Ukrainian writer, poet, musician Serhiy Zhadan
Article by: Serhiy Zhadan
After the election euphoria, the country has sobered up quickly. At first, many Ukrainians thought that it would be enough to change the commander-in-chief. After all, the new commander promised to “come to an agreement somewhere in the middle”. But, it turned out that no one was in a hurry to negotiate with him. And, everyone was looking forward to meeting the man with whom it was really possible to negotiate.
All bets were placed on this meeting. Many people believed that the main thing was for these leaders to meet… and the war would probably end. Whether President Zelenskyy himself believed this is a rhetorical question, but he convinced everyone that it was important for them to meet, to talk, to see each other.
So, they met and talked, and we listened. But, the war is ongoing. The shelling does not stop. Nobody can agree on anything. There no “middle way” for anyone. As a matter of fact, there’s no “middle way” in this war.
There is an aggressor and there is an object of aggression. It’s naïve to expect that the aggressor, who has already violated all possible norms and agreements, will suddenly agree to resolve everything. So, it’s difficult to understand what the new Ukrainian President was hoping for!
Where does this naive belief that an occupying power can come to an agreement come from? Perhaps from a total misunderstanding of the situation. Perhaps from the fact that there was no real faith from the very beginning. It was just the President’s simple desire to please his voters, to tell them what they wanted to hear, to promise them what they wanted most – the end of a war that has been ongoing for over five years.
Immediately after the presidential race and the change of government skeptics said that problems would arise as soon as the new President started moving from abstract promises to something more real and more specific. That’s what’s happening today. I wonder what the President’s voters think about him now. Are they disappointed or are they still hoping for a miracle? Haven’t they noticed the change in the President’s rhetoric?
Well, let’s look at his September speech at the UN, where there was no mention of “coming to an agreement somewhere in the middle”. Instead, Russia is named as the aggressor and the President appeals to the world community to support Ukraine in protecting its territories. Even though the President ended his speech with a curious passage from Hemingway’s novel A Farewell to Arms: “War cannot be won by victories. The one who wins the war never stops fighting… ”
A beautiful statement in a literary text, but not quite comprehensible for a country that’s defending its freedom and independence for the sixth year in a row. At the same time, it reflects a sentiment shared by the members of our new government – the desire to win this war, but not necessarily through a victory.
The logical question is – how else can a war be won, if not through victory? The question is left hanging in the air, like most of the President’s election promises. It seems that all his attempts to invent a new Ukrainian bicycle (no matter how comical it may sound in this case) have slammed into the hard brick wall of reality.
Nobody can win a war without a victory. No one can protect their country by accepting conditions dictated by the invader. You do not get closer to victory by withdrawing your troops.
It’s clear that it’s difficult to end a war… especially when you didn’t start it. It’s clear that in this case the helplessness of our new government, which simply repeats the rhetoric of the previous one, is no cause for gloating. It’s clear that, after the presidential election, this war did not become Zelenskyy’s personal war. It was and still is the war of Ukraine against an occupying state (even if some of our countrymen continue to ignore it).
An important question remains – is it clear to the President himself? Does he understand that no one is going to agree to his terms and conditions? Does he realize that you can’t end the war by simply “stopping the shelling and gunfire”?
Does he realize that it is he, and not his predecessors, who now bears the moral responsibility for every Ukrainian killed in the Donbas?
Does he understand that he – the President of a country at war – can rely only on those whom he now so clearly ignores: the military and the volunteer fighters, the volunteers and the activists, who have been holding the front line for six years, people who know that you may not see the war now, but there’s no guarantee that the war won’t see you later on.
In fact, Hemingway wrote about something similar in his war novel For Whom the Bell Tolls. (The title is from a sermon by John Donne containing the famous words: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main…. Any man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”-Ed)
You cannot rewind and reprogram a lost war. Anyone that gives up the fight is to blame for ultimate defeat.
Indeed, Hemingway needs to be read more carefully.