Nine Things People Still Don’t Get About Ukraine

By Stas Olenchenko

A collection of thoughts from a bunch of stubborn Ukrainians after eight months of Russia’s full-scale invasion. These were originally posted on various Facebook pages with the message: “Feel free to share this with people who still find it hard to understand why Ukrainians think or act in certain ways.

“Ukraine will never surrender”

This is an existential war for Ukrainians. If we stop fighting, our homes will be turned into rubble, our children will be taken away, and our people will face mass terror. Every place that has experienced Russian occupation in Ukraine has a similar story to tell: a story of mass graves, torture chambers, filtration camps, and forced deportations.

All this means that Ukrainians are prepared to fight no matter how long it takes – because they are fighting for survival. Nobody “makes” Ukrainians fight – not the government and most certainly not the supply of Western arms. With or without military or political support from the democratic world, Ukraine will keep on resisting, because we are fighting for our right to exist.

For us, the reality of perpetual military resistance is more acceptable than the reality of Russian occupation.

“None of us are okay – even if we say we are”

In the first weeks following the Feb. 24 invasion, Ukrainians were in a state of shock and terror. The shock passed, but the collective trauma has not even started to heal. Every day, people across Ukraine are dying from Russian shelling. Every week, new stories of horror of Russia’s genocidal campaign emerge. Each week brings a new little catastrophe – and every week a little part of us quietly dies inside.

This has become the new norm Ukrainians are learning to navigate. So, when you ask a Ukrainian friend or colleague whether they’re okay, keep in mind that this question has lost its meaning to most of us. We are not okay, and we don’t know if we’ll ever be okay again.

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https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.544.0_en.html#goog_1095219432But we keep holding on. In a way, we’re trying to be okay as Ukraine is the final act of resistance against Russia’s attempt to wipe out everything that is Ukraine.

“Ukraine is fighting against Russian colonialism, not just its president Vladimir Putin”

Putin may have pulled the trigger, but the root of the invasion lies deeper than the current regime in Russia. For centuries, Russia has led colonial conquests from Eastern Europe to the Pacific Far East. It conquered and assimilated multiple indigenous peoples – and exterminated those who resisted.

Russian colonialism remained largely under the radar this whole time, and its crimes are much less studied. As a result, the Russian imperial worldview has remained unchecked and unchallenged, and has expressed itself in multiple invasions since 1991: Transnistria, Ichkeria, Chechnya, Georgia, Ukraine and Syria.

The war might be paused when Putin’s regime implodes, but Ukrainians know all too well that a lasting peace is only possible with a decolonized and disarmed Russia that rethinks its past and future.

Until then, the untamed beast of Russian colonialism will seek to continue its imperial conquest in Ukraine and elsewhere.

“Russian-speaking Ukrainians are not ‘more Russian’”

Yes, most Ukrainians are bilingual. Yes, 26 percent of Ukrainians are Russian-first speakers and 27 percent speak an equal amount of Russian and Ukrainian in their daily lives. But do you know why?

While some foreigners still believe that it has mostly to do with ethnicity and political ideology, the widespread use of the Russian language in Ukraine is mostly the result of centuries-old Russification policy.

Since the 19th century, Ukrainians were deliberately banned from using their language in education, labor, and public spheres of life. The Russification process prevailed throughout Soviet rule. As a result, millions of Ukrainians switched to Russian and deliberately hid their Ukrainian traces. And Ukraine learned to exist successfully as a nation of bilinguals.

So, if you meet Ukrainians who speak Russian in their daily lives, do not assume they are “more Russian” than any other Ukrainian or that they support Russia in any way. They probably have a more interesting story to tell about language and identity – just ask them.

“Ukraine never had a Nazi problem”

Not only did Nazis in Ukraine have nothing to do with Russia’s invasion, but the entire notion of Ukraine being run by the far-right is and always has been ridiculous.

The story of a “dangerous Nazi regime in Kyiv” is nothing more than a Russian propaganda myth. The idea of “Banderites” running amok was first voiced on Russian state TV when Ukrainians went to the streets to protest against a corrupt dictatorship in 2013. As Russia invaded and destabilized parts of Ukraine in 2014, it kept weaponizing and feeding the Nazi myth, thus justifying its involvement and legitimizing the occupation [which began with the annexation of Crimea that same year].

Ukraine’s far-right movements have always been marginal and never had more than 5 percent of public support combined. Unlike many European states that do have a problem with far-right populism or Russia – a country running on aggressive fascist ethnonationalism for decades – Ukraine never really had a Nazi problem.

There is nothing humane or intellectual in trying to justify a brutal genocidal campaign by parroting propaganda claims crafted by the Kremlin. At this point, anyone trying to counterbalance Russian war crimes by appealing to the “Nazis in Ukraine” narrative is either a paid Russian shill or just a useful idiot. There is no point talking to these people anymore – we just need to stop providing them with a platform for spreading fascist propaganda.

“Ukraine is a democracy and President Volodymyr Zelensky acts as our representative”

Ukraine is not perfect. The issues with social trust, corruption, and poor state management have persisted for decades and hurt our country in various ways. But Ukrainians always fought back whenever authoritarianism loomed over: they protested in 2004 after a rigged election, and overthrew a corrupt wannabe dictator in 2014.

And yes, Ukraine still has a lot to improve – which would have been a lot easier if we didn’t have to constantly defend ourselves from Russia’s territorial aggression since 2014. But despite an external threat, Ukraine remained (and still remains) devoted to democratic values and reforms.

Not many people understand that Zelensky – a president who received 73 percent of the public’s vote in 2019 – always speaks and acts on behalf of the Ukrainian people. Following the full-scale invasion in February 2022, Zelensky’s actions received praise and support from 91 percent of Ukrainians.

There has never been such a clear connection between the president and the people in Ukraine – and there are probably few examples of such political unity in modern-day democracies. All notions of Zelensky forcing anything onto Ukrainians are completely out of touch with reality.

“We will not shut up – not anymore”

For too long, Ukrainian perspectives were silenced by Russia and pro-Russian sentiments around the globe. Like many other nations colonized by Russia, Ukraine had to shut up and, at best, politely debate whatever Russians had to say.

This colonial legacy has remained long after 1991. Ukrainians were consistently denied agency: their pro-EU and pro-NATO choices were explained through conspiracies about so-called “U.S. and NATO aggressive expansion.” Discussions about Ukraine often happened without Ukrainians themselves but with well-established carriers of Russian colonial views on Ukraine.

All of this must remain in the past. We will not shut up and listen to another round of Russian imperial bullsh*t, casual tone-deaf “Westsplaining,” or another Russian state-sponsored gaslighting campaign.

As the genocide against our people continues, we will remain unapologetically Ukrainian – and we will make sure our voices are loud and clear from now on.

“Yes, we think all Russians are responsible for the war”

Ukrainians do not just blame Putin or the elites for the war – we blame the entire Russian nation. Putin and his cronies do not personally launch high-precision missiles at residential buildings. They don’t torture and mutilate civilians living under occupation. They don’t take away Ukrainian children and don’t try to “re-educate” them. They don’t loot, rape, and murder us. They don’t attack Ukrainians abroad or online. Ordinary Russians do all those things. All while the rest of them have been silently and passively going along with the genocide for eight months – or running away from their country and responsibility.

Those who fight against Putin’s regime carry the burden of responsibility as well. Even if they tried to make it right – they failed, and that’s just a fact. They failed as a state, as a society, and now millions of Ukrainians are suffering from genocide because of this ongoing collective failure.

Until Russians recognize and own this political responsibility, there is nothing for us to talk about. Ukrainians have the right to a safe space without Russians – without their point of view, narratives, or offers to help. And there’s nothing hateful about that. It’s a matter of personal safety and healing trauma.

Keep in mind that, unlike most people around the world, Ukrainians have lived close to Russians for centuries. We speak and understand their language – and we can follow their conversations on social media and in real life. We know how xenophobic, chauvinistic, and cynical average Russians can be. And we perfectly realize how their imperial attitudes have made this war possible in the first place.

“Ukrainians are afraid of what comes next, but we won’t surrender to our fears”

Some people think that Ukraine’s stubbornness may lead to a full-blown world war or a nuclear catastrophe. What these people fail to understand is that Ukrainians want peace more than anyone in the world. It’s our homes getting pillaged. It’s our children being murdered.

The only country that tries to occupy a sovereign state all while blackmailing the rest of the world with nuclear catastrophe is Russia. Like it or not, the genie is out of the box – Russia is already a fascist dictatorship on nukes that invades its neighbors. It is already a threat to global security – and this has nothing to do with the way Ukraine resists. The entire notion that Ukraine can “escalate” the war by defending itself from an invasion within its internationally recognized borders is just absurd victim-blaming.

Ukrainians are afraid every night as we go to sleep and every morning while reading news of more death and destruction. But, if we let our fears consume us, Russia will most likely win, and its illegal invasion, genocide, and nuclear blackmail will be rewarded. And this outcome is exactly what could lead to another world war.

As Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba recently said on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, “It’s absolutely normal not to have fear, yet to be afraid.” And that is exactly how it feels to be Ukrainian these past eight months.

(c) KyivPost

4 comments

  1. I realize that most people in the West have become too self-centered, too lethargic, too pussified, mostly through leftist-liberal teachings. Patriotism or even mere survival is not an issue anymore. Most of the West is willing to surrender itself, letting other peoples from around the globe practically force their way in. Yes, we’re experiencing the same thing on our southern border. The West is willing to surrender not only their countries, but their culture, their ethnicity and their identity too. Thus, most do not and cannot understand the Ukrainian mentality to fight for self-preservation. Most in the West would never fight like the Ukrainians are fighting. Most in the West would accept to exist under ruskie boots, if only they get their cheap gas.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Absolutely word perfect. Bravo!
    Any politician, media figure, “influencer”, business figure or private individual in the west who supports putler, or even expresses mild sympathy or grudging admiration for Russians or his putrefying regime is in fact a proponent of genocide and should lose all their assets and be locked up in the isolation wing of a secure unit.
    To name just a few: Carlson, Taylor-Greene, Hitchens, Farage, Galloway, Jones, Delingpole, Hopkins, Owens, Orban, Paul, Berlusconi, Ecclestone, Corbyn, Wilders, Le Pen, Savage, Milne, Simes, Koffler etc etc.

    Liked by 4 people

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