Ihor Broda (Edmonton)
The annual commemoration of Ukraine’s “Declaration of Independence”, is a time for reflection on the current state of Ukraine and her future. 18 months into the Russian invasion, the West has provided some economic aid and put moderate pressure on Russia to cease its invasion but the token sanctions have been only partially effective. Ukrainians, both in Ukraine and the Diaspora, have begun to question whether Crimea and Donbas are worth the fight and resulting deaths. The most recent military mobilization campaign was only 60% successful, and some prospective recruits have dodged their call to duty and fled the country.
Can Ukraine survive this existential crisis as an independent state and continue on the road to reform and democracy? To survive and achieve these goals Ukraine must fight! We must constantly remind ourselves why.
A poem written over 100 years ago by Ivan Franko, Modern Proverb, ( Сучасна Приказка ) is still an allegory for Ukraine’s plight today. Franko tells of an unfortunate man who falls into a raging river. Floundering and fearing he will drown, the man sees a friend standing on a bridge and cries out to him for help. The friend stands idly on the bridge and ponders whether the man will sink or swim. Instead of helping, he counsels, “Не тратьте, куме, сили, Спускайтеся на дно”. (“Don’t waste your energy, my friend, allow yourself to sink to the bottom.”)
Franko then suggests that you meet many such friends every day. Although you struggle to survive, all they do is criticize and instead of help offer the same counsel, “Don’t waste your energy, my friend, allow yourself to sink to the bottom.”
He compares the drowning man to the Ukrainian nation which struggles, while false friends stand on a safe bridge, speculating whether Ukraine will sink or swim, and in response to cries for help, offer the same advice, “Don’t waste your energy, my friends, allow yourself to sink to the bottom”.
However, the man does not sink and drown. He ignores the advice and continues to struggle, finally finding solid ground beneath his feet. Soon the bridge over the raging river on which the false friends stand, starts to sway causing them to panic and cry out, “Save our lives, our power, interests, estates and our status!”
Today, Ukraine is the drowning man; the raging river is Russian resurgent messianic imperialism manifested through the invasion of Ukraine; and the false friends are countries like Germany, France and the Obama administration (excluding the American Congress) in the USA.
Although they have provided some economic assistance and military training, they also pressured Ukraine into agreeing to the “Minsk Accords”, which have never been honoured by Russia and its surrogates. Russia has escalated the invasion and yet defensive weapons have not been forthcoming.
Instead of insisting on a return to the status quo which existed prior to February 2014, the West has become fixated on the Minsk accords which benefit Russia and penalize Ukraine, which has unilaterally tried to honour them. International law and treaties are forgotten, as are the Russian invasions of numerous territories since 1991, including the genocide in Chechnya and Russia’s complicity in the genocide in Syria. The “Minsk Accords” allow Putin and the West to posture as peacemakers while the invasion continues and escalates. Ukrainians continue to die !
The West’s advice is similar to that given to Franko’s drowning man. Agree to what Russia wants, no matter what the cost to Ukraine, and ignore the continuing desire of Russia to reconquer Ukraine. Aggression has been met with appeasement. The lack of resolve of the West parallels the lack of resolve of those on Franko’s bridge who fail to offer help to the drowning man. Many non-military means exist to contain and defeat Putin, yet the West has been weak-kneed and disunited, and failed to resort to the many economic weapons at its disposal.
Many people in Ukraine and the Diaspora seem to have adopted a defeatist attitude to the continuing war in Ukraine, arguing that giving up Donbas and Crimea in exchange for peace should be considered. Disillusionment with the pace of reform and continuing corruption, as well as the perceived treachery of some in the military leadership, have probably played a significant role in the defeatist attitude. Morale has wavered and draft dodging has become more common.
Those willing to pay for peace by capitulation argue that these areas are not worth the lives of Ukrainians and that their inhabitants don’t want to be in Ukraine anyway. They reason that decreasing the number of ethnic Russians in Ukraine, that in the past supported the criminal clans of Donbas and remnants of the Communist Party, will only improve Ukraine’s chances of reforming and remaining an independent state. The rust-belt industries of Donbas were already in great need of costly modernization, and now much of the infrastructure of Donbas has been destroyed by Russia’s invasion. Their philosophy seems to be “Good riddance to bad rubbish.”
This short-sighted view: forgets history, ignores the long-term energy needs of Ukraine, ignores Putin’s goals, discounts the negative effect on the morale of Ukraine’s armed forces, ignores the government’s duty to protect its citizens, and ignores the negative impact capitulation will have on EU and NATO countries.
From the times of Kyivan Rus, its warriors fought back invading Asiatic hordes in the Donbas region. Should Ukraine forget this historical legacy and capitulate to the new barbarians at her gates?
Donbas was historically Ukrainian ethnographic territory. As a result of depopulation during the Holodomor, Stalin sent Russian colonists into Ukraine, many of them into Donbas. Ceding Donbas to Russia would be compounding the tragedy of the Holodomor and allow Russia to benefit from this genocide.
Ukrainian Kozaks played a significant role in defeating the Ottoman Empire resulting in Crimea being incorporated into the Russian empire. Ukrainians also fought in the Soviet army during WW II against the Nazi invaders sustaining disproportionately higher losses and helped defend Crimea. Is the dominant nation of an empire entitled to retain all the benefits resulting from the joint efforts of captive nations? If so, this provides more justification for Ukraine never again becoming part of a renewed Russian empire.
Donbas and Crimea have a great abundance of natural resources and depriving Ukraine of them will weaken Ukraine economically and help achieve Putin’s goal of again subjugating Ukraine. Donbas has large deposits of coal, and great reserves of natural gas. Besides Crimea having great, as yet unrealized, potential as a tourist destination, there are estimated reserves of some 43 trillion cubic meters of natural gas in the Black Sea within the 200 mile exclusive economic zone off Crimea.
Putin does not want peace but wants to subjugate all of Ukraine. Allowing him to annex Donbas and keep Crimea will only result in further expansion into other oblasts that he has claimed are part of Novorossiya. He has repeatedly claimed that Russians and Ukrainians are one nation, most recently in a recent provocative trip to Crimea. Ceding territory in pursuit of an illusory peace will not result in him changing his attitude nor his often stated goals. Already there is talk of organizing a puppet government of Ukraine in exile.
Ultimately, Ukraine and the world has to realize that the only rationale for his invasion was for his kleptocratic regime to stay in power. By whipping up chauvinism and jingoism, he succeeded in diverting attention from his incompetence as President and inability to manage Russia’s economy. Increasing opposition to his misrule subsided and was replaced with the siege mentality of defending Mother Russia against phantom Ukrainian fascists and their alleged American masters.
Ceding territory will negatively impact on the morale of the Ukrainian armed forces. The sacrifices of many will be dishonoured. When, not if,
Russia expands its war further into Donbas and then into neighboring oblasts, who will come to their defence when many will suspect that the government will only capitulate again? Armed resistance to an expanded invasion could quickly evaporate.
Both Donbas and Crimea are now ruled by a “thugocracy”, consisting of people who were nobodies previously and have become somebodies with guns who can impose their will on the people they purport to govern, under the direction of the Kremlin. The economies of both regions have been devastated.
The people of both are still legally and morally citizens of Ukraine. A key role of government is to protect its citizens. Ukraine’s government must continue to combat these “thugocracies”, and ultimately seek to recover the temporarily occupied territories. To alleviate the humanitarian crisis, Kyiv needs to enlist international agencies of all types to deliver direct aid to the people of Donbas and Crimea, bypassing the thugs who hold them captive. Russia needs to be pressured by the West to allow such independent aid.
Ultimately, if deprived of Russian propaganda, residents of the occupied territories may be convinced to stay, but those who can’t accept living in Ukraine can voluntarily move to Russia. Those who fled to unoccupied Ukraine can return home after Kyiv’s victory.
If Ukraine cedes territory, this will send a message to the EU and NATO that Ukraine is not prepared to defend her territorial integrity. If Ukraine won’t defend herself why should anyone else. The meager sanctions already instituted will be abandoned and then it will be business as usual with Russia. When Russia continues and expands its invasion, a renewal of sanctions will be almost impossible to achieve. Ukraine will be left to fend for herself.
For all of these reasons and many more, Ukraine must continue to fight and not capitulate. While defeatism is a symptom of exhaustion, ultimately Ukraine must outlast the terrorist thugs. It may be a lengthy struggle, but once and for all to prosper and survive, Ukraine must say, “never again to Ethnocide, linguicide, and genocide!”
Another poem by Franko, Blessed Man ( Блаженний Муж ),which is loosely based on some of Christ’s beatitudes delivered in the Sermon on the Mount, provides guidance on the resolve and strength of spirit all Ukrainians need to adopt in the fight for Ukraine’s survival. ( I have modernized the references to conform to gender neutrality.)
“Blessed are they who must appear before an unjust court but raise their voices for truth!”
“Blessed are they, who in times of decline when consciences are deafened, shout to awaken the nation and expose truth!”
“Blessed are they who amid turmoil, stand like oaks amid the storm and thunder, and don’t extend their hands to cruelty, preferring to break rather than bow to evil!”
“Blessed are they who suffer persecution for truth and justice, for they prepare their triumph!’
“Although memory of those who shed their blood for truth and justice, may fade, their blood will ennoble the blood of all humanity!”
Loathe as I am to quote Lenin, a quote of his provides insight into the mindset of dictators like Putin. “Probe with bayonets. If you encounter mush, proceed; if you encounter steel, withdraw.” Defeatism is mush. Ukraine and all Ukrainians must be like steel to achieve victory.
To become steel all Ukrainians should be guided by further words of Franko, from Velyki Rokovyny :
“Everyone must think that upon them,
The condition of millions rests,
That for the fate of millions,
You each must give account.”
Imagine if every Ukrainian adopted this attitude. Ukraine would become steel, unconquerable by anyone. To be steel Ukraine must fight!
Glory to Ukraine!
Glory to her heroes!