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Ukraine – hoping for peace but preparing for war

Ukrainians have accepted the loss of Crimea, but discrimination against dissenters has already started and partial mobilisation makes them very apprehensive that they may be called on to defend their future in more traditional ways.

Iryna Solomko
26 March 2014

‘I don't want to think about Ukraine losing Crimea… I can't even bear the idea. Not because I consider the peninsula a part of my country. Not because I love to stroll down the paths in Livadia Park, hike Crimea’s mountainsides, contemplate the slenderness of my favourite Crimean pine trees or walk on the empty beaches of Yalta in winter. No. 

‘I can't bear the idea because I know that there are a large number of people, including friends of mine, who consider themselves Ukrainians. We don't have the right to betray them.’  

Crimea is lost

I wrote these words more than two weeks ago. Today I'm coming to terms with a new reality. Ten days without Crimea. Ukraine started getting used to the idea that the peninsula was lost to us almost straight away.  A toothless and spineless opposition opted for the tactics that Viktor Yanukovych had applied to Maidan - pay no attention. The new government essentially decided to swim with the current, appeal to the international community and to the obvious truth of the situation.

'I don't want to think about Ukraine losing Crimea [and] not because I love to stroll down the paths in Livadia Park.'

But Russia has its own truth: might is right. The truth of the barefaced lie, when black is white.

From the very beginning of the standoff in Crimea, I was getting calls from people there. Very different types of people: journalists, soldiers, security service personnel were pouring out their hearts, their anger, and asking for help. They thought the new government was wise, that they listened to the people and to us, the journalists. But all our calls for appropriate action went unheeded. 

Russia has its own truth: might is right. The truth of the barefaced lie, when black is white.

Even the referendum and the proclamation of Crimea as part of the Russian Federation couldn’t bring the government back down to earth: it is still thinking about the introduction of a unified examination system for Crimean schoolchildren or when to start the sowing season on the peninsula. 

Discrimination

No thought is being given how to help people who have ended up as hostages of Vladimir Putin’s dirty war. There is no help for pro-Ukrainian Crimeans and the Crimean Tatars; no indication of what these groups should do next.  Essentially, they’re being ignored. At the same time the persecution of Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars has already begun.

No help is being given to the hostages of Vladimir Putin’s dirty war.

‘I’m already living in a kingdom of funhouse mirrors’ writes my friend Yelena from Sevastopol. ‘I’m sick of hearing that I’m a traitor. My photograph has been posted on local internet message boards with the words ‘to be wiped out’ written underneath. It’s a moral maze. I’ve already lost any feeling for what’s real and what isn’t. And it’s only just beginning. It will all really get going when I refuse Russian citizenship. Requiring people to apply for citizenship is an attempt to draw up a list of undesirables. I think these are lists of people to ‘be disappeared’ and dealt with. Everyone tries to convince me otherwise, but I can’t take this no-good [Russian] passport.’

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A Russian passport issuing ceremony in Kerch, Crimea. Photo Alena Popova via RIA

Another friend from Sevastopol has already closed all her social media accounts. People in the know have advised her to go underground for a few weeks. Literally two days before the referendum this same friend told me what pro-Russian inhabitants of the city are saying. ‘If you fancy another flat or you want to improve your living arrangements, there will soon be lots of vacant accommodation. As soon as the referendum’s over, we’re going to kick the Banderas out and we can move in where we want!’ There’s talk of job opportunities too… take your pick!

Is this only the beginning?

This is why society is indignant again. People are calling for new protests and criticising the government, which, in its turn, is pointing the finger at the Crimeans. They have only themselves to blame...where was their Maidan and their resistance movement? Why should we save them?

The new dictator’s brain is working overtime and won’t stop at Crimea.

Such political immaturity obviously angers people. Social networks are filled with protests. People don’t understand why the authorities are dissing Crimea. How can you leave your citizens to face the aggressor on their own?

Many understand the other risks. Crimea is just the beginning. The new dictator’s brain is working overtime and won’t stop at Crimea. This was clear after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s address to the Federal Council.  

‘After the revolution, the Bolsheviks (may God be their judge) for various reasons added large swathes of Russia’s historical southern lands to the Ukrainian SSR. This was done with no consideration for the ethnic composition of the population and today these lands make up south-east Ukraine,’ he declared. ‘Millions of Russians went to bed in one country and woke up in another, and the Russian people became the biggest ethnic group in the world to be divided by borders.’

Partial mobilisation

We understand that this race to unite the ‘mythically divided Russian people’, which no one except Putin wants, could include Luhansk, Donetsk, Kharkiv…   

Obviously the government realises this too. On 17 March the Verkhovna Rada passed the presidential decree on partial mobilisation, starting with military specialists like, snipers, drivers, mechanics…

My photo-editor friend, who left the army several years ago, claims to have already received his call-up papers. In the past Ukrainians used to run a mile from these papers, but these days they’re going to the recruitment centres of their own accord.  This wave of patriotism had already started back at the beginning of March, when Russian forces had only just entered Crimea. Many of my friends went to volunteer at the recruitment centres and so many others did the same that there were queues, unprecedented in independent Ukraine.

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18 March marked a full month since the deaths of the Heavenly Hundred. Photo cc: Ilya Schurov

In the autumn of 1961, at the height of the Cold War, the famous Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko asked in his poem ‘Do Russians want war?’

I don’t know about the Russians, but we don’t. On 18 March it was a full month from the storming of Maidan and the deaths of the Heavenly Hundred. The wounds and scars in the souls and hearts of Ukrainians are still too fresh and the recollections too painful and horrible. On Institutska street, where snipers opened fire on the crowd a month ago, there are still flowers lying on the ground. Having lived through such wild, bloody and senseless violence, we don’t want any more blood. 

At the same time, everyone understands that we Ukrainians may have to defend our future again. We managed to overthrow our own tyrant and will be ready to do the same with someone else’s. 

First image credit: cc spider death

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