Tag Archives: Ukraine

Serhii Plokhy’s The Gates of Europe – A Great Introduction to Ukraine

I wanted to do a short post that was positive for a change, so I thought the book review I’d been planning to write for months would naturally be the most appropriate.

Some months ago I finished Serhii Plokhy’s The Gates of Europe – A History of Ukraine, and it is absolutely masterful. It’s strongest features? First, it is written by a Ukrainian historian. No, I’m not saying this like Viatrovych fanboy who says “Ukrainians should write Ukrainian history!” But when studying a country it helps to spend some time reading the work of that country’s historians to get their point of view. While outsiders’ detachment may help free them from potential biases, that same detachment can also cause them to miss or devote less time to those things in the country’s history which don’t necessarily catch their interest. A native historian can give you an idea of what local people find significant about their country.

Secondly, Plokhy strikes a good balance between detail and pacing. One thing about general histories is that they can sometimes be either too light, not delving deep enough into some important events or phenomenon and lacking crucial nuance, or they do the opposite, forcing you to slog through excruciatingly-detailed descriptions of sometimes minor events over the course of centuries. Naturally when I saw the book opens with the region of Ukraine during Antiquity I feared it would be the latter. Yet the author moves at a lively pace, moving more quickly over those parts which aren’t as crucial in the history of Ukraine. And speaking of crucial parts in Ukraine’s history, the book is also very recent, giving the reader key details about events such as the Maidan “Revolution of Dignity,” the Russian annexation of Crimea and the invasion and occupation of the Donbas region.

Having deliberately saved the best for last I can now tell you the greatest feature of Plokhy’s book- it truly brings the Ukrainian people, stretching back to the ancient Rus, to life. It does this by properly reclaiming Ukrainian historical figures whenever they lived, even if they died long before the ethnogenenis of the Ukrainians. Plokhy shows the Ukrainian people, particularly from the early modern era onward, as a coherent nation even though it lacked its own state.

Another great aspect of this portrayal is agency. For much of my life I’ve noticed the tendency of some Ukrainians or well-wishers to portray Ukrainian history as one of victimization and domination. In Plokhy’s history, different groups of Ukrainians act, and sometimes it doesn’t go well for them, but they are responsible. They are not simply acted upon. Even in the Soviet era, a period of Ukrainian history that some nationalists like to declare totally invalid, Plokhy shows that Ukrainians could be both victims and perpetrators, ruled and rulers via their dominance of key cadres after the Stalin era. Rather than treating the centuries of foreign domination in Ukraine as a black hole in which Ukrainians were simply objects and not subjects, he presents the long march toward Ukrainian statehood in a progressive way, from possessions of the Commonwealth and the Russian Empire, to a short-lived series of states in the revolutionary interwar period, to a unified Soviet republic and founding member of the UN, to an independent state suffering from Russian neo-colonialism, and finally to a state up in arms to overcome that neo-colonialism. Regardless of nation state status, Plokhy’s Ukraine has never died.

If I had to note some flaw I could say the book does skimp a bit when it comes to pointing out the role of the OUN-B nationalists and their role in the Holocaust (it does, however, clearly mention the ethnic cleansing of Poles), but if you look at the actual amount of text dedicated to those nationalists in general this is not particularly surprising or egregious. I think sometimes some of my Ukrainian readers infer that I insist every mention of interwar Ukrainian nationalists must necessarily include the laundry list of atrocities committed by some nationalist groups. I suspect this is because of the legacy of Soviet propaganda plus the Yanukovych administration, which often put up monuments to “victims of the Banderites” in places where no Banderites or any other nationalists even operated, such as the Crimea. This is simply idiocy.

Beating the dead nationalist horse is not my aim at all; I don’t really see them as being very relevant to Ukraine today. I’m far more opposed to the whitewashing, glorification, double-standards, and pseudo-history concerning the OUN and UPA. I’m sick of seeing them shoehorned into Ukrainian politics and Ukrainian history whether as heroes or villains. Thus Plokhy’s book truly shines because he gives the nationalists exactly the amount of text they deserve for a movement which never attracted more than a minority of Ukrainians as a whole, many of whom joined only under duress and not out of ideological fervor. The legend of the nationalists, which has been inflated by Soviet and Russian propaganda on one hand and the Bandera cult on the other, gets deflated to its proper place in Ukrainian history by Plokhy. So in the end, the one “flaw” really isn’t a flaw at all, or at least it is a totally defensible one.

In conclusion I highly recommend The Gates of Europe as an essential introductory general history of Ukraine. I think any Ukrainian or person of Ukrainian heritage reading this book would be proud to see that Ukrainians made important contributions in the history of the region and even globally despite lacking a nation state for much of their history.

 

Postscript

I’m pretty much done talking about the social network ban in Ukraine. Apparently I did not sufficiently hammer home the point I was trying to make in my last post. My anger in response to this isn’t about what the government did, but rather at the vastly more effective things they don’t do instead. Imagine you’re proud of how you finally trimmed the hedge on your front lawn, but meanwhile half your house is on fire. This would suggest you have a problem with priorities.

I’ve read more refined arguments for the ban since the last post, and while some of them are quite compelling (and some sites and services I agree should be banned, like Kaspersky Labs), but I feel they still fall short because at the end of the day, the ban doesn’t even fucking work. No seriously, it doesn’t. Here’s an excerpt from the link:

“Ukrainian experts also say that blocking the Russian sites is currently technically impossible. The chairman of the Internet Association of Ukraine, Alexander Fediyenko told “Interfax Ukraine”: “As of today, it can not be done.” He also added that the implementaion of the block would take time and large sums of money to upgrade equipment and make network topology changes.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian wireless operator ‘Kyivstar’ and telecom firm ‘Ukrtelekom’ have started preparations to implement the bill. ‘Ukrtelekom’ Director of Corporate Communications Mykhailo Shuranov told Hromadske that it could take from couple of days to a week.

Russian social Media VK has already shared instructions on how to bypass the block to its 20 million users.”

And in case anyone is wondering, I’ve been able to access all of the major blocked sites since this thing went into effect. Obviously a lot of babushki might not be able to figure out how to get around the ban, but the dangerous potential agents of the Kremlin certainly will.

There’s also another disturbing aspect of the ban, which comes right from the mouth of Poroshenko himself:

“I can tell that right after Russia stops its aggression against Ukraine, after the last soldier leaves the sovereign and independent territory of Ukraine, we will be ready to reverse this decision,” he (Poroshenko) said during the press-conference in Strasbourg.”

Think about that for a second. Apart from the fact that Putin, and indeed any likely successor is almost certainly not going to give back the Crimea of his own accord, does this seem just to you? Let’s just huff some paint for a second and imagine Putin did give back the Crimea and pulled all his overt forces out of Ukrainian territory- what then? Everything goes back to normal as Poroshenko promises? Ukrainian and Russian businessmen start making deals on the back of their respective populations again? Russia just gets to invade and occupy the country, kill over 10,000 people, and then just go back to the old status quo without so much as a slap on the wrist? And what would Ukraine get out of this fantasy Russia to guarantee its future safety, a peace treaty recognizing Ukraine’s borders? Yeah those have been so effective in the past! I’m all for reconciliation between Ukrainians and Russians as people, but I think it ought to be painfully clear that there can be no reconciliation between Ukraine and the current Russian regime even if it did reverse all of its actions since 2014.

That out of the way, let me remind readers that I am no naive liberal (or even a liberal at all) who believes in the childish idea of absolute free speech, nor do I believe that all human rights can be granted absolutely at all times (some internationally recognized human rights are actually contradictory, in fact). I’m not so much concerned about some middle-aged person in Kharkiv who will be inconvenienced in accessing their Odnoklassniki account (note that they can still access it) as I am about the idea of alienating millions of Ukrainian citizens while handing the Russians a point in the battle for the narrative in this conflict. This is doubly egregious when this action won’t even do what it’s supposed to do. This is incompetence, plain and simple.

 

War By Other (Ineffective) Means

I don’t normally do two posts in one day, but since I learned about the Ukrainian government’s recent decision to block Yandex, VKontakte (VK), and certain other Russian social networking sites, I can’t keep silent. I don’t really use VK or Yandex anymore, but for other reasons I won’t get into, this really struck a personal chord with me.

Suffice it to say that I have, in recent times, become intimately acquainted with Ukraine’s still Soviet Union-like bureaucracy. At times it has proven even more backward than that of Russia. I will also state that this kind bureaucracy exists in a sphere that is vital to Ukraine’s national security and its ability to defend itself against a certain foreign invasion and occupation (none of this knowledge is even remotely secret or even obscure, just so you know). Without going into detail I will say that Ukraine’s war effort is concretely hindered by such backwardness, just as it is hindered by endemic corruption. So imagine my rage when the latest “patriotic” outburst from the authorities is not in fact a sweeping reform meant to clean up this clusterfuck or any major corruption issues, but rather a very Kremlin-like decision to ban several social networks, including ones people use for their email.

First let me smack down a few arguments I’ve heard in favor of the ban.

Yes, VK and the other social network are potential security risks (at the user level) and yes, they can be a vector for Russian propaganda. On the other hand, both of these work both ways. Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) investigators have used sites like VK to determine the location of Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory, along with other vital pieces of information. VK is still being used by OSINT gatherers because even now it seems the Russian military has not yet developed the concept of OPSEC. And as for the propaganda and Kremlin-linked pages, these also provided crucial information to Ukrainian and pro-Ukrainian activists and investigators, who not surprisingly often do a far better job than the governments’ organs. That’s basically over now.

And speaking of propaganda, the Russian press is having a field day with the news. While Russia has banned thousands of sites, they’ve only banned one social network so far, and it’s the one everyone hates- LinkedIn. But this recent move must have Russia’s state media bosses popping champagne, because this fits their narrative perfectly.

Remember the main message of Kremlin propaganda. It isn’t that Russia is so great or better than the West. Rather it is that everywhere else is just as bad, and that trying to make improvements will just destabilize your already-bad situation and make it worse. Moreover, the Russian state media insists that things like freedom of press and freedom of speech are just illusions. This is why one favorite trope of Russian propaganda is to publish videos which were supposedly “banned in the US!” The bottom line of almost everything they put out is that everybody’s bad, so why bother striving for something that’s just a mirage? The Ukrainian government has pulled some pretty Kremlin-like moves before, but nothing like this to date, and this can’t even really be called Kremlin-like since the Russian government hasn’t even reached that point yet.

Another argument is that this is justified because there is a war. Very well- fight the war then. Launch an offensive, shore up positions, and/or reach out to the population to mobilize them for defense. Do something other than piddly bullshit that just makes you look worse and doesn’t actually hurt Russia in any way. This is what Ukrainian politicians are doing in order to avoid actually fighting the war. Doing that might force them to curtail or *gasp!* cease their own personal enrichment. Thousands of ordinary Ukrainians have made sacrifices, even the ultimate sacrifice in this war, but the leadership sure as hell doesn’t want to sacrifice anything.

I might also add that VK and other Russian social networks haven’t been doing anything now that they weren’t already doing since the war began in the spring of 2014. If it’s right to ban them now and this banning is necessary for the war effort, why wasn’t this done back in 2014, 2015, or even 2016? Why hasn’t all trade with Russia been subject to sanctions since 2014? I’ll tell you why- because this excuse is bullshit.

Having got those objections out of the way, let me say that while my loyalty to Ukraine’s cause is unshaken, I am now more convinced than ever that Ukraine’s “leadership” is in no way serious about fighting this war. They’d rather go to the West with their hand out in hopes that if they look pitiful enough big-brother NATO will step in and solve the situation somehow. I say “solve” because what I think they’d much rather see Russia just go back to the status quo border-wise so they can continue making lucrative deals with their Russian counterparts while simultaneously reaping the benefits of European Union integration. I don’t trust any of these people any further than I could throw them.

Am I shouting “ZRADA!!!” (Treason!)?  No. To accuse them of treason is to suggest that you had some faith in them in the beginning. I don’t put any faith in politicians or governments; I’ve put my faith in the Ukrainian people and their repeatedly-demonstrated abilities for self-organization. I can only hope more will realize their own powers and abilities and reject the narrow range of views proffered by these clowns who call themselves leaders.

I think this just shows how precarious the situation is for those inside and outside of Ukraine who truly want the country to succeed. It is a constant struggle against foreign aggression in front and mind-numbing incompetence and corruption in the rear. For my part I’ll keep fighting the good fight, but I won’t be doing it on VKontakte, that’s for sure.

 

 

How Putin “Won”

So about eight days into his first term and Trump has already managed to spark nationwide protests, rebellion within the government, a constitutional crisis, and he may have already committed an impeachable offense (apart from being utterly incompetent and unfit to serve in any public office whatsoever).

And while this was happening, there was a seriously escalation in the fighting around the town of Avdiivka in Ukraine. As a result, the government has been talking about evacuating the town’s population after Russian shelling knocked out its power and heating. When I was in Avdiivka, I’d been told that the town had lost water and power for a significant amount of time in the past, but as far as I know full evacuation was not mentioned. The situation now is most likely more serious due to the low temperature and the scale of the damage to the vital infrastructure. If authorities do decide to completely evacuate the town, this means the transfer of between 16,000 to 20,000 people.

Naturally, with all the Trump/Putin conspiracy theories still fresh in everyone’s minds, there’s a lot of speculation that this has something to do with the two presidents’ telephone conversation a few days ago. My take? Yes and no. Trump, who claimed that Putin would respect the United States if he were elected president, could have warned Putin about any provocative moves in Ukraine. He could have made it clear that escalation means increased consequences. While we don’t know what was said, it’s fairly safe to assume Trump issued no such warning to Putin. That is on Trump. But some kind of grand bargain in Ukraine? That’s unlikely.

It’s important to keep in mind the context of the recent fighting. The Russian forces have suffered several embarrassing setbacks, one of which was recently in Avdiivka. Naturally, they are thirsting for revenge and no doubt want to take back at least some of the territory they’d lost. Since this process started quite some time before the phone conversation, we can’t quite attribute the most recent escalation to something Trump told Putin. Again, if anything it was what he didn’t say to the Russian president.

That being said, let’s get one thing straight- Putin is benefiting from Trump being in office, and it’s not because they’re ideological blood brothers or because Putin has “kompromat” (blackmail material) on Trump.

During the election, when the Trump/Putin “bromance” became a meme, I gave an opinion as to what the Kremlin sees in Trump, and I think the past week’s events have tentatively confirmed that hypothesis. In short, I wrote that the Kremlin most likely sees Trump as the incompetent buffoon that he is, but more importantly they see him as a highly polarizing and controversial figure who will create so much scandal and discord with his domestic policies so as to distract him and much of the American establishment from foreign policy. It’s not that the truly intelligent people in the Kremlin believed that Trump would give them what they want, but rather he wouldn’t be able to stop them, and he’d keep anyone who might be able occupied as they react to his bumbling idiocy.

And look what we’ve got here? The orange moron almost immediately plunges the whole country into confusion to the point where pretty much the entire American media has forgotten that there’s a war going on in Europe which has killed nearly 10,000 people. Sweet deal for Putin.

But that’s not all! Trump’s clowning serves the Russian state media’s narrative that democracy is nothing but a corrupt circus everywhere. In reality, the infighting we see in the US government at the moment is actually a positive thing- it’s what proves our institutions and laws still matter more than the will of one deranged man in the Oval Office. But Russian state TV will spin this as the dreaded “chaos,” and disorder- both the opposites of the precious and holy “stability” which only Putin provides. In other words, they’ll portray it as an even bigger version of a Ukrainian Rada fistfight and tell their viewers that America is falling apart.

And what I cannot stress enough is that none of this requires Trump to be a true lover of Putin, and ideological soulmate, or an agent carrying out the Kremlin’s orders because he thinks they have footage of him getting pissed on by prostitutes (as though the release of such a tape could faze Trump). Trump just being Trump is all it takes.

If you’re still not convinced, look at it this way- suppose there’s a parallel universe Trump who’s totally identical to our Trump except for one difference. Instead of the praise of Putin and promises to better relations, he takes a hardline anti-Putin, anti-Russia stance. Now since this Trump does everything else the same, do you see him pushing aside everything that’s going on at the moment in order to make a firm statement about what went on in Ukraine in the past couple days? Would interrupt everything he’s been doing to start drawing up new sanctions? Of course not. Roughly ten days ago the guy was whining about how big his inauguration was, and now he’s in even more hot water.

In a way, this is even worse than if Trump were a pro-Putin agent. Today it’s Avdiivka, but in a few weeks some other part of the globe might ignite and meanwhile the president’s too busy explaining how he “never said” something that he’d actually said dozens of times on camera.

What to do? Well obviously Americans can’t stop their resistance now just to focus on Ukraine, Syria, or any other country, but it’s worth bringing those issues into the larger conversation. This is a president who campaigned on being a tough guy who would make dictators respect America. Instead he’s making them laugh and letting them do as they please. That needs to be added to the long list of Trump’s offenses.

 

The Ongoing Saga of Ukraine versus Little Russia

Well it’s time for one of those posts, the kind that gets me shot in the back people on my own side. Yes, it’s time for another frank discussion about Ukrainian politics.

In order to stave off immediate accusations of ZRAAAADAAAAA!!! (treason), let me first state that I felt very positive throughout my most recent trip to Kyiv. I had many good interactions with the locals, and I am extremely grateful to Yevhen Fedchenko, dean of Kyiv Mohyla Academy’s school of journalism and co-founder of Stopfake, for inviting me to speak to a group of journalism students who have begun a master’s program. This was my first opportunity to directly address a group of young, civic-minded Ukrainians, and though it was entirely improvised I felt we had a good rapport. Their concerns and ideas were very interesting for me to hear.

As I suspected before the talk, there was some concern about entering the field of journalism given the political climate in Ukraine right now. Prior to my arrival the region was shocked by the apparent assassination of veteran journalist Pavel Sheremet. A couple days later, the office of the broadcaster Inter became the target of an arson attack  that was clearly politically motivated. Whereas American parents might express concern about their sons or daughters enlisting in the military, I get the feeling that becoming a journalist in Ukraine may be considered as dangerous as joining the military. In some ways it is more dangerous; at least in the Ukrainian army you have a weapon with which to defend yourself and your assailants have uniforms.

Naturally when it comes to the topic of the Inter attack, people are going to inevitably call the station out as pro-Kremlin. There is certainly some truth to this claim, but the attack is still inexcusable. There are other, legal ways to counter any actual pro-Kremlin messages being broadcast by Inter. The continued attacks on journalism in Ukraine, often carried out with total impunity, closely resemble what we’ve long observed happening in Russia to independent media voices.

Of course the idea that Ukraine is controlled by some kind of fascist regime is nothing but laughable propaganda, but this does not mean the country does not have a problem with far right extremism. It might be easy for the much larger segment of Ukrainian society to ignore something like an attack on Inter, but they do so at their own peril. I have more than enough experience with far-right movements to know that their definition of “patriotism” shifts rapidly and radically. So much so, in fact, that such groups often end up fighting among themselves.Today you may think yourself safe because you don’t express “pro-Russian” opinions in public, but that is not really up to you to decide; as is the case in Russia, the self-proclaimed “patriots” make that call. You may give them a pass for fighting for Ukraine, but what will you do when they decide you’re responsible for their inability to achieve victory? If that time should come, you’ll regret giving such people the leeway to determine what is good for Ukraine.

Another key thing I must remind those who supported Maidan is that you claimed that your revolution was about dignity, freedom, rule of law, and bringing Ukraine into 21st century Europe. If you supposedly chose the West over Russia, why, concretely is Russia bad? Is it because freedom of speech, the press, and assembly are basically a joke in that country? Is it because self-proclaimed patriots, often with the blessing of people in government, are allowed to harass dissidents at will? Is it because there is no rule of law but instead a system where connections open all doors? Is it because the state promotes hateful xenophobia and a myth of Russian superiority? If you agree that these are indeed good reasons to want to escape the Russian orbit, please do explain how the very same behaviors and ideas which you find so repugnant in Russia are somehow tolerable if not desirable in Ukraine. Essentially this is what I’ve gathered from Ukraine’s self-proclaimed “patriots” over the past couple years. Russia is labeled as backward, yet the very same things that make her backward will somehow boost Ukraine into the future.

Naturally someone will say, “But Ukraine is at war! This is a hybrid war in which propaganda plays a great role!” This is true, but to those who use that argument I can say two things. First, propaganda does play a large role in this war, but the greatest propaganda is practice. You can tell people you want freedom, that your society is freer than that of your opponent, or you can actually build that society and let people experience it for themselves. Until people both inside and outside of Ukraine can honestly say it has freedom of speech, freedom of press, and rule of law, Russia’s propaganda machine will happily proclaim that Ukraine’s Maidan revolution has accomplished nothing, and that Ukraine is no better than Russia when it comes to individual freedoms. And it pains me to admit it, but so far they’re mostly right.

The other thing I would say in response to those who raise the war card or say that Ukraine “has the truth on its side” is simply- so what? As I told those students last week, simply being morally right does not mean you’ll succeed or that justice will be handed to you on a silver platter. This is a lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way several times in my own personal life, and it applies here as well. Yes, it is unfair that Ukraine should grant freedom of speech and freedom of press to outlets or individuals who occasionally voice support for the aggressor nation, particularly considering how such dissenting voices are suppressed and harassed by that nation’s government. It also might seem unfair that Ukraine should face criticism for the continued use of far-right wing paramilitary groups while Russia’s neo-Nazi volunteers are rarely mentioned. It is unfair, but then again, so is life. If Ukraine is to succeed it must hold itself to a higher standard. It is simply not enough to say that it is different from Russia, it must actually be different. So often people look only at the military side of the current conflict without giving any thought whatsoever to the political side.

For Ukraine to be a smaller version of Russia with a perpetual frozen conflict is the path of least resistance. Tribalism and crude “patriotism” can be uplifting and simplify a complicated world. By contrast, building not a Little Russia but rather a free Ukraine is complex, counter-intuitive, and humbling. But whereas nationalist posturing and ego-stroking is akin to sitting around and masturbating, working towards a truly free Ukraine is like training for the Olympics. It takes time and it’s tiring, even painful, but you emerge from it stronger.

 

 

You are not special

Recently a move by Poland’s right-wing government has caused major uproar among some circles in Ukraine. A resolution now officially recognizes the ethnic cleansing of Polish civilians in Volyn by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) during WWII as an act of genocide. Indeed, all evidence hitherto points to this as an act of genocide, though the timing of the Polish resolution seems odd, as if a historical event somehow isn’t genocide without a ceremonial resolution. For his part, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko seems to have played the role of the bigger man, visiting a memorial to the victims of the event and asking forgiveness from Poles on behalf of Ukraine.

Naturally some Ukrainians went ape-shit over the matter, spitting out arguments that sound really, really similar to the logic you tend to hear in another country that happens to border Ukraine. We’ve got whataboutism in the form of bringing up Polish “Pacification” against Ukrainians during the interwar period, as well as attacks on Ukrainian civilians during the same period when the UPA was attacking Poles in Volyn. While it is true that Polish underground forces did similarly massacre Ukrainian peasants in the areas they controlled at the time, it’s also worth noting that the UPA itself murdered about 20,000 Ukrainian peasants from 1944 till the end of its existence as a fighting force in the 1950’s. It is also true that some Poles have been reluctant to acknowledge these atrocities,  a fact pointed out by such scholars as Grzegorz Rossolinski-Liebe. But then we might ask those upset nationalist apologists why they think Ukraine has the right to write its history as it sees fit, while Poland and Russia apparently don’t according to their worldview. What’s good for the goose…

Another eerie similarity I’ve noticed is the implication that criticism of the UPA is “anti-Ukrainian” or “Ukrainophobic,” and that even Western critics of the organization are out to get Ukraine for some reason. In their mind the whole campaign against the history of Bandera, the UPA, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, etc. is a massive global conspiracy against Ukraine orchestrated by Moscow. We might be inclined to take this a little more seriously were these scholars in question silent about other nations’ atrocities (such as those of Poland, the Soviet Union, etc.), but guess what- they’re not. As it turns out, the world does not consist solely of Ukraine and its eternal enemy Russia.

For one thing, in the past few years the foreign media has spent a great deal of time reporting the rehabilitation of Soviet and to a lesser extent Russian imperial history in Russia. At times it seems that a bus stop ad featuring Stalin is apparently newsworthy material to some of these outlets. In fact, media coverage of Russian historical revisionism far exceeds that in Ukraine, Poland, or anywhere else. To be sure, this is mostly because Russia is a larger and more influential country, but the idea that the most prominent Western journalists or academics are criticizing the OUN and UPA while engaging in apologetics for their main opponent, the Soviet Union, is simply laughable. If such people were attacking Ukrainian nationalists ceaselessly while at the same time dismissing every negative claim about the Soviet Union or Poland, there might be an argument, but that simply isn’t the case with the people I have in mind.

Now we get back to Poland. Poland has been taking a lot of flak lately for the actions of its new conservative government, and justifiably so. Here’s a piece on that. Here’s another. And another. There are other stories I could dig up if I were so inclined, but from what I’ve seen the world media has been far harder on Poland for trying to rewrite its history than it has on Ukraine, though this is largely because the history of Ukrainian collaborationist organizations is far more obscure to the West. In any case, we need not stop in Poland.

Lately Croatia has become the next battleground over history, with its new culture minister who also happens to be an Ustasa apologist who glorifies the 13th Waffen SS mountain division “Handschar.” Coincidentally, the next division in line was the one made up of Western Ukrainian volunteers. Yet it seems that it is in Croatia, and not Ukraine, where we see a popular backlash against this kind of behavior. Perhaps all these people pushing back against the new conservative revisionism are all secretly Serbian agents, seeking to usher in a return of Yugoslavia by “slandering” the Independent State of Croatia? This would surely be the accusation if their discourse on history resembled that in Ukraine.

Naturally there are those who will say, “But Ukraine is at war!” Yes, it is at war, which is why it is far more important that Ukraine get its act together than Croatia, which is at peace. For one thing, in its current situation facing not only Russian aggression but internal corruption, Ukraine can ill afford to descend into childish fantasy concocted by academic frauds whose claims can’t pass peer review in the West. Second, the OUN cult has been the biggest weight around Ukraine’s neck as it struggles with Russia’s information war and the fight for winning international support. In Ukraine they can criminalize critical reading of the OUN or UPA’s history to their hearts’ content, but you cannot stop Westerners from doing proper research into these matters, and they will inevitably find that all Soviet propaganda aside, the OUN did collaborate with the Nazis, even after the arrest of its leadership, and it was involved in atrocities including the Holocaust. As such it remains the biggest target for Russian propagandists.

Additionally, Ukraine cannot hope to win its current war without a far better, more attractive national identity and idea. This idea must unify people across the country, including in occupied territory, and even Ukrainians within Russia and the rest of the world. The West Ukrainian cult of Bandera simply doesn’t do that, as we’ve clearly seen. More importantly, when it comes to the question of what sort of country Ukraine wants to be, the idea of substituting Bandera and Shukhevych for Soviet heroes and enforcing a false historical narrative via legislation is in itself rooted in the Soviet Russian mentality. In reality, Ukrainian nationalism was never the exclusive property of the OUN, which was in fact a relatively unpopular organization by far. There is a far larger, far richer, far more positive tradition of Ukrainian nationalism, much of it radically left wing and progressive, which seems to totally ignored. How does it look on the global stage when some Ukrainians prefer to associate their nation with the paranoid, fanatical right-wing Stepan Bandera instead of the progressive revolutionary Lesya Ukrainka? Tourists in Kyiv by the thousands handle notes with her portrait, having no idea who she is. I wonder how many Ukrainians know that Symon Petliura was a member of two Ukrainian socialist parties- the Revolutionary Ukrainian Party and the Ukrainian Social Democratic Labor Party. I doubt many know about the Ukrainian Communist Party, which fought for a socialist Ukraine apart from the Soviet Union.

Ukrainians have every right to criticize the Polish government for pointing out Polish victimhood while simultaneously denying its own less savory episodes in history, but they ought to realize that this also extends to groups like Ukrainian Jews and indeed Ukrainians themselves who do not want to see their country associated with this cult. Few rational people criticize Ukraine over the crimes of the UPA; this is not only collective guilt, but truly ludicrous considering that the vast majority of Ukrainians did not support the organization and fought overwhelmingly for the Allied cause during the war. What they are criticizing is the efforts to whitewash its history and transform these right-wing nationalists into national heroes.

Ukrainians have a choice to take criticism of the UPA or OUN as an insult against their nationality, for these things are not inherently connected anymore than I as an American am connected to the Confederacy or the KKK. When you declare these people national heroes and associate them with your nationality, that is a conscious choice and effort. One could just as easily do the opposite and say that associating the crimes of these organizations with Ukraine as a whole is simply idiotic and irrational. Objections that this would somehow aid Russia and its efforts in Ukraine are simply ridiculous. We’ve seen from 2013 onward how the Russian propagandists surely burst with glee at the news of Bandera memorial parades or the renaming of a street in his honor. Without boneheaded moves like this, they’d be stuck dreaming up new stories about crucified children or Poroshenko getting drunk.

Savchenko the Human

This May Ukraine and its foreign supporters rejoiced at the release of ex-military pilot Nadia Savchenko. Her two year captivity was a never-ending drama of hunger strikes against a background of the bizarre, Alice and Wonderland antics of the Russian judicial system. Some compared her to Joan of Arc, particularly those who have no idea who Joan of Arc was. To be fair, the drama did lead to the creation of this awesome painting:

savchenkopainting

I think I’ve chosen a backpiece.

 

Seriously though, Nadia returned to her native Ukraine not only a hero, but also an elected member of the Rada. As such, people had high hopes for Nadia’s political career. There was a belief in the air that Nadia would come in and smash the oligarchs and set things right. My friend Maxim Eristavi tried to warn everyone in advance, but it seems he ended up being Cassandra of Troy.

Some time later, Nadia ended up making some controversial statements about the war, namely expressing the opinion that the government should negotiate directly with the leadership of the DNR and LNR and “apologize” to the residents of the Donbas. It seems almost immediately thereafter, she has gone from heroine of Ukraine to Manchurian candidate deliberately released by Russia and working for the FSB.

While I too find her comments in this regard rather perplexing, I’m afraid Ukraine’s “patriots” have no one to blame but themselves for their disappointment. They turned an ordinary person into a deity. Christopher Miller did an excellent job painting a realistic portrait of Nadia Savchenko which definitely warrants reading. Perhaps if people had reported on Savchenko in this manner while she was incarcerated in Russia, the impact of the realization that she is an ordinary person might not have been so hard to take.

And on another note. While I don’t agree with Nadia’s apparent plan for peace in the Donbas, I challenge the nationalists who think they can win this militarily to put forth their plan. I’m not saying that a military solution isn’t possible. On the contrary, I’m certain that it is the only way. The problem is that whereas my solution is unconventional (but with a generally proven track record), theirs is almost certainly going to be something that will inevitably lead to another debacle like Ilovaisk or Debaltseve. I say this based on experience, namely that which has taught me that self-proclaimed chest-thumping Ukrainian “patriots” have virtually zero understanding of the political nature of war. What is more, Ukraine has yet to win the global information war with Russia. It is still laughably vulnerable to the same weaknesses Russian propaganda has been exploiting over and over again.

svoboda

Pic TOTALLY unrelated.

The point I’m getting at here is that Nadia might have expressed a very bad idea, but it’s most likely out of hopelessness and a general lack of imagination. Unfortunately in Ukrainian politics, as in much of the world today, there is a very narrow frame of what’s considered realistic or feasible. In the case of Ukraine, the “solution” that is being put forth by Ukraine’s supposed Western “allies” entails “fulfilling Minsk,” an agreement which pretty much ensures Russian influence in Ukraine while forcing the latter to pay for its own restoration. Meanwhile rather than ratchet up sanctions on Russia for its continued support for the separatist quasi-states, Western leaders continually remind the Kremlin that sanctions can be lifted as soon as Russia starts to implement the Minsk II protocols. The fact that Russia continually denies involvement and obviously refuses to implement an agreement that would actually benefit Moscow more than anything tells you that Putin obviously isn’t listening to these gentle reminders, yet Western countries continually insist on Minsk II as the only solution.

Now put yourself in Nadia’s shoes and tell me what solution you come up with. An Operation Bagration-style offensive to recapture the Donbas isn’t on the table. If we were to assume that such an operation wouldn’t be fully known to the Russians before it got off the ground thanks to spies and informants (and idiot soldiers snapping selfies), Russia would just do the same thing it has done since the beginning of this war- let the local proxies and useless volunteers take the brunt of the fighting and then hammer the Ukrainian forces with the regular army’s artillery and armor as they near the border. Meanwhile, Ukraine possesses nothing with which it can twist Putin’s arm in order to force him to accept a deal that ultimately favors him, as already explained above. Oh I almost forgot- you’re dealing with this situation after two years in Russian captivity and numerous hunger strikes. So yeah, your mind might be a bit hazy and you might not be bringing your A-game to the brainstorming session.

In conclusion I must say that in spite of whatever disagreements I might have with Savchenko, I still respect her. I think she’s an important example for Ukraine’s women. I think her behavior in the Rada shows how ridiculous it is for its pretentiousness. And what about getting drunk on an army base out of boredom? Shit- that just brings the two of us even closer. And to the “patriots” calling her a traitor, remember this. She didn’t make herself into a demigod- you did.