”Russians have trampled their name in shit.” Mykhailo Dobkin on how he became a deacon in the Moscow Patriarchate, his reconciliation with Ihor Terekhov, a fragment of the Grad near the house and the Dagestani Russian

Maria Zhartovska
Tetyana Lohvynenko, Yevhen Spirin
”Russians have trampled their name in shit.” Mykhailo Dobkin on how he became a deacon in the Moscow Patriarchate, his reconciliation with Ihor Terekhov, a fragment of the Grad near the house and the Dagestani Russian

Sergey Morgunov / Babel

In March last year, Babel editor-in-chief Yevhen Spirin and correspondent Masha Zhartovska conducted a lengthy interview with Kharkiv politician and businessman Mykhailo Dobkin [here are the first and second parts of it, in Ukrainian]. He then announced that he would run for mayor of Kharkiv, later losing elections his rival Ihor Terekhov. During the interview, there was a lot of arguing that Dobkin was a pro-Russian, that the United States saw Sparta in Ukraine, about his rhetorics. With the start of Russiaʼs full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Dobkin supports President Volodymyr Zelensky, tries to exchange or sell his old-school Harley-Davidson bike to get cars for the Armed Forces, hides in the basement with his two French bulldogs running faster than him, and catches Russian Grad missiles in his yard.

Dobkin quickly agrees on the proposition to make an interview with Masha Zhartovska, arriving in a Volkswagen Transporter in the center of Kharkiv, accompanied by a driver and a security guard. We talk to Dobkin immediately after the conversation with the mayor of Kharkiv Ihor Terekhov, walking near the Annunciation Cathedral. Under the sounds of artillery Dobkin, who in April became a deacon of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchy, gives Zhartovska a fragment of the Russian Grad missile with the letter Z, which flew to his yard, reflects on why the leader of Russian church Kirill is not his patriarch, tells why he will not come back in politics and would not touch the monument to controversial Soviet military Georgy Zhukov and why the deputies from the former pro-Russian OPZZH party should resign.

On the eve of the interview, I read your Instagram. You argued there that the tanks near your house "only London and Washington can see." Have you seen them now?

I was not at all sure, to be honest [that there will be a war]. Apparently, Iʼm not alone. I realized that our so-called neighbors can play with their muscles to achieve something politically. It was incomprehensible and impossible for me to wake up at around five in the morning on February 24 and start evacuating people [out of the area where I live]. If I had been told that this was possible, I would have objected to the foam at the mouth. But, unfortunately, it happened. The reasons [for Russian invasion] are still unclear to me, but it doesnʼt matter anymore. When I said that there would be no [war], the government behaved in the same way — they also said that there would be nothing. But unlike the government, which knew [about an upcoming invasion] and said nothing would happen, I sincerely believed in it.

But now you support President Volodymyr Zelensky on your Instagram, which was out of the question during your Babel interview a year ago. Is your world upside down?

Iʼm walking on my feet as I walked, Iʼm not walking upside down now. Itʼs not that I have changed, itʼs that many things I believed in are gone. One of the most frequently asked questions now is: “Have you changed your shoes how? For all your life youʼve been different." Iʼm not even trying to understand such people — itʼs not interesting.

But there are questions from more moderate people: "How come? Youʼve always been a pro-Russian politician." For a long time I did not know how to answer myself. And then the answer came by itself, even without much effort to find it. Here I and those who stood on the same ideological rails, defended the Russian language, we had our own vision of the development of relations with Russia, with other countries of the former Soviet Union, our own understanding of non-aligned status. At the time, it was probably fair to call these views pro-Russian. But today no one, except outspoken idiots and degenerates, supports the aggression of Russia and its leadership against Ukraine. We have never in our lives propagated: "Attack us, capture us!" You can argue about anything inside the country, you can criticize to a hoarse voice, but just to a certain point. Now the enemy came to us.

Sergey Morgunov / Babel

As far as I understand, you felt the "liberation" of Russia closely — Grads flew near your house.

It comes to everyone, I wouldnʼt focus on myself. The roof can be repaired, and the fences can be repaired — want you canʼt return is human lives, as well as what was trampled. For me, much of what was done [by Russia] has no explanation. I communicate with guys who are fighting at the front, of different ranks and positions. And do you know what the common sentiment is? Those who came here in Russian military uniform are not military, because they donʼt follow the military code and do not behave like the military. A common human understanding and international conventions regulate how to behave in war in order not to become a war criminal. [They do not follow it.]

Here we go, and around the corner will be the Annunciation Cathedral, where there was a service on Easter. They [Russians] are also Orthodox, they go to church, have themselves baptized and baptize their children, read prayers and confess. But we do not rape them, we do not kill their parents, we do not rob their homes, we do not boast of our impunity, and we do not say that they must be wiped off the face of the earth. Although, to be honest, I want to. Now itʼs such a state that you want it… But it cannot be let out, because then we will be no different from them. Recently, some journalists asked me if reconciliation was possible. I honestly said no. And not because there is a lot of anger, grief, but because their society doesnʼt condemn the war, they approve what is happening. Who to reconcile with? Who to put up with if they insist that itʼs OK to kill, rape, rob. It turns out that we are not human? When the Nazis were here, I at least understood that the Germans and I are two different civilizations. The Germans looked at the Slavs as a kind of immature race. But these are "Russian", they think we are of one blood. Although what "Russian" are they? A granny here in the yard may be "Russian", and they are Mongol-Tatars. They behaved like this: they burned, robbed, raped, and took prisoner. All for one thing — to get richer, to make money.

Sergey Morgunov / Babel

Do you feel personal responsibility? For years, youʼve been promoting ideas that were beneficial to Russia.

There was no idea that would give Russia the moral right to start a war. What did I or like-minded people say that would allow Russia to come here to kill?

It is very strange to talk about Russiaʼs morals, we have already seen and will see a lot of cruelty. Do you find an explanation for yourself?

No, there is no explanation. What they do is irrational, itʼs beyond understanding. Today I can turn on the Russian channel or [Vladimir] Soloviov via satellite TV...

Wait, do you currently have such an opportunity in Kharkiv? Are you watching this?

For those who have satellite dishes itʼs possible. But for you to understand, itʼs possible to bear it for just five minutes, because what they are saying there... About how Ukrainians shell themselves, about the Easter cakes they bring to Mariupol, which they wiped off the face of the earth, and try to pretend to have something to do with Christians. All this forces you to turn the TV off after five minutes, so as not to start spitting into it. I will tell you more, when I was the head of the Kharkiv Oblast State Administration and the mayor, I met Sergey Lavrov more than once. And it may not be right to say such a thing now, but he is a very prepared, educated, highly intelligent man with good manners, culture, and upbringing. I wonʼt say for sure, but I think he is well-read and has a wide range of knowledge. And I think he is strong as a diplomat. But when I listen to him today, I donʼt understand where Lavrov is. Who is this?! How can a person with good upbringing, education, intellect, ability to think say such words? And not just once, but repeatedly. I donʼt talk about others — just gave an example. Of what a dependence on one person [Putin] there is, what a deep degradation of even very educated, intelligent people. They have no future. One cannot serve so blindly one man who is insane and has decided that he is the ruler of destiny here. They trampled their name in shit, sorry for the word, in order to please one person.

Sergey Morgunov / Babel

In April, you became a deacon of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate…

Do not say "Moscow Patriarchate". This is completely wrong.

Why? This is actually the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine.

I believe that today is the time of absolute autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This matured under His Beatitude Volodymyr, Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine. He was a proponent of autocephaly, but in a soft way, so that it was without challenges or scandals. Bishop Onufriy is able to lead our church calmly, correctly, according to Godʼs rules and laws. The point is not to liquidate the Moscow Patriarchate. We are not connected to them [the Russian church] by the umbilical cord, we are connected by certain life circumstances — rather political than religious ones. I do not want to discredit or condemn anyone now, but believe me, the canonical Orthodox Church is recognized by almost all Orthodox churches. The rest is superficial. Often people who are not Orthodox at all — Catholics, atheists, agnostics — they decide in the Verkhovna Rada what the Ukrainian Orthodox Church should be like. I think this is a very delicate issue.

But Russian Patriarch Kirill blessed Russian soldiers for killing Ukrainians and occupying a foreign country. And here you become a deacon of the Moscow Patriarchate. Why?

Iʼll explain. Here is the church [the Annunciation Cathedral in Kharkiv], it was preserved under the Soviet Union, there were no services here for a long time. This church does not know what the Moscow Patriarchate or the Kyiv Patriarchate is. People come here. There werenʼt as many for Easter as usual, but they still came. They donʼt come to Moscow priests or Kyiv priests. There is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and there are other churches — also Ukrainian, I wonʼt list them, I will speak for myself. The Moscow Patriarchate is a link [to Russia], but it disappeared after February 24. As for Kirill, he is not mentioned in this church. This is a fundamental decision of Metropolitan of Kharkiv and Bohodukhiv Onufriy. I will say for myself: for me Kirill is nobody, I do not consider him a clergyman. He, having the opportunity to influence — by words, prayer — to prevent murders, did nothing for this. On the contrary — blessed, justified, incited. What kind of patriarch is he to me? I donʼt know this person and do not want to know. There is [Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church] Onufriy, who on the first day appealed to Putin to stop [the war]. On the eve of Easter, he proposed to make an Orthodox corridor and personally lead the procession to bring people [from Mariupol]. And if I had the honor of being around, I would be happy to join.

Would you go there?

I would definitely go. How to explain it… Itʼs an honor. This right still needs to be earned to go there.

Your decision to become a deacon was influenced by Vadym Novinsky, who is also a deacon?

No, he found out this later.

During the war, many collaborators were reported from among the priests of the Moscow Patriatchate — there were cases in Dnipropetrovsk and Zhytomyr Oblasts. Donʼt you consider Moscow Patriarchate priests to be Russian agents?

Yes, but donʼt say "many". There are people who serve, who take communion, baptize, chant, receive confession — and donʼt believe in God themselves. There are people who have a strong political position, although in principle it is forbidden. As doctors — doctors treat everyone. In the same way, the priest must treat everyone equally, regardless of political position. Everyone is responsible for their sins, and the priest is ten times more accountable to God.

I saw an appeal of a Bryansk priest on the Internet. He calls on the soldiers, without pitying themselves, to wipe Ukrainians off the face of the earth, because they are not people. I wrote a short comment under the video: "Even if itʼs not a fake, why are you showing it?" There are different people, there are fools both among ordinary people and among priests. This is not the whole clergy. And I know examples when priests in the Russian Federation preach categorically against the war, condemn it, and then they have big problems. But they do their feat, they do what they have to do, they do not go against their conscience. And who goes — God is their judge. God will punish, and to make it happen faster — the Armed Forces of Ukraine will push.

You recently stated that you are ready to exchange your Harley-Davidson motorcycle for a minibus or pickup truck for the Armed Forces. And how is it, exchanged or sold?

No, we came up with another option. Guys from Great Britain, who import good cars for our army, will take this motorcycle from me and try to sell it for adequate money. And I, without waiting for it, will buy some cars from them. These cars are right-wing, though, which is not so popular, but I talked to the military, they say it doesnʼt matter.

Sergey Morgunov / Babel

You need money to buy. On the eve of the war, Oleksiy Kovalenko, co-owner of your Volodymyr-Volyn Poultry Farm, stated that he would not produce his Epicur brand because of your pro-Russian position and alleged cooperation with the “D/LPR”. What about the factory now?

There was a corporate conflict that turned into a personal one. [Dobkin told the details not for an interview].

Today the factory works — 1,800 people work there. At the request of the Defense Forces, they bought cars, bulletproof vests and helmets. I do not advertise it, but in the first days, when it was sad here, a lot of products were distributed to people. They help a lot, but these are my personal contacts, for example, Oleksandr Vilkul. He has already sent more than one car with humanitarian aid. And it was a great aid, really valuable. We distributed them to the Armed Forces and certain services here. Then they gave them to the city, because it is necessary to feed the guys who are clearing the blockages. I donʼt advertise much, because I believe that today is the time of the military and volunteers, and those who have the opportunity should quietly help.

Letʼs talk about politics a little. Do you think that pro-Russian politicians have a chance to return after the war? For example, the OPZZH, which is now renamed the "Platform for Life and Peace"?

I have nothing to do with OPZZH.

This is just an example. We can mention the former Party of Regions or the Opposition Bloc.

Oleksiy Honcharenko is one of the brightest representatives of the former Party of Regions, but you donʼt call him pro-Russian.

Sergey Morgunov / Babel

Goncharenko has long been an MP from European Solidarity. But what about same Novinsky, whom we mentioned, Yuri Boyko?

These are different directions [of political orientation]. Letʼs put it this way: after February 24, we all became pro-Ukrainian. Who wanted to be in Russia, he is either in Russia already or I do not know where. We are pro-Kharkiv here, and pro-Ukrainian on the country level.

Returning to OPZZH, which is now the "Platform for Life and Peace". Do they hope to stay, like it was in 2014?

Iʼm against it. Itʼs their personal business, I am not a member of this party. But I think itʼs necessary to just resign and leave. And to say: "This is the situation, we will each be in our place, and help our country."

I donʼt understand many things. There is an example — Yanukovychʼs escape. He could not run away, he could die and he would go down in history. He ran away — he saved his life, and then what? He turned into nothing. Other people try to flee abroad, but you canʼt escape from yourself. What to do there? There is nothing to do. If you go — itʼs a one-way ticket, you will not return. I did not leave Kharkiv even for an hour during all this time.

You keep emphasizing that you are staying in Kharkiv, but in 2014 you went to Belgorod. Are you considering leaving anyway?

I took my family out because it was in danger. I had information then that attacks on our house were possible. I could only go to Belgorod then. Now you need to flee from Belgorod in the other direction. My family stayed with me for 18 days. After another shelling, I almost forcibly took them out. They are in Ukraine, I am in touch with them every day. I myself am not going anywhere. I live where I lived. It would be a shame for me as a man to leave the city. Thanks to the people of Kharkiv, I got so much in this life, in politics. If I left this city, it would be more than a betrayal. Thatʼs why Iʼm here with them.

Sergey Morgunov / Babel

You were an opponent to Ihor Terekhov during the election campaign. Have you reconciled now?

Yes. When a missile hit the roof of my house, the windows broke. I contacted the guys who work at City Hall. And I said that I needed help to cover everything up, because it was cold. They took a short break, called back in just 20 minutes, said they had contacted the management, and Terekhov asked to tell me that they will do everything thatʼs possible to any my request. I never forget such things, they do not miss my ears. The next day I wrote him a message, he answered. And on Easter I met him by chance in the diocese, talked, we shook hands. It took us three minutes to turn the page [of former rivalry]. I sincerely believe that he got into such a responsible position at such a difficult time. He has already gone down in history, because Kharkiv is a city-hero, and he is at its head.

If the mayor says, then we, the people of Kharkiv, need to go to dismantle the debris, put on old shoes, put on something and go to dismantle them with everyone. Iʼm not exaggerating. Today, everyone must do what they can in their place.

We argued with you a year ago during an interview. You said then that the United States sees Sparta in us, which is giving birth to new warriors to fight Russia. Do you still think so, or have you changed your mind?

Something has changed, something has not changed. As for the army and training, I thank them. Because today these orcs get beaten really strongly. Any training with the help of foreign instructors is a plus. No matter who I talk to, and I often talk to people with titles and difficult positions, everyone is so confident that we will kick them [the Russians], everyone has such a charge to win, in general, there is no doubt. If we had offensive weapons today, we would have driven them away. Russia is a very formidable and insidious opponent. With great human resources, with weapons. But they have nothing to fight for. For gold chains, for stolen mobile phones? And our people are fighting for their families. An entire KGB colonel [Putin] cannot cope with the typical captain of the KVN team, whom they humiliated, called out, and now there is nothing they can do.

Another of our disputes during the last interview was about the monument to Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov. You defended it, and recently it was dismantled

I would not touch it.


I will say this thing, sorry: Kharkiv is a Ukrainian city, period. This is clear. But Kharkiv is more Russian than these Mongol-Tatars who came to us today.

In what sense are you Russian now?

In a good one, without everything that can stick to the Russian Federation. I do not understand why we should give them Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, why we should give our Ilya Repin, who was born in Chuguiv. What do they have to do with Leo Tolstoy? What did they do to make [Peter] Tchaikovsky their composer? Nothing. They are orcs. Therefore it is not necessary to give [these people to them]. We speak Russian with you here [during the interview]. I understand the great desire and catch the hype with the transition to Ukrainian. If necessary, I will switch to Ukrainian.

Donʼt you hate speaking Russian now?

No, itʼs my language, itʼs not their language. As they say, we speak Russian, and they speak some incomprehensible surzhyk — Dagestani Russian. I donʼt want to give them anything by default.

Now some people think that Russian-speakers are to blame for the beginning of the war. It is controversial, but it is.

Listen, they even write to me that itʼs me who brought Russians here, you know?!

Do you repent?

There is nothing to repent. I am sorry for what I am guilty of. And I do not regret here, because I have never brought anyone anywhere. The rocket does not choose to whom the wrecks fly — to a Russian-speaking person or to a Ukrainian-speaking one. Here is a fragment of the Grad [Dobkin takes it and gives it to me], which hit my house. Look, it has the letter Z on it. It had markings in advance. I was told by the Russians who wrote to me that I had drawn it myself. But itʼs real.

Sergey Morgunov / Babel

Do you understand how to live? Will you try to return to politics or go to church?

I will not go into politics, I think the time will come for other politicians. I think at least half of the people in politics should be war veterans. Now is their time, let them go there. I think it would be good if we had an unwritten rule that a person who wants to make a great career should have some service in the army. The army is even more important today than after 2014, not to say before 2014. This is the first point. And the second — how to live? Because we are still young — regularly. We still have children to give birth to. Then, look, there is a building with broken windows — itʼs the city hall. It can be repaired. The problem is that our industry is ruined. They target our key factories, and those who are not destroyed yet, they will destroy. What to live for? We have opportunities in agriculture. But we now need not to sell grain, but to switch to processing, at least of flour. If, after flour, we do something else that we can sell pasta and bakery products, it will be extra money for the economy.

Two thousand houses were destroyed in Kharkiv, they will need to be restored. At least a thousand will have to be demolished. God willing, we will win, Europe and America will give money, and we will build new neighborhoods.

A year ago, you told us that you would not want to wipe Russia off the face of the earth. Do you want it now?

You see, not because we are standing near the temple now, not because I have a position in church now, but to desire evil to someone… If you want to take revenge on someone, two people will suffer — the one you are taking revenge on, and you yourself. They live in their own paradigm, I think they should not be erased, they just need to be shown that there is another life. So radically different that they do not even realize how much more comfortable they will live in it. You cannot be slaves all the time and go on crusades to free others from “slavery”. After all, Russia is not only Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia is also a huge number of underdeveloped cities in terms of economy and opportunities, which you will erase, and they will build new ones. Other people will grow up there, even more angry ones. They will devour themselves. I think that on February 24, Putin canceled all his achievements before his state. And he will not be able to get out of this pit. They have no way out at all.

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