Stanislav Aseyev & Ihor Kozlovsky
Daryna Anastasieva, Kateryna Kazimirova
Short profile

Stanislav Aseyev is a journalist and writer, an author of philosophical and surrealistic prose and poems. After the beginning of the Russian–Ukrainian war, he remained in Donetsk in order to describe the reality surrounding him objectively while anonymously working with many leading Ukrainian media under the pseudonym Stanislav Vasin. In June 2017, he was arrested by so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) militants and thrown into Izolyatsia prison. Later, in his collection In Isolation: Dispatches from Occupied Donbas, he describes the early period of the Russian military aggression in Ukraine’s east from 2015–2017. Aseyev wrote the documentary book The Torture Camp on Paradise Street, the most important evidence of the atrocities of the DPR militants in the prisons under their control. The book has been translated into many languages, including English by Zenia Tompkins and Nina Murray. He is actively engaged in human rights and educational activities.


Ihor Kozlovsky is a Ukrainian scientist, religious scholar, has PhD in historical sciences, poet, prose writer, public activist. Senior Researcher, Department of Religious Studies, Institute of Philosophy named after G.S. Skovoroda of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. President of the Center of Religious Science Research and International Spiritual Relations. Member of the Expert Council on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations at the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine. Actively participate in Donetsk Euromaidan and Interfaith Prayer Marathon for the unity of Ukraine (March-November 2014, Donetsk). January 27, 2016 was captured by militants so-called "Donetsk Peoples Republic" and was in captivity almost 2 years (700 days) until December 27, 2017. The author of poetry collections and prose works, as well as more than 50 scientific books and over 200 articles in dictionaries, encyclopedias, scientific periodicals. He actively advocates the release of political prisoners in Russia and in the occupied territories of Donbass and Crimea.


— What are the main messages of your answers when you communicate with foreign journalists?

Kozlovsky: I show that this war is new. On the one hand, this is a real armed war. There are ordinary moments, as during any military operations, during which a person, in one way or another, becomes a victim or a hostage. But there are other dimensions. For me, this is also an existential war, a value war. And I emphasize that now, on the one hand, there is a struggle between Ukraine’s orientations for the values of the future — freedom, dignity, human life, and on the other hand — the pseudo-values of the past, which are the core of the revanchist Russian world. This clash has not only our regional character, but even a planetary one. Our partners in the west feel that, otherwise they would not have joined this process. But it must be constantly emphasized so that the view of war is not only horizontal, not only flat but also vertical, in-depth.

Aseyev: I'm trying to talk about the same thing: not how they attacked, but who attacked. The nature of the war is certainly important. It has changed even compared to Donbas in  2014-2016: both in terms of intensity, and the use of types of weapons, and the brutality of the treatment of the local population. But it is important for the West to understand what modern Russia is, and what consequences it has for them. After all, I perfectly understand that somewhere in Paris, Prague, London, people live an ordinary life and watch the war on television. It is important to understand that modern Russia is really a neo-fascist state. Because Putin directly declares that the territory of the former Soviet Union is historical Russia. That's it: there is no Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine, Moldova for him. It's all the Russian Federation. I am trying to convey this message because while Europe is calm, it is perceived in the same way as stories about concentration camps. But when the Bucha happened, more attention was paid to Isolation. It no longer looks outside the war. Yes, a concentration camp, but look at what they did in the Kyiv region.

—  How not to tire the foreign audience with our war? There are many conflicts and problems in the world, and one way or another Ukraine disappears from the columns of the world media. How not to legalize our war in the world context, and keep it in the informational focus?

Aseyev: I try to approach it without emotions because emotions are already less reactive. On the contrary, I try to convey information from the practical side, if we are talking about a Western listener or viewer. I say that there is Isolation, there are war crimes, there is what Russia is doing in Ukraine. If we don't stop them, all this will happen in Poland, and you should already think about where you will evacuate the Poles from the eastern voivodships. This is a practical question, not a theory, not an emotional issue when I try, for example, to reach the reader through a book. This is the specific question that you should be thinking about right now, and I will explain why. It more or less works because it has a particularly rational aspect. It acts on the subconscious, the fears of those people who have not yet been affected by this war. For them, there is a threat when they feel it and understand it. Then the focus on Ukrainian issues will remain.

Kozlovsky: I agree, our task is not only to talk about emotions. They are important, of course, but it is necessary to appeal to people through people, through journalists to convey to the general public an understanding of, first of all, the very phenomenon of Ukraine, a modern, historical phenomenon. Second, it is important to demonstrate that this war goes beyond a conventional armed conflict. People really have a lot of information – somewhere in Africa, in Asia, there are long-term conflicts, and the same in Afghanistan. But they have a regional character.

The war going on here is a war for the future of humanity. We need to be aware of how to convey the message that there is a common responsibility. This is a question for everyone and the answer should lie with all of humanity. If we do not stop Russia in Ukraine now, the entire world civilization is at risk. Because it was in Ukraine that Russia violated the international order established after the Second World War. At first, the world reacted with some disbelief that this was an alleged hack of this very international security system, but now it should be clear to everyone. This should become an area of responsibility for everyone, not only for the governments of different countries, but for the people of the world.

VIDEO: Станіслав Асєєв та Ігор Козловський у розмові для Craft Magazine

— In your interviews, you said that you did not feel completely free after captivity. How has this sense of self changed since a full-scale invasion?

Kozlovsky: The personal experience of captivity helps one to look at the concept of freedom in a different way – not the abstract concept of freedom that we get used to and live an ordinary life. When there is an experience of unfreedom, internally you can be more or less free, but you are limited in terms of information, limited in movements, in general, in everyday small matters. And when you finally become free, set free, this feeling is extremely valuable. That's when you begin to fully understand the value of freedom. Freedom with a human dimension, not just being free. I talk about this all the time – any biological being, any animal, longs for freedom if it is in captivity. But here there is an additional point, which is connected with a factor that has a human dimension. Freedom has a human dimension. It allows you to feel even more acutely even now, during a full-scale war. We recently talked with Stas about what will happen if they go in [to Kyiv – Craft] and we face the threat of capture again. We know what captivity is like there, and it is already on the verge of life and death. You will do everything possible to avoid being captured. Freedom remains the crucial core of your existence during wartime.

— Are these suicidal thoughts due to the threat of being captured again?

Kozlovsky: There are, of course, such thoughts. That's exactly what we talked about. If there is a no way out...we understand, our boys were captured, Azov, and other prisoners. We understand and physically feel it. We don't just imagine. It's about the experience. In particular, the experience of trauma, so the feeling for them is more profound.

Aseyev: My unfreedom after my release was connected with Isolation, with the theme of Isolation. I immediately started to deal with it, as it turned out, until the end of 2021, I was not able to completely free myself from it. This includes writing books, translating, creating a website on Isolation, regular conferences, interviews, and creating documentaries. All this took two years of my life. I have lived with this theme all the time. In particular, its main criminal "Palych" [Denys Pavlovich Kulikovsky (call sign – Palych) is a Ukrainian collaborator who took an active part in the Russian occupation of Donbas. The organizer, executioner, and head of the prison "Isolation" (2014-2018), which was part of the military groups of the terrorist organization "DPR" – Craft.] is also to some extent my merit that he was eventually arrested in Kyiv.

It's psychologically exhausting. I kept stressing that I didn't feel free, and that 2021 was the last year I thought I'd be doing Isolation. But on February 24, a full-scale invasion began. I'm doing the same thing again, but even that is worse. Then Isolation was separate, but now in general all the war crimes committed by Russia from February 24 to today. Currently, a fund has been created that focuses on recording crimes. In this sense, I am really still a prisoner, at least psychologically, because I am dealing with this topic. I have learned not to make it my personal business.

For two years, Isolation was my personal business, and the search for Kulikovsky was my personal matter. Now we have a war crimes fund, and I try to think about it like a job. As if it is a job at the factory: I came, worked and left.

As for the capture… It is clear that there is unconscious capture – for example, a contusion. You just opened your eyes – and you are already in captivity. But if you're surrounded and you have the choice to get caught or kill yourself, given my activities and what I've already done in two years, I think it's better to die. This is not some lyrical or sad story, it is purely pragmatic. Moreover, I am convinced that the second time they will not create such a problem for themselves and let the names of Aseyev or Kozlovsky hang on the banners so that they will be pressured by some Western institutions for years. They will just torture me for a long time, and then I will disappear. They will dissolve me. It's still death, but slow. And this is not only my point of view, by the way, but also the point of view of those around me who know what I went through.

I have friends who are fighting in Avdiivka, they walk around with special ampoules — they carry poison with them. They said that after your experience, we would definitely not surrender. It is better to die. Russians are very cruel people, I know what is happening in Donetsk with our prisoners – we communicate with criminals, we maintain contact with them. At least in official prisons we know what is going on, but what they do in Isolation is hard to even imagine.

Kozlovsky: Before us is pathology on a catastrophic scale. It does not have a human dimension. There is no humanity and there is hatred for everything related to Ukraine, personally for Stas and for me. The situation itself will require you to take some actions aimed at not getting captured or destroying yourself.

– And what about the religion point of view? Killing yourself is a mortal sin.

Kozlovsky: From the point of view of the Christian religion, yes. As a religious scholar, I can say that there is no such emphasis in other religious systems. This is a situation in which a person finds oneself and faces global questions of life and death. This should be approached more irrationally. Because these sufferings will be experienced not only by you, but also by your family and friends, and will require you to take such a step.

– The two of you have a different point of view on the meaning of suffering and whether it makes sense at all.

Aseyev: It seems to me that Igor Anatoliyovych's point of view is that there is definitely a meaning. He constantly emphasizes this. Everyone has their own experience, of course, and this experience teaches something. I have the opposite opinion. If in the general metaphysical sense, then for me, of course, this does not make sense. First, I became an atheist after Isolation, so it is very difficult for me to appeal to some transcendent entity. Even if you imagine that God exists and all this is formed around some meaningful core, then I simply do not see it. Even from this point of view because several people died in that Isolation, including my fellow prisoners – just in the neighboring cells. No one would have ever known about them if I, for example, had not survived myself and written about it in a book. Even when this happened, they still do not exist at all in the information space and for their loved ones. These deaths were just for nothing. They were tortured for a long time, and in the end, that Palych in the first cell in 2017 beat a person to death. By the way, it was one of his fighters. He was buried there somewhere, in that Isolation. There are probably thousands of such examples during this war.

People always give me an argument like this: you got out, wrote a book, talked about it – that was the point. But against the background of these guys, it's a coincidence. I might not have come out either, I wouldn't talk about anything. At best, the award would be named after me and that would be the end of it. This is a game of such randomness, I do not see a general metaphysical meaning in these sufferings, they do not lead to anything.

Kozlovsky: All people are traumatized and this trauma can remain meaningless if a person does not mature and grow. My emphasis in the trauma itself is that I look at the trauma as a certain experience, and when I am aware of this trauma, I can talk it out, as Stas talks it out and writes it out, then the meaning appears. Not in the suffering itself, but in how we continue to live with this suffering. Indeed, many people disappeared from history, lost their lives. We talk about those who have gone through this suffering. How do we teach people this kind of inner self-therapy? Therefore, meaning is therapy. When you can understand this experience, talk about it, write it down, and convey it in an interview, in communication – this is what makes sense. It is connected with the fact that here we use trauma, suffering, with a certain goal – to remind about humanity, values, principles, about the need to resist evil. It really helps, not even you because it is projected through you. When you're talking to people who haven't had that experience and you have to actualize that experience in their minds so that they can grow without necessarily going through suffering. Our suffering is like a certain tool for conveying meaning.

– Didn't you feel a certain abandonment? Despite the publicity about the situation with the prisoners in Donetsk, in general, there was no fair reaction at that time in Kyiv and in the rest of Ukraine. It was still within a certain interested audience. The same situation with "Palych," who was able to cross the border with Ukraine. Did you feel your own identification with Cassandra from the inability to convey the meaning of your experience?

Kozlovsky: It is impossible to convey your experience to all of Ukraine, just as it is impossible to drink the entire ocean. There is a Sufi saying that not everyone who ran after a gazelle caught it, but everyone who caught a gazelle ran. It means that you have to keep doing.

A lot of people don't want to hear it, even now. Especially where people live such an ordinary life and again for them it is like TV. People would not like to grow up because when a person grows up, it is a certain cross of responsibility. People would like to remain in their vision of the world, to have their own picture of the world, in which everything is clear: people from Donetsk are people from Donetsk, but we are the rest. It is extremely difficult to convey this, but that does not mean that it should not be done. These efforts are aimed at society as a whole growing up. It is this active part, the critical mass of society, that our future depends on. Society in a broad sense, not only in Ukraine, but in many countries, is inert, indifferent, and very often infantile. Because people live by needs, high values do not really concern them. But the active part of civil society, which takes responsibility, must know, be aware, have information, develop, grow up, and thus pull the community as a whole. This is exactly the task. We're all different, and it's great that we're different. Not everyone should be the same, and we fight for that — for the diversity of different opinions and different positions. But the main thing is to learn to think, develop, communicate, and hear. Not only to listen, not just to speak, but also to hear another person. For me, the Ukrainian "chuty" [to hear] is about a total feeling. Not like in Russian "slushat'" [to listen] and slyshat'"  [to hear] where there is practically no difference. Listening and hearing means that you are deeply there, you can be open to new meanings and challenges, and you can grow. And this is important work.

— Has the attitude towards you changed in the community?

Aseyev: You mentioned a great example of Palych. He crossed the border on April 23, 2019, and I was eight months away from being released. That is, he lived for eight months, lived(!), not just sat, lived in Kyiv, and at that time I was still sitting in Isolation. I didn't know it, of course, but I understood it very well, and it set me apart from many, almost everyone who was in Isolation, what I would face when I was released.

In 2018, I was transferred to the fifth cell of Isolation. There was a person with whom I communicated quite well, he always asked me: "Listen, we have hell here every day. What are they doing there in that Minsk group, what do they think? We have been sitting for a year, we need to be released." I answered him: "You have to understand that now we are talking with you, maybe the door will open and you or I will be dragged to the basement, but in Ukraine, in general, everyone doesn't care about this. Undoubtedly, there are our relatives and loved ones who are in an emotional connection with us, but that's all. What is happening in Minsk subgroups, on TV channels, is all such a general plot, such cardboard scenery. These people just go to work." Then I saw it with my own eyes when I was present several times at the meetings of the Minsk subgroup. These are people who came to work, worked hard, and went on.

The whole Ukraine lives in the same way. That is, today they will bring us, say, some kind of porridge with stones, and people will simply go to restaurants in the evening. For them there is no war, no Isolation, no you, no me. To some extent this is normal. It may not be normal in terms of the political process, given what I saw happen. In this sense, maybe there is some small or big plus that Putin started the war because Minsk [negotiations - Craft.] is absolutely dead. Nothing was happening there at all, and that's why I left there. I couldn't be emotionally calm there because I understood that the guys were sitting in Isolation, and we were discussing a U-turn on some bridge somewhere on the expressway. These are incomparable things. But in general, all people in Ukraine cannot emotionally live with torture, Isolation, war, Azovstal; you'll just burn out in a week, and you'll be gone in a week if you're at it all the time.

Sitting in Isolation, I perfectly understood that for most people in Ukraine, life goes on as it has, regardless of what "Palych" comes up with and what he will do to us tonight. These were theoretical considerations, but I was struck by what I saw with my own eyes. For example, Kyiv lives a peaceful life. Even now, as soon as the Russians left. Now you have to book a table two or three days in advance if you want to sit in a cafe. From my point of view, this is normal, but it is difficult to agree with it. It's purely emotional, it takes time, if you come out of some extreme existential situation, like captivity, or even just guys from the front arrive, they look at Kyiv and react in different ways.

Kozlovsky: We look at the world from the point of view of our own internal position. When I got out of captivity, I actively got involved in the release of Stas – precisely because I know, I have experience. It’s just like him now, why he deals with war criminals – precisely because we know. And this gives additional strength. You talk about it on all platforms in Europe and America. You focus on a specific person. When you fight for a specific person, then there is hope to pull this person out. And yes, indeed, people have the right to live their everyday lives, that's normal. That’s how the defense mechanism works. We are fragile. There is a certain limit of perception. I support Stas regarding the Minsk group. When I was offered to join it, I refused. On the one hand, this is a waste of time; on the other hand, psychologically it was disgusting for me to be there, precisely because you cannot hear those voices from that side. It will simply be the return of your trauma.

— Do you see yourself as a politician?

Kozlovsky: I do not see myself as a political figure. I understand what it is, that there is politics, especially in our country. I have my space in which I live, I have a zone of responsibility that I must take into account in my life. Civil activist – yes. Politician? It is clear that we are all politicians in some way, but when we talk about politics in a traditional way, we represent this echelon of power. There were such proposals, but I am not interested in them.

Aseyev: I am a practical person, so when such offers were made at the beginning, immediately after my dismissal (they don't offer it now because I refused), I immediately said that I was not interested in pressing a button, I did not see myself in the parliament. I can roughly imagine how it happens because I have many friends there. They work there now, as parliamentarians. I'm not interested in just coming and pressing a button. If these are some specific powers, the executive power, the National Security Council, I would be interested in that. However, this requires special education, experience, and must be taken seriously. The political career of a pure parliamentarian — I don't see much sense in it.

— Your personal experience of captivity touched a large number of people from the occupied territories. Is it possible to adapt to a peaceful life in the absence of a state rehabilitation program? How can people who have returned from captivity survive as painlessly as possible?

Kozlovsky: It depends on the person who went through captivity, and got out of captivity. How much can this person work with their suffering and trauma. Currently, I do not see such a developed program involving specialists in the state. All my returnees underwent a general medical examination and that was practically all. The person remained alone with oneself. The family they return to is also traumatized because they waited, and fought. I know of such cases where children also need psychological support because they, for example, are from Donetsk themselves. They were dragged here because their father was captured. They suffer and have medical and psychological problems.

There is no support, there are sporadic moments: either a person is able to work with it on his/her own, or he/she has some connections and finds rehabilitation mechanisms on his/her own. In fact, unfortunately, there is no state program. For the law that was adopted on hostages, prisoners of war, it is still necessary to develop mechanisms for its implementation.

At the time, when I returned, I met with the then-acting Minister of Health Ulyana Suprun. I talked to her and asked about psychological rehabilitation. She said they had a person in the ministry who deals with this. I met with this person, and she informed me that, unfortunately, we have nothing. Once there was such a center after Afghanistan, back in the days of the Soviet Union. It exists as a space, but practically does not function. Specialists who understand such injuries are needed. In order to attract them, a lot of money is needed. Specialists must receive a salary because it cannot continue on a volunteer basis. At that time, I repeatedly turned to the American embassy because they have experience in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, working with people who have gone through such life trials. This experience would be useful to us through the training of specialists or through developed methods that can be translated into Ukrainian and provided to our specialists. Unfortunately, I didn't see anything, honestly.

Aseyev: Literally about a month ago, one psychologist wrote to me, quite well-known, I will not name who exactly. For what reason: a group of our prisoners of war was released, and he was supposed to meet with them. He asked me what I would advise him from my own experience when communicating with these people. I answered him: “Nothing.” Because there is no such thing as the experience of captivity; it is a completely individual thing. People who were held even in the same Isolation perceived it differently, reacted differently to the torture, to what happened at night. They were released with different emotions, I am not talking about those who were not in Isolation.

When we were brought from Isolation to the Makiivska colony, I saw our war prisoners, – boys who had been in prison for five years. And we had been in prison for 2.5 years – this was like chalk and cheese. These guys seem to have been there as if just for a month. Firstly, they were emotionally hardened, they played sports, were in a normal mood, they were kept together, they had the opportunity to communicate with their relatives because there was a phone and they were allowed to. When we were brought from Isolation, it seemed as if we had already been in prison for twenty years – no hopes, no positive emotions. And just walk through the camp, when you spent 2.5 years in a cell, it felt like you were free. This is a completely unique individual perception of what is happening to you. I wouldn't say that there are any general templates by which everyone can be measured.

Kozlovsky: Everyone has their own experience and maturity. I also saw small death cells from the cells I was in. A person, if he is immature, already there begins to lose human traits. It depends on the emotional, deep-psychological experience, not only on the level of emotions. There are developed individual methods because there are key points that must be taken into account and what experts ask. We also communicated with specialists, psychologists, and psychiatrists. They have a general idea of what a traumatized person is, but they have not encountered such problems. Indeed, they need to have some understanding of methodologies and techniques, how to work with a person, and how to conduct that first interview. It all starts with it, when a specialist meets with a person who has been captured, and this interview is also different from the usual psychological or psychoanalytic interview. It is necessary to ask these questions.

— What do you think is happening in Donetsk now in mental and psychological terms with the people who live there? How do you think they identify themselves?

Kozlovsky: We have certain information, each from our own bubble, from our own contacts. It can be different, especially when you lived there in the same bubble because you can't analyze the whole thing at such a great distance. But it is true that the population there is not a monolith. There was a loss of a large number of pro-Ukrainian elements during these eight years. Of course, there are very few people left who stand on pro-Ukrainian positions, but they do exist. I know them. There is already a large number of people oriented towards Russia because they are connected by certain ties. Their relatives have been in these armed formations since 14-15 years ago. Some have losses; their relatives died. Something is already connected with the events that are taking place in this area. There continues to be a large number of people who would like to return to 2013, an indifferent part of the population who will live under any government, so that they will not be touched, as long as there was a salary and pensions. There are a large number of such people. They existed and will exist in any region. This is not a feature of the Donetsk region or the Luhansk region; it is a general characteristic of people. They just want peace, so that nothing happens, so that they can continue to live peacefully, and under which government – it doesn't matter to them.

As for the younger generation, they really grew up in different conditions. Those who, in one way or another, still broke out or are breaking out, go to Ukraine or Russia and stay there. The region is no longer as young as it used to be; this young generation is being lost.

What happens to consciousness (because this is a problem of people's consciousness)? Consciousness is plastic and if we free these territories and some time passes, consciousness will gradually change under the influence of other information. Not everyone will change. We know what happened after the Soviet Union: people lived under the influence of Soviet information, and it is also specific because the world was closed. Many people have changed their point of view already during independent Ukraine, but many did not. They remained in the past. It is also an individual story of everyone. The problem is that they feel that everyone has abandoned them. They believe that Donetsk will disappear, that it will be destroyed and there is no future. The old people will simply live there somehow, and more or less the younger generation will leave those territories. These are phrases that I hear from people with whom I communicate in one way or another.

Aseyev: I would say that two narratives dominate in those territories now. Firstly, a reference to the Soviet past. These are those who still dream of the restoration of the Soviet Union in the literal sense. For them, Ukraine does not exist. For them there are no other former republics; for them, there is a great Russia in the form of a Soviet ally and they want to get there.

Other narratives, I don't really like the word, it has a negative connotation these days, but it's lumpen, precisely from the point of view of scientific Marxism. This is a person who is detached from one's historical roots, and has no political and social connections with the present. This person is interested in what he/she can reach. According to my feelings, at the moment most of them are just like that. This was caused by exhaustion from the war, and the incomprehensible narratives of the Russian Federation because they have Ukrainian citizenship, the so-called LNR-DPR, and Russian citizenship. Somewhere in the middle of this journey, they were told about Novorossiya, then Malorossiya. In the end, they got the fact that today there is no water in Donetsk due to shelling. Now everything is on fire there, practically every day, and they again do not understand how this is happening, or who is shooting. Despite the fact that most pay attention to the shots – a few seconds and the missile landing, so it is clear from where.

This horror has been repeated since 2014, but these people remind me of a patient who notices only symptoms. He thinks the disease will go away if he does something about the symptoms, but he doesn't see them coming back. Even if they pass for a while, this will not remove the disease. They do not see Russia as this disease. In 2013, no one fired at anyone, there was water, there was a new airport, a new railway station, a new stadium and a new hockey club. We had granite curbs! This cannot be compared with what happened. From a logical point of view, it is impossible to blame Ukraine for this because before Russia came there in 2014, no one fired at anyone. However, there is no understanding of this logic precisely because these people have already been formed in these eight years according to new narratives.

Kozlovsky: Cause-effect relationships are broken. Communicating with those who stand in such a position of not understanding what is happening, I conclude that they actually no longer remember what happened in the beginning. Their story begins at some point, for example, "The airport was bombed." And where is the beginning, where is the logic, who starts the war itself? This is indeed a problem.

— Is there a chance that this will change when the Ukrainian Donbas returns?

Aseyev: It is very difficult to make any predictions given the situation at the front. Because if we do not physically liberate these territories, it will only get worse, worse, and worse. Not only the new generation, which has already gone to school and knows neither the Ukrainian language nor the history of Ukraine, and nothing about Ukraine. We will also lose newer generations and therefore, of course, then it will be impossible to talk about Ukrainian Donbas. Therefore, only through the physical liberation of these regions will it be possible to gradually, over decades, return Ukraine there.

Kozlovsky: But Russia sets a task, if they withdraw from these territories, they will simply destroy them. Like Mariupol.

– Will other occupied territories face the same fate?

Kozlovsky: It is necessary to liberate them quickly, although the situation there is slightly different, but there are also people who are engaged in collaboration, or are just as indifferent and are already adapting to the new situation. Everything repeats itself, and the people, of course, are the same. But there is a short period of time, so we must hurry, we must throw our forces into liberating the south of our country. This is a really important task.

Aseyev: What I see from the work of our special services in that region, I think they drew conclusions from Donetsk and Luhansk. They actually blow up someone there every week, be it railway tracks or collaborators, so that they cannot create a political core in that territory. Russia, of course, could bring Russians there, but it is important to show them that these are local people who were waiting for Russia, and they are simply being killed. These are also conclusions from Donetsk and Luhansk, when in 2014 they were quite loyal to these people and we lost a lot of human resources and time.

— You said that creativity helped you to write out your experience to a certain extent in captivity. What are your plans for such a job now?

Kozlovsky: There really was such a situation that everything I wrote was constantly taken away during the search. They left only poems for some reason. They were not interested in poetry; they did not understand them. There were associations, some references to Japanese or Brazilian culture. They did not understand it and therefore let me keep it. Yes, I write a little. I still need to write. Earlier, the family had issues that had to be resolved. Now is a quieter time in terms of being able to write, so I write sometimes.

Aseyev: Oddly enough, I am currently engaged in translation activities. Because about two weeks ago, I found an electronic file of my artistic works that I wrote during the war and even 2012-2013, which I hid even before my arrest.

There is already an agreement with the publishing house that we will publish all of them, but they are mostly all, except for poetry, in Russian. They should be translated into Ukrainian and published as a separate collection. No longer like The Torture Camp on Paradise Street, bilingual, but to make it monolithic, in Ukrainian. I want to rely on myself in this, and not on the translator because this is not The Torture Camp on Paradise Street. These are artistic things, there are many lyrical moments that, I think, no one can translate better than I. Therefore, I can say that at night I prepare a book for future publication.

— Do you, as readers and writers, see a threat in the fact that literature will turn into a documentary record of war and other topics can disappear from the discourse?

Kozlovsky: I understand what it is about, but fiction has a different dimension. It is able, through such parables, artistic moments, certain associations, to reach a depth at which something existential in you is recalled. For example, I read today that a film is being made about this war, but a fantasy film. Already, even in the cinema, they are beginning to understand: a different look, a different vision appears, and that's good. Literature will not die. Yes, there will be fixation, there will be reportage, but there will also be fiction.

Aseyev: I would say that real literature will stay. Why, by the way, is there a discourse about Russian literature because I understand that for Ukraine it is perceived as a trauma, but for the world it is still very powerful literature because it has a metaphysical core. Real literature is very difficult to classify.

For example, Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front is not about war. This book seems to be about war, but it is not about war at all. This can be said about every substantial work that contains marginal issues, and if they are included in the literature about the war, well, okay, it can be. But the main thing is that a person learns from such a work not only that war is a horror, but also something about themselves, how to move in this horror. I would not say that we have any threat that the theme of the war will be exclusive. Here it is a matter of quality, how it is presented.

Kozlovsky: The person in the war needs to be the center. This is fiction. Not just a certain description, but a person, with their experience, wanderings, steps in this situation.

Aseyev: It generally refers to experience. Polanski's film The Pianist came to mind. It seems to be entirely about the war, but not at all about the war because it is an individual story of personal suffering and exploration in the ruins of Warsaw. The film is not a historical Soviet picture when tanks just drive for an hour and a half and you watch them fight somewhere near Stalingrad.

— Can torture be described in fiction?

Aseyev: In fiction – it's hard for me to say. For example, I would not call my book The Torture Camp on Paradise Street fiction, it is non-fiction.

In the sense that there is no fiction and torture is described there literally, for one and a half pages, in dry, rational language, so that a person can understand exactly what it is about. But if we talk about savoring suffering, then, of course, there is no sense in this.

Kozlovsky: I can tell a lot about such things, but it is difficult for me to tell about personal torture, and how they tortured because I am beginning to understand that it can be an excessive challenge for another person. I don't tell about it even to my relatives. I would not risk writing it out with artistic power.

— What do you think should be done at the sites of former torture camps? Memorials, or just leave it empty? Or museums, how to rethink it all?

Aseyev: We already have the experience of German concentration camps, from which such memorials were made. I think it definitely fits the experience of Isolation, but I’m not sure about other places where torture took place. I think that other premises will be rebuilt for new functions of those buildings, as was before in Ukraine. Because there was, for example, a tax office at 26 Shevchenko Street, and this building remained there. It's hard for me to imagine how tours will be shown there. There are only 4-5 cameras. But such powerful, large-territorial things as Isolation, of course, can be turned into a memorial.

— What are the relationships between philosophy, religion, literature, and journalism for you now? How much time do they take in life, how do they affect each other?

Aseyev: Philosophy is generally my bane, you know. I am always between two extremes: on the one hand, I understand how good it is that I studied at the faculty [of philosophy - Craft], it helped me very well during imprisonment to place some accents and show these accents to other people. On the other hand, I sometimes have the feeling that I would not have been captured if I had not studied at the Faculty of Philosophy [laughs - ed]. This is a very complex and abstract question.

Therefore, I try to reduce philosophy in my life because it is toxic to people who do not practice it and do not have such experience. It is very difficult to build relationships with them or communicate with them,  etc. Here one must understand that it is like an experience of captivity. When you talk to a person who was in captivity, it is one thing. When you just tell some girl about these things, she doesn't need it; you don't have to do it like that. This is roughly how I look at philosophy now. I am not engaged in journalism now because journalism is facts, not judgments. I do publicism: I write articles with a certain point of view, and it cannot be called purely dry journalism. Literature – I have already written it, and now I have a translation activity.

Kozlovsky: It is difficult for me to separate. I have been engaged in religious studies for 47 years. This is my life. I immerse myself in the experiences of various religious communities not only in Ukraine but in the world in general, understanding all the nuances. The deeper I go, the more I realize that there is an infinity before me. I live by it, I'm interested in it, it opens not only external horizons, but it raises something internal. Not only do I research, but I also teach, I try to teach based on my experience and understanding. Perhaps it will differ from the understanding of other researchers, perhaps it also applies to literature.

There is a certain imprint of your profession, fate, and life. Although Stanislav does try to move away from philosophy, his specialty will still influence his literature. Moreover, he was always such a meticulous student. What made him different from others – he always had his own opinion, it was honest, and it always distinguished him and caught the eye. I always like it when each student has their own point of view. Then you understand that in front of you is a thinking person. Such a person thinks differently. It may have annoyed some teachers, I know them [laughs - ed.] But it was this honesty that allowed him to move in this philosophical space, finding something of his own that differed from another point of view.

It is always impossible to divide a person, so to speak: here you end up as a philosopher, here as a religious scientist, journalist, or writer. This is one person and one can take information or knowledge from other parts of their being, and look at this or that phenomenon from different positions. This is normal.

— Is the thirst for revenge a productive feeling? Does it help to survive, to win, how do you feel about it?

Aseyev: I have a clear answer because all results on Isolation are conscious and processed revenge. Only it is not toxic when I simply hate these people and chide myself with it, but it is strategic: write a book, translate, ask questions in Minsk, create a website, tell the world about it. Including publicly mentioning the names of these people, creating a problem for them, but about "Palych" is a separate matter. In my sense, revenge looks like a rational strategy. It is not emotionally toxic.

Kozlovsky: Revenge in the everyday sense is destructive. As soon as it is filled with meaning, it is no longer revenge, but justice. It is our task that this justice becomes one that will bring these people to punishment.

— Love in times of war. What does this mean for you personally and for humanity in general? Love in a broad sense is about philia, agape, and eros separately.

Aseyev: It's better for Ihor Anatoliyovych, he's a specialist in this! [laughs - ed.]

Kozlovsky: This cannot be a short answer. It is infinity, you know! You are right to say that in the ancient world, there were many such views of love that we use in the sense of love. Although there is a word for "kokhannia" in the Ukrainian language, and only "lubov" in Russian, we can love Lucy, ice cream and our cat, and this blurs the perception. In fact, these were different points of view in the ancient world: eros, and philia, and storge, and agape, and ludus, and mania. There are many of them, different manifestations, and each of them is painful.

There is also the use of one's Ego, and simply at the level of carnal love, or family, like storge. This is when you feel what family ties are like, they don't have to be erotically charged. Or a philia when there is friendly love. It is also important. Agape is another dimension, the bar that, I won't say goes beyond emotions, but it is volitional, voluntary love that is, love that is filled with your responsibility. You invest in this love so that it becomes an instrument for changing the whole world, both internally and externally.

I constantly remember this dialogue when Christ meets Peter after the Resurrection and asks him this question, because before that Peter betrayed Christ three times. Christ asks: "Peter, do you love me?" And he answers: "I love You, Lord!" He asks a second time: "Do you love me?" Peter answers again: "I love You, Lord!" And the third time yes, and he says: "You see everything, Lord!" Well, some strange dialogue. But if we read in the Greek version, we see this: "Peter, do you agapeo me?" And he answers: "Philio you, Lord!" Again Christ: "Do you agapeo?" That is, have you grown to the level of agape? He answers again. And the third time he asks: "Do you philio?" And he answers: "Well, you see everything, Lord!" He has not yet grown to agapeo. Then he will grow up, he will be crucified, like Christ, and he will say that he cannot be like Christ, he will be crucified differently than Christ. But this suggests that love must grow.

Love is a process, a work, not an emotion. They are there, they certainly are. But we live in such a world where our mood changes, situations change, and if we are not responsible, we can break the relationship. We can say that love has "passed". But she can't pass if it's real love! This requires effort, agape — volitional efforts.

— What is love in wartime?

Kozlovsky: It is unconditional. For me, in general, everything that is happening now is a manifestation of love, and I see it all the time. Starting with the fact that I saw these queues at the military commissariats, when people went to defend their country. I saw these volunteers who lost their health and money in order to support the displaced people and the front. This is love, unconditional love. That is, love is multidimensional, it manifests itself in the process because love is action, not words. And I saw these people in the first days, and I saw those people who could not leave – old women walking along the road and the front door opens, a person runs out and brings food to these old strangers. She carries food – this is love. Even to strangers. This is precisely the characteristic feature of this war, that it is really a people’s was, that we are an armed people in various forms of weapons, not only those who took up arms, but those who help. This is a different kind of love.

– How can you treat the enemy and the executioner?

Aseyev: This is also a multidimensional question because the executioner and the enemy are different things. People who tortured others are one thing, people who are combatants and "fight" are another. The question is whether you have the opportunity to respond with torture upon torture, and whether you will do so, and how you will differentiate yourself from that enemy. Even if I say that it is not possible, I have an answer in the book that it is not possible. Not because I'm held back by any moral barriers or fear of the transcendent or even the law, but because what annoyed them most, for example, was just seeing themselves in my face when I passed security for a walk. And if I torture them back, this difference will simply disappear. I will stand in line with them.

Kozlovsky: This is absolutely correct, it is a process of realizing who you are. I emphasize constantly, there is no need to mirror the enemy, the Russians. It is they who dehumanize themselves, it is they who have dehumanized and demonized themselves, even to a certain extent, by their actions since the beginning of the war. Humanity is a sign of a civilized Ukraine that has adopted the values of the future. We are being watched from all sides, from the whole world. They look not only at our victories but also at how we behave in this war. And this is an extremely important moment, so you don't need to mirror it, you don't need to repeat it.

Short profile

Stanislav Aseyev is a journalist and writer, an author of philosophical and surrealistic prose and poems. After the beginning of the Russian–Ukrainian war, he remained in Donetsk in order to describe the reality surrounding him objectively while anonymously working with many leading Ukrainian media under the pseudonym Stanislav Vasin. In June 2017, he was arrested by so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) militants and thrown into Izolyatsia prison. Later, in his collection In Isolation: Dispatches from Occupied Donbas, he describes the early period of the Russian military aggression in Ukraine’s east from 2015–2017. Aseyev wrote the documentary book The Torture Camp on Paradise Street, the most important evidence of the atrocities of the DPR militants in the prisons under their control. The book has been translated into many languages, including English by Zenia Tompkins and Nina Murray. He is actively engaged in human rights and educational activities.


Ihor Kozlovsky is a Ukrainian scientist, religious scholar, has PhD in historical sciences, poet, prose writer, public activist. Senior Researcher, Department of Religious Studies, Institute of Philosophy named after G.S. Skovoroda of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. President of the Center of Religious Science Research and International Spiritual Relations. Member of the Expert Council on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations at the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine. Actively participate in Donetsk Euromaidan and Interfaith Prayer Marathon for the unity of Ukraine (March-November 2014, Donetsk). January 27, 2016 was captured by militants so-called "Donetsk Peoples Republic" and was in captivity almost 2 years (700 days) until December 27, 2017. The author of poetry collections and prose works, as well as more than 50 scientific books and over 200 articles in dictionaries, encyclopedias, scientific periodicals. He actively advocates the release of political prisoners in Russia and in the occupied territories of Donbass and Crimea.