We’re Not in the Same Boat

One in a series of photos, taken recently in Petersburg, that the photographer Alexander Petrosyan
posted under the heading “Life goes on”. Source: Alexander Petrosyan, Facebook, 3 July 2022

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

Love and Vodka

I was seven years old when a distant relative, the brother of my great-aunt’s husband, showed up at our dacha. He was stuck there for the whole summer. We called him Uncle Misha. He was decidedly unlike my parents and their acquaintances. Having him around caused me grief at the time, but now I am grateful to fate, because in the person of Uncle Misha, Russia (from whose sight my relatives had erratically shielded me) came into my life.

Like Russia, Uncle Misha was extremely stupid. The first thing he did was dig up a huge boulder sticking out of the ground in the garden, and spend a whole month chiseling an inscription on it. The inscription was long: “On April 22, 1870, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the leader of the world proletariat, was born.” Uncle Misha painted each embossed letter white.

Besides, he liked to drink, and that addiction laid waste to his dreams. The fact was that Uncle Misha wanted a bicycle most of all and saved up for one for a long time. When he had purchased a bike, Uncle Misha went to Solnechnoye to celebrate the occasion. He fell asleep at a beer stall, and the bike was immediately filched.

Like Russia, however, Uncle Misha had amazing skills. I remember how he picked a basketful of pine cones, took out our decorative, Nicholas I-era samovar, filled it with the cones, soldered the leaky spigot, stoked the pipe almost with his boot, and brewed some extremely tasteless tea.

Then he disappeared, and a couple of years later he died of cancer. It was all a long time ago, and I would have forgotten Uncle Misha, but now he has suddenly risen from the grave. I constantly see and hear (mostly at a safe distance, thank God) the people who surrounded me as a child. There are the old women crushing each other whilst queueing for sugar, officious Auntie Motyas with serious hairdos, exact replicas of my teachers and head teachers, the peasants wearing baggy-kneed trousers, the gopniks with herring eyes — they are the grandsons and granddaughters of the Soviet people who so spoiled my childhood. They have been cloned whole, already dressed and sporting mohair hats and berets from the get-go.

I spent a whole month this past winter in Petersburg and saw them at every turn. While I was it, I went to a Chris Marker retrospective that friends of mine put on. There were about twenty people in the large auditorium, and I knew almost all of them personally — five organizers, five foreigners, and ten university students.

After getting any eyeful of this, I was persuaded that it was impossible to improve this country. It keeps churning out people on the same old conveyor belt, but no cataclysm is capable of stopping it. And right now I’m even more convinced that this is the case.

Source: Dmitry Volchek, Facebook, 10 April 2022. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader


If a Russian loves Russia, he’s a patriot. If a Ukrainian loves Ukraine, he’s a “Bandera nationalist.”

If a Russian says “khokol,” he’s merely joking. If a Ukrainian says “moskal,” he’s a “Russophobe.”

If pro-Russian slogans are bandied about in Russia, it’s normal. If pro-Ukrainian slogans are bandied about in Ukraine, it’s “Nazism.”

If the Russian president talks to the American president, he’s forging better relations between their two countries. If the Ukrainian president talks to the American president, they’re “hatching a plot” against Russia.

If a Russian national speaks Russian, it is par for the course. If a Ukrainian speaks Ukrainian, he is “persecuting” Russophones.

Source: Rodica Rusu Gramma, Facebook, 8 April 2022. Thanks to Andreas Umland for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader

 


When you see footage from protest rallies in the Russian Federation, all that ring-around-the rosy, or watch broadcasts made by the Russian emigration in Tbilisi, you immediately recall one of Jünger’s journal entries in Strahlungen. Although, admittedly, some Russians, a few, have already caught sight of the abyss out of the corner of their eyes.

PARIS, 14 JUNE 1942
Went to Bagatelle in the afternoon. There Charmille told me that students had recently been arrested for wearing yellow stars with different mottoes, such as “idealist,” and then walking along the Champs-Ėlysées as a demonstration.

Such individuals do not yet realize that the time for discussion is past. They also attribute a sense of humor to their adversary. In so doing, they are like children who wave flags while swimming in shark-infested waters: they draw attention to themselves.

[Ernst Jünger, A German Officer in Occupied Paris: The War Journals, 1941–1945, trans. Thomas S. Hansen and Abby J. Hansen (Columbia University Press, 2019)]

Source: Mitya Raevsky, Facebook, 15 April 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader 

We have to admit that our generation of Russian anti-authoritarian leftists drew the short straw when it comes to the people [narod]. I want to emphasize, though, that they are not the way they are “genetically.” They have been raised to be this way. Yes, there was a seed of imperial mindedness, but without soil and fertilizers, that godawful hogweed would not have grown.

The “cultural code” of the people, that is, this selfsame soil, has been shaped by three subprograms:

– Brutal capitalism and maximum competition multiplied by the cult of success, causing universal brutalization and an inability to communicate.

– The survival tactic that follows from the first subprogram: identifying with the powerful aka blaming the victim. If you want to foster a nation of stern warriors, you foster a nation of toadies. Hence our servility and respect for ranks.

– A regime based on a twenty-year-long counter-terrorism operation.

Are these remarks a balm to anyone? Of course not. I don’t believe that this regime is capable of changing anything from the inside. It will be destroyed from the outside, and lessons will be learned, I hope.

Source: George Losev, Facebook, 15 April 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


“I need love and vodka,” says one young woman to another. Everyone is so joyful.

T-shirts sporting the Z symbol are sold in the pedestrian underpass near Gostiny Dvor. Near the the exit from Gribanal [Griboyedov Canal subway station], a woman sells willow branches [for Palm Sunday, which is this Sunday in the Russian Orthodox calendar], the Soviet flag flying above her. A jeep adorned with a huge [Russian] tricolor cruises near Kazan Cathedral. A car branded with the letter Z is parked in Bankovsky Lane.

I don’t know whether I will ever be able to love this city again. Or at least not feel sick. I walk around it looking for niches, corners, secret places where I can hide, pretend to be a shadow cast by the caryatids, so that I won’t be found, pried out, and forced to be part of universal vileness.

Source: Comrade JG, Facebook, 16 April 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader with the kind permission of the author, who wishes to remain anonymous.

The Theory of Small Deeds: The Case of Chulpan Khamatova

Yigal Levin
Facebook
March 21, 2022

Mitya is infinitely right. All these years I have been constantly saying that all people of good will should leave the Russian Federation. How can one imagine a “theory of small deeds,” say, in the Third Reich? All conscientious Germans left Germany in the 30s, and to one degree or another joined various resistance forces. Such regimes are not destroyed from the inside, but only by blows from outside —military, economic, political and cultural.

Russia delenda est

Mitya Raevsky
Facebook
March 21, 2022

Until recently, a segment of the Russian intelligentsia and the upper middle class had a favorite toy — the “theory of small deeds.” In practice, it meant that they said: yes, we cannot defeat the dictatorship, which means we need to do something useful in spite of that — save sick children, create foundations, hold cultural events, publish literature, defend human rights wherever possible. They had the hope that everyone would be able to influence the state and society as a whole doing what they do best, and these little drops would come together to make a sea, so to speak. Well, in the process, of course, they would have to cooperate with the state.

It all turned out to be baloney. Here is another historical lesson — do not collaborate with tyrants. Never. Under any circumstances. Don’t lend them legitimacy. Even for the sake of sick children.

Because you will never turn that debit into a debit. You will save 10 thousand children who have cancer only for the dictatorship to kill 100 thousand children sooner or later. It’s already killing them, and not only Ukrainian children. It’s killing Russian children, too, whom it will now be impossible to save without western drugs and equipment.

In a dictatorship, small deeds happen only in the toilet.

________________

 

Chulpan Khamatova. Kirill Zykov/Moskva News Agency. Courtesy of the Moscow Times

Actress and Activist Chulpan Khamatova Has Left Russia
She joins dozens of Russian cultural figures who have left the country.
Moscow Times
March 21, 2022

The Russian stage and screen actress Chulpan Khamatova told Ekaterina Gordeyeva in an interview released on Monday that she would not be going back to Russia.

Khamatova, who heads the Gift of Life charity foundation, was abroad when Russia began its attack on Ukraine. “For the first few days I didn’t know what to do,” she said in the interview. At first I just wanted to stay some place and wait for it to end, but then I was led to believe that it might not be safe for me to return. I’m in Riga for now. I am certainly not a traitor. I love my homeland very much,” she said.

Khamatova is one of Russia’s most celebrated actresses who has acted in dozens of films and television series — most recently playing the lead role in the screen version of Guzel Yakhina’s novel “Zuleikha.” She also plays Raisa Gorbachev in the hit play “Gorbachev” at the Moscow Theater of Nations.

She is just one of dozens of Russian cultural figures who have left the country since the war began.

Earlier this month the music director of the Bolshoi Theater, Turgan Sokhiev, resigned his post in Moscow and in Toulouse, France. He wrote that he felt he was being forced “to choose between my beloved Russian and beloved French musicians” and so “decided to resign from my positions at both the Bolshoi in Moscow and Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse.”

At the same time two foreign ballet dancers at the Bolshoi, Jacopo Tissi and David Motta Soares, put in their resignations.

This was followed by the announcement that Bolshoi prima ballerina Olga Smirnova left for the Dutch National ballet.

Russian television has also lost several of its best-known on-screen personalities: Channel One colleague Zhanna Agalakova quit her job as Europe correspondent for Channel One, and both Lilia Gildeyeva and Vadim Glusker quite NTV. Gildeyeva had worked at the channel since 2006, and Glusker had been there almost from the start, for 30 years.

Dmitry Linkin, the head designer for Channel One for 24 years, also quit. “I was taught that human life is invaluable,” he said.

________________

 

In an interview with Ksenia Sobchak, broadcast on TV Rain in June 2012, Chulpan Khamatova said that she would rather live in “North Korea” than have her own country go through another revolution.

No Political Harmony Among Cultural Elite
Alexander Bratersky
Moscow Times
February 19, 2012

As Prime Minister Vladimir Putin enters the home stretch of his campaign to return to the Kremlin, he is relying on the support not only of the blue-collar electorate, but also members of the cultural elite, who are helping to market his bid for the presidency.

Putin’s extended campaign team has about 500 participants, including famous musicians, actors and writers who appear in pro-Putin commercials and at rallies. But political analysts and experts said their participation has divided the cultural elite itself.

Several dozen prominent celebrities, among them world-famous piano player Denis Matsuyev, St. Petersburg Mariinsky conductor Valery Gergiev, jazz musician Igor Butman and opera star Anna Netrebko have thrown their lot in with Putin.

When contacted to explain the reasons behind their choice of candidate, most have declined to comment. The situation has even split families: in one case a well-known rock musician sided with Putin, while his brother, also a rock star, is for the opposition.

Supporting Putin, who is seen by his opponents as an authoritarian leader, might damage a performer’s reputation and can become a source of controversy. The liberal media has attacked prominent actress Chulpan Khamatova for appearing in a Putin commercial, in which she thanks the prime minister for supporting her charity that aids children with cancer. Although Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Khamatova appeared in the commercial voluntarily, sources at the charity said she was forced into the recording.

The public response against the video was so negative that even liberal Novaya Gazeta had to defend Khamatova in one of its latest articles. Khamatova has declined to discuss her endorsement for Putin. “Let everyone stick to his own vision,” she said, RIA Novosti reported.

Iosif Prigozhin, a prominent music producer and show business insider has also defended the actress.

“Khamatova is an absolutely sincere person. But imagine that I had helped you. Would you do the same for me?” he told The Moscow Times.

Continue reading “The Theory of Small Deeds: The Case of Chulpan Khamatova”