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Vitaliy Onopriienko, creator of "Let's clean it up, Kyiv" initiative

I was born in Kyiv, as well as my parents and grandparents along dad's line. My mother worked mainly as the editor-in-chief of various publications during her career: newspapers, books, magazines, anthologies, etc. My father worked as a lathe operator in factories, he was a Soviet worker.

My parents were lived in Nyvky area, my grandparents - in Holosiiv district. As a child my younger brother and I were kicked back and forth between the districts depending on the time of year. When my brother grew up, he moved to Stockholm, but I never had the idea of emigration and understanding of the process in my head.

I have no higher education, in 2003 I entered the first year of the institution, formerly known as the Institute of Communications, but I quickly realized that it had nothing to do with education, and gradually dropped out.

The only good teacher in my life was Mark Moiseyevich - school historian. Thanks to him, I developed the love for the game "What? Where? When?"*. He organized these games for us free of charge and just enjoyed the opportunity to involve children in them. We used to play every Saturday after the sixth lesson, almost everyone in school participated. Later, when I grew up, I started to organize these games myself in 2012. I managed to implement this on a regular basis in 2014, during the post-Maidan time.

*'What? Where? When?' is an intellectual game, based on Soviet TV show from mid 70-s.

On May 23rd 2020, we conducted our first promotional campaign from "Let's clean it up, Kyiv". My team and I were going to wash the underground passage on Lva Tolstoho street the day before the end of the metro quarantine restrictions. Because of the utility workers that created a scandal, our campaign has gained strong public response. And I thank them for it. We gathered once, twice, third time, and we have been unstoppable since. Now there are five of us in the team: me, Ania, Ielisei, Iegor and Illia.

There was no initial plan for the financial component of the project "Let's clean it up, Kyiv". I wanted to create a volunteer project.

We have an unspoken rule: we have to make a campaign every Saturday and Sunday. Not every time stars are aligned, but we are striving for two campaigns to happen every week. All the work takes up to 40-50 hours a week, which comes to a full work week hours. I can't say that we experience terrible shortage of funds —yes, we don't have enough, but we have many helpers, media write about us, and we get a lot of likes on social media. It's like "give me a fulcrum and a lever and I can move Kyiv." The more money we have, the more we do. If we multiply our current funds by 20, we would not just start competing with utilities — we would simply outshine them. So far the main obstacle is a lack of financing, and we cannot go bigger unless we collect more funds.

Recently we were close to washing the façade of "Ukraine" hotel, we were even ready to initiate the process, but it turned out that there are traces of bullets on the façade and the Maidan investigation is still outgoing. It means the façade of "Ukraine" cannot be touched. We also thought of [cleaning] Vernadskyi's library as an alternative, but it is high and quite scary. Kyiv needs a lot of rebuilding actually, and not washing. Sometimes you wash and see that a crack will soon be half a meter wider.

It is difficult for me to concider the project to go national. When you are neck deep in shit it's hard to plan a flight to the stars.

Day by day I get home tired, I rest and have no time to indulge in philosophy. When I find someone who has the same vision of the project as me, I will be able to delegate more to it, thus releasing time for philosophical planning of the future. I have a global idea for winter time: to encourage everybody interested to clean up snow.

Cleaning up the snow is easy. This requires one person and one shovel, and in 6 hours you can make a very tangible "before and after". And this is our main product. A photo "it was bad before, but became better after" is the most impactful. And by winter I want to try and engage people of Lviv, Lutsk, Poltava cities to remove snow, inspire people to take care of their city. I don't want to educate anyone, I don't have a mission of "Come on, let's do it." But it would be great to set an example that your city is also a home, life is only given once, time is running out one way or another, and you need to do something. Why am I doing this? Because I know how to do it. I have an idea of how to make a bad place better, how to let people see, how to deliver information.

I am often insulted by comments on social media. 90 percent of those are from people who have no idea of what is happening. For example, one of the first comments we received after the campaign on Lva Tolstoho: in the photo, Ielysei washes the passage in a distinctive orange vest, and the comment was: "Why could't you have done this before?" I replied: "What? And why couldn't YOU have done this before?" The girl at first did not understand, but then she did... and apologized. She thought Ielysei was the utility worker. Or another example, we recently asked on social media, would people give us some money for washing equipment, and a guy replied: "If you need money - you should earn money." On the one hand, he's right, but it doesn't always work that way. And even if he didn't know about a culture of volunteering, and in this particular case he does not want to take a part in this - all right, go your own way, don't give us your money. Why did he need to give us advice? When people troll us, we fight back. I just don't believe one can be stupid enough to look at photos and think they're photoshoped. I can't believe it. I think this trolling is intentional. I'm a very empathic person, and I will not settle down unless I pass on social media responsibilities to someone else.

Do I love Kyiv? Probably, yes. Like one loves a member of a family, despite his nature.

All right, I love Kyiv. Especially I love the changes it has been experiencing lately. What is a city after all? It is the infrastructure between people homes. That's the city. It is what enables people to take their routes, and it is what people do on these routes — they walk, they drive, they eat, drink and they breathe.

People in Kyiv are the hardest part of it. Any major city attracts everyone from the outskirts. Why are homeless people the biggest problem in the States? This problem is beautifully described in the book "Triumph of the City". The city does not create homeless people. The United States have the biggest problem with homeless people in California. That doesn't mean California is a poor state. On the contrary, it is California's wealth that attracts them. Same goes for Kyiv: the city draws everybody from Ukraine and these everybody does not treat Kyiv as their home, but just use it for their own benefit, that is why it is so dirty here.

Whenever Kyiv architecture is snapped fingers on, because of absence of a unified architecture style, I always think of an analogy with New York, which is built randomly with whatever. This is not an example of something good, but an example of something natural, when architecture is chaotic in the city — it is normal and natural, it can be influenced and needs to be influenced, but it is not a tragedy, if it did not work out. I cannot say that I do not like Kyiv for the absence of the fourth subway line, although it is needed. Budapest has a one and a half times smaller population, Budapest has 4 metro lines, and there are 4 metro lines - there are 400 or 500 bus routes. Moreover, Budapest buses are just some kind of miracle urbanism, because they always arrive on time.

Kyiv is now changing for the better. Positive trends have been developing after the Maidan events. I do not know who is behind this, but it's a pleasure to observe that a lot of illegal pop-up traders have been removed from underground passages, instead there are now installed plates with 15, 000 hryvnia fine. Judging from Europe's experience of the past 800 years, first a law is passed, then people are forced to comply with this law through punishment, and then it becomes a new normal.

Untill it is culturally accepted to throw cigarette butts to the sidewalk, everyone will do so. The way out is to fine real money for it.

The fact that a lot of people stroll around VDNH* especially pleases my eye nowadays. If you came here on any day of August 1995 there would be noone at all, not to mention cyclists or scooters. People didn't use to come here. And now if you come here even on a weekday, you can't push through the crowd. That's changed allright.

*VDNH (Ukrainian acronym for the All-Union Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy, which takes 286,3 hectares in Kyiv)

I have a dream — I want to drive a car all over North and South America, first through Canada to Alaska, then from Alaska through Mexico to the very bottom, to Chile. But the other day I learned that the highway out of Panama, somewhere in Colombia or Venezuela, it is cut off for 50 km or so, there is no road, only jungles and you can not drive there — you will have to sell a car in Panama, move through that plot of land and buy a new one. That's how my dream was broken."

Vitalii Onopriienko, creator of "Let's clean it up, Kyiv" initiative


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