Ukrainian journalist Tatiana Kozak: “Perestroika was both an inspiring and scary time”

Tatiana Kozak from Beyond 91’s Team Ukraine ©Tatiana Kozak

Tatiana Kozak is a freelance journalist based in Kyiv, Ukraine. Together with Moldovan photographer Ramin Mazur she forms Beyond 91’s Team Ukraine. The two are reporting on the PostPlay Theater — a theater with actors and directors from Crimea and Donbass. The theater company tackles difficult issues such as war, annexation, reconciliation and displaced people. In this way, art becomes a therapy for the society in conflict.

Read more about Tatiana’s memories of Perestroika — and why she wanted to become a part of Beyond 91.

Tatiana, which subjects and issues are you the most interested in?

I’m interested mainly in reporting from conflict and post-conflict areas in Ukraine and former USSR countries. I tackle such issues as politics and human rights.

Do you have any precise memories of Perestroika? What was it like?

It was both an inspiring and scary time. Inspiring, because all the borders that used to limit people in the USSR began to disappear. Suddenly you could speak up about everything — not only in your kitchen, but in public. You could get information from abroad, you could read alternative magazines such as Samizdat.

But the economy was in a bad shape and started to worsen: We had to queue in the shops for hours to get basic food. At some point there was a prohibition on alcohol. And no one knew how it would all end — that was worrying.

In general, there was a small feeling of euphoria as the old system was coming to an end. And the USA was a dream destination for many Soviet people.

What makes the “Perestroika generation” so special?

This generation witnessed many system changes. Those who survived, I believe, got that certain feeling of independence and freedom, the ability to think critically — something that was not common among Soviet people from earlier generations. But there is also a certain cynicism and total disbelief in any system — sometimes this is healthy, sometimes it is not.

Do you ever have nostalgic feelings towards the communist period in Eastern Europe?

No, never.

What do you think the Western media gets wrong when reporting about the former communist East?

I don’t think Western media gets anything wrong. When I read reports from Western journalists, I have a chance to understand what’s wrong or right with us, to look at us from another perspective. This is important to be able to move on. But sometimes we get too dependent on opinions from the “outside”.

Why did you want to become part of Beyond 91?

I want to find out more about this “Perestroika generation”, including myself.

If you would have to describe Eastern Europe today in three words — what would they be?

Chaos, war, hope.