Ukraine is not dead

25 nëntor 2022 13:36

Contrary to the popular opinion that is often heard in the Balkans, Russia and Ukraine have never been fraternal peoples. This is part of the Russian propaganda efforts that I have come across even here in Kosovo. The historical relations between Russia and Ukraine can be compared to a dysfunctional couple, whereby a man beats up, humiliates, and oppresses ​​his wife for years, and she cannot go anywhere, because she is dependent on him. As soon as she tries to break out of this hell, the relationship becomes even more toxic. Ukraine had been a part of the Russian empire against its will for centuries, then the USSR for over 70 years. When it became independent and wanted to cut ties, Russia invaded Ukraine.

A journalist told me a couple of months ago here in Prishtina that Russia and Ukraine “have always been close”, and “in friendly terms”. Once again, this brought me to the realization that Ukraine lost the information war miserably because I hear this opinion everywhere. Another opinion is that the Russian people “are not to blame for this war”. “This is only Putin's war”, they say. I would argue that both are wrong. But let's take them one by one.

Why we are not brothers

Russians are very fond of saying that Ukrainians are their younger brothers. They even call Ukraine “Little Russia”. And this opinion exists not only among politicians in the current government, for whom Ukraine should not exist at all, but among ordinary Russians, too.

Even before the war in 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and occupied the southern parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the condescending descriptions and offensive traits towards Ukrainians were ubiquitous. In films, songs, and books Ukrainians were depicted as Cалоеды и колхозники - “stupid rednecks who grow potatoes in their village” and “eat dumplings with lard”.

Of course, this colonial attitude is expressed through a well-known trait of colonial justification: “the Russians are an illuminated nation that is merely “bringing civilization to these backward people”. Russians like to come to the village in the summer to eat cherries and apricots, because due to the climate in their latitudes, such an abundance of berries and fruits is rare. They arrogantly wander around our villages and force them to speak to them “normally”, i.e. in Russian. After all, the Ukrainian language is also “not a real language”, according to Russians.

The suppression of the Ukrainian language by the Russian Empire began several centuries ago by decree of Tsar Alexis of Russia and his father, Patriarch Filaret, goes back to the remote year of 1627. According to that order, printed books in Ukrainian had to be collected and burned in bonfires, and a severe prohibition was imposed on Ukrainian books ever since. This marked the beginning of a consistent campaign by almost all Russian tsars to oppress the Ukrainian language.

The first Ukrainian Academy was established in Kyiv in 1632, when there was not even a hint of higher education in Moscow. Teaching in the Kyiv-Mohyla academy was mainly in Latin or Ukrainian, which eventually was completely banned in Moscow. And under Alexander I, the educational institution was liquidated.

Ukrainian books were burned, baptizing Ukrainian names was forbidden, and official speeches in Ukrainian were punished. On the other hand, in the USSR – which by Russians is considered as a high time when “all nations lived peacefully together” - Ukrainians were banished far away, to Siberia, Kazakhstan, the Urals, with the purpose of ethnically cleansing and eventually completely eliminating the Ukrainian nation.

That is why Russia has such a loving nostalgia for the “imperial greatness” of the Soviet Union. In that infamous constellation, the Russians were the “superior race” too, and all the rest had to be lifted from their “inferior and barbarian stage of civilization’ and become Russians.

This ideology produced a terrible genocide against the Ukrainians in 1932-1933, when millions of died during the artificially created famine, Holodomor. My great-grandmother had to flee on foot and walked for 700 km from the Cherkasy region to the Luhansk region, in fear of almost getting eaten from hunger by her neighbors. Luhansk was a bit better off because of the industry. The USSR gave the cities better provision so that the slaves could work more for the good of the state.

The Russians did whatever they could to dissolve and destroy the Ukrainians, but eventually something went wrong and they were unsuccessful in such attempts. Ukraine declared its independence in 1991, and Russia did not like that very much. Since Russia had many internal problems of its own in the 1990s, Ukraine was left alone for a while, and as soon as Putin came to power in 1999, we immediately felt a change in sentiment.

Why it's not just Putin's war

I was born in Luhansk and lived there until 2006. Then I went to study in Kyiv to that well-known Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, which was revived with independence. I could not speak Ukrainian well because the USSR had completely destroyed the Ukrainian language in my region, but it could not completely annihilate the Ukrainian identity

My father is from the Rostov region, which borders Ukraine. I spent all my childhood with my grandmother in the city of Millerovo, from where currently they launch all sorts of rockets at us. My Russian relatives never let me forget that I was a “lesser race.” Even though we speak the same Russian dialect, we celebrate the same holidays, and in general we belong to one cultural cluster (and this is logical when states are not divided by mountains but steppes), my relatives have always considered themselves Great Russians. When we would visit them, they would never forget to remind us that we were “khokhly” (derogatory name for Ukrainians), and that we were “stealing gas from them.”

My cousin, whom I always considered my sister, sneered at me contemptuously for being Ukrainian. And she just hated her name Oksana, which is very popular in Ukraine. She made everyone call herself Ksenia, which was the same name, but in Russia. They have always had a popular phrase “why do you eat like khokhly”, (meaning to take a bite and not finish eating).

During the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004 and thousands of Ukrainians protested on the Maidan Square against massive falsifications, we had just arrived at Oksana's wedding. This was the beginning of a massive centralized propaganda operation in Russia. Putin was paranoid that his people will overthrow him, so he first unsuccessfully poisoned Viktor Yushchenko, and then began to invent and pedal all kinds of disinformation about the Maidan protests. It was convenient for him to keep Viktor Yanukovych, a native of the Donetsk region – in power. Yanukovych was a corrupt politician who could be easily controlled by Putin, and in this would achieve Russia’s goal of keeping Ukraine out of NATO and the EU.

The Maidan won in 2004, and we had to hear enough from our relatives that we were misled and did not understand anything. At that wedding, they even surrounded us to tell us that we should not support the Maidan.

This situation reached its peak in 2014 when Russia invaded Ukraine. Russia had released a terrible number of fakes about the Maidan. It was the birth of the idea that if you are for the Maidan and from Ukraine, you are a Nazi.

After the Maidan, the disgraced goon and Putin’s puppet Yanukovych fled to Rostov. Russia immediately occupied Crimea and attacked Donetsk and Luhansk. My parents lived in Luhansk at the time, and I went to visit them in July 2014, which was exactly when the most brutal shelling of my city began. Yanukovych, with the help of Putin, destroyed the Ukrainian army. As a result Ukraine lost two large and important cities in the East – Donetsk and Luhansk.

When my parents ran away from home as fast as they could, taking our cat and just two bags with essentials, my Russian relatives’ attacks against us escalated. They offered my father to leave “these Nazis” (me and my mother) and go to Russia, where they would find a “normal Russian woman” for him. They also called me a Bandera prostitute (Bandera is a national hero of Ukraine), and also vowed to ‘deal with us next time” we see each other. We still haven’t. Oksana's husband wears a T-shirt with Putin on it. My 25-year old nephew serves for the Russian army. They sincerely hate us, simply because we are Ukrainians. In February 2022, when Kyiv was shelled, my relatives messaged to tell me how all that news and those images were all fakes, that I had made everything up and that I am just a Nazi.

Don’t be fooled: this is not just Putin’s war! The Russian people have held genocidal views towards Ukrainians for centuries, thus creating an environment that allows for the oppression and annihilation of the Ukrainian nation. Don’t be mistaken: the absolute majority of Russians support this war and should be held accountable for their ideological leader’s plan to commit yet another genocide against the Ukrainian nation.

Find the article in Albanian here.

25 nëntor 2022

Daria Meshcheriakova