– It was not a search, but a mess. For several hours, people in masks and with sledge hammers were smashing the office, blowing out the doors, breaking the surveillance cameras. As soon as ATO fighters who were in Kiev hospitals learnt about it, they arrived immediately. SBU pointed guns at them, but the guys replied, "Hide them, we are not afraid of them any more. And if we give a signal, there will be so many armed guys, that you will be in trouble.
– Why did they crush your office?
– First I thought it was because of our action near the Administration of the President. However, it turned out later that there was an "order" to intimidate us so that we did not publish the Vesti newspaper (a daily Ukrainian newspaper distributed free of charge. The edition is known for its pro-Russian position and anti-Ukrainian propaganda. Mass media assume a connection between Vesti and Ukrainian oligarchs Victor Medvedchuk and Sergey Kurchenko. – GORDON). I learnt about it from SBU officers. They told that they were called at 11 p.m. the day before and ordered to be ready for smashing the printing house at 7 a.m.
According to our information, the "order" came from a serious person who took part in Maidan and is vested with power. I will make a reservation that he is not from the highest state echelon. This person decided that we are still living in old Ukraine where it is possible to use Yanukovych's methods. I want to talk to the person soon. There is information that after elections he plans to take our printing house in hand again, now using tax inspection rather than SBU or prosecutor’s office.
– I understand: you only print Vesti and are not responsible for the contents of the articles. But are not you confused with the editorial policy of this edition?
– I personally do not like Vesti’s position, but I have no right to introduce censorship. I fear one-sided interpretation of information. Everything that is within the law has the right for existence. If the newspaper does not call for separatism or violent overthrow of the political system, I have no grounds to refuse it.
I expressed the same opinion in the prosecutor's office: if you think that the newspaper does harm to the country, carry out an examination, file a lawsuit and deprive the edition of the registration certificate. If we solve everything with crushing again, we will quickly restore the system against which we were standing on Maidan. Poroshenko supported my position.
– Was the Ukrainian president aware of the attack at your printing house?
– Not only Poroshenko, but also Prime Minister Yatsenyuk and Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada Turchynov knew about it three hours after the mayhem. I think, there was an order from the Administration of the President to stop this and to sort everything out in a sensible way.
– You mentioned that you first connected the crushing with an action under the Administration of the President. What did you mean?
– On September 9, our volunteer group together with the battalion 11 of territorial defense "Kievan Rus" picketed with the slogan "Debaltsevo should not become a second Ilovaysk".
As volunteers, we work with battalion 11, reconnaissance battalion 54, separate tank battalion 3 "Monomakh", Kiev-1 battalion and other divisions of the Ukrainian army.
On September 11, battalions 54 and 25 were deployed in Debaltsevo region. We know reconnaissance party heads in these divisions. All of them told us that there was a regrouping of the Russian troops, a second pocket was getting prepared near Debaltsevo like it was near Ilovaysk. The information was supported with exact dates of the planned encirclement. Unlike Ilovaysk, not one thousand but no less than 2500 ATO fighters would get into the Debaltsevo pocket. We reported it to the Ministry of Defense immediately, but they did not react.
– They did not react though only about 10 days had passed after the tragedy near Ilovaysk?
– I had to address the then Deputy Minister of Defense Igor Kabanenko directly. He contacted the first Deputy Chief of the General Staff Gennady Vorobyov who gave an order to clear up the situation. As a result, scouts from the General Staff talked to the scouts from battalion 11 and declared, "You know something wrong", and we went on a demonstration.
During the action, I was contacted by the then Minister of Defense of Ukraine Valery Geletey who told me, "Stop it, come to the Ministry of Defense, we will get everything clear". As a result, battalion 11 was withdrawn from Fashchevka (urban-type settlement, Antratsit district, Lugansk area. – GORDON) where it was threatened with an encirclement by the Russian troops, and the Ukrainian military administration strengthened boundaries of ATO forces in Donbass considerably.
– In one of the interviews you said that "my business did not suffer from the previous power". And how about 30% of income that Ukrainian businessmen had to transfer to Yanukovych's "family"?
– I was surprised myself that nobody came to us from Yanukovych though we constantly feared it. I think, we were too insignificant for such large-scale villains, and too cool for smaller scoundrels, they thought that there was someone serious behind us.
– Who exactly?
– My partner Evgeny Sklyar and I run the business. Sometimes we behaved so impudently that many people were convinced: there was someone standing behind the Mega-Press publishing corporation. Actually, it is not the case.
– Recent crushing of your office was not the first. Is it true that people with bludgeons already visited you in 2004?
– It took place shortly before the Orange Maidan. We were the only printing house in Kiev that undertook to print propaganda materials of the candidate for the President Viktor Yushchenko. We were slapped and nearly torn to pieces.
– What do you mean?
– People broke into the building, beat the guards, forced employees to lie down on the floor. Roman Bezsmertny (ex-ambassador of Ukraine in Belarus and ex-deputy head of the Secretariat of the President of Ukraine. He was managing Yushchenko’s central election headquarters at the presidential elections in 2004. – GORDON) asked me to print Yushchenko’s promotion leaflets, he is my course mate from the Department of History of Dragomanov National Pedagogical University. Roma called me, "Oleg, everybody in Kiev is afraid to print Yushchenko. Please, help." I decided: if everybody is afraid where will be the country in the end? And I printed. As a result, the printing house was seized and several months of real hell began.
– You are seriously engaged in volunteer activity. How did it influence your business?
– For the last four months, I have practically failed to run the business, I hardly managed to look through the budget of the company. Certainly, a system has been built for the years of existence of Mega-Press, it is able to function without me for some time, but it cannot develop as I would like it to do. It is a loss for my business.
But I do not feel pity. We have done a lot for this time: we got clothes, footwear and equipment for the fighters, learnt to produce armored vehicles, started assembling UAVs (the first one, "Mega-Ptakha1", will be sent to battalion 11 soon), we have created a working group that is now concluding the development of technical documentation on creation of fighting optics in Ukraine (infrared imagers, range finders). And it is not the exhaustive list of what we are engaged in.
– Many volunteers complain that Ukrainians transfer less for military needs.
– It is true, transfer of means has reduced by several times. Firstly, average Ukrainians ran out of resources. Secondly, when military operations intensify, cash flow increases, once the military operations quiet down, it decreases. People do not understand real situation in Donbass, and there is still war there, fights do not stop. Many people think: there is no open confrontation, so there is no war.
– You have many wealthy friends and acquaintances. To what extent are they involved in the volunteer movement?
– They all help in one way or another. I periodically bother my friends and acquaintances, asking them for help. Nobody has refused so far.
– And do you have to "bother" and "ask"?
– Of course. I cannot say, "I am engaged in volunteering so if you are my friend, please, transfer a certain sum every month". It is ridiculous. We have some sources of receipts: large companies that help us, income from my business and natural persons who transfer as much as they can. We feel great support from the Fakty newspaper and the Censor.NET portal. Other Ukrainian Internet and print media help very much: ua.info, Vechernie Vesti, GORDON portal, Vesti, Uryadovy Kurier, Golos Ukrainy, Rakurs, Segodnya.
– How many fighters are there under the patronage of your volunteer organization?
– About 1500 on a constant basis, apart from the casual ones.
– Who are casual ones?
– Battalions we do not patronize, but help them if they ask. A fighter from battalion 12 called us the other day, they got under Grad fire, and everything burnt down. They will come to us, we will dress them from feet to the head.
– How much does it cost to equip one fighter?
– When we bought summer uniforms, army boots cost about UAH 300, a set of decent new uniform – UAH 500, a bullet-proof vest (good, from verified producers) – UAH 3300. We check each batch of bullet-proof vests: we go to the firing ground and shoot. Slovak second-hand helmets cost EUR 45. Pants, socks, T-shirts… Summer equipment totals UAH 5500.
– And the winter one?
– At least twice as much. We will purchase good German winter boots for scouts, they cost UAH 750. We can buy Ukrainian boots for UAH 450–500, but they are lower quality. Fighters need two sets of thermal underwear (EUR 36), a fleece suit, a winter camouflage, a camouflage overall, a warm cap, a winter sleeping bag, a sleeping pad and so on. Besides, bullet-proof vests are now more expensive, you cannot buy a Kevlar helmet for less than EUR 100.
– What do you think how will the Ukrainian-Russian opposition end?
– The most important thing is to stop war. It was painful that Ukraine agreed to the humiliating "truce", our fighters were eager to fight. But I perfectly understand the economic situation of Ukraine: the budget is empty, war will not give anything but countless victims. It is necessary to improve economy, to make Ukraine a civilized, rich, and prosperous country, then Donbass and the Crimea will run back to us.
– How long will it take?
– It took Germany at the times of Adenauer (Konrad Hermann Josef Adenauer, Federal Chancellor of Germany from 1949 to 1963. – GORDON) 15 years to make the way from a complete ruin to number 10 in terms of GDP per capita.
– Do not compare accurate and pedantic Germans to Ukrainians.
– We are no worse. On the contrary, we have huge potential. If we insist on normal development conditions from our government, we will be among top ten world economies in 15 to 20 years.
– It is an optimistic scenario, what is the pessimistic one?
– It will not happen. Never.
The whole article could be found at the Russian version of gordonua.com