Guest Contributor and Ukrainian Native Anna Tarasenko writes this telling and controversial piece on the falsities of the Ukrainian reality from her perspective….
As early as 5 years ago, responses to “I am from Ukraine”, would usually see me hear things like: “That’s part of Russia, right?” Ukraine as a country was unknown, despite gaining its independence some 25 years ago. Throughout these years, we co-existed with Russia, slowly distancing ourselves from its influence. This couldn’t have happened without help of the EU, who invested a considerable amount of money into projects, grants and research, to aid our development with the hope of later turning Ukraine into another point of opposition to Russia. Nevertheless, most people hardly knew our country. However, after the Revolution in 2014 things changed drastically.
The Ukrainian reality: idealism doesn’t work in practise
The events of the “Winter on fire” in Ukraine were broadcasted across Western media: filled with heroic pictures, debates and empathy. And it wasn’t surprising. Ukrainians were fighting for what they believed to be “European values”. Values of: democracy and freedom, in recent years, the term “European” for Ukrainians, has been synonymous with “good”. People would visit the EU and marvel at this picture of the prosperous and wealthy countries with clean streets and smiling faces. They saw development, and they realized they wanted the same for themselves. We had a rather idealized image of Europe with its honorable beliefs. Beliefs, we decided were worth dying for and was completely in tune with what Europeans would want to believe themselves, that they managed to create something valuable, something better than others. Therefore they were all empathetic and supportive at that time.
The danger is real, but whether to fear it or not it is our choice. When Russia further escalated the conflict first through the annexation of Crimea and then by starting a full scale war in the east of Ukraine, we made choice not to fear. Hundreds of young nationalists went to the army to die for that choice. Meanwhile, the West suddenly remembered that they have “all these internal problems to solve”, and were not ready for radical decisions. That is why now we see it as a betrayal. It turned out that actually, we believed all these European principles more than the people of the EU. They were not ready to get out of their comfort zone and help us to fight for them. I am not a politician and trying to analyze the situation from their perspective: I am simply trying to tell how we felt. I could have talked about the strategical importance of Ukraine for the EU- seeing as it is a huge buffer zone between it and Russia. I could have emphasized the fact that Ukraine is the largest country in Europe (despite Russia) and possesses huge areas of fruitful land. However, these are all capitalistic and pragmatic reasons for why I think that the EU should have helped us, and so they’re not important. I want to concentrate on the reasons that are not so easily measurable and quantifiable.
Many European politicians are extremely careful with their words when talking about Ukraine, they don’t call it a “war”-that would lead to difficult questions. First of which being, how the many diplomatic organizations founded post-WW2, namely UN, EU and NATO, allowed an act of Russian aggression to go relatively unchecked? And have allowed a people to fight alone, with little to no resource? The second question, undoubtedly a corollary of the first, whether what do they is worth it, if they are not able to stop a full blown civil war occurring in the middle of Europe?
Realities and disillusionment: the real reasons Ukrainian’s continue to fight
After the first year we got rid of the illusion that West was going to help: we were fighting for their ideology (alone), in which we saw our future. Today, when I ask our soldiers what they are fighting for, it is no longer for the EU or for greater association with NATO, it is not even the Ukrainian government. Rather, for their families, wives and the children they left behind. It turned out that that is the only truth they can rely on. They’ve lost faith in any “king” of political rule.
When talking about the initiators and reasons for the conflict it is often mentioned that Ukraine is strongly divided, and because of that we “lack a coherent cultural identity”. A fallacy and perpetuated lie that followed the Ukrainian people for centuries. Yes, there have and remain so differences in regional understanding, but to suggest the absence of a “coherent cultural identity” seems somewhat of a stretch. If we were to trace Ukrainian History back in time, even before we existed as an independent country, Ukrainians were always considered a threat. A threat so strong, that Peter the Great tried to reinforce the russifying of Ukrainians by blending them into Russia: prohibiting the use of their own language, literature etc. Here we are hundreds of years later still having managed to hold onto that cultural identity.
It wasn’t our independence in 1991, (which still was kept us closely aligned with Russia), but rather the Revolution of dignity, that forced every Ukrainian to actively decide his position in the conflict, decide who they belonged to- it was rather difficult to remain indifferent. This conflict mobilized and somehow united people. It led to the emergence of the phenomenal network of volunteers. To be perfectly honest, they are the ones, who are support the army most, not the government or the United States, but normal people who quit their jobs for the honorable purpose of helping others. The government doesn’t have money to supply the army with the necessary clothes, food or drugs: these are all regularly brought to the zone of the conflict by volunteers on their own risk going to the frontline. They are the ones taking care of thousands of refugees from East that flooded the central part of Ukraine. Further afield, Ukrainian culture suddenly became a trend to be more Western, through our clothes, literature, music, art etc. We began to re-discovered all the things that were told to forget many years ago.
Relationships forever changed: a fractured people and friends
However, I cannot deny that this wasn’t applicable to some of the people on the East of the country. All the efforts of the 17th century had residual effects: the wave of deportations that had occurred in 1990 up to the end of USSR times, undoubtedly had their effect. Our connection to Russia is not simply the economical, it is also through people. It is another thing that makes this war unbelievably cruel. How many families and friendships were dissolved during this political debate? It would be reasonable to argue that we do not necessarily identify the people with their government and its decisions. Nonetheless, they do it themselves, actively applaud to every brutal demonstration of force. The support, popularity of current Russian government amongst its people is unbelievable. They believe in restoration of the USSR. That is what we can’t forgive.
So yes, the original conflict between the East and West did take place; between Ukrainians and ethnically Russian people. However, Russians hugely amplified it and used to cover the actual invasion of Ukrainian borders. Europe was silent. By not admitting their presence on our territory, Russians has allowed the West to close its eyes on the situation and pretend that this is the conflict is an internal civil one, which they cannot intervene in.
Some historians have called us “a generation without a future”, and according to the forecasts of some economists, Ukraine will not be able to exist as a stable country, due to its dependency on others. Yet, when I talk to people in this generation, a lot of them are smart, strong and hardworking people, that I believe are able to create a new version of Ukraine, without the roots of a Soviet past. They are not afraid of risky choices since they already live without any understanding of what the future will bring them. But, the most important thing that they require now is peace. The wish that we currently have on all our birthdays and celebrations- the hope of “a peaceful sky”. Our hopes, our bubble of the perfect EUwas burst ed by its seeming indifference, and we are no more ask for a future with you, but that you at least help us at least have the option to choose one for ourselves.