A sincere interview with a famous Belarusian comedian.
Belarusians remember Dzmitry Tankovich for his performances in the "ChP" KVN team [KVN - the ‘Club of the Funny and Inventiveis’ is a humour TV show and an international competition - Ed.], which played at the beginning of 2000. Ukrainians know the Belarusian comedian from the releases of the Diesel Show, a popular comic project. Today Dzmitry tries himself in another role - a Yotube blogger. The prominent comedian in the project “And I'll Show You Now” ironically comments on Belarusian and Russian news.
Dzmitry Tankovich gave an interview to Charter97.org and explained the difference between jokes in Ukraine and Russia and how humour has become a powerful weapon. He also described what he had seen in the liberated Bucha and addressed the Belarusian military.
“Scenes from Bucha will stay with me forever”
– You have been living and working in Ukraine for quite a long time. How did it happen that you chose this country?
– Once we played the KVN. We ended up performing in 2005. Then we had a choice. We understood that we would not be able to develop in Belarus. It was necessary to choose: either Moscow or Kyiv. I am truly glad that we made the right decision. We have moved with the whole team Since 2006. We are living and working here.
Even then Kyiv beckoned us with some kind of freedom. We liked people in the Ukrainian capital much more than in Moscow. It was these two factors that influenced the fact that we chose Kyiv.
— You know the Ukrainian language well, give interviews in Ukrainian. Was it important for you to learn the language of the country you live in?
– Actually, it seemed to happen spontaneously. Firstly, it is very easy for a Belarusian to understand the Ukrainian language. If you have the desire to speak, then it is easy, because languages are similar.
When the full-scale invasion began, it seemed right to me to start speaking Ukrainian. Moreover, the media, even those who did not speak Ukrainian previously, began to speak Ukrainian.
When the full-scale invasion began, I took my family to Poland and then returned to Kyiv. Then I started my work as a news presenter on one of Kyiv’s channels. Naturally, I started speaking in two or three weeks and I am extremely happy about that.
– You performed in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. Does humour differ in these countries?
– I think that after February 24, the humour differs much. It became a weapon to some extent on the ‘creative front’, no matter how pathetic it may sound. The jokes that are funny in Ukraine now may cause rejection (which cannot but rejoice) among the Russians, for example.
Therefore, we continue to use humour as a weapon. It seems to me that Belarusians react differently to what is happening. I want to believe it. For some reason, I think that Belarusians understand everything.
– How did February 24, 2022, start for you?
– On the evening of February 23, the Diesel Show and I filmed a big concert in the Ukraine Palace. I returned at three o'clock in the morning, when we finished filming. At five o'clock in the morning my wife woke me up and said that the war had begun.
I knew it was possible, but I didn't believe it. We lived in Bucha, a city that the whole world now knows today. When we saw helicopters, saw and heard missiles, we decided that we had to leave. We managed literally on the dot, really. Our neighbours, who were going to leave the next day, were no longer able to do this.
– Why did you decide to come back to Ukraine?
– There was a difficult internal dialogue, a conversation with myself. I understood that this would be wrong and unfair in relation to the country in which I had been living for a long time. It is clear that I could stay in Poland finding a thousand excuses. However, I understood that it would be hard for me to live with this, so I returned to Kyiv. Fortunately, my wife and daughter understood me.
As soon as I returned to Kyiv, I felt some kind of inner peace. At that moment, the city was practically empty, there were roadblocks, and the Russian army was standing near the city, but I felt calm in my mind.
– Did you immediately understand that Ukraine would survive this war, or were there any doubts?
– I may still remain naive, but there are some childish feelings in my mind, but for some reason, I always believe that good will triumph. I know that Ukrainians can be so strong, and I was sure that Russian troops would not be able to capture Kyiv.
Also, President Zelensky stayed in the city, he did not go anywhere. This is an important point. His act greatly affected the morale of the people and the entire Ukrainian army.
– You already said that you lived in Bucha. Have you been to this city after it was liberated from the Russian occupiers?
– I was on the second or third day after it was liberated. Thanks to the Ukrainian military who allowed us to enter, because the city was closed. I saw only destruction. By that time, the bodies of the dead people had been removed from the streets. However, scenes from Bucha will stay with me forever, although I didn’t see everything, only what the guys showed me.
In general, everyone saw the footage, which clearly shows what happened in Bucha.
Our street was lucky, let’s say. There were no flights. Russian troops were accommodated there judging by what happened to our houses. All the gates were kicked down, the houses were looted. However, I did not see destruction there, so the houses were not destroyed, there were no traces of hits in the area, nothing like this.
The Russians, as far as I see, were setting up equipment, breaking into the houses and looking for something there. I was lucky: the electric kettle remained in place as well as our washing machine.
“Only one person from the KVN expressed support to me”
— You recorded an appeal to Belarusians and Russians at the beginning of the war. What was the reaction? What did people answer to you?
– The reaction was completely different. If we talk about the Russians, they wrote to me that “I don’t understand anything.” After I received this reaction, I tried to talk to my friends for a week or two, to explain to them that everything is not at all like the TV told them. But it turned out to be pointless.
There were many Belarusians who supported me. I was pleased. There were many Belarusians who wrote that they could not do anything. I understood this, knowing the situation that is unfolding in Belarus.
There were many words of gratitude from the Ukrainians. Then, it was very important for Ukraine that not only citizens of other countries, but also citizens of the aggressor countries supported them.
– You probably have many acquaintances from KVN in Russia, Russian comedians. Are decent people left or can you crush on them?
– Frankly speaking, only one person expressed support and appreciation to me. I will not name him, so as not to substitute. I stopped talking to everyone else. One might say that people are divided into two camps. The first consists of those who openly supported the war and were saying “You don’t understand anything” and “What I see is not what I see” to me.
Anton Morozenko, the captain of the Luna KVN team (Chelyabinsk) said that he “wanted the Russian army to do everything now, so that his son would not have to come and finish it later”. For me, it was the height of cynicism and the height of stupidity. I cut him and others like him out of my life.
— Has the attitude towards Belarusians changed in Ukraine during this time?
– Attitude changes in waves. As soon as there is some information that a new offensive of the joint group of forces of Belarusian and Russian troops is possible, the attitude changes.
However, there are people who treat Belarusians differently than Russians. The soldiers of the Kastus Kalinouski Regiment are among them. These guys and girls who are fighting for Ukraine, it seems to me, are fighting for the image and attitude towards Belarus.
The Kalinouski Regiment is well known in Ukraine. The attitude towards it, in my opinion, is wonderful, they are respected.
“What happened on February 24 won’t work here anymore”
– You have already said that humour is a powerful weapon. Are your actions more "weapons" or "therapy"?
This thing works both ways. If we are talking about the show that is being released on the NEXTA YouTube channel, then for Ukrainians this is more about the therapy. I received a lot of messages from Ukrainians, especially in the first months of the war, when people wrote: “Thank you, I’ve smiled for the first time since February 24.”
The Russians, as it turned out, also watch me quite a lot. This is probably an opportunity to look at what is happening in Russia from the outside for them. The same is true for Belarusians.
Humour also works as a weapon. Sometimes I get a huge number of malicious messages and I understand that this thing works. Basically, from Russian users. However, I know that there are sane people there.
– Does this “weapon” work effectively against the enemy side?
– If I understand it correctly, there is no opportunity to joke ordinarily on some serious topics in Russia. I do not see any humour on the part of Russian comedians, those from the KVN who supported the war. It’s impossible to joke about such topics, it will never be a joke. To joke about what the "second army of the world" looks like, what laws are adopted in the Russian Federation and how they justify the war all the time - here sarcasm and irony work in full.
– A lot of memes appeared in Ukraine during the war. Here are the “tractor troops”, and the old woman who shot down a drone with a jar of cucumbers. As an author, do you see a lot of topics for jokes today?
– There are enough, but we do not have topics for jokes every day. Sometimes it's hard to joke, especially after the "gifts" that fly from the Russian Federation. On the other hand, if we are talking about such phenomena as an old woman who shoots down a drone with a can, like Konotop witches cursing Russian soldiers or a man who stops a tank with his bare hands, these are self-sufficient things.
This suggests that the Ukrainian people are very strong, and secondly, such videos really unite the nation and add even more strength. There is nothing to add here, you can watch everything on the footage.
— We are talking to you on the days when there is a lot of talk about a possible re-offensive from Belarus. What would you say to the Belarusians, who can be criminally sent to this war?
– I can say but it will be different from what I said at the beginning of the war. Use every opportunity to avoid getting into this war.If you can run - run. If there is an opportunity to dodge the draft - do it. If there is an opportunity to pay off - pay it off. If there is a choice, go to jail for a year or go to war, then the choice, in my opinion, is obvious. Better to be in prison than in Ukraine. After all, what happened on February 24 will not work here anymore.
The Ukrainian border is now so strong that no matter how many troops Russia and Lukashenka send, it will end badly for those who will go here.
– Do you think that Belarusians have a chance to get out of this whole story and eventually become an independent country?
– We have no other choice. Either we will become a democratic and normal country that will learn to build competent and honest relations with its neighbours, or our country will not exist.
Do we have a chance for making a free and democratic country? I believe so.
– Are you ready to come back to a new Belarus or Ukraine is the country that has become your home?
– I really miss Belarus and want to come back. I believe that I can do it.