“As long as Vladimir Putin is alive, there will be war”

It was a homecoming for Michel Terestchenko. The former mayor of a small town in eastern Ukraine is now in the country at war with Russia. This Frenchman, naturalized Ukrainian in 2015, and elected the same year, has lived in the suburbs of kyiv for almost two years.

At 68, he left his post as mayor of Hlukhiv, in the Sumy oblast (three kilometers from the Russian border), in December 2020, after having had a son. From now on, he works in the cultivation of flax and hemp. Six months after the beginning of the conflict, he delivers his vision of the situation, the morale of the troops, that of the inhabitants, the nuclear risk and the possible outcome of the war. “Ukraine will hold firm,” he told 20 minutes.

How is life in the suburbs of the capital?

The country is at war, we are obviously careful. Provocations are still possible on the capital: for example, we did not party outside [mercredi, Jour de l’indépendance], no fireworks. Before February 24 [premier jour de l’invasion russe] there were 50,000 infiltrated Russian agents in kyiv. Many have since been arrested, killed, left, but there are still some left.

Would you be ready to take up arms?

The Russians are incredibly barbaristic, what they do to women, to children, it’s unspeakable, it’s worse than the Nazis. They do it without reason, without honor, without scruples… If the situation worsens, I would be ready to take up arms, because you have to defend your house. We all have weapons and we will not let go of our land, they will never have Ukraine.

How do you analyze the current situation?

The Russian bear takes a big thaw, but he will still do a few kicks before agreeing to capitulate. On our side, the situation is under control, our armed forces are fighting like lions, we are very confident. Everything is going better than we imagined. Admittedly, Vladimir Putin killed thousands, but it allowed Ukraine to free itself, we will no longer speak of brotherly peoples for at least the next 50 years.

Are the troops maintaining morale?

I was mayor, I know people who fight and the battalions have morale. They are difficult to demoralize. In addition, we want to make the Russians pay for the atrocities committed.

And the inhabitants?

The inhabitants are 95% behind the army, there are words of support, thanks and congratulations. We see an extraordinary patriotic impulse and unity around the president, a sacred union to save the country. It’s a miracle that it happened like that because the Russians had been preparing their coup for two years, without the warnings being taken seriously. But Ukraine was saved first by the locals, the volunteers. The people saved Ukraine, then the army masterfully took over.

Do you think that the nuclear risk really exists?

There is no risk at the Zaporozhye plant because the Russians want it to work for them. They will disconnect it from the Ukrainian system so that it serves only the occupied territories. It is more profitable to leave Ukraine without heating during the winter than to risk a nuclear accident. Vladimir Putin wants to scare with his threats but he has no interest in damaging it. A social crisis is more decisive.

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How will the conflict evolve according to you?

The front will stabilize, it is played on one to two km on each side. I doubt we’ll be able to take over big cities like Kherson right away. A very difficult winter is expected, with a social, humanitarian and economic crisis. They want to ensure that Ukraine is in an abominable state and that the Europeans are no longer able to help it. We are waging our war of national liberation after 350 years of Russian domination, it will be long and hard. But if the Europeans remain united, we have won.

And in the spring, the fighting will resume because the talks do not exist. Victory will be won by the best. Today, it is the Russians who want a ceasefire, they have lost 80,000 men against 9,000 on our side. But the war will only be over when Vladimir Putin steps out of his office with his feet first. As long as he has a capacity to harm, he will not stop, as long as he is alive, there will be war.

Do you think the West supports Ukraine enough?

The West does not support enough, but I can see that it is not easy to do more. It’s already good, even if we always want more. If the English do more than the Europeans, we understand the disparities in dependence on Russian gas.

As for France, there was an obscene dance with Russia, Emmanuel Macron went to Moscow in February, it was pathetic and it was useless, he got screwed, just like Nicolas Sarkozy had been had in 2008 with Georgia. France wants everyone to get along well and to be able to sell its weapons to everyone. But the northern and eastern European countries, like Poland, are admirable. As long as the support remains at this level, it’s fine.

What do you think of Volodymyr Zelensky’s action?

I am not criticizing the president of the country at the moment, I have nothing to do but support him. I’m not from his political party, I didn’t support him before the war, but now he’s doing a good job. His attitude since February 24 is remarkable.

Is Ukraine’s accession to the European Union (EU) inevitable?

I was mayor of a city of 35,000 inhabitants for five years, it was very difficult because many of them wanted to make friends with the Russians. Today this is no longer the case, things are clearer. EU membership is mandatory, because the EU investment is so huge that it would be nonsense. The Ukrainians are waging war instead of the Europeans. Ukraine is on a mission to build Europe’s eastern border, and the only logical solution to rebuilding everything is Ukraine’s membership.

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