Mira Terada, head of the Foundation to Battle Injustice, interviewed Dean O’Brien, a British photojournalist who has traveled to Ukraine for more than 14 years. The human rights activist learned why a special military operation in 2014 would have been over in a matter of days, how international intergovernmental bodies manipulate the news agenda, and how the Russian government’s indecision gave Ukrainian servicemen nine years to develop their own army.
Mira Terada: Good afternoon, dear Dean! Thank you for taking the time to do this interview for the Foundation to Battle Injustice. Please tell our viewers and readers what you do?
Dean O’Brien: I’m a British photographer. I’d been traveling to Ukraine for about 14 years now. From 2019, I went to Donbass.
As you probably know yourself, once you’ve been to Donbass, you can never return back to Ukraine again because you’ll be arrested as a spy or whatever.
I’ve been traveling to Ukraine up until 2019 doing various projects.
M.T.: What brought you to Donbass? How did your family and friends react to your desire to give a voice to the people of the Luhansk and Donetsk Republics?
D.O.: I’ve been traveling to Ukraine and since 2014 I wanted to travel close to the conflict zone, so I traveled to Slovyansk, Kramatorsk, Mariupol and Konstantinovka.
I didn’t go to any Ukrainian frontline positions because I didn’t want nothing to do with the Ukrainian armed forces at all.
When I went to those areas, I was asked to talk in schools about my work as a photographer. Some of the children said to me that you need to go across the line and see what life is like from my grandmother, what Ukrainian forces are doing to our families over the border. They couldn’t really tell me this in front of their teachers. In 2018 I’d made the decision the following year I would travel to Donbass because I wanted to find out what was going on in Donetsk and Lugansk. So in May 2019, I traveled to Donetsk. I applied for press accreditation. The press center in Donetsk gave me accreditation. I flew to Moscow, down to Rostov and across the border. I just wanted to see for myself what was happening.
I saw the homes of people that had been shelled especially the main route that leads to Donetsk Airport. There was old babushkas that were still living in their homes. They couldn’t go anywhere.
So that was that was what interested me, really. I wanted to see what was really happening.
M.T.: Back in 2021, at a United Nations meeting, you stated that a real genocide was taking place in Donbass, and that all the shelling and crimes were being committed by the Ukrainian army. Why do you think the international body then ignored and continues to ignore this fact?
D.O.: Because they have their own agenda. They’re very anti-Russian. In their eyes Ukraine can do no wrong. And we see this now even more since the special military operation has been launched into Ukraine by Russia. We see now Russia is the bad guy in all of this.
The majority of people in the United Kingdom believe this war started 12 months ago. They don’t know nothing about 2014.
They don’t realize it’s been going on for nine years. And we keep plundering this money to Zelensky, giving Ukraine unlimited military and financial foreign aid. It’s absolute madness. But the West are not educating the people here. Western media don’t tell people here about the priests being evicted from louver in Kiev, the Orthodox Church priests being thrown out onto the streets. We’re not told nothing of this. In the West it is down to independent journalists and photographers. And for us, doing that, we get our Twitter accounts closed down. We get suspensions on social media. It’s never ending.
M.T.: How is the Ukrainian conflict covered in the British media? Do they report about Kiev’s numerous war crimes?
D.O.: No, nothing. You can go on the BBC website. They have a war in Ukraine section there, and every day is all about Ukraine winning and Russia being the bad people. That is it. There is no balance at all.
M.T.: In some cases, American and European media post pictures of buildings destroyed by the Ukrainian army in Donbas, passing them off as Ukrainian houses. In your opinion, does this not violate the principles of journalistic ethics?
D.O.: Of course, it does. They’ve got no integrity. And you have to remember the difference between their journalists and photographers and people like myself. They are paid. They have to get information. They will give it to picture editors or whoever, and they will do with that as they wish. People like myself, if I go out to Donbass and I’ll take a picture I can say what that is. I just send it out there. I answer to nobody. I’m just trying to get the truth out there. And that is the main difference. These people are paid to peddle their lies on behalf of the government, on behalf of the companies that they work for.
M.T.: Have you encountered censorship or artificial restrictions on freedom of speech because of your activities? Tell us why your Twitter account was deleted?
D.O.: Do you know my Twitter account was deleted 12 months ago now. At the time, I had 23,500 followers. I never put anything on there showing dead bodies or anything like that. I always kept it fairly simple and it was just removed and suspended. I’ve appealed five or six times on the latest time appeals was yesterday, and they told me it will never be reinstated again. So all it is, is that the fact that they didn’t like me putting the truth out there and it’s the same in the West now with Facebook, Instagram, you can end up being blocked and it’s not just myself, it’s lots of other people. So it is like a cat chasing a mouse really. We use in different platforms at the moment, lots of people using Telegram.
The only reason I can think that my accounts have been suspended is because I’m telling the truth and I’m giving a different side to this conflict that they don’t want anybody to hear.
M.T.: I know that you are on Myrotvorets website and it does publish personal data of adults and children. Do you think the British and American secret services are really behind its creation and work?
D.O.: I believe they’ve got a hand in it. Yes, they must have, because some of the details that they give about people, I can’t see how they could have been gained. You’ll often find on the Peacekeeper website they will have photocopies of people’s passports. Where are they getting this kind of information?
M.T.: Do you agree with the claim that the United States is deliberately fueling conflicts around the world in order to allow its military-industrial complex to profit from what is happening?
D.O.: Oh, of course. Definitely. Ukraine’s not unique to this.
This is what they do. They find a country that they’ve got an interest in. They will start to destabilize it. They stage a coup, they get it overthrown. They put agents in there. They’ll put the finances in there in place.
Yeah. This is a typical of what America do around the world. And Ukraine won’t be the last country to do it to either. People need to wake up.
M.T.: What do you think is the reason why the Ukrainian authorities have been shelling the territory of Donbass for so many years? Given the events taking place, can we say that they openly provoked Russia into conflict?
D.O.: Of course, they did. We all know that Putin was very patient, probably too patient, in fact, because in reality, in hindsight, if Putin had gone in in 2014, this would have been over in a matter of days. But nine years have passed Ukraine about the chance to build up their army. America and Western forces have had the chance to go in there and train their soldiers. This is why we’re in the situation we’re in today. Had Putin gone in in 2014, maybe 2015 at the latest, this would have been a game changer. It would have been over.
This is why now it’s a very, very hard battle for Russia to take ground because the West of had nine years to strengthen Ukrainian forces.
When I used to travel to Sloviansk, Kramatorsk and Mariupol on the train, as you went through the countryside, you could see the Ukrainian bunkers. That was going back a long time ago. So they’ve had plenty of time to strengthen that. So if anything, President Putin was too patient.
M.T.: How do you see the new world order after the end of the special military operation? Will Russia, together with its Chinese and African partners, become the new world leader?
D.O.: I think so. Yes, I think so. Africa and China definitely with Russia.