Ukraine’s Invisible People

Uncle Volodya says, "If you really want to do something, you will find a way. If you don't, you will find an excuse. "

Uncle Volodya says, “If you really want to do something, you will find a way. If you don’t, you will find an excuse. “

This is another guest post, this time from the blogger I know only as Ivan, and from his blog, Ivan’s Shady Existence. It’s not often you find a fan of existentialism written in English when English is not that writer’s first language, which makes this all the more pleasurable a find. I have to say at the outset that I love this guy’s writing – existentialism is a niche field, and about half of what passes for it within that field is stuffy, pretentious, self-absorbed twaddle from people who are trying too hard. Existentialism at its best is about discovery, surprise – epiphany. There are few secrets really left in our world and fewer still in human behavior, which is tiresomely the same over and over, allowing for slight generational shifts in values and morals. But is that exciting? It certainly is not. It takes a great writer to tell an old story and make it seem new again; to talk about ordinary reality so that you feel it, and write so that by the time you reach the end of the piece, you have lost all the spare room you had in your head for all the great phrases you told yourself you would have to remember, and make you wish you had written them down, convinced that using them on your own audience will cause them to reach out with the same impact they did to you.

Not all his stuff is existentialist in flavour, and this piece is a straightforward analysis of yet another in the west’s quiver-full of blunders; the failure to deal honestly with the complaints of the easterners in Ukraine and the preference for characterizing them all as insurgents who lack the imagination to grab the brass ring and ride the EU carousel. They can’t call them “rebels”, because western backing for dour religious ascetics and fundamentalist hoodlums in Libya and Syria has invested the term with romance and adventurism. So the chosen course seems to be to ignore them unless and until there is a skirmish between them and government forces – when the course of action which might have saved national unity, at a point which passed some time back, would have been to listen. But it’s hard to be a good listener when you’re a talker. Without further ado;

Ukraine’s Invisible People

Ukraine is a riddle to Westerners and Russians alike.

The Russian nationalist is befuddled by the Russian-speaking citizens of Kiev –seemingly tied to Russia by their language, culture, history and religion- taking to the streets with the EU flag, condemning Moscow’s influence in their country.

In the eyes of many Russian nationalists, post-Soviet Ukraine is the perpetual Fredo of Godfather fame – always breaking Michael Corleone’s heart with his disloyalty and overall goofiness- the older brother to a greater man who sees no dignity in submission and holds no potential for real independence.

But Ukraine also has people who warm Russia’s imperial heart, the thousands of people in the eastern parts of the country, guarding the statue of Lenin, waving the Russian flag; a few weary grandmas even pleading for the Russian military to rescue them from the “fascist regime” in Kiev.

These people are a mystery to the West. They are the invisible people of Ukraine, often omitted from Western news coverage altogether or –if noticed at all- presented only as gullible pawns of the Kremlin.

They don’t fit into the Westerner’s understanding of the post-Soviet narrative: the collapse of a sinister, totalitarian regime, the advance of freedom, a patchwork of liberated nations emerging from the inglorious fall of a flawed behemoth. It’s one thing for a Russian to reminisce about the Soviet empire, for he was its ruler. But how can a subject nation – a colony – harbor any nostalgia for the old order: a freed slave mourning the legacy of communist chains?

And yet this nostalgia is not a freak occurrence; in many former Soviet republics this sentiment is close to the norm.

A Gallup poll conducted in December of last year found that, “residents in seven out of 11 countries that were part of the union are more likely to believe its collapse harmed their countries than benefited them.”

Ukraine clocked in at 56% saying more harm than good has come from the Soviet collapse. The people who compose that majority were unlikely to be spotted among the protesters in Kiev. In fact they were the same people who elected the overthrown president, Victor Yanukovich, a man with all the charisma of a Soviet-era bedroom closet who was despised in Western Ukraine as an incompetent autocrat ever since he was on the losing end of the Orange Revolution in 2004.

Today the invisible people’s alienation and even hatred for the revolutionary government in Kiev has the potential to break Ukraine apart.

Since the coming of the new government the people in Eastern Ukraine saw a near collapse of the economy, chaos in the street and the deterioration of law and order in the country, a threat to the official status of the Russian language as one of the first acts of the new parliament, worsening relation with their giant neighbor to the east, Russian’s military incursion into Crimea and oligarchs appointed as unelected governors of eastern regions to “pacify the situation.”

Since these oligarchs control all major industry that dominates the economies of these regions, any person who might want to go to the street protesting the new government now faces the risk of losing their job. Eastern Ukrainians lost an unpopular, corrupt president they had elected, only for him to be replaced by oligarchic rule and forces they view as radical issuing orders from the capital.

For the invisible people this new, revolutionary Ukraine is not a winning proposition. Now billions of dollars in natural gas subsidies and aid that Russia has offered to the previous government are swiftly withdrawn. And for all the talk from EU leaders about Ukraine being a part of the European family, their offers of aid are unlikely to match what Russia will take away.

Instead the West appears to offer a familiar prescription of austerity in exchange for limited aid. Austerity destabilized poor nations within the EU; think what it can do to a country with an unelected government that may be on the brink of a civil war.
Tough talk about Russian influence – as good as it may feel in the aftermath of Crimea’s annexation – isn’t going to solve Ukraine’s problems. Unless the West is willing to offer billions of aid with few strings attached, the current government faces a total collapse of legitimacy in the eastern parts of the country.

Although there was no shortage of platitudes about the independence of Ukraine and the rights of her freedom-loving people, it appears that from the very beginning the struggle in Ukraine was all about Russia in the eyes of the West. Ukraine itself was only a gray battlefield where giants wrestle for dominance. Ukraine in and of itself always held little value; the prime objective was to keep it from falling under the Russian sphere of influence.

In that country’s recent history this is the second occasion when the Western horseman of freedom and democracy rides in on his white animal into a Kiev rocked by enthusiastic protests. The previous pro-Western government’s conflicts with Russia triggered an economic downturn and a culture war over language, identity and history. In this round of festivities, the value of the national currency has collapsed and the economy isn’t far behind. Kiev lost Crimea to the Kremlin and now is sending the military into the Eastern provinces to combat the “terrorists” who are employing the exact same tactics as Maidan’s heroes whose spilled blood painted the red carpet to the halls of power for the current rulers.

The cherished Ukrainian goal of becoming a “normal country” where people can live happily seems to be tragically far from sight as each round of news makes the land look less and less normal. It is sweet and easy to believe that all protesters in Kiev are cuddly democrats and all the mutineers in the east are Russian-paid trolls and God-forsaken drunks in for a separatist adventure. This way they can be dismissed once again and the only answer to their quarrelsome pleas that need be contemplated is the degree of blunt force trauma. For the man in power to entertain this view, to indulge this perspective, is to play with fire.

To see Ukraine for what it really is means moving beyond viewing it from the familiar perspective of the pro-Western protesters in Kiev- the narrative of liberation from Russian influence as a path to progress. That view of Ukraine’s historic path is wrathful, present and powerful, yet far from universal.

Putin’s greatest lever of power in Ukraine isn’t natural gas, military force or economic interdependence between the two countries. His influence stems from the fact – inconvenient to the West and Ukrainian ultra-nationalists – that the line separating Russia from Eastern Ukraine is blurry, familial and negated by a mutual history of unity. There is a line of state sovereignty but no firm line demarcates the spot where the Russian soul ends and the Ukrainian one begins.

For thousands in Donetsk who cheered the raising of the Russian flag above their government buildings, liberation from Russia is not a cherished goal. The invisible people have to be recognized by the west and Kiev, or else the Ukraine we know today may fall into the ash-bin of history, and the long-simmering cultural divisions between the Eastern and Western parts of the country will be cemented as new state lines on the map of Europe – drawn with a quivering hand of discontent and rage by the people who were overlooked, condescended to and dismissed one too many times.

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661 Responses to Ukraine’s Invisible People

  1. ThatJ says:

    A coup by Svoboda is improbable, but given the party’s will to power, and the lack of sufficient support to win an election and take full control of the country (they do poll well in the west, however), they could pull a coup and overthrow the interim government with the support of the army if a conspiracy indeed exists. Add the aid by the Banderite factions and it’s pretty much a done deal.

    From Wikipedia:
    In an opinion poll conducted on December 7–17, 2013, respondents showed that in a presidential election between Viktor Yanukovych and Svoboda leader Tyahnybok, results found that Tyahnybok would win with 28.8% of the popular vote, versus Yanukovych’s 27.1%.

    You don’t need a majority to succeed. The American Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution and the Nazis are all examples of this truth.

    The problem is that the government would need to immediately negotiate with Moscow and make some concessions, or they could lose the east and south of the country, holding the center and west only. In making concessions, Ukraine could in turn expect financial help, cheaper gas, increased trade and a boost to the economic condition of the Ukrainians.

    Believe me, Russia is much more flexible than the EU is. The EU is an ideological project that rejects identity and a Svoboda-ruled Ukraine has no place in it. Russia deals with Belarus, and could deal with a Belarus-like Ukraine, too.

    Will Svoboda’s desire to rule, and we know that they are hardcore despite the softened image they project, cause the leadership to conspire with the army in a coup? I don’t have faith in the economy, I am aware of peak cheap oil and the diminishing returns of gas, coal and metals. Food and fossil fuels, including the goods that depend on the latter for their production and transport, will soar in price. I believe the next 20 years will be very different than the past two decades, and not for the better.

    Oleg Tyahnybok is under no illusion that the US and EU are his buddies. Before Maidan, the EU and multiple global zionist organizations attacked his party because of its platform (Russophobia is acceptable for the Empire for strategic reasons, since Russia presents an impediment for global “American” hegemony, but a strong ethnic identity and opposition to massive alien incursion and the subsequent displacement, replacement and demise of the Slavic population is a big no-no for the “Americans” and the EU — this is how the US and the EU want Ukraine to behave, and it’s not sarcasm). Does Tyahnybok suspect that after joining the EU his party will come under attack by all directions, especially by the press and foreign NGOs, bringing it a loss of support because by now the pro-EU folk, wanting to be accepted among equals by the Western Europe and the United States, will opt out of the party to remain “good people” in the eyes of foreign governments that the new (in case Russia loses the entire country) Ukraine depends upon for its survival?

    You know the type of literature Tyahnybok & Co. are into, what some of their beliefs are. I would not be surprised if they seized power. Even if not for now, the idea is alive and well among the party’s leadership. I don’t have a problem with a non-Russophobic Svoboda. My problem is with the hateful ideology rotting the bodies of France, US and the UK (categorically known as FUKUS), which is not subject to change because of the Deep State structure in these countries. The Deep State controls the mass media, chooses the potential candidates, controls the finances and set the agenda in education. To be a partner of FUKUS, which today share more in common with the hated Bolshevik Russia (esp. the period from the 20s and 30s) is to be ignorant, and unfit for rule.

    Paul Craig Roberts seriously believe we may be led to war. Hopefully the situation will not escalate to the point that Russia is the new Germany.

    • marknesop says:

      Horrifying. I had no idea. We had to study “Bomber” Harris’s tactics in General Service Knowledge, and according to the reference there was never any such deliberate mayhem against civilians; it was all about whether bombing high was too indiscriminate and if it should have been done lower, and what its effect was on ending the war earlier. Here’s an interview he did long after the war, on the bombing of Dresden – while Tony Mason claimed to have seen “a great sensitivity…a regret over the loss of the lives he ordered taken”, his bombastic attitude and speech in Parliament suggested he relished playing the strongman.

      Coventry, of course, was destroyed although the British government knew well in advance that it was a target, because the government reasoned that to evacuate it would have revealed that they had broken Enigma, and the Germans would change their codes. I had read elsewhere of the fire-bombing of Dresden and the horrific loss of lives it caused, but it was in a work of fiction (Len Deighton’s “Bomber” if I remember correctly, an excellent book) so I imagined it to have been exaggerated.

      This is incredible. It certainly doesn’t make me feel sorry for Hitler, but it does make me feel sorry for the German people and disgusted with the cold-bloodedness of the allies. It would not be so bad if they had owned up immediately after the war, but they have continued right up to the present day to act as the guardians or moral values and to speak as if butter would not melt in their mouths. Reprehensible.

      • Jen says:

        To my knowledge the US military high command under General Eisenhower opposed the carpet-bombing tactics used on Germany but the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was keen on using them. The Allied attack on Dresden in February 1945 is often cited as an extreme example because at the time the city offered no military targets, it was receiving refugees fleeing the Soviet Army from the east and the German armed forces were already in retreat.

        Sven Lindqvist dealt with the disagreements the British and Americans had over the role of aerial bombing in World War II in his book “A History of Bombing” which covers the actions of Bomber Harris among others. If memory serves me correctly, one of the points Lindqvist made in the book was that the British adopted aerial carpet-bombing because it was a cheaper method of waging war than sending in infantry and artillery and they first used it in the Middle East against Iraqis fighting for independence and in Afghanistan. (I might have seen something similar on a BBC-hosted blog a couple of years ago.)

        An interview with Sven Lindqvist by Mats Bigert in Stockholm:

        I haven’t heard of phosphorus being used in bombing attacks on German cities in the 1940s but I think the Americans used napalm when bombing cities in Japan during the same period.

        • Moscow Exile says:

          I haven’t heard of phosphorus being used in bombing attacks on German cities in the 1940s but I think the Americans used napalm when bombing cities in Japan during the same period.” – Jen.

          “It must have been the winter of ’44, because one day, again on some errand, my mother
          stopped her bicycle on a bridge that spanned a small river. Some ancient chaps of the
          Home Defence had pulled a woman and her child from the icy waters. Both had been
          near an exploding phosphor bomb, as could be seen by the burns and deep holes in
          their bodies. Phosphor, in case you didn’t know, doesn’t need oxygen to burn. It sits on
          your arm like a beautiful green light, and when you try to douse it, it splits up and sticks
          to your hand as well and burns another hole into your hide. Phosphor bombs is what the
          Israelis are using in Gaza today. The poor woman jumped into the shallow river to safe
          herself and her child, not knowing of course that even under water the deadly fire
          would continue to burn both to death. As my mother stared at the terribly mutilated
          corpses, something snapped in her, and for once in my life I saw her flying into a rage.
          She dropped down on her knees, raised the arms at an empty sky and demanded to
          know, in a hoarse and inhuman scream I will never forget, how it was possible that they
          could murder women and children in such a horrible way.

          But apparently they could.”

          From: “To be a German” by Michael Colhaze

      • Moscow Exile says:

        I lived and worked in the Ruhr mostly when I was resident in Germany. During that time, only once, and without any animosity whatsoever, did a German mention to me the allied terror bombing of Germany during WWII: he just casually said to me in a bar: “All my father’s family were killed during an attack on Duisburg”.

        His father had been at the front when this happened: the Eastern Front, which is where the vast majority of the German military served – and fell, as had my interlocuter’s father.

        I have not lived in the UK for over 20 years and very seldom visit the place, but there probably still is there this constant harping back to the glory days of the “Blitz”, when “Britain could take it”, and the celebration of a monumental defeat that is known in the UK as “showing the Dunkirk spirit”.

        In my experience, Germans rarely speak publicly of their “Blitz” – the one they suffered in trumps off the RAF and USAAF. I suppose this is a result of their collective 40 years or so guilt over Nazidom and their national sense of culpability for the outbreak of WWII. Only very recently have there appeared some German publications which try objectively to put the matter straight, which have caused a certain amount of distress there and also accusations of historical revisionism.

        To go back to the British obsession about the Blitz, here’s an interesting statistic that few in the UK are aware of: during the 3 months or so of the Normandy campaign that began in June 1944, more French civilians died than did British ones during the whole duration of WWII in Europe from September 1939 until May 1945.

        Most of these French citizens died as a result of the carpet bombing by the allies of Normandy cities. The Allied invasion plans had called for the capture of Saint-Lô, Caen, and Bayeux on the first day. However, it took two months for British and Canadian troops to capture Caen alone.

        In the end, Caen was flattened by aerial bombardment – as was Rouen and other towns and cities, whose citizens had not been – or allowed to be – evacuated.

        The same tactic is still alive and well and implemented by the leader of the “International Community”, it seems.

  2. Kulobi says:

    Mark’s favourite Triple-Pulitzer-Prize-Winner gave a public lecture in Kiev on April 23:

    I wonder whether Friedman always addresses his audience as if it consisted of 3 year-old retards. The self-promoting meta-waddle is interminable and insufferable, but a snippet at 5:44 is precious – a woman scowling in disbelief at the bullshit she’s hearing and an archetypal banderite in the background soaking up the wisdom.
    Friedman then gave an interview to the local Pravda
    Main points:
    – he “likes” Russia, but Russia has no future because imperialist Putin is full of fear and didn’t pay attention when a young engineering graduate from Moscow went to Silicon Valley;
    – Kurdistan is beautiful, growing and flourishing because only 20% of public funds are stolen there;
    – if Ukrainians work hard enough, their country will be like Tunisia soon, because, y’know, it’s a success story;
    – if they work really, really hard then maybe, just maybe, Ukraine will be able to follow the path of Poland and Croatia that had become paradise on earth over the past 50 friedmans or so.

    He is a guru and a wonderful human being.

    • marknesop says:

      Man, he is dying out there. The audience is zoning out and a couple look like they’re falling asleep. I had just the audio on while I was searching for his story about toilets – yes, toilets – and it occurred to me that you probably could fall asleep at minute 2 and wake up at minute 45 just as smart as you were when you went to sleep, because although he’s a fantastic public speaker compared to, say, Sarah Palin, there’s just about as much substance in a monologue by either of them. Thomas Friedman gets so excited by his own theories of global human behaviour that he can actually carry you along for a little while, but sooner or later you realize it is all just…chatter. He seems to not actually know anything, but just to recite a stream-of-consciousness rap about his feelings and impressions. Which would be fine, if he did not mistake it for profound insight. And write about it as if it were.

      Here’s his piece on toilets. Actually, that’s misleading. He starts out talking about how wonderful high-efficiency toilets are, flits like a bee from flower to flower over to biking to wind power to the genius of Anders Fogh Rasmussen (who, coincidentally, was Denmark’s Prime Minister at the time, before the idiot he turned into as NATO Secretary-General) because he actually kept raising the price of gas in order to break Danes of their nasty driving habit – and they loved him for it. All a bit dizzying, really. I was left wondering that if you kept raising the price of food, would Danes eat weeds from the ditches and roadsides? He might really be on to something.

      It also inspired some satirical pieces about toilets; this one was my favourite, because it truly does portray Thomas Friedman in all his pompous, scatter-brained, attention-deficit glory.

  3. Moscow Exile says:

    С праздником 1 мая!

    Today is a public holiday in the Evil Empire, as is tomorrow.

    Next Friday is also a public holiday here: 9th May – Victory Day.

    Many I know have booked days off next week so as today extend today’s holiday, and will only start back at work on Monday, May 12th.

    This should prove grist to the mill for the likes of Nina Krushcheva, who love to pontificate about “Lazy Ivan”.

    • Moscow Exile says:

      Москва встречает Первомай!

      Moscow Welcomes the First of May!

      Just look at those frightful, ugly Orcs pretending that they are human.

      Just take a look at that grotesque former ballerina!

      And those horrendously ugly girls eating meat!!!

      How gross!!!!

      From Saker yesterday:

      The pro-US liberal activist Boris Nemtsov has committed political suicide by going on Ukie TV and comparing Putin to Stalin. Not that he has much to lose since his “Parnas” party was firmly pegged in the single digits.

      On the same program on Ukie TV which featured Nemtsov, a well-know Ukrainian nationalist, Iurii Lutsenko, seriously declared that the ‘genetic code of the Ukrainian people give them the ability to live outside lies, whereas the genetic code of children of Gengis Khan makes them willing to live in lies and spread the patriotic syphillis’.”

      Now where have I heard of such sentiments based on race and genetics being uttered before?

      Russische Tatar-Mongolische Untermenschen vielleicht?

      • marknesop says:

        Ha, ha!! It makes me laugh whenever anyone says Nemtsov has “committed political suicide”, because he has done that so many times that this must be the fifth reincarnation of Boris Nemtsov. He has a tiny core of disaffected self-loathers who think as he does – or as he affects to, regardless what he actually believes – and they will never abandon him no matter what he does; he could kiss Putin on national TV and swear his undying love and they would assume that this is just part of his latest brilliant strategy to destroy Putin. They remind me of the followers of Zoltan in “Dude, Where’s My Car?”, wearing suits of bubble-wrap and exchanging secret countersigns.

        It is safe to say that Nemtsov will seek out and cozy up to anyone who appears to be Putin’s enemy. The west is well aware he will never hold any significant political power and has given up courting him except to quote his reliably anti-government remarks whenever they need a sound-bite on some new policy. Perhaps he hope to be made governor of some Ukrainian province. He forgets he is a Moskal, apparently. And has never learned the lesson that while foreign governments appreciate the usefulness of political dissidents, they never really trust them and are a little uncomfortable around someone who would casually carry out such a final betrayal.

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