Ukrainian soldier with gun
Soldier in front of a destroyed apartment building in Borodyanka, 6 April 2022. Image by Efrem Lukatsky, public domain.

War in Ukraine: shock but no surprise, fury but no fear

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Is humanity the first to die in war? Truth is the first to die in times of cyber warfare and the curse of media-constructed reality. It turns out that the more living documentary evidence there is, the easier it is to deny and distort everything. The more obvious the truth, the easier it is to turn a blind eye and disregard everything. The more horrible the fact, the more effortless and unscrupulous it is to dismiss it as fake. This is the war in Ukraine.

I have always considered myself a pacifist and a humanist. For years, I read a lot about wars and terrible periods in human history. I watched acclaimed movies and documentaries and traveled to museums, memorials, and other places for the remembrance of evil. And I was always in pain.

Everything inside me felt constricted, taking my breath away at the thought of what some people can do to others.

I researched it, carefully curated my library, trying to understand how it happened and how it was allowed each time. But never before has history been created in plain sight. Never before have all past generations stood so close with their shattered destinies. Not ever before has deception sounded so loud. Never before has my home, the homes of everyone I know, our carefully cherished worlds, been subject to such total denial and destruction. Everything we love and respect, everything we consider native.

Man in front of shelled building
A resident searching through the rubble of an apartment building, Borodianka, 5 April 2022. Image by Vadim Ghirda, public domain.

Although the pain and outrage we experience know no bounds, for many people this is not the first time this horror has knocked on their doors. Eight years ago, Russia incited and curated separatism in the Donbas and staged a “referendum” on the Crimean peninsula. This is the tragedy our society has been going through for almost a decade. And this should not go unnoticed: tens of thousands of refugees, broken destinies, lives, and careers. A destroyed economy, social infrastructure, health care, and education. There is not even a functional mobile connection. Russia knowingly shed the first blood by secretly bringing its military and FSB agents, paid instigators, and costumed protesters to Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts. Handing out weapons to yesterday’s bandits and alcoholics.

Russia plunged the whole region into the darkness of the Middle Ages. Without the slightest hint of justice or consideration for the value of human life.

Russian passports were publicly handed out in occupied regions. People had no choice but to accept them, and the Russian authorities later speculate with it. There are literally thousands of examples of propaganda. They are as vivid as they are clearly absurd. But there are also truth-like tidbits that sow seeds of doubt, even among those who do not believe a single word from the Kremlin. It is difficult to imagine, as an average person who was raised in a healthy democratic society. But this is the way it is, and even worse.

Bloggers of all kinds, officials, journalists, TV people, artists. Millions have been poured into them for years. That is why Russia has been winning the information war until this year. And this psychological process of suggestion was directed not only at the Russians but also at those who are now in the occupied territories. That is, our fellow citizens. Narratives spewed about “brotherly peoples” that we have never been. Because they, Muscovy, the Russian Empire, the USSR, modern Russia, have always tried to subdue, assimilate, and silence us. The division into western and eastern Ukraine on television. The shameful speculation on the “language issue”, which has never been an issue in Ukraine at all.

People watch bombing
Locals watch in horror as shelling takes place nearby, Odesa, 3 April 2022. Image by Petros Giannakouris, public domain.

Russians were generating artificial “repressions”, portraying a terrible image of our government.

The portrayal of the Revolution of Dignity, a sincere and courageous uprising of the people against the pro-Russian dictatorship, as a criminal coup. The constant belittling and humiliation of Ukraine, an independent state and a consolidated nation, as Little Russia, compared to great and majestic Mother Russia. All these things are aggressions and outright lies that poison our society, aiming to return it to a state of violent occupation by the colonizer.

Russian soldiers came to us with weapons. Russians kill our people. They think they have the right to invade an independent state and put their minions in power. This war in Ukraine has been going on for eight years. They are forcibly trying to subdue us. They take everything through coercion, and they replace it with nothing. And they always, without any exceptions, say one thing and mean something completely different. We do not need a lying and bloodthirsty government from Russia to understand who we are and what our future holds.

Boy next to mother's grave
Vlad Tanyuk, 6, next to his mother’s grave in front of their house, Kyiv, 4 April 2022. Image by Rodrigo Abd, public domain.

They doom our children and their own.

Among my friends, mates, and colleagues there are a lot of those for whom the Russian Federation has become an aggressor for the second time. People I met, studied with, participated in projects, and traveled with. Whose stories I read and whose losses I mourned. People I tried to help.  It is seeking to destroy everything that they are. These are families who fled the East and Crimea in 2014 when the infamous “Russkiy mir” came. The attack on Donetsk airport, the Battle of Debaltseve, the Ilovaisk Siege, the murders of protesters. The political arrests of Crimean Tatars and hundreds of other tragedies. It has all happened before.

This is our modern history, and we do not suffer injustice, encroachment, and bloody wounds from any other nation — only from Russia. My friend from Donetsk has lost distant relatives, killed by rockets in the village of Buhas two weeks ago. I am the godfather of her three-year-old daughter. Those who survived were forcibly taken to occupied Donetsk. They say that this village, like many others around the afflicted Volnovakha, as well as Volnovakha itself, no longer exists. Not a single building standing. Everything burned down. Only a few surviving trees with torn fragments of human bodies hanging on them.

Gravesite with flowers
Graveyard outside Lviv, 5 April 2022. Image by Nariman El-Mofty, public domain.

And corpses, corpses everywhere.

Once again, the Russian Federation despises and violates everything: fundamental principles of international law, common sense, any understanding of humanity. Our national sovereignty, the specific provisions of the Budapest Memorandum. The list continues. It invades our homes and occupies our villages, our cities, and towns. Russians stomp on our land with their dirty boots, destroying nature, burning our houses, stealing property. Raping women and teenage girls. Victims of devastating shelling and blockades are being deported to Russia. Smartphones and Ukrainian papers are being forcibly confiscated, Russian passports and work permits are being issued, forcing them to remain in remote areas without the right or opportunity to escape.

How blatant, how hostile, how inhuman is that?

How can the degree of such evil be conveyed, so many war crimes? Russia is a country that has launched a full-scale invasion, calling it a “special military operation.” This country’s military is terrorizing civilians before the very eyes of the world. Kidnapping mayors, journalists, activists, and protesters, all those who rebel against the invaders in the occupied territories. They are intimidated, threatened, and tortured. Tortured and killed.

Refugee family
Refugees evacuating Chervone, 10 March 2022. The photographer, Maks Levin, was killed early in April. Image by Maks Levin, public domain.

We receive dozens of these messages every day. And this news does not overwhelm that which came before, it does not displace the previous reports. The new evil does not abolish the evil that happened a week or eight years ago. All these horrors and sufferings, the colossal losses of everything by everyone, are only growing. The terrible wounds are expanding, the darkness is spreading, and the collective national trauma is deepening. Atrocities happen every day and night. This is our reality, which the Russians are trying to dictate, cynically accusing us of anything they want. (Protection of the Russian-speaking population? Liberation from the Nazis? Secret laboratories with chemical weapons? Biologically bred pigeons trained to kill Slavs?)

Bucha
The war in Ukraine: Bucha, April 2022. Image by John Owen Nwachukwu, public domain.

The fact is that they came to our land and brought death to everything that gives us life.

Why does someone have enough power, arrogance, Selbstgefälligkeit to doom us to this? No living creature should have to go through this. Through constant air alarms, through doom scrolling, trying to extract scraps of information about whether your loved ones are still alive. Whether your house, which you left, no-one knows for how long, is still there. Through so much hatred and misunderstanding, through such anger directed towards those perpetrating it with such pride. Towards the Russians who do not understand us, who do not know our freedom and our aspirations, our strength and nobility. They will never understand or see it because they are not able to, nor do they seem to want to. But to deny our right to self-determination. Worse still, our right to exist.

We have to survive this. But we knew from the first day of the invasion that we will triumph as we have historical truth, light, and humanity on our side.

Soldier in front of burnt airplane
Soldier in front of a burned out airplane, Antonov airport, Hostomel, Kyiv, 4 April 2022. Image by Felipe Dana, public domain.

The war touches everything you once knew with its vile hands.

All spheres of life, all plans, all dreams. It takes away your habits, your friends, and your family members. And the Russians are trying hard to silence your voice, your truth, and your faith. They deprive you of the ability to talk about your pain.

I’ve chosen narratives and communication strategies as the keys to correcting perception. I try to understand which words to use to talk about the war and its gloom. But there are no words, and the language capitulates to such borderline states and horrible experiences.

Where to pick up this story, where to start or continue? Which horrors to focus on?

Should I try to construct analytics, historical excursions? Or should I focus on frightening personal stories? Through which prisms should I look and broadcast? International law, military affairs, sociology, cultural studies, political science, economics?

Mass grave, Bucha
Reporters gathered around the mass grave site in Bucha, 5 April 2022. Image by Rodrigo Abd, public domain.

How does one explain to people who know so little about Ukraine and know even less of the truth about modern Russia? What is the context here? How does one not tire of insisting on the only applicable vocabulary? Not “conflict”, “events”, or “situation”, but war in Ukraine. Invasion by the Russian Federation. Not just the “humanitarian crises” in Mariupol, Chernihiv, Sumy, Irpin, Trostianets, Shchastia, Rubizhne, Izium, and many other settlements. The deliberate extermination of civilians through terrorist acts by the Russian military and state apparatus. Which has considerable fanatical and blind support in Russian society.

It’s impossible to express everything that takes place these days and nights in words.

We hold strong and fearless against all of the darkness. Even my poetry can’t portray that; it’s too much, it’s too much.

However, even in the midst of this excessive chaos, with the sky literally flaking and falling in flaming wreckage on our heads, we need to express it. To convey it somehow. To convert it into pulsating messages to foreign friends. Appeals to international human rights organizations and private companies. Collecting legal evidence for the ICJ, and artistic reflections.

People placing candles
Mourners at the Taras Shevchenko Monument, Lviv, 5 April 2022. Image by Nariman El-Mofty, public domain.

People of great honor and light are dying to save us all.

Girls are becoming widows at the age of 25, teenagers see their mothers burning in fire, and children are being shot and seeing their parents die. Russia only brings lies, decline, and cruelty. They deny us and our cultural identity. And as their army completely fails to capture major cities or reach other crucial military tasks, they bombard our beautiful, peaceful cities, wiping them off the maps. It is because they are impotent against our faith, independence, and unity. We shall resist and overcome all of the evil poison that was brought to our land.

Russians are blocking any humanitarian aid. They are shooting volunteers, brutally killing civilians, spreading disinformation that Ukraine has already surrendered, raping women and young girls, stealing all of the personal belongings left by refugees, acting as marauders within organizations and businesses. They are killing children in front of parents and vice versa, kidnapping and abusing activists, mayors, representatives of Ukrainian authorities. All of those who are opposing invaders and occupation administrations. They are torturing people, breaking them to make them obey. That’s something that has been happening for years in Russia and the states around it. That is what “Ruskyi mir” stands for.

And yes, they are forcibly deporting people to Russia.

Taking them to distant regions, forbidden to leave the places they were taken to against their will. Depriving them of Ukrainian documents and IDs, replacing them with miserable Russian papers instead.

Burning apartment building
The war in Ukraine: Mariupol, 11 March 2022. Image by Mstyslav Chernov, public domain.

Russians are using forbidden weapons like white phosphorus bombs against civilians. People close to me have witnessed this horror with their own eyes in Bakhmut, Lysychansk, Avdiivka, and other places. Without any mercy or humanity, it’s simply extermination. Russians are taking Ukrainian language and history books away from people and burning them. They are brutally destroying memorials to Ukrainian heroes who died earlier, withstanding Russian occupation. People are starving in occupied and blocked regions desolated by Russian rockets. So much suffering and loss, I cannot even describe it.

We are working hard and enthusiastically to build narratives and communications. The main point is that the world just can’t imagine, and is totally unaware, of how cynical, maleficent, and unrighteous Russia is. And this is the most significant and critical mistake. I mean that this experience is inexpressible, truly incommunicable. And yet we should try as it is the only way. This war in Ukraine, waged and supported by Russians, is to be compared with the worst war crimes and genocides.

Bombed apartment building
A bombed apartment building near the Taras Shevchenko monument, Borodyanka, 6 April 2022. Image by Efrem Lukatsky, public domain.

They are rejecting our identities and completely ruining our cities.

They are killing our children. There are thousands of civilians dead. How is that possible? It is happening in these very seconds. Thousands of buildings are in ruins. So much suffering and grief was brought to our land and justified with total lies. Lies so colossal that no one would believe that someone could have the impudence to distort the truth so brazenly. The people of Russia stand for Putin and for the war in Ukraine, ignoring the facts and the massacres. Refusing any sign of understanding, ignoring our striving for justice, or–God forbid–empathy. While we literally stand to our deaths for civilization, humanity, freedom, sovereignty, and all the values acknowledged and supposedly protected in the world. There’s so much to be explained. And everything is full of pain: every second, every day, every object, and every face.

Soldiers carry body
Soldiers carry the body of a civilian at a destroyed bridge in Irpin, 31 March 2022. Image by Efrem Lukatsky, public domain.

War gets you anywhere, whatever you are doing or thinking about.

Whether you are contributing to the victory or sleeping, trying to get at least a little rest between the air raid sirens. Even in your dreams, you always carry war inside of you, like a deep and awful, bleeding scar.

It’s all totally black and white these days and nights. I am well aware that may sound extremely radical and unjust to a person from a civil society. Where freedom of speech, diversity, and a priori respect is granted, appreciated, and respected. However, the truth is Russians are bringing death, devastation, humiliation, and torture to our land. And they are being, en masse, hysterically proud about that. There can not be any justification or explanation for shelling civilian buildings, mining and shooting at humanitarian corridors, and looting. In this case, they are the absolute evil we fight against. We are ready and brave enough to oppose this darkness because, for centuries, we have known precisely what kind of hell it brings.

Vladimir Zelensky, Bucha, 4 April 2022.
Volodymyr Zelenskyi, Bucha, 4 April 2022. Image by Efrem Lukatsky, public domain.

These are awful facts; however, this is exactly what is happening.

Our reality these days involves instructions on how to safeguard oneself from shelling attacks or how to get from under the ruins. Horror shall not become routine for the international community. It shall not become an integral news section.

On February 24th, we all felt shocked that Russia was so vain, impudent, and irrational to initiate a full-scale war in Ukraine. What should also not be forgotten or diminished here, is that it is not only from the Russian territory but also from Belarus. Where people live under constant terror of the pro-Russian military dictatorship. It is a shock when something you’ve been warned about becomes your one and only reality. Nevertheless, it didn’t come as a surprise.

Motherland Monument,
The Motherland monument in Kyiv, 16 September 2017. Image by Francisco Anzola, public domain.

Ukrainians know their history. How aggressive, treacherous, obscure, and dangerous Russia has always been in its attempts to colonize us and rewrite our history. We know Russia ultimately disregards our identity and intends to eliminate it. Being perfectly aware of that, we have no fear. We know Russians can not defeat us, can not deprive us of our freedom and dignity, can not occupy our minds. They can never claim power over us. We only have righteous anger, unforgiveness, and fury against those who have invaded our land and our personal worlds.

Shock but no surprise, fury but no fear.

This war in Ukraine continues.

Slava Ukraini! Heroiam slava! / Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!

 



This article is the first in a broader series by Andrii Myroshnyschenko on the war in
Ukraine. With it, Andrii is trying to create an apprehensible and relatable picture of what millions of Ukrainians are now feeling. Not only Ukrainians, but all those who have suffered the terrible evil of the war waged by the Russian Federation against his homeland, his beloved Ukraine.

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