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Ukrainians Won’t Live Under Russian Fascism After Escaping Soviet Communism
They are fighting so hard because they know what’s in store if Putin wins
Shutterstock. Anna Pasichnyk
Last week brought major gains for Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russian aggression. My country took back over 3,000 square kilometers of land that it had lost to Russia, according to Ukrainian military officials. The Institute for the Study of War cites many reasons for Ukraine’s success, including its skillful deployment of Western weapons systems, such as HIMARS—which allows six precision-guided rockets to be launched from one truck at once—and its strategy of fooling Russians about where the offensive was going to originate.
But the institute did not mention other key factors, namely, Ukrainians’ unwavering determination never to live under the Russian boot—and their sense of humor, which gets them through dark times with their spirits intact (and might explain why a standup comedian like Volodymyr Zelenskyy could become the Ukrainian president in the first place).
The second factor was obvious on Aug. 24, Ukraine’s 31st anniversary of independence from Russia, which, coincidentally, also marked exactly six months of Russia’s current onslaught. For obvious reasons, we skipped a traditional Independence Day parade. But we could not let the day go completely unmarked, so we decided to fulfill some of Russia’s wishes. Vladimir Putin’s plan was to capture Kyiv and parade his tanks on Ukrainian Independence Day along Khreshchatyk Street, which runs through the heart of the capital city.
Putin’s hopes were dashed by Ukraine’s fierce resistance that kept Russian forces at bay. But as a consolation prize for Putin, we paraded dozens of Russian tanks and military vehicles—the ones that we hit and captured. Hundreds of Ukrainians brought their children—and even pets—to check them out. It was a major feel-good moment that reminded us that we are still standing proud, united and hopeful—as many surveys show.
At the end of July, when there was little indication that the war would turn in our favor, one poll conducted by the International Republican Institute found that 98% of respondents still believed in Ukraine’s victory and approved of the actions of its armed forces. About 64% were convinced that Ukraine would resume control over its original 1991 borders before Russia forcibly annexed Crimea. And 72% indicated that they would vote in favor of a referendum to join NATO—a 13% increase since April.
Likewise, another poll conducted by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation in early August found that more than 90% of those polled believed Ukraine would win this war. For about 55%, victory meant expelling the Russian forces from the entire territory of Ukraine, including Crimea. Almost 90% of respondents said they wanted to make their future in Ukraine, not abroad, while only 4% did not. And almost 66% were hopeful that this future would be bright.
This is more than just talk, given that many Ukrainians who could have left have willingly stayed in the country despite the war, and some have even returned home from overseas. Moreover, a record 90% said they were proud of being Ukrainian, the highest number since independence. And 73% believe that the desire to win the war cuts across religious and linguistic differences, uniting, say, Ukrainian and Russian speakers.
Perhaps it is not remarkable that a country would come together in the face of external aggression. But what is remarkable is that despite six months of Russian brutality, Ukrainians are completely unbowed and determined to continue to fight on without compromise or surrender.
This is not because we are unaware of the risks. We fully understand that the more Putin is humiliated on the battlefield, the more ruthless he will get. Predictably, he responded to his recent losses by targeting civilian energy infrastructure in the east, causing blackouts in parts of the Kharkiv, Donetsk, Dnipro, Sumy and Poltava regions.
But even before that, he’d been bombing the eastern region 24/7. He indiscriminately fired missiles at Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city with a population of 1.4 million—before Feb. 24, of course. Just a month ago, missiles were launched from Belgorod, Russia, targeting five out of the city’s nine districts without any regard for civilians.
Nikopol, Ukraine’s fourth-largest city, located in the Dnipropetrovsk region with a population of a little over 110,000, was hit with 120 rockets from a multi-rocket launcher called Grad—which means hail. This is a fitting name as these rockets are known not for their accuracy but for raining down bombs across wide areas. More than 10 people were killed and 20 apartment buildings, 11 houses, two schools and some administrative buildings were damaged. Thousands of people were left without electricity.
Given that Russian rockets can come flying into cities along the eastern front at any time, locals go to work during the day—but take shelter in interior villages at night. And then there is the “mystery” of Russian-controlled Olenivka prison, where more than 50 Ukrainian POWs were killed, many of whom had bravely defended Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant for weeks. Russia’s claims that they were killed by Ukraine’s own missiles might be more believable if independent investigators weren’t barred from accessing the site.
Ukrainians are haunted by fears that if they don’t manage to totally oust Russia before winter, they might have to face the bitter cold months without heat, electricity and water. They also fear the world is going to lose interest in their plight—or worse, blame them for gas price hikes. But their biggest fear is of nuclear catastrophe given that Putin has turned Zaporizhzhia, the biggest nuclear power plant in Europe, into a battlefield in recent weeks. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has bluntly noted, “Any potential damage to Zaporizhzhia is suicide.”
Despite all these fears, Ukrainians are determined to fight because they know what life under Russian rule would look like—not only from past history but from what Russia is doing in the territories that it (temporarily) occupies. Teachers in Zaporizhzhia and Kherson are reporting that those who refuse to follow the Russian-prescribed curriculum get home visits by heavily armed men. This happened to my friend’s parents. Ukrainians who refuse to send their children to school to be indoctrinated by Russian propaganda are being threatened with fines and seizure of property. That’s not all. They are also being warned that their kids will be forcibly removed from them and sent to Crimea.
Despite all our recent gains, we know that this war is far from over. And until it is, Ukrainians will remain united behind the war effort. But once the Russians have been sent packing, we will question our own government’s handling because we are not blind and deaf to its faults. We will voice our opinions and take it to task—just one of the things that makes us different from Russians.
For example, one topic of hot discussion in Ukraine is a recent Washington Post article about the hard time that the United States had in convincing the Zelenskyy government that the invasion was imminent. The story confirmed what many Ukrainians already suspected, namely, that their government might have kept Western intelligence from them. On Jan. 19, President Zelenskyy noted that Ukrainians had been hearing these kinds of things for eight years and blithely pooh-poohed the report. He insisted that the risk of war had not increased and his focus would be on building roads and schools, vaccinating Ukrainians against COVID, celebrating holidays throughout the year, enjoying the May sunshine and barbecuing in the spring.
Ukrainians are currently supporting him. But they are also furious that he gave them a false sense of security because he wanted to avoid a panic-induced economic collapse. Yet if he had honestly shared information, Ukrainians might have been able to prepare for the war or get out of harm’s way, avoiding tragedies like those in Irpin, Bucha, Borodyanka, Mariupol, Kharkiv, Mykolayiv, Kherson, and so many other cities and villages.
On the other hand, there is also the argument that had Ukrainians started preparing for war, Russians might have attacked sooner with even more firepower. Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba pleads, “We had to strike a balance between realistically assessing the risks and preparing the country for the worst … and keeping the country running economically and financially.” But these are the kinds of questions that can only be debated and discussed in a free and open country, which is what Ukraine intends to remain.
President Zelenskyy captured our feeling well when he declared to the Russians: “Without gas or without you? Without you. Without light or without you? Without you. Without water or without you? Without you. Without food or without you? Without you. Cold, hunger, darkness and thirst are not as terrible and deadly for us as your ‘friendship and brotherhood.’”
We just celebrated 31 years of independence from Soviet communism. In the future, we will celebrate another Independence Day, this time from Russian fascism. Despite our quarrels, we will always unite to toast life with freedom, happiness, gas, lights, water, food—and without Russia.
Copyright © The UnPopulist, 2022.