RDP: Repeatedly Displaced Person. Interview with Mariia Zivert


This year, for many human rights defenders, activists and simply indifferent people from the region of
Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the war in Ukraine became the central focus of work and experiences.
ARTIФ was no exception: in 2022, we supported a record number of projects from Ukrainian human
rights defenders and creative specialists. One of them was RDP (Repeatedly Displaced Person) by
the creative duo Seri/graf (Anna Ivanenko and Yevgenia Polosina) and human rights defender and
lawyer Mariia Zivert. In this interview with Maria, one can read about how her personal story and
professional experience inspire her to implement the project, her first experience of working with
artists, and how art helps human rights defenders convey their messages to society:

– What was your idea for ARTIF and who can it help?
Our idea is to talk about people displaced for the second time. This is such a sad word play: in
2014, there were a lot of internally displaced persons from Donbas and Crimea, and in 2022,
these people had to leave their homes for the second time: those who are fleeing war for the
second time; those whose homes are being destroyed by Russia for the second time; those who
have lost loved ones for the second time because of Russia.
Another important goal was to destroy the myth of where were you for 8 years. For 8 years, the
Ukrainian army protected us from the Russian invaders, for 8 years one and a half million people could not return home, for 8 years volunteers collected help from everywhere and for 8 years the country tried to stop Russia in the war, which in 2022 went further – that's where we were all 8 years.
Therefore, we decided to make a selection of stories of people displaced for the second time. Initially,
these were supposed to be brochures with individual stories, at the end of which there would be a small legal consultation: how to register as an IDP, how to start receiving social aid, what rights and
obligations an IDP has, which authorities should be contacted if one has become a victim of violent
crimes, etc. However, later we saw that dozens of such brochures with legal advise were lying around
in migration centers, refugee centers, etc., and realized that our brochures can also become waste paper – not because they are bad, but because the so-called advice market is already overflowing with
advisors. Therefore, we decided to issue it as a book about people displaced for the second time. We
are still working on interviews and illustrations – the girls (Yevgenia Polosina and Anna Ivanenko)
illustrate the people I interview about their experiences.

– Why is this project important to you?
It happened so that immediately after university I was lucky enough to work with lawyers
dealing with the Donbas and Crimea cases. I read cases about people who were subjected to
enforced disappearance, torture, etc. – no person who is in a human rights bubble would have the
question what was happening these 8 years. However, I must admit that it was a surprise for many. I remember the seminar we held on the basis of the human rights center of my university and how it was received: when the invited human rights defenders talked about solation, my classmates from all over the world sincerely did not understand how one can allow one Auschwitz in the Donetsk region.

On February 21, I read a recent article by Oleksandra Matviychuk, which was called For the Kremlin,
War Crimes are not a Mistake, they are Tactics. It was before Bucha and Hostomel, it was before
Lyman and Izyum. The human rights community already knew all this, described it in detail and
shouted it out on all possible platforms for 8 years. We knew about all the atrocities committed by the
Russians for 8 years.
I myself am from Donbas. In July 2021, I started looking for an apartment in Kyiv, because I moved to
the capital. And I was told in one of the apartments that we don’t lease to people from Donetsk. Do
you understand? When one bubble knows what hell IDPs had to go through since 2014, another bubble – and it is no less – considered in normal not to rent apartments to “Donetsk people. That is why it was so important for me to talk about repeatedly displaced people: when half of the country became first-time displaced persons, it was important not to repeat the same mistakes – stigma, discrimination, misunderstanding, with which second-time displaced persons have to deal for 8 years.

– What was your experience as a human rights activist in cooperation with artists?
It’s very cool. If I hadn’t gone to law school, I would have definitely studied liberal arts. And the girls –
Zhenya and Anya – they gave me this experience that I never allowed myself in my life: to spin here
and there, to draw, and so on, and so on – that is, they are about a free process. In my life, the process
can only be criminal, but in theirs this process is this flow: let’s try this way, look how these
illustrations look, maybe we will publish a book instead of brochures – in short, they are passionate.
I really like the fact that I learned a lot of new things from the girls, some seemingly technical points: if
you print a certain number of pages, we can do hard cover, and if more – then only sew the book with
threads, and if something else, then you can make a wooden border, and so on…
The work experience of a human rights defender means a lot of papers. The experience of an
artist is to think about how to make something with your hands, when you see something
physically appear after you worked on it. What appears on my screen in letters, in their hands
will be born as a book.

– Was this the first such experience?

– Looking back on this unusual experience, how do you think civil society can benefit from working with creative professionals?

You see, art is about reaching the masses. Art is not a thing in itself, it is created for contemplation and distribution. That is, art – forgive me if I have a plebeian idea about its goals – is still a tool for
broadcasting ideas to the masses. For raising awareness. Of course, not all art is acutely social. But
there are many artistic answers to challenges in society.
Therefore, art is a great opportunity to spread thoughts that are usually accumulated in human
rights defenders by heavy knowledge, cumbersome awareness that lies heavily on the heart.
Art is about sharing pain together. About feeling empathy. And who but human rights defenders
should be the ones to convey this to the artistic environment.

– What would you like to wish to the future participants of ARTIФ and to all those who express their view on social problems with the help of art?
I would wish to submit applications to ARTIФ either way, whether you win a grant or not, to apply. I
really enjoyed hearing about other people’s projects. Recently, I was walking around Kyiv, and I saw
one of the art projects marked ARTIФ in one of the crossings. Do you understand what I mean? This is an opportunity not just to join in and make a project, it is an opportunity to join a certain community, artistic gathering, meet people for other collaborations. I like that this project has permanence, it’s not just granted and implemented, it has a certain… history? Probably so.