Tag Archives: Ukraine

Moscow Unveils Ukrainian Nationalist Monument in Response to Poland’s Removal of Soviet Memorials

MOSCOW- A 10-meter tall statue of the nationalist Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA in Ukrainian) leader Roman Shukhevych was unveiled in Moscow’s Manezhnaya Square near the Kremlin on Monday. According to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the new monument is just one of the many “asymmetrical measures” his government promised in response to the Polish government, which recently announced its intention to remove Soviet WWII memorials on Polish territory.

“The Polish Second Republic, which occupied Ukrainian territory prior to the war, oppressed its ethnic minorities,” Lavrov said at a press briefing in the Foreign Ministry in Moscow.

“This monument shows our respect for a resistance leader who stood up to Polish chauvinism, the same way we are now standing up to Polish chauvinism today.”

However, critics say the move is controversial, pointing out that Roman Shukhevych served Nazi Germany’s military from 1941 till 1943, first in an army battalion known as “Nachtigal” and later in an Auxiliary Police battalion engaged in anti-partisan warfare in Belarus. Both units have been accused of committing atrocities against Jews and other civilians in occupied territory. In 1943 the UPA engaged in the ethnic cleansing of Poles from the region of Volyn. Shukhevych was nominally in command of the insurgent movement at the time, and the event has been a source of controversy between Poland and Ukraine in recent years.

roman

Roman Shukhevych, commander of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA)

Lavrov responded to critics of the new monument by dismissing all accusations against Shukhevych and his men as “Soviet propaganda,” and alleging the existence of a decades-long international conspiracy to slander Roman Shukhevych and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, of which he was a member.

“I believe every people has a right to its own heroes,” Lavrov told reporters.

“Brutal times called for brutal measures. I won’t get into specifics of what those brutal measures were, but if anyone does they’re probably lying and repeating Soviet propaganda. Also what about Jozef Pilsudski, Michael Collins, or Menachem Begin? Were they angels? I don’t think so.”

Lavrov also dismissed the issue of Shukhevych’s collaboration with Nazi Germany by pointing out that the Soviet Union had signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact, which he called an alliance between the two states. When one reporter pointed out that unlike Shukhevych’s movement, the USSR had a history of opposing Nazi Germany with force prior to the pact and after the German invasion it went on to destroy the Third Reich, Lavrov said such details were “Ukrainophobic” and called the reporter a “sovok.”

Reactions in Ukraine have been noticeably sparse, although the move was greeted with great enthusiasm from the head of Ukraine’s Institute of National Memory, Volodymyr Viatrovych.

“This shows that Russia has finally broken with its Soviet past,” Viatrovych said.

“Russia has long insisted, like I do, that all Ukrainians idolize Shukhevych and the UPA. On that we were always in agreement, but until now the Russians had never given my- er…our heroes the respect they deserve.”

Viatrovych said that he was most pleased with the size of the monument, noting that Ukraine has nothing comparable. He also added that every attempt to memorialize Shukhevych and other Ukrainian nationalist leaders in Ukraine has typically been met with controversy and opposition. By contrast, the decision to erect a monument was made within a few days, by President Vladimir Putin’s personal decree. According to Viatrovych, this shows the Russian president’s system is far more efficient.

“I now see the wisdom and true leadership ability of Vladimir Putin, I recognize the superiority of the Russian World, and I will assist in any way that I can,” Viatrovych said.

When asked why he would embrace the nation that annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and started a war that has so far killed over 10,000 Ukrainian citizens, Viatrovych said such questions were “Ukrainophobic.”

So far the Polish Foreign Ministry has declined to comment on the new memorial. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov promised that his country’s retaliatory measures would continue until Poland halts its destruction of Soviet WWII memorials.

“This is only the beginning,” Lavrov said. “We’re already talking about renaming Tverskoy Boulevard after Stepan Bandera, and we might even name one of our upcoming metro stations after Roman Shukhevych as well. We’ve even got a monument to the Ukrainian Insurgent Navy planned for St. Petersburg. GLORY TO UKRAINE! GLORY TO THE HEROES!”

However, when Lavrov was asked if he felt any solidarity with authorities in Kyiv who recently proposed renaming a major street after Roman Shukhevych, he strongly condemned the move and said that Ukraine was under the control of “Nazis.”

Tongue-Lashing

There’s nothing like busting a fresh fake in real time. Yesterday a mysterious post appeared, showing what looked like a street advertisement. Allegedly posted in Kyiv, the ad warns against the “disease” that is the Russian language. Nothing around the edges of the poster gave any clue as to its location.

It seemed from the start to be a phony Kremlin-inspired story, as neither I nor anyone else I know in Kyiv had ever seen the posters. I have on a couple of occasions seen small stickers with anti-Russian language messages posted on lampposts, but that’s it. The coup de grace came when several Ukrainian native speakers pointed out a number of obvious spelling errors in the poster’s text.

Sure enough, like clockwork, the poster resurfaces the next day, tweeted by the infamous Russian UK Embassy account:

This time the background has been blurred, to ensure we can’t have any clue as to where this was taken. There’s no photo of the border so we can see what company owes that particular sign. The outraged photographer only took this one photo. Curious.

Incidentally, it turns out that the poster was actually part of an art competition for “patriotic” posters in 2015. The original poster is somewhat different from the one the Russians have been passing around. It is no doubt extremely controversial, but again this is something made by one man, no doubt largely driven by emotion, participating in a contest. Do I even have to mention that’s a far cry from putting such posters up all over Kyiv, which, incidentally, is a mostly Russian-speaking city?

This, folks, is how the propaganda machine works on a regular basis. This is the bread and butter. Someone creates a fake story, maybe with a photo like this, and then it starts getting redistributed by the usual suspects- Russian government social media accounts and pro-Kremlin media sites.

Just in case you’re wondering- there’s no big controversy with the Russian language in Ukraine. I don’t normally agree with Taras Kuzio, but he has correctly pointed out that there are plenty of Russian language schools in Ukraine while Russia does not have any that I or he knows of. At best I found an article from 2008 which claimed that there were 15 Ukrainian-language schools all throughout Russia at that time, but without any more detail. There have been some laws on language quotas for TV, movies, and radio, but as some Ukrainians told me as far back as 2015, possibly late 2014, the quotas issue is largely an economic protectionist measure. Russia has long toyed around with the idea of limiting the showing of foreign films in its cinemas, and it’s by no means the only other country to engage in such measures.

So in case it’s not yet painfully clear- there is no problem with the Russian language in Ukraine. The language you will most often hear on the streets of Kyiv is Russian. The language I typically use to communicate is Russian. I can understand Ukrainian just fine but if I need to speak and get something done, the fastest, most efficient way for me is to speak Russian or surzhyk and nobody has ever given me any shit for that. I make an effort to speak Ukrainian as much as I can, not because of intimidation but because I want to. Nobody is being persecuted for speaking Russian in Ukraine.

Now maybe those who are so worried about language-based persecution can tell us about the situation with Ukrainian-speakers in the Russian-occupied parts of the Donbas or the Crimea. How are they faring?

 

 

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.