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Ideas

"Worse Than Death" - A Message For Putin From A Reluctant Ukrainian Patriot

With Russian troops amassed at the border with Ukraine, the writer, who came of age in Kiev in the post-Soviet era, says her fellow Ukrainians of every generation are united in never again falling under the reign of Moscow.

"Worse Than Death" - A Message For Putin From A Reluctant Ukrainian Patriot

At a military ceremony in western Ukraine

Anna Akage

"We survived the War, we can survive these maneuvers."

"The important thing is that there's no war."

"If there is a war, what if I am too tired to fight?"

These are phrases that I've heard in my daily life for as long as I can remember. There is no family in Ukraine that did not suffer from the 20th century's two world wars, Soviet revolutions and repressions and the Holodomor famine of the 1930s that killed millions. Flare-ups and worse with Russia over the past two decades spark immediate visceral reactions, sometimes overreactions, that come from history that never seems too far behind.


Yet over the past few weeks, these phrases have taken on a kind of urgency that is different from anything before for my parents' and my own generation, for whom war was still mostly distant, grainy images on TV. Even after Russia's invasion of Crimea, no one seriously thought "war." Of course, the fighting in the Donbas region along the Russian border has continued for years, but can also seem distant for my family in Kyiv.

Fear of the Russian flag over Kyiv

The build-up of troops on the border, has been accompanied by consistently fruitless negotiations over Vladimir Putin's ultimatums about Western missiles and keeping Ukraine out of NATO — and a flood of expert opinions about what President Joe Biden would do if Putin gives the order for invasion.

Of course, no one knows what Putin will do. Maybe he simply hasn't made up his mind yet.

But I can tell you what Ukraine would do. My countrymen have already decided.

When I look back, I realize that this happened almost unconsciously when my generation was growing up. We, who were born at the end of the Soviet era and never lived with its shackles, witnessed the birth of this new history and the idea that Ukraine can never return to the Soviet past, that the Russian flag over Kyiv is worse than death. Such statements are steeped in growing populism, if only they were not true. And I personally have sadly embraced this new patriotism.

The idea of freedom was born out of fear of returning to the Kremlin's blind machine.

It seems to me that this idea of freedom has nothing to do at all with the long history, the former glory of Kievan Rus', before the Russian Empire even began to exist. The idea of freedom was born out of fear of returning to the blind machine of the Kremlin shuffling people around in prisons, mental hospitals and gulags. Fear of becoming part of a system where oligarchs, cops, priests, journalists and bureaucrats would become untouchable, invincible, superhuman.

Return to such a reign would again make any and every Ukrainian lesser, second-rate, mute, powerless. We recognize Putin's new Russia looks too much like Stalin's regime. And the fear of it, by now, is built in to our DNA.

Should there be a war, Ukrainians will fight for their freedom

Serhii Hudak/Ukrinform via ZUMA

United by freedom

I can tell you that if Putin invades Ukraine tomorrow, my mother will take a frying pan and go to Maidan Square to beat the Russian troops. She will not opt to pack her bags and take refuge with me in my new home in France; and then I will have to return to Ukraine to defend my mother.

Perhaps you know the difference between bravery and hopelessness? This is not romantic bravado. This is terrible, very terrible hopelessness. We Ukrainians understand — absolutely, morbidly — that in the case of the Big War there will be a sea of blood. That blood will flow because Ukrainians would be united (finally!) in a shared desire to fight for our freedom. If he is dreaming of the Russian flag flying over Kyiv, Putin should understand this too.

I still hold out hope that there won't be a war; that Russia won't violate Ukraine's borders, that the diplomatic war dance will continue; that somehow, in time, the conflicts over Donbas and Crimea will be resolved without further bloodshed; that Putin will finally just die and someone a bit more mentally healthy will take his place, and then life will be better for us, for the Russians, the Belarusians, and all the rest of our friends and neighbors.

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