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Ukrainian top volunteer shares insights on counteroffensive, elections and prolonged war

Ukrainian top volunteer shares insights on counteroffensive, elections and prolonged war Serhiy Prytula (all photos: Vitalii Nosach/RBC-Ukraine)

In an interview with RBC-Ukraine, one of the top Ukrainian volunteers, former showman, and former mayoral candidate of Kyiv, Serhiy Prytula, talked about the needs of the Ukrainian military during the counteroffensive, the production of TV series funded by the state, elections during wartime, and the involvement of volunteers in politics.

Read the abridged text version of the interview below. The full conversation is available on the video.

Serhiy Prytula is one of the most famous Ukrainian volunteers. The charitable foundation he founded has already raised over 5.65 billion hryvnias (over 150 million dollars) during the full-scale war. The funds are used both to support the army and for humanitarian needs, especially in the frontline and occupied territories of Ukraine.

Prytula's foundation is known for its "mega-fundraising" campaigns for large-scale purchases for the needs of the Ukrainian army. For example, last year Prytula announced a fundraiser to purchase three Turkish drones Bayraktar. The target amount was 500 million hryvnias (13.6 million dollars), but within three days, Ukrainians donated 600 million hryvnias, and the manufacturing company eventually donated three Bayraktar drones to the foundation for free. So, the funds collected at that time were used for another mega-project - the purchase of an ICEYE reconnaissance satellite along with access to a constellation of other satellites' databases.

About donations

Prytula explains that he is currently observing a trend of decreasing donation levels. He attributes this primarily to economic reasons because, during the war, Ukrainians certainly did not become richer; instead, they had to cover their daily household needs. "Attacks on the energy system have led to people spending a lot of money on heating and lighting their houses in November, December, and January," says the volunteer.

He also notes a decline in donations from abroad, which is particularly important for the foundation since many of its purchases are made in foreign currency. The reason for this is similar - Ukrainians who were forced to emigrate will also have many household needs and, consequently, fewer opportunities to donate. However, Prytula emphasizes that if the donations to his foundation affect not only Ukrainian emigrants (as in the case of the explosion at the Kakhovska HPP by Russian saboteurs) but also foreigners in general, the share of foreign donations increases significantly.

Forecast for fall and winter

In Prytula's opinion, the current fall and upcoming winter for Ukraine will not be easier than the past ones because Russians will likely resort to systematic shelling of Ukrainian energy facilities again.

Сергій Притула: У Заходу немає розуміння, як має закінчитись війна

"The longer the war lasts, the percentage of people who believe that military operations will end within the next month, two, or six months constantly decreases. There is no reason to believe that this will end by the end of this year. And I don't want to take on the unnecessary responsibility of making predictions in the wrong place. However, the work of our foundation is planned with the understanding that the war will not end next year either," says Prytula.

About the needs of the Ukrainian army

Among the current needs of the Ukrainian army during the counteroffensive, which his foundation provides and plans to provide, Prytula particularly highlights resources for demining, FPV drones, electronic warfare equipment, and kamikaze drones. There is constant competition with the Russians in this area. "It's a race in the field of miltech, where we need to mobilize to the maximum both on the state level and in terms of support for the volunteer community," says the volunteer.

About the Western position

Prytula regularly communicates with representatives of Western partner countries, including parliamentarians and officials. In his opinion, there is a lack of understanding in the West of how the Russian-Ukrainian war should end.

"We often hear from our allies that 'we will stand with Ukraine until the end.' But there is no final understanding of how much is needed and what the end should be. The worst thing that is happening now is when they pass the ball to us and say, 'You determine what victory means for you.' When we say what victory means for us, they say it's not that simple, there are certain red lines. There is no obvious unity of views, for example, regarding the military solution to the issue of de-occupation of Crimea; for many, this is a red line," he says.

About budget-funded series

The field of culture and the activities of the relevant ministry in Ukraine regularly become the center of loud scandals. In particular, during the summer, state funding for the production of numerous entertainment series caused a major scandal. Many Ukrainians believe that such expenditures are inappropriate during the Russian aggression when every hryvnia should work for victory. Prytula, who gained his popularity as a TV host and comedian before fully immersing himself in volunteering, is categorical in this regard: there should be no state expenses for the production of entertainment content.

Сергій Притула: У Заходу немає розуміння, як має закінчитись війна

However, it is unquestionably important to fight against the Russians not only on the battlefield but also in the information field, according to the volunteer. "They are advancing their narratives, and this is a war of narratives. Should the Ukrainian state respond symmetrically or asymmetrically to this? Yes, in my opinion, it should. Otherwise, we will lose the information space, and someone else will fill the vacuum," says Prytula.

"Is funding entertainment content from the state budget an adequate response to Russian information policy, Russian narratives, some movies, or series of entertainment nature? Absolutely not!"

"What is entertainment content? You want to entertain people and make money from it. Please find a private investor, shoot with their money, sell it to channels, and cinemas, make a profit and give the investor their share, and make money for yourself," adds the volunteer.

About elections and politics

Closer to the end of his career in show business, Serhiy Prytula tried his hand at politics: in 2019, he ran for the Ukrainian Parliament as a member of the Holos (Voice) party list (but did not become a deputy), and in 2020, he ran for the position of Mayor of Kyiv, where he secured third place.

Prytula is staunchly against holding elections in Ukraine until the end of the war (RBC-Ukraine has already covered the situation around the elections and the position of Ukraine's Western partners on this matter).

"I personally believe that holding elections during a war is a maximum absurd. Firstly, what legitimacy can there be in this expression of will, and how can it be ensured abroad for 8 million Ukrainian refugees? It's impossible.

Internally displaced persons won't vote massively for some reason. And the people in the occupied territories, I apologize, are our citizens; will they have the opportunity to vote? No, they won't. And those soldiers who defend us, without their votes, can we even say that these elections took place? Therefore, these manipulations and this turmoil should be stopped. People are nervous; people don't want it. I don't know anyone among my acquaintances, friends, who would say that it's absolutely necessary to hold elections," he says.

And even if the war continues for several more years, elections should still not be held, asserts the volunteer. He adds that with the money intended for conducting elections, a considerable amount of necessary resources could be purchased for the Security and Defense Forces of Ukraine.

Сергій Притула: У Заходу немає розуміння, як має закінчитись війна

One of the most popular questions for Prytula (as well as for other top volunteers) is whether he plans to convert his level of recognition and trust into a political future. There have long been discussions in political circles about the creation of one or more volunteer-military-veteran parties.

"I don't know volunteers from the circle of people I communicate with who are engaged in volunteering to use it as a springboard into politics. Because the main mass of volunteers I communicate with are people who have been involved in volunteering since 2014, just like me," Prytula says. However, he admits that many of today's volunteers may still try their hand at politics in the future and considers it an entirely reasonable decision. "Volunteers have demonstrated Ukrainians' ability to self-organize. These are people who show leadership, people others trust to manage budgets. Because they shape a certain budget, these are people who can organize processes, and manage projects. In other words, these are good people who can enter various government bodies, local self-government, or legislation," summarizes Prytula.