In the years 2005 to 2019 the story of travelers who founded the ‘Green Tribe’ NGO unfolded before my eyes. These people were engaged in ‘pure art’ and performing. They set the goal of travelling to the four oceans, and then they dreamed of a nature reserve foundation in the north-east of Ukraine.
I will devote a lot of words to the personality of Leonid Kanter, the founder of this incredible project. But he was not the only one who became an ‘art environmentalist rebel’, dozens of people supported him. And his widow, Diana, still develops an eco-art village Obyrok.
We, the eco-activists, keep the hope that this place will eventually become the center of the Podesinnya National Park.
The story of the ‘people with a stool’ inspires people around the world to fight for their dreams. Unfortunately, Leonid, who burned out after such an inspirational fight, is no longer with us. But the fire of his soul continues to burn.
‘Human with a Stool’ movie
February 2019 marked the premier of a film which part of my social circle had been looking forward to for several years.
The film is ‘Human with a Stool’ by Yaroslav Popov. Finally, I saw the result of 15 years of creative team effort. The movie was conceived as a story about the travels of a few daring young people from Ukraine, Belarus and three other countries. It was released after the death of one of the team members, Leonid Kanter. It turned out to be a kind of epitaph personally to Leonid and to the entire era that started in 2004 – the date when epic journey with a stool began.
The plot of the movie is as follows: several people from Kyiv, Ukraine, come up with a game ‘With a stool to the ocean’. The essence of it is to bring four stools from the Eastern European kitchens to the shores of four world oceans. The stool was their symbol; each carried one all the way.
Throughout their journey, the guys and girls put on performances and sang songs, survived both heat and cold, walked and traveled by all imaginable means of transport. The authors of the film explain the meaning of this artistic initiative this way: ‘To prove to yourself and the world that dreams come true if you make them true.’
I first heard about these guys after the presentations of the trilogy ‘With a stool across the Himalayas’, which the authors produced and promoted without the support of large film distribution companies. They were not big names in Ukrainian cinema or theater, but they became them precisely because of their travels. With a spark of confidence and adventurism burning inside they’ve found their audience.
The movie made in 2018 turned out to be a logical addition to the trilogy, which collected the brightest scenes from travels, as well as events that were not included in the previous films. It also was very personal, as Kanter himself holds the center stage. The countdown to the last day of his life goes on. Almost from the first shots, it becomes clear that ‘something terrible is coming’. No one gives a clear answer as to why this ‘something’, the main character’s suicide on June 4, 2018, happens.
Personal emotions and feelings are mixed into the script, which turned into the life story of one Ukrainian director, intertwined with politics and war.
Kanter and his peers’ life events
Leonid was born in Kyiv on July 27, 1981. He made some money by shooting music videos in the early 2000s and founded the “Lizard films” studio.
For Leonid, his whole life was a performance. His metamorphosis is the embodiment of what was happenning throughout Ukraine between 2013 and 2014. Leonid’s life ‘before’ is a creative search, tireless theatrical performance, constant documentation of everything along the way, from which ‘after’ he wanted to choose the best shots.
Leonid also has a second storyline, which became the essence of his life. In 2007 he and his wife Diana founded the art village of Obyrok. Volunteers from all over the world gathered there and visited festivals, in particular Bread Fest, where everyone sowed and reaped wheat and baked bread with their own hands.
Leoind and Diana bought a house on an abandoned farm because, as he explained to me in 2013, he hated the city. The cities, as he would say, are where rotten people live.
Obyrok was perhaps the most remote and obscure corner of Chernihiv region. Leonid and Diana made this village a tourist and volunteer paradise. The couple had three children: two daughters and a son.
Leonid’s life ‘after’ is a trip to a battleground of Donetsk airport and a full-length film ‘The Ukrainians’, devoted to military volunteers (a joint film by Kanter and Ivan Yasniy is perhaps the only one of its kind).
After that there were three more years of festivals in Obyrok which more likely were done ‘by inertia’. We’ve heard Leonid’s public statements about fatigue and retirement. After the birth of a third child and Leonid’s break with his wife, his last months had been spent editing a film that became the result of a life’s journey. And finally, his last performance was a real, not cinematic, death. As Leonid’s colleague said in the movie: ‘Leonid ran the fastest and came first’.
Part of the adventures “with a stool” for me was easy to follow. I knew from the live broadcast how Kanter almost ended up in a Canadian prison on a false charge (the episode was included in the film).
Newly founded ‘Green Tribe’ NGO announced their activities at Obyrok art village in the popular LiveJournal, and then on Facebook.
The festivals that they organized in Obyrok were attended by volunteers from all over the world, ecology minister of Ukraine and famous musicians such as Katya Chilly, Dilia and Serhiy Fomenko. The founders of the village became sort of a civil society, striving for glory and further development. A living embodiment of the ‘do it yourself’ attitude, they managed to create a unique place where events with almost zero budget attract all kinds of interesting people.
Behind the scenes of the film were all the twists and turns involved in the creation of a natural reserve in Obyrok. This bureaucratic process was a severe disappointment for Leonid because of the negative reaction from some locals to this environmentalist idea. The locals saw him as a guy from capital, who was a stranger to them and wanted to seize their lands. In fact, what Leonid wanted was fundamentally different – to stop the unbridled killing of animals, poaching, and deforestation around the farm.
The film doesn’t show the threats to Leonid, which he wrote about on Facebook and which actually drove him to suicide. Attempts to create a community in the Obyrok art village also remained outside the body of the film. In the same way, the topic of post-traumatic stress disorder is only mentioned casually. Every person returning from the frontline and specifically from the Donetsk airport unequivocally suffers from this disease. And in such an impetuous soul as Leonid’s, PTSD’s effect was multiplied many times over.
It would seem that Leonid and Diana were building an internationalist paradise. You could hear all the languages of the world in Obyrok’s kitchen, and in 2017 the Mama-Africa festival was held in the village.
Through the efforts of the grassroots ‘Green Tribe’ movement, the world began to hear something about Ukraine that did not involve negative stereotypes regarding Soviet communism, the Chernobyl disaster, the Russian-Ukrainian war or corrupt politicians.
Musicians, theater enthusiasts and filmmakers were all drawn to Obyrok. These days its team is still developing the Global Ecovillages Network. This reality of this eco village is completely unlike the Ukrainian life we are used to.
But all Leonid’s dreams in general were ‘strange’. He thought that heavily industrialized during a Soviet era Ukraine should become a country of villages that trade among themselves and exchange services, while cities will no longer be needed. We, however, can no longer ask the hero of the movie whether he was some type of a libertarian or simply ‘self-searching’ until the very end.
The final plot of the movie and creation details
It’s worth looking at the episodes of the ‘Human with a Stool’ dedicated to the travels. The last trip became special, because along with the adults, two-year-old Magdalena, the first daughter of the Canter couple, came along for the ride. The ‘Stool Path’ led them to the very end of the earth, to Cape Horn. Travelers hitchhiked through Canada, USA, Mexico, Panama, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Chile…
On their way Magdalena listens to fairy tales of various nations, turned into an exciting cartoon thanks to the efforts of the Ukrainian studio ‘Ridni animation’. A daring mother Diana Karpenko-Kanter gives birth to her second daughter Patagonia right in the taxi, on the way to the clinic two hundred kilometers from Cape Horn. The episode is truly of ‘do not try this in real life’ variety.
The overall chronology and geography of travel is impressive.
2005 – Atlantic Ocean. Countries: Poland, Czech Republic, Germany, France. The duration of the expedition was 45 days. The monument to the stool and the Ukrainian flag were set up in La Rochelle (France).
2006 – Indian Ocean. Russia, Mongolia (Gobi Desert), China (Tibet), Nepal, India, Sri Lanka. The duration of the expedition was 90 days. Monument to the stool and the Ukrainian flag were set up in the village Kirindi, Sri Lanka island.
2007 – the Arctic Ocean. Countries: Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Russia, Finland, Norway, Spitsbergen island. The duration of the expedition was 90 days. The monument to the stool and the Ukrainian flag were set up in the city of Longyearbyen, on the island of Spitsbergen.
2010 – Pacific Ocean. Expedition through North and South America. Apart from Ukrainians, teams from Russia, Belarus and the European team (Lithuania, France and Finland) joined the project. Duration: 365 days. Monument to the stool and the Ukrainian flag were set up at Cape Horn (Tierra del Fuego, Chile)
The group walked and traveled more than 60 thousand kilometers and filmed more than 400 hours of unique video material. You can see the Mongolian Gobi desert and the temple in the Himalayan mountains, the Grand Canyon and the Amazon jungle, all those places that we’ve only read about in childhood. Kanter and writer Pavel Solonko (by the way, ex-activist of the environmentalist Save Old Kyiv initiative) in 2014 wrote the book ‘With a Stool to the Ocean’. It became the literary foundation for the future film.
The music for the film was written by the leader of the groups ‘DakhaBraha’ and “OY sound system” Marko Galanevich, as well as Balaklava blues, Freel & Dilya. What is also noteworthy, is that ‘Human with a Stool ‘’ was filmed at the expense of the money raised by crowdfunding on the Bigggidea website.
The aftertaste of the movie is ‘life is a film’. What was conceived as a hymn to love, creative search and the pursuit of dreams, became the life story of a man who, by the end of his 36-year life, was deeply burnt out and looked at the camera with a sad gaze. Animated fairy tales, collected by Leonid’s wife Diana, are interspersed in the film with Leonid’s last speech, that he ends with: “Excuse me, my children.” The director brings the plot as close as possible to the actual act of suicide, but ends it right before that.
In the film, there are many interviews with Leonid’s friends. Each explains the suicide of a peer in their own way. The director and performer who ‘ran’ to the end faster than anyone else set an example for many people during his lifetime. Someone founded the eco village, someone makes films, someone is fighting on the front lines of Donbass. The Obyrok village is still alive due to the efforts of enthusiasts who continued the initiative and Diana Karpenko
Leonid’s life became the symbol of the world’s imperfection. Only in an ideal fairy tale would the Kanter couple live to the gray hair on a farm in happiness and contentment, raising three children. In the real world, the Maidan protests and the war, as well as, according to the Magdalena’s fairy tale, ‘the battle with the dragon’ burned Leonid, took away his desire to live.
‘It is worth devoting your life’
Leonid has always been too sharp and too active for the population of the area he chose to live in. He strongly opposed poaching and deforestation. One of Leonid’s great dreams, which he never managed to realize, was the creation of a natural reserve around Obyrok with an area of 1,000 hectares. His idea was supported by the Ministry of Environment, and the EU and Canada were ready to fund it.
Leonid founded the ‘Green Tribe’ NGO for green lobbying. In 2016, he invited the Minister of Ecology to speed up the process of sowing grains. It was then that the negative side of life in Obyrok became apparent – the resistance of local residents to Leonid’s initiative. They were sure that their plots of land would be taken away, and staged a protest before the minister’s arrival. Leonid angrily wrote about this on his page. Forester wardens did not sell wood to Leonid out of principle, and poachers directly threatened to burn down the house and kill him.
Leonid had his own idea of how the region should develop. On his page he called for the creation of a ‘radical forest protection organization’. At the same time, he dreamed that they would follow his example and more citizens would leave the cities and build their own communities. ‘Ukraine will become a network of art farms’ – this was his dream. He was slowly moving towards it, too. For example, in 2017 Obyrok hosted a congress of representatives of eco-villages and art farms.
He was direct, sharp and tough, ‘sticking out’ when everyone else was silent, saying what he thought. He was a controversial man who more than deserved a mention for his environmental achievements. He was the center of connecting people. He did his job as well as possible without going on television and spending a lot of money to form a party or a political movement.
Leonid was not killed by the forest mafia, but his life ending was what happens to those who ‘awaken’ society. He held opposite views on nature conservation and ‘community’ and the attitude of the people of the post-Soviet countryside.
Let’s quote some of Leonid’ posts on Facebook:
“And here [at Obyrok] we are faced with a problem that I cannot solve. Our village is surrounded by a beautiful mixed forest, and also has a pine forest in the middle. In recent years, hunters have killed all large animals, and loggers use trucks to remove ancient oaks and ash trees every day. All this is done ‘officially’ with the support of forest wardens.
We tried to create a nature reserve, we’ve invited environmentalists, collected all the documents, but of course we were denied. Naturally – because these schemes are established at the highest level. The gangster rule is firmly established. The people are still largely indifferent to the fate of the forest. Public attention is mostly focused on megacities and politics.
The idea behind the surface is to create a local reserve to protect the forest from barbaric logging and bloodthirsty hunting, which is more akin to genocide as the animals are beaten to death.
The idea is global – to set a precedent that will show that nature can be protected throughout Ukraine. Because such logging and hunting must become a thing of the past.
The Regional Council supports the creation of a reserve of local significance ‘Obyrok’.
But local forest wardens, frightened that they would lose their money source, launched a whole campaign under the craziest slogans like ‘He wants to privatize the reserve!’, ‘People will be deprived of land!’ etc’.
Forest wardens, hunters and poachers – everything is fairly apparent with them. They are categorically against (the reserve), because they’re worried about their own vested interests and it’s clear that these interests are not only contrary to the interests of the Matiivka community [Matiivka is a village near Obyrok], but also to the interests of the whole of Ukraine.
Through cunning and slander, they deceived the whole community. At first we tried to carry out educational work, but it lost its meaning after a local deputy of the district council told the community that they (ecologically minded village residents) wanted to ‘seize’ the land. He is not a stupid person, he has seen the documents on the reserve and he knows perfectly well that no plot of land in anyone’s property is within the boundaries of the reserve, and the reserve land is and will remain in the purview of the state. The explanation is simple – the deputy is the owner of sawmills in this village’.
‘If you manage to save 1000 hectares of forest from destruction – it is worth devoting your life’.
- If you manage to save 1000 hectares of forest from destruction
- If you manage tohectares of forest from destruction
- If manage to save 1000 hectares of forest from
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