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Russia's growing global influence, Zelensky's uncertain future and the main fear of the USA

There is a city in Ukraine whose control would grant Russia significant global influence. What is this city, why is it so important, and how close is Russia to capturing it? How long can Ukraine sustain its mobilization efforts, and do they have enough weapons for every soldier?

Is it true that the USA fears Russia losing the war? And will Zelensky be re-elected once the war is over?

Russia's growing global influence, Zelensky's uncertain future and the main fear of the USA

Brian Bonner: Hello, everybody. This is Brian Bonner, host of Ukraine Calling, coming to you from Hromadske Radio’s studio on Khreshchatyk Street. Today’s guest is one of the most theatrical, combative, and fierce members of Ukraine’s parliament. He was an early entry on Russia’s enemies list, and the Kremlin has considered him a terrorist, I think, since 2015. He has more recently tried, unsuccessfully, to get Russian athletes banned from the Summer Olympics in Paris.

Oleksiy Goncharenko: Partly successfully.

Brian Bonner: Partly successful. One of the times, he spray-painted «nein» (the German word for “no”) on the section of the Berlin Wall outside the German embassy in Kyiv to protest the German government’s stance on elections in the Russian-occupied Donbas.

Oleksiy Goncharenko: It was long ago, yes. The German ambassador made such a mistake.

Brian Bonner: Yes, I remember Ernst Reichel very well. I interviewed him many times.

He was once kidnapped in Odesa; we’ll have to talk about that. He wore rubber gloves to pace to troll the Russians after the poisoning of the Skripals in the United Kingdom in 2018. He is the son of former Odesa mayor Oleksiy Kostusyev (2010 to 2013, Party of Regions). He made his own political transition from the Green Party to the Party of Regions to now European Solidarity, led by ex-President Petro Poroshenko.

He has been a prominent critic of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, at least before the full-scale war. Maybe we can talk about how you get along now. He was a frequent contributor to the Kyiv Post when I was the chief editor. I appreciate those contributions, and I went back and read over many of them before talking to you. Without further ado, we welcome Oleksiy Goncharenko to the studio.

Oleksiy Goncharenko: Thank you very much. It’s an honor to be with you today, Brian.

How is the largest southern city of Ukraine surviving the war?

Brian Bonner: I’m glad I caught you because you do a lot of traveling inside and outside of Ukraine. I want to first talk about Odesa. It’s getting the hell bombed out of it, basically. It seems like that. How is it holding up? And will they get sufficient air defenses soon to protect your city?

Oleksiy Goncharenko: Yeah, it’s pretty hard in Odesa. It’s not as hard as in Kharkiv, for example, but it’s definitely harder than in Kyiv or in many other cities in western Ukraine. But Odesa is Odesa. We are standing firm; we are standing tall. So, it’s clear that for Vladimir Putin today, Odesa is the number one aim in Ukraine.

Even Putin realizes that he can’t take Kyiv. But the second most strategic city in Ukraine, with all respect to all other cities, is definitely Odesa. Kyiv is the capital of Ukraine, but Odesa is the capital of the Black Sea because it’s the biggest city on the Black Sea shore. This is not just in Ukraine but the biggest city on the Black Sea shore, period. It’s the biggest harbor in the Black Sea. It’s one of the biggest agricultural harbors of the world, on which food security of the world heavily depends.

Putin’s taking Odesa means so much. It means cutting Ukraine from the Black Sea, which will make our economy insufficient and unsustainable. It’s to get a connection to an already occupied part of Moldova called Transnistria. It’s about control over the Black Sea. It’s about control over agricultural exports.

Today, Putin and the Russian Empire are among the biggest players in the world’s energy market. If they took the southern part of Ukraine and Odesa, they would become among the biggest agricultural players, giving them a fantastic and dangerous future. They would be the first to leverage against the whole world. So, this is very strategic; we understand this.

Thanks to the Ukrainian army, Russians are far away. They were kicked out at the end of 2022 from the right bank of the Dnipro River; also, one-third of their Black Sea fleet is already destroyed by Ukraine, including the missile cruiser Moskva, which is now a “submarine.” The other ships joined Moskva at the sea bottom. Because of this, Russia can’t conduct any landing operations against Odesa, and it can’t get through on the ground to Odesa. But they can bomb Odesa, which they do.

Brian Bonner: Do you have any inside information on air defenses? Because it was a big campaign.

Oleksiy Goncharenko: If I had, I would not tell you. We can’t speak about exactly where the Patriots are or where other systems are. We can’t talk about these in this way. But we definitely need more air defense and protection for Odesa and the Odesa port. It means a lot, not just for one million Odesa people, not just for 40 million Ukrainians. But it means a lot for the whole planet because, according to the estimation of the United Nations, 400 million people in the world are dependent on calories from Ukrainian crops, which makes Odesa so crucial for the world’s food security.

So, Odesa port should be protected to save millions of people from starvation and prevent inflation and food prices from peaking worldwide. So, I hope that our allies will do more to protect Odesa port from Russian missile and drone attacks.

Brian Bonner: They’re not going to get it, are they? Odesa and the port?

Oleksiy Goncharenko: Again, we were attacked. Sometimes it is intercepted, sometimes not. We definitely need more air defense.

Brian Bonner: Okay, got it. I’m sure he (Putin – ed.) would like to go on to Moldova, too, because Moldova is moving West politically.

Oleksiy Goncharenko: This year, there will be elections in Moldova, and we have already seen how Russia tries to influence these elections to intervene in this.

Support of Ukraine from the USA

Brian Bonner: You just came back from the United States last week? It was an extended trip; what was your big takeaway there?

Oleksiy Goncharenko: The biggest takeaway was the final decision of the U.S. Congress on the ($61 billion aid) supplemental. That was very important. That was very painful, all these six months of debates. Now we are finished with this. This is very good, and I am very thankful to the U.S. Congress, the U.S. president, and the people of the United States of America for all this support.

But we must understand that this support and this supplement win us time. It doesn’t win the war. I just want your listeners to know that of this $61 billion, $28 billion is direct military supply to Ukraine, plus $8 billion of economic or financial support, which is a loan to Ukraine. All other money is either for the Pentagon and internal American use, U.S. use, or some humanitarian help, but it’s not about Ukraine.

Part of the contracts will be fulfilled up to 2029 from this $28 billion. The Russian military budget just this year is $113 billion. So you can compare and understand that this is very important. This is big money. This money has not been given to Ukraine directly. This money will be given to U.S. weaponry, which will be produced in the United States of America, creating jobs in the United States of America.

And by this, we will just kill enemies of the United States of America because Russia is saying that they are fighting here in Ukraine, not with Ukraine, but with NATO, with Anglo-Saxons, with the United States, and so on. So that is very good, very important, but it’s definitely not enough to finish this war.

Brian Bonner: Oleksiy, I know that Ukrainians are reluctant to criticize their allies. So I’ll use the words of Americans like Ben Hodges, and Kurt Volker, who say the problem is the U.S. policy. The United States has not decided that it wants Ukraine to win and is willing to give everything it takes for Ukraine to defeat Russia. Did you sense a shift in attitude towards that policy while you were there?

Oleksiy Goncharenko: No. This is a very good question. We are very thankful for all the support for Ukraine, and without this support, we would be done already. But yes, there is an issue. Many people in Washington want Ukraine to win, but at the same time, they are afraid of Russia losing. And it’s quite strange that they have this, even after two years of full-scale invasion and 10 years of war. This is a very big problem for us.

I think all these hesitations about HIMARS, ATACMS, long-range ATACMS, Patriots, and F-16s are because of this. It’s very frustrating because I joined territorial defense when the full-scale invasion started here in Kyiv. I saw everything. I saw Kyiv’s defense with my own eyes. If Ukraine had had the weaponry that we received later in March and April 2022, we would have destroyed the Russian invading army completely, and the war would have been over two years ago.

Then, there was a moment when we were preparing our weapons. We were preparing our fall counteroffensive of 2022. It was extremely successful, but we didn’t have tanks and armor to pursue the Russians where they were running away. Because of this, we did not succeed in kicking them off completely from Ukrainian territory.

We are receiving enough to survive but not enough to defeat the Russians. This is a huge challenge for us. The problem is that, and I am telling this, if we are given everything we need but in several years, for example, it will be too late. It’s not just about weaponry. It’s about the people who will operate this. We are losing people every day. This is the biggest tragedy and problem for Ukraine.

Mobilization in Ukraine

Brian Bonner: Exactly. Which brings us to a related topic. Many in the military say our problem with the shortage of soldiers is almost as severe as the shortage of weapons. There are critics among the allies and within Ukraine who say that the conscription policy and the mobilization policy are failing because they are not getting the fighting-age men inside Ukraine to the front lines where they are needed now.

We had months-long debates over lowering the conscription age, as we’ve talked about, from 27 to 25, when most nations, including Russia, have an 18-year-old conscription age. And we also know that there may be up to a million fighting-age men abroad, and that’s irritating our Polish allies and other allies. Now we’ve come to a situation where, after criticizing the Russians for taking prisoners to the front, we’ve now approved that ourselves. It doesn’t look good. Why aren’t men signing up in sufficient numbers, and what can be done about that?

Oleksiy Goncharenko: Let me start with the last point about prisoners, convicted prisoners. It looks like it’s the same as what Russia did, but it’s really not. Russia created units from them, such as the Wagner Group, which was used as a kind of “Shtrafbat” (suicide squad). During the Second World War, the Soviet Union also used convicts. Just to attack the front lines, to quickly die, but pave the way for others. Russia used the same tactics with the Wagner Group.

That’s not the case here. In Ukraine, we will take some convicted prisoners into our regular army, where they will fight alongside other soldiers. There is no specific attitude towards them; their rights will be the same, and so on. Secondly, Russia took awful people: cannibals, rapists, mass murderers, and so on. We decided not to take anybody who committed very serious crimes. We will also not take those who were high officials and committed, for example, high corruption crimes. So it will be just those who committed not very serious crimes.

It’s absolutely normal that we will use these people if they want to, and it will be their voluntary decision to go or not. Today, we are taking from Ukrainian cities plumbers, journalists, and singers. Why can’t we take thieves, bullies, or people like them? They also have the right to defend their country, and we need troops. We need people. So I don’t see anything bad in this.

But yes, in general, to answer your question, we have a problem with manpower, just because Russia is four times bigger than us. And don’t forget one thing: Ukraine is losing people, not like Russia, in this war. Russia is losing people in bigger numbers. They don’t care about people; they are using them as cannon fodder. We are not losing people like they do, three times every day on the front lines. We’re also losing people in the rear because of Russian missile attacks, drone attacks, and so on.

Thirdly, we are missing people. We are losing people because, with every day, fewer people will come back, those who are now externally displaced. They are creating families, they are socializing in new countries, and so on. And fourth, it’s demographics. Ukrainians are not being born in large numbers now. In 1990, one million babies were born in Ukraine. In 2023, only 187,000. This is an awful demographic catastrophe that we have today. So, for us, manpower is a huge issue and the most critical asset.

Brian Bonner: But we still have millions of fighting-age men who are not in the war.

Oleksiy Goncharenko: First of all, you can’t send all fighting-age men to the war. The economy should continue, and the cities should be run. There should be electricity, water, food, and so on. So, you can’t take all these people.

Brian Bonner: But if we lose the war, there’s no nation.

Oleksiy Goncharenko: Yeah, that’s true. Fortunately, we are not losing this war. However, we also can’t completely shut down our lives in the rear, and we can’t take all men of fighting age there. Also, don’t forget that we have losses. Some people are not physically fit, some are not eligible, some are fathers of three or more children, some are taking care of disabled people, and so on. So, we can’t take everybody to the front lines.

Brian Bonner: Right. But wouldn’t we lose fewer soldiers if, as the military argues, they are exhausted? And you know yourself, when you’re exhausted, you start making bad decisions. Your effectiveness goes down; you end up getting killed. I mean, they end up getting killed because they’re in a life-and-death situation. They’re saying we need everybody in the war. We are expecting the West to do everything for Ukraine’s victory. And yet, Ukrainian society, and I live here, has not fully engaged in the war, the war of survival.

Oleksiy Goncharenko: The estimation should be made using a comparison, you know. What do I mean? First of all, I agree with you. I am one of those who fought to establish terms of service for Ukrainian soldiers. Today, there is no term of service, and those who have been fighting for more than two years don’t know when they will return. It’s endless, and this is very bad, it’s very demotivating, and it also influences mobilization.

When men know that they will be mobilized, nobody knows when they will come back home. That does not help mobilization. I introduced such bills to the parliament and did my best to push them. Unfortunately, for the moment, there is no result, and this is a very big problem.

But let us look at it from another perspective. The Ukrainian army has nearly one million men. Many of them came voluntarily in the early months of the Russian full-scale invasion. Are you sure that in many Western countries, one million men would go as volunteers to fight?

Brian Bonner: If a foreign enemy took over 20% of America, everybody would be in the fight.

Oleksiy Goncharenko: I don’t know. I’m not speaking about the United States; you know better. For example, I met with one of the ambassadors of European countries at the Council of Europe, and she told me, “If we were attacked, we would surrender.” And in many European countries, the moods are like this. You should know this.

Brian Bonner: Many European countries would have to because they don’t have a defense.

Oleksiy Goncharenko: Yeah, that’s so. They don’t even try. That means that one million people who can fight is a big number, and we still have the possibility of replenishing them. But also, it’s a question of effectiveness. We are not in the Middle Ages, where everything was just calculated by the number of people. The most important thing is what weapons these people use. Today, one man with FPV drones and very good training is much more effective than 100 men with Kalashnikovs in their hands.

So in Ukraine, with our limited manpower, even if we would take one million people more, Russia would take three million more people, four million more. In any case, they are four times bigger than us. And so whatever we would do, Russia always could take more people to the front line than we can. It’s just many more people. So, the most important thing for us is that these people should have the best weaponry, tactics, and strategy. This is the only way for us.

Brian Bonner: But even your generals are saying: “We can have all the weapons we want, but there’s nobody to shoot them.”

Oleksiy Goncharenko: Yeah, exactly, so we need both. But again, I’m hearing it not just from you but also from other Western journalists or experts and so on. You’re saying Ukraine should mobilize more people. Ukraine is trying to do this. But at the same time, if you continue dragging your feet like it’s happening now with the military support; OK, we will take more people one time, second time. Then they will finish, and we will be just completely destroyed.

Brian Bonner: They must go together (military aid and people – ed.). The American generals have explained it to me this way: American soldiers are less afraid to go to the front because they know they will be armed, trained, and put in a big group with a strategy designed not to have casualties. It looks like Ukrainian men are not that confident they’re going to survive the war.

But this is affecting support. I don’t know exactly what your position is because I’m hearing different things. But remember when the Russians intercepted the phone call from the head of the German Air Force? He was talking about sending Taurus missiles, by the way, they have 600 Taurus missiles, and the general said: “We could send 100, they can destroy the Kerch Bridge, all the key sites in Crimea. But it won’t change the war because it looks like they don’t have the ground troops to follow up.” And you talked about that. We ran out of troops to follow up on the successful offensive in 2022.

Oleksiy Goncharenko: No, in 2022 we had enough people. The problem was weaponry.

Brian Bonner: All right, but I’m saying the point is, your Western allies are saying you got to fix the manpower problem. Do you agree with them, or do you not?

Oleksiy Goncharenko: Yeah, definitely. We tried, and we spoke with you. You said it looks bad, convicted prisoners. And I told you we need them, and we are doing this. So I’m co-author of this law.

Brian Bonner: Do we need to double the size?

Oleksiy Goncharenko: We don’t have weaponry to double the size. What will we do with them? We can take double. Theoretically, we can double the size. But what will they do? We don’t have what to arm them. We don’t have enough ammunition for the people we already have now.

Brian Bonner: So we’re looking at 100,000?

Oleksiy Goncharenko: Yeah. But we also need to change those who have been fighting for two years—200,000 or 300,000. That means that we need to change people. We need hundreds of thousands more people to change those already fighting and also to increase the number. But again, it’s not just about numbers. We can’t just go by the numbers. If we do, we are done, we are finished. We will always lose to Russia in numbers.

Will the Ukrainian refugees return home?

Brian Bonner: You are on a related topic; you touched on it. And I have done a program on it. I’m concerned because we have more than five million people living abroad. And as you rightly point out, the longer the war goes on, the less likely they are to return. And many of them are women of childbearing age and kids in school. You chair the committee of the Parliamentary Assembly Council of Europe on migration, refugees, and displaced persons. Are we going to get these people back?

Oleksiy Goncharenko: People are people. They are not slaves. They will come back only if they want to come back. And, yes, with every day, the longer the war continues, the fewer people will come back. That’s the reality. For them to return, we must finish the war here first. Secondly, we need to create conditions for them to come back. Some have apartments and houses in Kyiv, Odesa, and Lviv, and they can return anytime.

Some of them had their lives in the occupied territories, where everything was destroyed: Mariupol, Bakhmut, Severodonetsk, and so on. So, they will return if they know where to live, where to work, send their kids to school, and so on. And this is a huge challenge for us. We definitely need to do all we can to make as many of them come back. We need to think about this now. But we really can’t do much about this today. Because the main reason why they are abroad is because of security. And security is still a huge, huge problem.

Brian Bonner: If we win the war, they’ll return?

Oleksiy Goncharenko: Yeah, probably. But we need to encourage Western countries, too. Some Western countries, for example, are making policies that welcome those who are young and can work. They need a workforce.

Brian Bonner: Many countries are in no hurry to send Ukrainian refugees.

Oleksiy Goncharenko: Yeah, exactly. But some countries are in a hurry to send aged people, disabled people, and so on (back to Ukraine). People who are not in the workforce. So, it’s also something that shouldn’t happen. There should be an equal attitude to all of them from a humanitarian point of view. Also, what I will do is we will, in the Parliament of the Council of Europe, prepare a report which will be discussed and adopted in June during a summer procession about Ukrainian displaced persons abroad. And we will also encourage these countries to create programs to help these people return home.

Even today, some of these people are ready to go back home, take some security risks, and so on. If they had where to live or at least to start their first months here in some new place. If some European countries want these people to return home, they can help create programs for them. To help them come back, give them money and financial support for the first time, and get them home. That’s also an important part, and I hope that we will adopt it and I hope that some countries will follow this

Brian Bonner: Currently, Ukrainians there can live with status until March 2025. Are you proposing not to renew it?

Oleksiy Goncharenko: No, my proposal is different; this status is temporary. We need to find a long-term solution. Because if the war will be finished by March 2025, it’s one story. If not, many of these people will not come back. And it means that it’s time. They can’t be just on this temporary status. They will need to receive some permanent status in the countries where they are.

Goncharenko centers in Ukraine

Brian Bonner: We’re already in the 11th year (of the war – ed.), depending on how you count it. You know, I wanted to ask you about what’s changed. You run a network of Goncharenko centers – educational and cultural centers. One of them is housed at the Kyiv Post at 68 Zhylianska Street. And I believe you had said, and I’ve been reading about that, that one of your missions is to get this to be an English-speaking country. Ukrainian first, English second, and pushing Russian out. Is that true?

Oleksiy Goncharenko: Yeah, that’s true; I believe in the English language. We want to be a part of the free world, and we want to speak with the free world in one language: the English language. So we need more Ukrainians to speak English. It is important for the country in general, but it’s important for them individually. So yes, I created and run the biggest network in Ukraine of educational, cultural non-governmental centers called Goncharenko centers. We already have 31 of them operating, and tomorrow I will open the 32nd one in the Poltava region.

Brian Bonner: Congratulations. What city?

Oleksiy Goncharenko: Bilyky, it’s a small town, but it will be open tomorrow.

Brian Bonner: Is the funding going okay? How are you doing?

Oleksiy Goncharenko: The story with funding is miraculous and very interesting. I started the first centers by myself and my family in my constituency because we believe in education. Everything is free of charge in our center. Whoever comes in, everything is free of charge. The main activity is English, but we have other languages too. We have French, Spanish, Polish, German, Mandarin, Turkish, etc.

Brian Bonner: Is it volunteer teaching?

Oleksiy Goncharenko: Some teachers are volunteers, and some are paid. For example, the English language is mostly paid teachers and always one of the best in the cities and towns where we operate. So, how do we finance this? My wife and I started the first centers. Then we found the first partners, Ukrainian companies. Then, we found international partners. For example, one of our partners is Lord Michael Ashcroft, a member of the House of Lords of the United Kingdom and one of the biggest British entrepreneurs. The Kyiv Post contributed.

Brian Bonner: Adnan Kivan.

Oleksiy Goncharenko: Yes, they also did it. And then we have the University of Pennsylvania, one of eight universities in the Ivy League, which offers English language courses. Then we have others. As you see, we have a lot of English language courses. We have international and internal financing. We have small financing in small towns. We have big donors who can make big donations. So that is a success story.

Brian Bonner: And you’re going to stay committed to this?

Oleksiy Goncharenko: And we don’t receive any penny of budget money, that is very important.

Brian Bonner: Is this going to be a long-term mission?

Oleksiy Goncharenko: I hope so. We already work with that because it’s a big, big story. We will continue this as a great way to support Ukrainian education and culture. In this case, I hope it will last for decades. We started before the full-scale invasion, so soon, it will be four years. Then we started from two centers; now we have 32 already.

Brian Bonner: Well, I can only applaud you. I know the 14 years that I led the Kyiv Post. We started newspapers in education and sent out the weekly paper in English to as many schools that wanted it as possible, for free. And it was a great thing, so I applaud you. Will we become an English-speaking nation in our lifetime? Maybe not mine, but yours?

Oleksiy Goncharenko: Yes, I believe. We are already improving, and more and more people are speaking, so I believe we can do a great job.

Internal politics of Odesa

Brian Bonner: Okay, fantastic. How do you get along with Odesa’s two feuding power brokers, Mayor Hennadiy Tukhanov and Adnan Kivan, my former boss?

Oleksiy Goncharenko: Tukhanov is elected mayor. I should be frank with you: I never voted for him. But the majority of the citizens voted. It’s a democracy; people speak, and they make their own decisions. I’m not very involved in internal Odesa politics because I’m more on the national and international stage. For example, when it was a question of decolonization and the removal of these Russian monuments and things like that, the city council was not very quick to do this. So I made a big push on them to finally do this, and they did it after the push.

Mr. Adnan Kivan is a man whom I respect. He also helped us in our Goncharenko centers and is a prominent businessman in Odesa. He is one of the biggest investors in Odesa, but that’s another story. So he’s in business; he has never been in politics. I have a lot of respect for him as a businessman and investor. I hope that he will continue to do this big job and also continue to make social responsibility work here in Ukraine.

Personal political choices and paths

Brian Bonner: Yeah, I knew him as generous. We had a great relationship until we didn’t. And I know how much he loves Odesa. He doesn’t like to spend even a night outside of Odesa. So that’s good news.

I wanted to ask you why you joined the Party of Regions (the former pro-Russian party of Ukraine) and the Green Party because it wasn’t really an environmental party.

Oleksiy Goncharenko: No wait, Brian, it was. When you mention the Green Party, you’re probably speaking about it in quite later stages. I joined the Green Party in 1999, so many years ago. At that time, it was a great environmental party. We planted trees and fought against pollution. And that was good because, before this, there was no green political movement in Ukraine. We started. Unfortunately, then the party came another way.

Brian Bonner: It was financed by industrials, the biggest polluters.

Oleksiy Goncharenko: Yeah, more Ukrainian-style parties. So I finished there, but it was good. I was head of the Odesa regional youth organization. And as for a young person at that time, when I joined, I was 18 years old; it was a lovely experience. And I remember it with respect.

But speaking about the Party of Regions, it’s another story. So if I were asked: “Would you join the Green Party again?” If I were back, 18 years old, I would, yeah. And if I were asked, would you join the Party of Regions again, when I did it in 2004, I would say that I would never do this. But in 2004, when I did it, it was a different party from what it was in 2014. It may be surprising for some of your listeners, but in the Party of Regions program, it was said that the main aim of the Party of Regions is the European integration of Ukraine.

When Viktor Yanukovych became president, I did not speak about what was happening in the field of corruption and so on, but in international politics. He was preparing this association agreement. He thought that Ukraine should not balance between Russia and Europe but move to Europe.

However, in November 2013, at the final moment when Ukraine should have signed the association agreement with the European Union, he refused to do this. He came to Putin and completely changed the course of the country. He decided to step out of the country and go to Russia. I immediately said that I was against this.

Brian Bonner: But come on, you’re a smart guy. We knew from the start he was corrupt because I had met Yanukovych when he was Donetsk’s governor.

Oleksiy Goncharenko: By the way, I never met him in person.

Brian Bonner: Oh? That’s interesting. Wasn’t it clear to you from the beginning? And if not, when was it clear to you that this is a party filled with corrupt thugs?

Oleksiy Goncharenko: That was the problem, but you also know Ukrainian politics and Ukrainian history. Tell me, were there parties in Ukraine at that time that were not full of corrupt thugs? Unfortunately, that was the way. Again, I told you that for me to be there was a mistake, as I now see what Russia is or what Yanukovych did at the end of his career.

So I would never do this again, but taking myself back to that time, my idea was that this was a big party, which was popular. The biggest party, especially in the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine, is in my native city, too. They represented themselves: “Yeah, maybe we’re thugs between us, but we know what to do; we’re not just speakers; we are efficient managers, we can run the country, and we want Ukraine to be part of Europe.

I thought that maybe these guys would do this. I should acknowledge that I was also kind of looking for an easier way. But if we take time back, I would never do this again. And when Yanukovych and the party showed their face completely, who they are, I got out when Yanukovych was still on Bankova Street as acting as president. I got out, and I supported the Revolution of Dignity and so on.

Brian Bonner: The voters have always supported you, no matter what party you’ve been in.

Oleksiy Goncharenko: Yeah, I mean, I won the elections then. For the moment, I have never lost big elections. Just for your understanding, one moment, one small thing. In 2012, two years before the Revolution of Dignity, when Putin was coming back to the presidency after this short period of (Dmitry) Medvedev’s so-called “presidency,” I came to national TV, being a member of the Party of Regions, at that time Odesa regional counselor. And I said that Russia starts a propaganda war against Ukraine, and next, there will be tanks.

That was when Yanukovych tried to be a good friend to Putin. So, my position about European integration—pro-European and pro-Western—was always there. It’s not that I was anti-Western and then suddenly became (pro-Western—ed.). It was always the same. But in my head, in some way, I found that it could be connected with being part of this party, which was definitely a mistake.

Brian Bonner: Got it. You still haven’t spoken to your father since 2009?

Oleksiy Goncharenko: No, we have not spoken for 15 years.

Brian Bonner: Is he in Russia?

Oleksiy Goncharenko: I think he has never been to Russia. For a long time, he lived in London. Does he live in London now or not? I don’t know. It’s nothing good, but we have such relationships.

Views on Zelensky

Brian Bonner: You know, at the Kyiv Post, we have printed a lot of political points of view, and you were sharp in your criticism of Zelensky. Is it because of the war that you’ve stopped criticizing?

Oleksiy Goncharenko: Yeah, in the beginning, I completely stopped because I said publicly, and I can repeat it now, I can be, and I should be, and I was in very sharp opposition to President Zelensky, I’m still in opposition. But when the full-scale invasion started, I said that I couldn’t be in opposition to President Zelensky or commander-in-chief Zelensky because he’s now, first of all, commander-in-chief. I still have the same attitude.

I can and need to acknowledge that Zelensky did a good job in the early stages of the invasion, becoming the voice of the country and emphasizing the people’s support of Ukraine. That was great, and he did a great job. But simultaneously, he prepared the country very poorly for the invasion. Up to the last moment, he refused to accept the fact that the invasion would happen.

From the management point of view, he runs the country quite badly. So the management is poor; that’s the problem. One of the reasons for this is that he’s not a man of the system. He’s a very emotional man, an artist, an actor, but there is no system working. Just several people make decisions, and he doesn’t believe in institutions. This is President Zelensky’s huge problem, and it has consequences for Ukraine.

Brian Bonner: So we’ll do politics after the victory, right?

Oleksiy Goncharenko: Yeah, we’ll do politics after the victory. Again, I acknowledge what was done well. Unfortunately, many things were not. And to finish this discussion, I don’t want Zelensky to be our president again after the war. But before the war finishes, he is our president, our commander in chief, and I will do everything I can to help him win this war for our country.


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