Ukraine lacks true friends in a world of the military industrial complex.
It has been some time since I walked the trenches and abandoned buildings of Ukraine. The pandemic saw to it that roads in and out of the country were made a complex algorithm and with that, up to date news. I remember my first time in the country as I touched down upon the runways of Kharkiv forced to view a building proudly displaying communist insignia as I exited the airport. Ukraine has always been a place of chaotic administration and irrational sociological beliefs. Fragments of a dark past remain a testament to a history of psychological dystopias and what Ukrainians refer to as (directed at Russian citizens) ‘slaves of the mind’.
The people of Donbas have always been accommodating, feeding visitors (myself included) with homemade cakes, biscuits and chai until my cheeks explode. But the sweetness of locals was pulled from my eyes when fear became more prominent at night when fighting typically begins. The sweet laden bakeries and personalities of the Donbas people act as an intermediary between the war shanked unkempt gardens of conflict and safety. Nothing is certain beyond the barrier of checkpoints and balaclava-wearing frontline soldiers. They joke and smile when hearing our (my colleagues) accents recalling English lessons at school – “London is the capital of Great Britain” they joke referring to a language exercise.
There has been a constant grapevine of speculative talk regarding the happenings of our eastern European neighbours. My association with the country stems from my own heritage dripped down to me from my mother’s side of the family, with a recollection as vivid as the keyboard strokes made upon my laptop. Nowadays, Ukraine is a topic for the moment, a flavour of the month when global news needs it to be when stories are in short supply following years of beleaguered information on COVID-19.
There are similarities between the Ukrainian conflict and information transmitted around the world thanks to social conduits of the internet. A contortion of conspiracy-like yarns spun for millions to read that include a ‘western coup’ on the then Russian-backed Yanukovich government to intrepid talk regarding a billionaire-backed war aimed at moistening the lips of their portfolios. Though the only thing that is for certain is there is a conflict in motion; one of deadly proportion. A psychologically damaging one that could eventually lead to disastrous consequences for Ukraine and its future.
The country has been under Kremlin influence since its inception. Ukraine was swiftly made an example of following its takeover in the early 1900’s beginning with a famine, an artificially created one called the ‘Holodomor’ (meaning ‘terror famine’) that saw as many as 12 million Ukrainians die of starvation setting the stage for its future within the Soviet Union. It is clear to all that Ukraine is viewed as an appendage to Russia, accosted for years in not only politics but depths we’re yet to create words for.
During the Soviet era, Ukraine was described as a ‘brother country’ though inner governmental musings were very different. If your mother tongue was Ukrainian, you were looked at like the village idiot, a subpar creature useful only as an instrument to government. Under the influence of the state, Russian people (this behaviour is becoming less so now) widely believed and acted the same towards Ukrainians, with the language quickly banned along with its culture, beliefs and traditions, scrubbed to the extent foreigners confuse Russian ornaments and artistic expression with Ukraine.
Churches were destroyed and/or stocked with agricultural implements including manure and horses. One woman I spoke with at the outskirts of Kyiv recalled a chilling story from her youth about a place where the Soviet army would bury Ukrainians alive. She visited the site based upon rumour, where the story became reality. Stepping closer to the location, she witnessed the ground move, almost pulsate, fuelled by the extremities of the people who catalysed these accounts. What she heard was true, alleged ‘enemies of the state’ were forced to die by egregious circumstances. Millions were missing, many to this day.
It has been 7 years. Seven years of emotion and phallic like talk that has been empty on the part of Ukraine’s so-called ‘allies’. The British government sold AT-105 Saxon military vehicles at a so-called cut-price deal, claiming a special bond with the eastern European nation. In reality, these four-wheeled relics were due to be disposed of. They’re now, but metallic monuments, a testament to the fact that Ukraine stands alone and has done since the conflict’s beginnings. In 2021, talk is still cheap. Even cheaper when we look to examples of allied nations ‘supporting’ Ukraine.
Ukraine’s status has been one of limbo from the beginning of an ill-fought conflict that began following the revolution in the Kyiv maidan (square) in 2014. One hundred or so protesters were shot down by snipers who, to this day are yet to be identified. News media and internationally – governments, waved and pointed fingers at the Kremlin for good reason. Putin will expect little action from adversarial nuclear powers should he decide to mobilise into Ukrainian territory. We only need to look at Syria.
Ukraine will surrender its lands, its people and sovereignty to the Russian government, if not now, the future will wait. Should the west mobilise into Ukrainian territory, they’re gambling as to whether Russia will unleash a firework display of their own. Putin already warned he sees such a move as a provocation, and sanctions are as far as the battle cry goes in a realm of nuclear powers.
Cultural misconceptions continue to confuse what Ukrainians believe is left and right-leaning politics, muddied with old-style communism perpetuated as a leftist ideology, wherein reality, Leninism and Stalinism were far-right and fascist to their core. This mode of thinking modelled Ukrainian logic to associate western systems of governance as a treatment for communism. Though the reality is far more complex than a black and white perception for alternate styles of national administration.
Ukrainians concerned by recent developments are mistaken if they think the west will come to its aid. Should unfortunate dark skies descend upon the fertile lands of Ukraine, such sentiments will remain beyond a foregone conclusion and Kyiv will continue to be teased by a lock and key into NATO should it lose its sovereignty.
Recent talks between President Biden and President Putin will be seen as publicity stunts at best, with the end game of both the West and Russia to create a buffer zone between the EU. Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy took power in 2019, using the vote of the youth to galvanise his campaign, converting his audience through charm but little else. His beginnings in office were promising, he handed out verbal missiles aimed at President Putin before backing down. It was almost as if back channels communicated a different conversation.
But no matter what happens, Ukraine is ultimately on its own. Because despite the possibilities Russia will face, reestablishing a lost soviet culture is all the Kremlin wants.