Serhiy Zhadan on the war with Russia & Zelenskyy’s promises

Participants of the No Capitulation! Movement protest in the government quarter, Kyiv, October 6, 2019. Photo: Mikhail Palincak  

Op-ed, Russian Aggression, War in the Donbas

Article by: Serhiy Zhadan – poet, writer, translator, public activist

War or peace?

I believe that it’s not too difficult to gauge the current public mood in Ukraine. Ukrainians are emotionally sincere and open-minded people, so government authorities must learn how to listen properly to their compatriots so as to understand their ideas and opinions… although it’s sometimes fun to compare your own feelings with official data.

According to the results of the latest survey conducted by the Rating Group, the most important issue raised by Ukrainian society and addressed directly to the president is the cessation of hostilities in the Donbas, that is, bringing the war to an end… that is, peace. Combating corruption or raising social standards aren’t as important for Ukrainians today. This is quite logical and quite understandable. Our country has been at war for six years… and even those who ignore the war, who turn their head away still live and work in a warring country.

It’s not at all surprising that this issue (which has become a loud public outcry) is the most important point on the president’s political agenda today. Everyone wants peace – those who are fighting on the front lines, those who don’t notice this war, those who see Russia as the aggressor, and those who are ready to welcome Russian tanks with flowers. It’s clear that war is an intolerable burden that prevents Ukraine from moving forward, constantly pulling it downward. It’s clear that war is what determines our future today. The only thing that isn’t clear is how to bring it to an end… hence, our countrymen constantly turn to the president, addressing the question directly to him and the government. The government promised to end the war, so the government is obliged to carry out this promise… Otherwise, they will all be in deep trouble!

Here’s the script. President Zelenskyy isn’t the first Ukrainian president whose political future might be decided by the war. His predecessor’s story [Petro Poroshenko-Ed] also revolved around the events in the Donbas – from his promise to end the war (ATO) in a matter of hours to the point when most Ukrainians allowed themselves to be convinced that the war was quite profitable for the president. Volodymyr Zelenskyy also won because he promised to end the fighting. Offering a simplistic and unfeasible formula – “let’s just stop shooting!”, Zelenskyy convinced many Ukrainians to believe in him.

Trouble is such promises will have to be answered. They’re too painful and critical for Ukrainian society to ignore. Poroshenko promised to end the war in the shortest possible time, a promise that ultimately contributed to his downfall. Whether he wants it or not, Zelenskyy will also be held accountable for his promise “to stop firing” (i.e. end the war). But, will he be able to do it? Your guess is as good as mine… Frankly speaking, so far, President Zelenskyy doesn’t seem to be able to carry out his promises.

Of course, Ukrainian voters aren’t naïve and they are fully aware that many politicians don’t fulfill their election promises, but they also know that this won’t work with regard to the war. The Russo-Ukrainian war remains the “red line” that Ukrainian politicians must not cross. I believe most politicians understand this, so, despite all the pre-election pacifist rhetoric, as soon as they take office, they begin speaking very carefully about the situation in the Donbas.

War Veterans March on Independence Day, organized in response to President Zelenskyy’s cancellation of the military parade, Kyiv, August 24, 2019. Photo: Sergey Dolzhenko (EPA-FFF)

The war with Russia remains a determining factor

Everyday reality is much more complicated than the overall election picture, and the mere desire to end the war is not enough for the war to actually end. I assume that the authorities in Kyiv understand that they have nothing special to boast about in this case. But, yes… despite everything, we all know how much they want to brag.

In addition, the government knows that Ukrainian society is demanding an answer; it can neither be bypassed nor buried. Because there’s either peace or war. And, when all is said and done, we are at war… no matter what you call it; no matter how you look at it. There’s a front line; there’s an enemy; there are casualties; there are many dead. And, the fact that some of our compatriots actually support the enemy only complicates the situation, which is already much too difficult and complex to deal with by simply refusing “to shoot back”.

It’s perfectly clear that, in the near future, the issue of war with Russia will be a key factor in determining the attitude of Ukrainian society to the government and the attitude of the world to Ukraine. We’ll continue pushing against this wall, trying to find a way out. It goes without saying, it’s obvious, that the war won’t end by itself. I think everyone understands this. Today, Ukrainians have every reason and every right to ask the government uncomfortable pointed questions. But, will the government have the answers to these questions? I’m not at all certain of that…

Translated by: Christine Chraibi

Source: Radio Liberty

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