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Saturday, March 25, 2023

“The year of war, tears and courage”

The anniversary of Russia’s large-scale aggression against Ukraine has prompted a huge flood of assessments, reflections and predictions. The Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University has invited two leading experts to participate in a webinar titled A Year of War, Tears, and Resilience. Yevgenia Albats, Russian journalist, political scientist, radio host, editor-in-chief of the independent publication The New Times, and Volodymyr Dubovyk, Ukrainian political scientist, director of the Center for International Studies, associate professor at the Department of International Relations of the National University Mechnikov from Odessa, became panelists.

The discussion was moderated by Alexandra Vacroux, Executive Director of the Davis Center.

War as collective trauma

“It is difficult for me to express my feelings precisely about this anniversary,” Alexandra Vakra said while introducing the guests. – The number of victims of attacks is increasing, the extent of the tragedy is not decreasing. The purpose of this meeting is to try to understand what is going on, and I think our two guests today are excellent for this task ”(Hereafter translated from English. – Ed.)

“Yes, I have difficult feelings too,” said Vladimir Dubovik. – On the one hand, we exist, we exist, whatever Vladimir Putin says about it, denying the very existence of the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian state. Over the past year, Ukraine has shown incredible resilience, heroically resisting the aggressor. Make no mistake: almost the entire population, almost all of the forty million people in Ukraine, suffer from collective PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). It’s a very difficult time, but we’re not going anywhere, we’re not going to give up. The government functions, perhaps even better than before, in times of peace. President Zelensky, who staunchly refused to fly safely at the start of the war, is there and confidently leading the country. We can say that we have established ourselves as a state, as a society that is moving towards democracy and aspires to reform. And such a touch: all this year, despite the terrible war, classes at universities, transferred to online mode, did not stop.

Webinar attendees. Photo of the monitor. courtesy picture

Russia currently controls 17%. Ukrainian territory, recalled Dubovik. “But,” he continued, “this simultaneously means that the Ukrainian government controls 83% of the Ukrainian government. territory. We are infinitely grateful to those who gave their lives for the freedom of our people. We are aware that this war is unjust, senseless, launched under falsified pretexts which change all the time. This is not how conflicts should be resolved in the 21st century. But for Putin, this is not an argument. For many years he tried to subjugate Ukraine using ‘soft power’, then in 2014 he used a combination of ‘soft power’ and hard power. And finally, in 2022, it launches the army, tanks and planes. Ukraine is very important for Russia, for its imperial objectives. And these ambitions go back centuries.

Responsibility or guilt?

“This is the worst year in the life of many of us,” said Evgenia Albats. – I am convinced that all of us Russian citizens who became adults when Putin came to power are responsible for the suffering of millions of Ukrainian citizens, for 8 million people who lost their homes, for tens of thousands of deaths , of a thousand children killed, for the elderly who died because there was no one around to help them. It is a terrible and unthinkable tragedy. The previous such tragedy occurred in Yugoslavia – I mean a terrible civil war. But Russia’s war against Ukraine was the first invasion by a European country on the territory of another European country after World War II. Intrusion for no reason. Imperialist, colonial war. Its significance is in the seizure of foreign lands, in the suppression of another people’s will for freedom. For me personally, it is particularly painful, because Ukraine is the land of my ancestors… Like many, I had to leave Russia, and I don’t know when I will be able to return home, in my usual life , in my favorite books.

Evgenia Albats addressed the issue of individual and collective guilt of Russians.

“I never voted for Putin,” she said. – I never supported United Russia. From day one (of Putin’s presidency), I argued in my articles and speeches that he was a danger to the whole world. And at the same time, I believe that all of us in Russia share responsibility for what the president of the country is doing. We couldn’t stop the criminals from coming to power, we couldn’t resist them.

Oleksandra Vakru asked the opinion of the panelists, why do the Russians, first of all Vladimir Putin, have such confidence that they have the right to impose development paths on the Ukrainian people and interfere with their independent choice .

Price to choose

“For the imperial consciousness of Russians, Ukraine is a key issue,” says Vladimir Dubovik. – To create an imaginary “Great Russia”, they need new lands. They often evoke with nostalgia the USSR and the Eastern European bloc as the model of such a majestic empire. On the one hand, they claim that the Ukrainians are the same people as us, the Russians, a “brotherly people”, on the other hand, they consider the Ukrainians as sub-human, second-class people. Hence the monstrous war crimes of Putin’s army on Ukrainian soil against civilians. It is Ukraine that Putin is most interested in, not Kazakhstan, not Belarus, not Georgia, but Ukraine.

The moderator noticed that at the last sentence of Vladimir Dubovik, Yevgenia Albats shook her head negatively and asked him to explain exactly what she disagreed with.

“Not only Ukraine, but also all neighboring countries of Russia, be it Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Belarus, Moldova and others, Putin considers an area of ​​​​his interests,” explained Albats. – For example, he considers Lukashenka his vassal, whom he helped in 2020 to retain power. Ukraine infuriates Putin because it made an independent and confident choice in favor of democracy and freedom. He hates the victory of the Dignity Revolution in Ukraine and the ousting of corrupt President Yanukovych, which marks the victory of civil society. Putin is afraid that Russian citizens will see this as an example and want to drive the power thieves out of their country. President Zelensky’s excellent leadership can also serve as an example to the Russians: this is the kind of leader we need.

slay the dragon

Oleksandra Valkru recalled the results of a recent vote in the UN General Assembly on a resolution on Ukraine, in particular the position of a number of former republics of the Soviet Union who refused to condemn Russia’s aggression.

“Now they are clearly aware of Russia’s imperial ambitions, they see that Putin has weakened noticeably during the war year, and yet they prefer not to irritate Moscow,” Valkru said. What is the reason for this fear?

“Yes, the dragon is weakened,” Dubovik said, “but it’s still alive, it flies, it shoots from its mouth. Therefore, Lloyd Austin is right when he says that Russia should be so weakened that she cannot repeat what she did during the invasion of Ukraine. It cannot be said that the position of the neighboring countries has not changed. How it has changed! Suffice it to say remember how, at the top of Samarkand, Putin suffered the public humiliation of former vassals who had previously kissed his hand. The dragon is bleeding, but it is still dangerous. See how Moscow has escalated the situation in Transnistria in recent days. Putin still hopes to outwit everyone.

The moderator asked Evgenia Albats about the state of mind in Russia today, about the position of different strata of society.

“Not all Russians are imperialists,” Albats said. – I judge by communicating with a large number of people. In fact, we don’t know for sure what ordinary citizens think. Official opinion polls are not an indicator. After all, only 5% agree to answer questions. these people to whom the pollsters turn. What they say is proof of one thing. They are driven by fear, great fear. Everyone understands that the country is ruled by the KGB, a corporation of Chekists led by Putin. He is feared, but also idolized as the new Stalin, the father of the nation, who is always right. As for the wealthy class and businessmen, they are all shocked and horrified. Yes, it’s crazy, crazy, crazy, they say. At the same time, some of them saw in the anti-Russian sanctions a new field of opportunity to fill the gaps left vacant by Western companies that have left the Russian market and are leaving the Russian market. The eyes of the entrepreneurs lit up, they believe that they can make a lot of money under the new conditions.

The secret of perseverance

Responding to the question of how Ukrainian society endures the hardships of war, Dubovik pointed out that the roots of perseverance and resilience are in the very nature of the people.

“When the Ukrainians saw the atrocities committed by the Russian occupiers in Bucha, they realized what fate awaited them from the invaders,” he said. – At best, the fate of second-class citizens. Putin bombs power plants and infrastructure in order to make life as hard as possible for people and thus break their will. He hopes that at some point there will be a critical collapse and the Ukrainian people will demand consent from their government for a peaceful settlement of the conflict on Russian terms.

“But with barbaric bombardments of peaceful towns and villages, Putin only gets the opposite,” Dubovik stressed, “Ukrainians are determined to defend themselves and their country. We are ready to fight to the death, because only then can we preserve ourselves, our sovereignty, our culture and our language. Ukrainian society today is more united than ever. There is full understanding between the people and the government on key issues, and this is a unique situation for Ukraine, where criticism of the authorities has always been seen as the norm.

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