The artist Tobias Zielony visited Kyiv in 2017 for a series of conversations and portraits of the underground queer and techno scene. His series “Maskirovka” documents the complex reality of Ukrainians and the conflicting claims of diverse actors struggling to occupy the country’s contested symbolic and political space. Zielony uses the term maskirovka, commonly referring to a Russian tradition of covert warfare and military deception, to describe Russian politics toward Ukraine since the Maidan Uprising. The “hybrid war” in eastern Ukraine has never been officially declared, yet in Crimea the masked special forces, so-called “green men”, occupied Ukrainian territory. Masks also played a crucial role in protecting the Maidan protesters from tear gas, and helped to hide their identities from the authorities. The portraits and still lifes reveal the fragile and treacherous situation in which the protagonists live and act in the city in Kyiv. When we read these conversations today, we can visit a time that is past – and really not. The aftermath of the 2013 Maidan Uprising, reflected in these conversations, is still present. This war, these conversations show, has been going on for at least eight years.
Tobias Zielony and Maria on Drones
I’m interested in knowing about the war and drones. What is the current situation, and why do you need drones?
For me the story was very simple: there was a war and there was a need for human resources. One of the battalions announced that they had a need for a drone intelligence operation.
Why are drones needed in this particular conflict?
They are important because you need to see what is happening. From high above, you gain an overview of the enemy, including their position and what they’re up to.
Are there any alternatives, like airplanes or satellites?
Actually, in the kind of war we now have, larger aircraft is not used. Several attempts were made at first — perhaps you remember the incident where military officers from the Ukrainian side were killed when their helicopter was shot down. After these kinds of events, such aircraft wasn’t used because of the human risk involved. Another crucial point to mention: drone footage is important for documenting the war crimes of the Russian aggressor.
So, you heard they were looking for an expert, someone to help with the drones, and you decided to get involved. What happened then?
I started learning how to operate a drone from reading through all the manuals I could get. In September 2014, I then went to the front line and started operating the drones. At this point, I realized I also needed the to learn how to fly a plane.
The main goal of this war is to distort and destabilize our nation, our civil society. They want to make it an unstable region and reestablish the Soviet Union.
Do you build the drones yourselves, or are they commercially available models?
We have almost no military drones. Mostly we use civil drones.
How do the soldiers use them?
For air reconnaissance. I founded a volunteer organization center to train air reconnaissance specialists, which is supported by crowdfunding.
I’ve never flown a drone. How much skill or training is needed?
First, you need to want to learn how to fly a drone, then comes the learning itself. Actually, most people can be taught to do it, although it helps if you're clever and persistent.
After you learned to operate the drone, you became interested in flying real aircraft. What happened, on a personal level? The last time we talked, you mentioned how it felt to lift off and see the world from above.
I'll show you when we go downtown. I’ll operate a drone, and you'll see what it's like. As for flying, becoming a pilot is my dream.
But you’re a pilot already. You have started to learn how to fly. Are you taking classes?
After I founded the center for air reconnaissance, one of the pilot-instructors taught me how to fly. I founded the center in January 2015 because I understood that I have to train more and more specialists. It’s really a military operation.
Have you been flying?
Yes, both planes and quadcopters.
Is it fun?
Yes, very much so, but it’s also my work.