From the Archives: Ukraine: Calling It What It Is

How might the international community convince the Russians to come to the table and talk about Ukraine? This question shapes all the conversations ...

Feb 28, 2015

How might the international community convince the Russians to come to the table and talk about Ukraine? This question shapes all the conversations about the military conflict happening in the east of the country. Again and again, the world seems to believe in the effectiveness of conventional diplomacy, even for a complex conflict settlement process such as this one. While it is true that those attempting to resolve the conflict should try all possibilities for negotiating, when the conflict is a war and Russia is not interested in promoting peace or the stable development of its neighbors, but is instead seeking to restore its empire, one cannot continue being friends: Something here is not working. The international community should face the facts and begin calling things by their real names.
My mother was born in a country called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, URSS. In her passport, the nationality column stated Russian. After the referendum on independence in 1991, this column in the passport of Ukrainian citizens disappeared. Everyone, regardless of nationality, became citizens of an independent state: Ukraine. This was right. My mom finally began to learn Ukrainian because the language of instruction in Soviet schools had been Russian; Ukrainian had been taught only for two hours per week.
We live now in Zaporizhzhia, a region where everyone speaks Russian and the use of language has never been oppressed or limited. I speak Russian at home and went to a school that taught in Ukrainian. It was therefore a great surprise for us to find out in February 2014 from the Russian media, that our country is controlled by a fascist Ukrainian nationalist junta.
Our relatives and friends in Russia claim to be more aware of what is happening in Ukraine than we are. They categorically assert this without justifications. It is just easier for them; otherwise they will have to admit that the Russians are killing us.
My family has many relatives and friends living in the Donbass. Indeed, we receive information from them and not from Ukrainian journalists, who usually don’t have access to the occupied territories. This information is more terrible than the highlights covered by the media.
Our relatives told us that in April 2014 they witnessed or heard of constant armed robberies in the Sviatohirsk, Donetsk region. They said Orthodox priests hid terrorists and saboteurs in the monasteries of Sviatohirsk, and somehow the Donetsk town hall had remained silent about this. They said that from July to early August in Donetsk, in Makiivka, Russian military vehicles fired shots in the direction of Donetsk. I’ve been told that since the early summer, in Lugansk and Donetsk regional courts, prosecutors’ offices have stopped working and those who refused to cooperate with the occupation became hostages.
So-called elections for local authorities in the rebel-held Donetsk and Lugansk regions were held on 2 November 2014, yet doubts have been raised about the transparency and fairness of the elections.
In Crimea, the Ukrainian language is not being taught at schools anymore. Moreover, the existing small number of Ukrainian schools have been closed, and videos of schools burning Ukrainian textbooks are appearing on the Internet. Is this not reminiscent of the Nazi book burnings? Is Russia's justification not eerily similar to Hitler's rationale behind annexing the Sudetenland?
Our relatives in the occupied territories have never seen the humanitarian aid Russia claims to be providing on a daily basis. They say the only thing being brought to Eastern Ukraine is material: the gasoline for combat equipment and weapons. My mom’s aunt, who is 64 years old, went one day for simple medical aid and was told to come back when she was 65. Is this not the height of hypocrisy?
In Donetsk, the only Russian television and radio being broadcasted is one that constantly calls for people to go to Kiev and destroy the so-called junta. Is this what you would expect from our brotherly people, to manipulate images and hide the truth of life in the DPR and LPR? Is this not a genocide of the Ukrainian people by the Russian Federation? To deny obvious things, to appease the aggressor is, as my mother would say, to introduce a great sin into the soul.
My attempt to provide a better insight to what is happening is to highlight the importance of understanding how the world let Russia become and remain an aggressor, considering Europe's experience with Nazi Germany, USSR, the 2008 Georgia conflict and so on. The adoption of the UN General Assembly Resolution on the territorial integrity of Ukraine; the quadripartite meeting of Foreign Ministers of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany; the Group of 20 summit in Brisbane; Minsk agreements and other political events have revealed an international community that consistently fails to stop the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine.
After the recent rocket attack on Mariupol and the surrounding area, it became absolutely clear to me that this is not an escalation by both parties, but rather by Russian-supported separatists who have begun to annex more territory and use more artillery against civilians.
The war is not over; things are not deescalating and will continue to have lasting military, economic, political, psychological and cultural impact. Ukrainians are alone in facing the aggressor, and alone in their attempts to stop the spread of pro-Soviet influences, manipulation and imperialistic approaches.
Valeriya Golovina is a a columnist. Email her at 
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