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Amplify Ukrainian voices, not Russian ones

Russia invaded
The kindergarten in the photo is located in Stanytsia Luhanska and it was shelled on February 17, a week before the attack on Kyiv began. Original picture by Mark McKinnon, collage with Dostoevski by Andriy Hryschuk.
Amplify Ukrainian voices, not Russian ones
Article by: Hanna Hrytsenko
The tendency to equate the experiences of Ukrainians fleeing from cluster munitions in destroyed cities and supposedly opposition-minded Russians is not only troubling; it is explicitly morally bankrupt. The “ordinary Russians” perfectly share responsibility for crimes committed in their name, writes Hanna Hrytsenko. 

I cannot say I did not prepare for this war at all. I work with the military and follow the news, and everyone in Ukraine anticipated the full-scale attack on Kyiv after Nord Stream 2 was finished. I was resilient enough to do what was necessary: to prepare cash and documents, to put sticky tape on my windows, to instruct my parents about everything and to review how they observe my instructions, to be calm enough not to make my cats stressed.

But the experience when you do not sleep in the night and see the announcement of war in real-time on social media, and then in a couple of minutes loud sounds unbeknownst to you bellow in the street, I still see as something one cannot prepare for. Kyiv is shelled, but not as bad as Kharkiv, Mariupol, Volnovakha, Irpin, Hostomel, Bucha. I am doing a lot of useful things (I am generally good at working under pressure). By day 12, when I write this text, I am able to sleep again (when it is silent outside) and to eat again. But my ability to speak or write more than a paragraph at once still fails me. Not that I want to write this text. But it should be written.

If you are lucky enough not to have any similar extreme experience, never invalidate the feelings of ordinary Ukrainians. And never belittle them in favor of Russians.

After the major war started, unpreceded sanctions towards Russia followed, which provided a pretext for Russians to complain about their life and to pretend that it is they who are the main victims of this war!

They are eager to say that Putin is personally responsible for the war and that Ukrainians dehumanize them by being angry at them.

This is enthusiastically supported by Western media and institutions, who provide space for ‘Ukrainian and Russian voices.”

It is horribly wrong, and here I will explain to you why.

Expressing solidarity to Ukrainians and Russians at the same time is in effect the “all lives matter” approach. The amount of suffering experienced by these two groups is absolutely incomparable, which should be clear enough for everyone who follows the news.

Because only by giving birth in a damp basement under cluster munition shelling can a Ukrainian woman understand the pain that a Russian feels about the inability to buy a teddy shark in IKEA!

Implying Russians need your support no less than Ukrainians belittles and erases the enormous amount of pain the latter experience every minute of these days.

Implying that Ukrainian pain does not matter, in effect, dehumanizes Ukrainians.
[bctt tweet=”Because only by giving birth in a damp basement under cluster munition shelling can a Ukrainian woman understand the pain that a Russian feels about the inability to buy a teddy shark in IKEA!” username=”EuromaidanPress”]

This distance in experience is additionally amplified considering the enormous amount of resilience, grit, and solidarity Ukrainians show in their resistance.

Ukrainians rush into recruiting stations to enlist into the ranks of the territorial defense, stop tanks with their bare hands, rally in the temporarily occupied cities under fire, donate half of their salaries to the foundations which procure tactical supplies, invent ways to feed animals trapped in apartments without owners, and morally support each other before even asking names.

Meanwhile, when I talk to Russians on the internet and suggest they paint an anti-war slogan on their fence (which is perfectly cheap, easy, and safe), I meet numb reactions. They have not contemplated even this slightest possibility to oppose. Many of them cannot even build a sentence with a proper subject and predicate — “the war was [somehow] started [by somebody unknown].”

I have even encountered Russians who have the audacity to say “so come here and overthrow Putin for us,” and this has happened on multiple occasions!

Nearly 60% of Russians support Putin’s war against Ukraine

If Ukrainians can do all the listed above, then Russians surely can stand against some baton-equipped police (especially when half of this police force is in Ukraine now).

Let me remind you as well that Crimean Tatars, trapped under the very same Russian regime, have been protesting for all of these years (and those of them who were imprisoned were not visible as political prisoners by most people in the Russian opposition, guess why? Because Tatars are not white!).

Even Hitler had survived at least 42 assassination attempts — not only well-known retrospectively Operation Valkyrie, but civilian ones in public spaces as well. The first registered attempt was in 1932, even before he came to power.

So, drawing attention to the Russian reluctance to protest does not dehumanize Russians, even when said assertively.

In essence, what Ukrainians do when they appeal to Russians to organize is — on the contrary — rehumanizing them after they have effectively dehumanized themselves. Eating, sleeping, having sex, entertaining themselves, communicating — all these things are in no way specific to homo sapiens, animals do this as well. However, the ability to organize yourself politically and to experience social and political responsibility is a uniquely human condition, recognized already by Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas (homo est naturaliter politicus).

Sad but true: Ukrainians telling Russians to protest against their regime constitutes, in effect, an attempt to unearth the remnants of Russian humanity.

Specifically, when you talk about Russians who do not support Putin, you should understand that in politics, support, neutrality, and kitchen opposition (when only your mom, cat, and ashtray know you’re in opposition) work identically.

Only practical activities matter. No, writing a post that they’re ashamed of their government is not enough, words do not resurrect toddlers and do not rebuild settlements leveled to the ground.

And no, it is not 200,000 Putin clones invading the Ukrainian land. Putin himself does not shell residential buildings, hospitals, maternity wards, schools, kindergartens, churches, cemeteries, and a nuclear power plant! Putin himself does not agree to organize humanitarian corridors to gather civilians in one place, only to deliberately target them!

The “Real Newspaper,” made by internally displaced persons from Luhansk (now, we can say they were from the first wave of IDPs), prepared a gallery of Russian pilots. Ordinary family men, husbands, fathers, small breed dog owners. All terribly normal. Every Russian soldier has a family but only isolated cases of protesting against sending them to death on Ukrainian soil are known.

Russian pilots bombing Ukraine
A collage from photos of pilots bombing Ukrainian cities found by the “Real Newspaper,” by Euromaidan Press
[bctt tweet=”Only practical activities matter. No, writing a post that they’re ashamed of their government is not enough, words do not resurrect toddlers and do not rebuild settlements leveled to the ground.” username=”EuromaidanPress”]

And I hope I will not hear from anyone anymore that “Russians have no access to independent media.” This can be true for old women in remote villages, but young, educated, and English-speaking people can at any moment use Google to search for independent opinions in English!

For eight years Ukrainians have been telling the entire world that the full-scale invasion will start after Nord Stream 2 is done since there is no need for Russians to have gas infrastructure on Ukrainian territory anymore. In recent weeks US intelligence has been warning the entire world publicly!

Russians are actively engaged in piracy, but they pirate movies, not independent news. Russian youth knows everything about k-pop, anime, and who canceled whom yesterday in Hollywood, but not about what their own country does openly and publicly.

Time to stop Nord Stream 2 now: open letter by Ukrainian politicians, leaders

Moreover, even when Russians show active disagreement with the regime, it doesn’t necessarily apply to the “Ukrainian question” (a direct quote from Russian state-sponsored media RIA Novosti). Lots of people who are openly anti-Putin share pro-Putin vision and employ pro-Putin tropes when it comes to Ukrainians.

The most known example of it is the statement of opposition leader Alexei Navalny who once saidCrimea is not a sandwich to be passed back and forth,” but many, many instances of Ukrainophobia, from insensitivity to hate, are encountered by Ukrainians daily.

Putin has started “solving the Ukrainian question”

And if you ever try to think Ukrainians are over-generalizing here, please check your privilege of never having been hated for your nationality by LGBTQ+ kids! The very same people who will never say anything discriminatory towards gays, trans folks, black folks, send hate and death wishes to Ukrainians as effectively as ultranationalists.

They care about workplaces for Hollywood actors of color, but not for ordinary Ukrainians who flee from cluster munitions. They recognize and reject the “Not All Men” trope, but “Not All Russians” is completely different for them. They will never use the N-word even when there’s no black person in their vicinity, but using slurs for Ukrainians while having Ukrainian subscribers is perfectly normal. They read fan fiction written by Ukrainians on Archive of Our Own but do not care whether their favorite Ukrainian contributor is still alive and safe.

If you ever try to talk about dialogue, I kindly ask you to stop doing this forever. There are situations when no dialogue is possible. Imagine suggesting dialogue to the residents of Warsaw ghetto and KL Auschwitz. Imagine suggesting dialogue with Bin Laden on day 9/12/2001. What kind of dialogue is possible with people who explicitly wish you genocide and do their best to achieve this goal? “Please murder only half of us?” How is it supposed to work?

Russia’s war against Ukraine isn’t a “real” war, most Russians think

Last, but not least. This war has been going on for eight years already. Roughly 14,000 Ukrainians have died before 24 February 2022.  The occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, as well as Crimea, face ethnic repressions, war crimes, a network of torture prisons, and so on.

And this war is not the only one. In 2015 Russia started a war in Syria, in 2008 in Georgia, in the 1990s two wars in Ichkeria (better known as Chechnya). Russian far-right government-supported PMC Wagner Group operates in several African countries. Russian troops are standing in Transnistria. If Russia commits extreme atrocities in 2022 in Ukraine when everyone can record them to TikTok and show them to the entire world, imagine what happened in Dzhokhar (Grozny) without the possibility of being documented properly.

[bctt tweet=”What kind of dialogue is possible with people who explicitly wish you genocide and do their best to achieve this goal? “Please murder only half of us?” How is it supposed to work?” username=”EuromaidanPress”]
Western people should finally recognize the fact that colonialism is not only about the relationship between English and Caribbean or Indian people, but this is what can happen in other parts of the world.

Decolonial optics that folks from Western academia so proudly own should be employed to Eastern Europe (and Central Asia) as well. Russian studies should focus less on the greatness of the very very so much great Russian culture and more on the danger Russian society brings to the entire world at the very same moment I am writing this text.

Orientalism reanimated: colonial thinking in Western analysts’ comments on Ukraine

  • Migrants from Russia are not to be recognized as anti-Putin and pro-Ukrainian by default, only when they have a track record that can prove it.
  • Ukrainians should be recognized as a group oppressed by Russia with all consequences (i.e. to listen when a member of an oppressed group expresses their experience of oppression).
  • Russian applicants to academia, to publications, to job offerings cannot be preferred over Ukrainians (and everyone who is responsible for making such decisions should specifically reflect on this).
  • Situations like when the Lonely Planet guide on Ukraine is written by a Russian (and pretty Ukrainophobic) author as if no one inside the 40 mln country is able to do it, should be recognized as absolutely inappropriate and corrected as soon as possible.
  • People should decrease their overhyped interest in the far-right in Ukraine and increase it in the far-right in Russia.
  • Ukrainian linguistic, religious, and cultural diversity which could have been treasured elsewhere should not be interpreted as a source for “civil war” anymore.
  • Everyone who has ever said anything about “civil war in Ukraine| and now stands against the major war should be regarded as an accomplice and a turncoat.

Ukrainian voices, Ukrainian experience, Ukrainian culture, and history should be given more space and visibility.

Ukrainian bravery and grit in the face of open genocide should be properly recognized. Ukrainian level of social solidarity should serve as an example to the entire world.

Ukraine is not some territory in the Russian sphere of influence as many Westerners who cannot even find it on the map put it, it is a large independent country full of strong people who know the value of freedom and democracy and pay an enormously high price to protect it.

All these years, Russians largely ignored all the things listed above, made by them or their neighbors, with their taxes and in their name, and enjoyed a credit of trust that they are civilized, that they belong to a great culture of Dostoevsky and ballet. All these years they enjoyed recognition, support, understanding, visibility of their opinions, all services like PayPal, all new arrivals of goods.

But if Russians enjoy collective privileges for Dostoevsky, they should enjoy the collective responsibility for covering up Russian-made atrocities.

Now this Russian credit of trust is over. They are morally bankrupt.

As one Russian saying goes, your oil corresponds to your relics.

First published in Krytyka Journal

Hanna Hrytsenko is a Ukrainian activist, sociologist, researcher of far-right movements



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