У мене вдома непрошені гості —
Я їм замість хліба дам каміння і кості,
В горнятка налию болота з калюжі,
Хай знають шо ми з ними зовсім не друзі.
— Мія Рамарі, “Гості” (2022)
I have uninvited guests in my home —
I’ll give them stones and bones instead of bread,
I’ll pour mud from a puddle into a mug,
And let them know we’re not friends at all.
— Mia Ramari, “Guests” (2022)
A few days ago, in the newly liberated city of Balakliya, members of the Armed Forces of Ukraine recorded themselves removing Russian propaganda from a downtown billboard. Tearing away the signage bearing a demonstrably false slogan — “We are with Russia! One people!” — the soldiers thereby revealed the previous layer of the billboard, featuring a dashing portrait of the Ukrainian national poet Taras Hryhorovych Shevchenko alongside a passage from his 1845 poem “Kavkaz.” One of them proudly, and quite eloquently, proceeded to declaim the lines familiar to all patriotic Ukrainians:
Keep fighting — you will prevail
God helps you in your fight
For fame and freedom march with you
And right is on your side
The memorably pithy line “Boritesya — Poborete,” “keep fighting — you will prevail” has long been one of Ukraine’s rallying cries, providing the name of an influential political magazine founded in 1920 by the historian and statesman Mykhailo Hrushevsky, appearing on banners affixed to the Independence Square monument during the Maidan Uprising of late 2013, and subsequently emblazoned on billboards and murals throughout the nation. It seems that the Balakliya billboard was partially defaced at some point by Russian occupiers, with Shevchenko’s youthful face scoured away in a failed attempt at damnatio memoriae. The words themselves, however, were left untouched, permitting the poem to resound as clearly as ever, at a time when a beleaguered Ukraine once again contends with a Russian campaign of vicious repression, ethnic cleansing, and historical negationism.
We can be sure that Shevchenko would be proud of his countrymen. Ukrainians have indeed kept fighting, and prevailing, with right on their side, for more than 200 days now, stymying and then repelling the Russian assaults on Kyiv, Chernihiv, and Sumy, defending in depth in the Donbas, making steady progress in the south towards temporarily occupied Kherson, and, most recently, reclaiming vast swathes of territory around Kharkiv during the battle of the Oskil River. Ukraine’s stunningly successful Kharkiv counteroffensive, a true coup de main reminiscent of the Miracle on the Vistula or the Yom Kippur War, has served to turn the tide of the war, demoralizing the routed Russian invaders, who were obliged to leave behind immense stockpiles of materiel, not to mention their invariably squalid pigsty-bivouacs. The Russian grip on the temporarily occupied portions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson oblasts, and even the Crimean peninsula itself, no longer seems quite as vicelike, though there remains a great deal of work left to be done. Humiliated on the battlefield, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s terrorist regime has remained true to character, launching missile strikes against apartment blocks, thermal power stations, and other civilian targets in a fit of pique. What is undeniable is that the Ukrainians, while having proved capable of stout defense when armed with Soviet-era weapons, can now achieve decisive victories over their adversaries, equipped as they now are with state-of-the-art NATO-supplied armaments.
Ukraine’s performance in this war, which began back in 2014 and entered a new and far bloodier phase on Feb. 24, 2022, has served to dispel any number of myths. Those who denied Ukraine’s status as a “real” country must reckon with a defiant people unprecedentedly unified in their heroic resistance to the invading horde. Those who considered the conflict a mere “Ukrainian civil war,” or even more idiotically an “intra-Slavic dispute,” a phrase that makes me want to spit every time I am unfortunate enough to come across it, must acknowledge Russia’s transparently genocidal intent, as propagandists like Vladislav Ugolnyi rant psychotically about “the biological annihilation of Ukrainians” and how “Russians cannot somehow be united with subhumans,” while Sergei Mardan urges Russian forces to “burn [Ukrainian] homes and send them to Gulags, in our good old tradition.” Those who considered the Russian Federation to possess the second most powerful military on the planet must realize by now that Muscovite forces are more adept at committing war crimes, flattening residential districts, and looting washing machines, laptops, and instant noodles than achieving military faits accomplis, relying as they increasingly do on private military companies like the ChVK Wagner organization, while searching out fresh cannon fodder and future sunflower fertilizer in the form of “undesirables” previously residing in psychiatric hospitals, prisons, and homeless encampments. Then there are those, typically far to the left and right, the Dirtbag Left, the tankies, and the extremely online anime-avi alt-right — though there are admittedly some more mainstream voices among them — who bizarrely look upon Putin’s regime not as the mafia-operated gas-station-cum-open-air-madhouse it has become, but instead as some kind of moral exemplar, either of anti-colonialism (of all things) or of some sort of supposedly deeply spiritual anti-Western Russkiy-integralism. It would behoove them to acknowledge the grotesque crimes against humanity that Russian forces have committed thus far, as well as those soon to be uncovered in recently liberated regions, crimes incited by a pathetic, degenerate, ressentiment-filled ruscist ideology. And, finally, it ought to register among those soi-disant realists, who continue to urge Kyiv to concede territory in the interests of an imagined, and likely spurious, peace with Moscow, just how much rides on what can no longer be disinterestedly viewed as mere lines on a map. (READ MORE by Matthew Omolesky: The Theft of a Nation: Ukraine’s Fight for Existence)
We have had ample opportunity, over the last eight years, to come to understand what it means to languish under ruscist occupation. In Crimea, we see the widespread persecution, dispossession, and extrajudicial executions of Tatars, Ukrainian Catholics, Ukrainian Orthodox, and other ethnic and religious minorities. The gifted Ukrainian writer and journalist Stanislav Aseyev, who spent more than two and a half years unlawfully imprisoned in a Donetsk facility for “exceptionally dangerous persons,” has documented in his deeply disturbing book In Isolation: Dispatches from Occupied Donbas (recently published in translation by Harvard University’s Ukrainian Research Institute) the “social and psychological transformations,” the “apathy and hopelessness” that characterize the Russian-backed sham polities known as the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic, both authoritarian breakaway banana republics that occupy the same grim, oppressive twilight state as Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transnistria.
Those portions of Ukraine that tragically fell under Russian control as a result of the 2022 invasion likewise swiftly discovered what it means to belong to the so-called Russkiy mir, the “Russian World.” As Alexey, a 34-year-old Ukrainian born and raised in temporarily occupied Nova Kakhovka, near Kherson, told WarTranslated, “I don’t want this damned ‘Russian world,’” a nightmarish universe in which communication and internet access are severely restricted, in which Russia Federal Security Service (FSB) agents drag dissidents into basements in the very same manner as their Soviet NKVD predecessors, in which a normal existence is utterly impossible. To be forcibly incorporated into the “Russian World” is to be made not a citizen, not even a subject, really, but rather a vassal ruled by a distant oligarchic kleptocracy parasitically dependent on the resources and cannon fodder that captive provinces and peoples can provide. As journalist Kamil Galeev has astutely put it: “Moscow is the city built around a princely court and living off prince’s expenses. Its prosperity results from its central status in the imperial system. Moscow is uniquely expensive to feed. That’s why its colonies are so destitute.” And that is precisely why Moscow would like another colony to bleed dry.
Perhaps this will change someday, though the logic of Russian history is hardly reassuring. Deputies of 18 districts in Moscow and Saint Petersburg are said to have signed statements demanding Putin’s resignation, on the grounds of having undertaken actions “detrimental to the future of Russia and its citizens,” which if anything is an extreme understatement. The oligarchs and the siloviki securocrats must sense that a change is coming, given that at least eight prominent businessmen have died in recent months under decidedly unusual circumstances, and, as journalist Andrey Pertsev observed in July:
An influential businessman from Vladimir Putin’s entourage, Yevgeny Prigozhin, harshly criticised St Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov, although such a situation had been impossible earlier due to unspoken rules within the power vertical. Prior to that, the Secretary of the General Council of United Russia, Andrey Turchak, and the Chairman of the State Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, had argued in public. Conflicts among high-profile politicians and the siloviki are a sign of the collapse of the old system and its body of laws and rules. The elite are fumbling around in search of the outlines of an emerging new order, and it is already clear that the creation of such an order will be preceded by inter-elite wars and repressions.
It is safe to say that, even if Putin’s regime comes to a premature end, owing in part to his insane Ukrainian misadventure — pardon me, “special operation” — under no foreseeable circumstance do you want anything to do with the ersatz “Russian World,” described by Orhan Dragaš as little more than “a worthless inscription on a safe that contains hundreds of billions stolen in Russia and around the world.” It is this legitimately sick, twisted world of destitution, stifled dissent, extrajudicial killings, and institutionalized thievery that Ukraine escaped by dint of the Orange Revolution and Maidan Uprising and against which it is now obliged to fight with all its might.
After the staggering Ukrainian military successes in the Kharkiv Oblast were met with a barrage of Russian missiles cynically and brutally directed solely at civilian targets, President Volodymyr Zelensky responded with one of his finest and most trenchant speeches:
Do you still believe that we are one people? Do you still think that you can frighten, crush, and bend us into submission? You really understand nothing? You don’t realize who we are? What we are for? What we are about? Read my lips: No gas or no you? No you. No lights or no you? No you. Cold, hunger, darkness, and thirst — for us these are less frightening and less deadly than your friendship and brotherhood. But history will arrange everything. And we will have gas, electricity, water, and food — and we won’t have you.
Russia may have proven incapable of achieving a military fait accompli, but, come what may, Ukraine has done just that. Ukrainian independence is now a fait accompli. Ukrainian dignity is now a fait accompli. Ukraine’s rejection of the dismal, murderous Russkiy mir is now a fait accompli. History has indeed arranged that, history that is being made before our very eyes.
Ukrainians, with the vital assistance of their allies in Europe, the United States, and across the globe, have accomplished all this in the face of the eliminationist efforts of Russians from Putin, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, and Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev on down to those soldiers, mercenaries, and Kadyrovites actually filling the mass graves in Mariupol, Bucha, and elsewhere. They have also accomplished all this notwithstanding the attitudes of those morally inverted commentators and policymakers in the West who would happily have consigned untold numbers of Ukrainians to the death or, at best, the living death offered by the “Russian World.” It has been made abundantly clear that Ukraine will keep fighting, and prevailing, with right on its side, and that, as we witnessed in Balakliya, no amount of mendacious propaganda can obscure that for long.