The main stumbling block in communication between Ukrainians and Russian/Belarusian oppositionists is that the latter believe, for some reason, that they understand the former very well.
As one Belarusian oppositionist (from New York) wrote, “In the areas occupied by the Russian Federation, unarmed people behave the same way, both in Belarus and in Ukraine.”
That’s what they think—that all of us are suffering from an identical disaster. They often go even further and claim that, up until February 24, 2022, people in Ukraine were living the life of Riley, while people in the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus faced crackdowns.
As one Russian oppositionist (from Warsaw) told me, “[Opposition] pickets [in Russia] end stupidly, and [protesters] also get the shit kicked out of them. How long did you [Ukrainians] face such things? From January to February 2014?”
To hear them tell it, they endured misfortunes for years and years while we had an easy time of it here in Ukraine. That is, until February 24, we should have sympathized with them due to their immense suffering. But now, after February 24, we must recognize them as equal sufferers.
Firstly, a lot of different mass protest campaigns and protest rallies have taken place in Ukraine in addition to January-February 2014—from the Revolution on Granite, the miners’ strikes of the 90s, and Ukraine without Kuchma, to the Orange Revolution, the Language Maidan, and the Euromaidan. The fact that Ukrainians were able to learn and reflect on the experience gained during each such event, so that the next one would be even more effective, testifies only to the literal fact that you have to learn from your mistakes and do your homework. There is no doctor who can cure you of the fact that you were not able to do it, dear Russians and Belarusians. It’s certainly not the fault of us Ukrainians.
Secondly, the war began in 2014. While things were generally relatively quiet in the Republic of Belarus, and while oppositionists were being jailed in the Russian Federation, artillery was already destroying villages in Ukraine, albeit in a limited area, in two regions.
And, thirdly: half an hour ago, thunder rumbled somewhere in Kyiv. It was ordinary thunder, presaging a thunderstorm. But everyone tensed up. Passersby scoped out furrows in the terrain where they could take cover. Even the courtyard drunks who could still move their legs after the morning rondel, moved closer to building entrances, fences, and other shelters from shrapnel.
No crackdowns in the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus, no matter how terrible they are, bear any resemblance to what the absolute majority of Ukrainians are enduring now.
War is different. You can’t sign a police charge sheet and hope that they’ll stop pounding you. You can’t make a deal with a police investigator and get off lightly. You can’t even protect yourself by not “getting mixed up in politics” so as to avoid having any problems in future with the police and prosecutor’s office. Because you’re just getting the shit beat out of you. You go to the shopping center for tea and coffee every time a little like it’s the last time. But then you see that no, a shopping center in another city has been bombed today, and the black bile rises from your guts to your throat as you watch it burn.
And this is in the relatively peaceful cities and towns far from the front. In the frontline areas, they pound the fuck out of you as they grind the cities into piles of concrete and rebar.
And no, Belarusians now are not feeling the same things in “occupied territory” as Ukrainians do. As long as there are no camps there which the absolute majority of the population in the occupied villages and cities must go through. And from which buses bearing the “non-filtered” go somewhere, returning empty. Belarusians do not huddle in apartments without windows and electricity, reading the bulletin from the occupation administration that there will be no cold-season heating in any case. And so.
Everyone has their own sufferings, of course. When the weather changes, someone in Miami, even, suffers from pain in a joint that was dislocated by the cops back in the motherland and smears it with ointment. But objectively, no, we are not in a situation that is equivalent to the one the Belarusians and Russians are in currently. Until they understand this, there will be no dialogue.
UPD. I’m not accusing anyone of anything at all. I am pointing out a difference in our plights, which many do not notice. Otherwise, I have nothing against people being different and having different stories. That goes without saying.
UPD2. And I’m not talking about what passports people have or their ethnic background. In my universe, people who are currently fighting [against the Russian army] and working in Ukraine are “our” people.
Source: Dmytro Rayevsky, Facebook, 29 June 2022. Translated, from the Russian, by the Russian Reader
Yurii Brukhal, an electrician by trade, did not have a very dangerous role when he volunteered for Ukraine’s territorial defense forces at the start of the war. He was assigned to make deliveries and staff a checkpoint in the relative safety of his sleepy village.
Weeks later, his unit deployed from his home in the west to a frontline battle in eastern Ukraine, the center of the fiercest fighting against Russian forces. He was killed on June 10.
Andrii Verteev, who worked in a grocery store in the village, spent the first months of the war guarding a small overpass after work and returning home to his wife and daughter at night. Then he, too, volunteered to head east. He died in battle in Luhansk, only weeks before Mr. Brukhal.
Their deaths have driven home the extent to which the war is reaching into every community across the country, even those far from the front. It has also underscored the risks faced by volunteers, with limited training, who are increasingly heading into the kind of battles that test even the most experienced soldiers. Their bodies are being returned to fill up cemeteries in largely peaceful cities and towns in the country’s west.
Oksana Stepanenko, 44, is also dealing with grief, along with her daughter Mariia, 8. Her husband, Andrii Verteev, was killed on May 15.
Like Mr. Brukhal, he had been a volunteer, tasked with protecting an overpass just up the road during the early weeks of the war. Then he joined an anti-aircraft unit of the military and was redeployed to the east.
His death added a new level of pain to the family. Ms. Stepanenko’s son, Artur, died of an illness at age 13 three years ago. Now a corner of their small living room has become a shrine to the boy and his father.
Ms. Stepanenko said she found solace in her faith and the fact that it was her husband’s choice to go to the front lines. But, like so many others in Ukraine, she asked, “How many guys have to die before this ends?”
Source: Megan Specia, “Ill Prepared for Combat, Volunteers Die in Battles Far from Home,” New York Times, 2 July 2022