Ukraine in Focus

By Svitlana Morenets

Sept 23

Portrait of the week in Ukraine

  • Ukraine has returned 215 POWs, including defenders of the Azovstal steel plant and five British citizens, from Russian captivity. Ukraine returned a Putin ally and 55 other prisoners to Russia in exchange.
  • Vladimir Putin called up 300,000 reserviststo fight in the war with Ukraine. A classified paragraph of the decree on mobilisation allows the President to call up one millionpeople.
  • Moscow’s leaders in the occupied Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions are holding sham ‘referendums’ on joining Russia. The ‘voting’ has already begun and goes on until Tuesday.
  • Another Putin ally died after falling ‘from a great height’. Anatoly Gerashchenko was the former head of the Moscow Aviation Institute, which has links to the Russian defence ministry.
  • Russia shelled a nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine. The reactor was not hit.
  • Signs of torture were found on some of the 450 bodies exhumed from a mass grave in liberated Izyum.
  • More than 50% of the entire capacity of nuclear and thermal power plants of Ukraine is under Russian control.
  • China spent a record £7.3bn on Russian energy last month.
  • North Korea denied American reports that it is selling rocks and artillery shells to Russia.
  • Ukraine’s prosecutor-general’s office has registered 35,744 war crimes and other crimes of aggression since the start of the war.
  • The German government postponed the discussion of a motion on whether to send tanks to Ukraine.
  • Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have introduced criminal penalties for their citizens living in Russia if they join the war.

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Wider reading on the war

Cornered: could Putin go nuclear? –Paul Wood (The Spectator)

US privately warned Russia against nuclear weapons – Paul Sonne and John Hudson (Washington Post)

The Kremlin must be in crisis –Anne Applebaum (The Atlantic)

Why Modi criticised Putin in Samarkand – (The Economist)

Der Spiegel has a fascinating account saying, inter alia, that hardline Russian nationalists such as Igor Girkin forced Putin’s hand.

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The analysis

Why Ukrainians are pessimistic about Russian protests

One of the big differences between the debate in Ukraine and Britain over the war is the level of optimism about reform in Russia. Take this week’s street protests, where more than 1,300 demonstrators were arrested while some were beaten and others ran away. Many admired how brave those taking to the streets ‘against Vladimir Putin’s regime’ were and in Britain some saw, in these protests, a glimpse of the real Russia. But in Ukraine, the protests were seen not as ‘anti-war demonstrations’ but anti-conscription protests. The feeling in Kyiv is that Russian public opinion is largely behind the war.

In February, Volodymyr Zelensky gave a speech in his native Russian calling for an uprising to make Putin listen to reason. But after an initial flurry of protests, nothing happened. Six months later, he asked the West to ban visas for all Russians. It’s hard to gauge opinion in an authoritarian state, but opinion sampling found that 76 per cent of Russians supported their army’s actions. Neither the inhumanity of war nor the economic collapse was enough for Russians to take to the streets.

Don’t get me wrong. Ukrainians know about the obstacles for Putin’s opponents: we once lived under the same Moscow regime. Propaganda means the public aren’t told the truth, and if they realise that, their lives are in danger if they start to act. Russian history shows that a revolution needs a figurehead: without the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky, there would probably have been no Bolshevik uprising in 1917. That’s why Alexei Navalny was first poisoned and then imprisoned by Putin. He was the first serious threat to Putin’s leadership: now he lies in a high-security penal colony.

But the atrocities carried out in Ukraine are of a magnitude that most Russians should know the details. Even North Korea is protesting. More than 35,000 war crimes have been registered by Ukraine’s prosecutor-general’s office and a mass grave with 450 bodies was found near liberated Izyum recently. This war has been going on for seven months without much comment from Russian émigrés. That’s not to say they don’t care: some Russians abroad have offered themselves up as hosts to Ukrainian refugees. But some Russians at home are likely to consider Putin too soft.

People power is a genuine concept in Ukraine, where we have twice thrown out a corrupt government via uprising: the Orange Revolution (2006) and Maidan (2014). Russia, by contrast, has never had a popular revolution. The Bolsheviks staged a coup in 1917 and the USSR was disbanded with a failed military coup in 1991.

The queues of Russians at borders with Kazakhstan and Georgia – those fleeing the mobilisation orders – suggest that those who are opposed to Putin’s regime have made up their mind: that the only realistic option is to run from it, not to fight it.

In pictures

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Ukraine has returned 215 people from Russian captivity, including five British citizens. Ukraine’s most high-profile pro-Kremlin politician, Viktor Medvedchuk was part of a prisoner exchange between Moscow and Kyiv, along with 55 Russians soldiers (Photo: The Security Service of Ukraine)

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Quote of the week

‘Forcibly conscripted Russians who do not wish to die ignominiously in a foreign country, surrender when there is a first opportunity. Ukraine guarantees your life and dignified treatment … you will not be extradited to Russia unless you want to.’

– Volodymyr Zelensky’s adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, after Ukraine started a campaign calling for the surrender of Russian soldiers

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Ukrainian media selection

This is intended for readers who use tools such as Chrome Translate to translate foreign web pages into English. More about those tools here.

The story of one war crime –Yaroslav Sysoiev and Roman Koval (Reporters)

Excerpts from the diary of a Russian sergeant who captured Mariupol – Kamila Hrabchuk (Babel)

How will Ukraine survive the winter? –Bohdan Zaika (Liga.net)

How salt, coal and gas determined the fate of the Ukrainian east – Kateryna Yakovlenko (Ukrainian Pravda)

The story of the Crimean soldier released from Russian captivity – Victoria Veselova (Radio Svoboda)

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The war in numbers

In the 2014 Crimean ‘referendum’

97%

voted for ‘integration’ with Russia. It was 96% in Luhansk and 89% in the Donetsk

Russian troops lost in Ukraine

70,000

as estimated by the US Department of Defense

Russians arrested when Putin announced mobilisation

1,300

of whom 500 were in Moscow and 520 in St.Petersburg

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Svitlana Morenets was a journalist in Kyiv. She hitchhiked in Crimea to learn more about life under Russian occupation and wrote a story about her experience in 2019. She was abroad during the 24 February invasion and is now in London under the refugee scheme. She applied for The Spectator’s intern scheme and is writing this email as a summer project. If you enjoy it, please forward it to someone you know: you can sign up here. Svitlana’s writing for The Spectator can be found here. This email is a work in progress: all feedback welcome: svitlana@spectator.co.uk

One comment

  1. “The feeling in Kyiv is that Russian public opinion is largely behind the war.”

    That’s what the situation in the shithole is like. That is, until the rats get into the real prospect of having to go to the trenches themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

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