Newspaper article International New York Times

Russia's Doomed Ideological War

Newspaper article International New York Times

Russia's Doomed Ideological War

Article excerpt

Ukrainians know the challenge isn't between the regions, but between the corrupt at the top and the people.

A few days ago a member of the German Green Party came to Lviv. I am a novelist and journalist, as well as a translator in German and Polish, and I sometimes write in those languages. He had read one of my articles, and he asked me to help him understand Ukraine: Too much of the reporting in the German press, he said, was biased by pro-Russian propaganda.

I was appalled to hear what many Germans thought of the Maidan protesters in Kiev -- that they were nationalist extremists and anti- Semites, that all those victims they had heard about were merely collateral damage in a legitimate government attempt to stabilize the situation. In other words, the Moscow line.

I was not, however, surprised. While Russia may have invaded Crimea only a few days ago, its war against Ukraine goes back much further. In fact, one might say that Russia has never not been at war with Ukraine, not even after the Ukrainian hetman, or leader, Bohdan Khmelnytsky, signed the Pereyaslav Agreement with the Russian czar in 1654. With that agreement, some of Ukraine's territory became part of the Russian Empire, while the rest of it fell to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

The agreement had promised autonomy to the Ukrainians; that promise was never fulfilled. Instead, Ukraine was transformed into the province of an empire, Russia's warehouse and supplier, a population with no right to its own history, culture or state. Russia continued to wage this ideological war during the Soviet era: mass deportations, exiles, famines, using Ukrainians as cannon fodder, sending them barehanded against German tanks in the name of Stalin.

In the western regions of Ukraine, the war began later, in 1945, when German occupation was replaced by Soviet occupation. Once begun, it would be more protracted, and more brutal. For years to come the western Ukrainians used guerrilla tactics in an attempt to overthrow the Soviet regime and establish an independent Ukrainian state. It was during this period that the stereotype of the Ukrainian-speaking renegade emerged: the country bumpkin ready to kill at the mere sound of Russian speech.

This war continues today, as the ideologues of the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, are trying to sell their virtual reality not only to Ukrainians, but to the world. This latest phase of the war has been underway for three months, while Ukrainians kept watch on the Maidan, treated the wounded, held at bay those troops who were ready to slaughter their own people and fought for the right to create a new state, free of corruption, all the while stunned by the disinterest of the international community.

Now that Russia has declared not only virtual war on Ukraine, but also real war, now that the first conscripts have been mobilized by Kiev, we all realize that still worse lies in store for us. …

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