In this piece from our own Ukraine correspondent Slava Myrolub, they explain how the intensity of the media’s propaganda and the skillfully crafted speeches regularly being delivered by President Volodymyr Zelensky is impacting on many of those who are exposed to it, almost subliminally. They also discusses the dark realities behind what caused the conflict and why it is continuing.
By Slava Myrolub
Published on NCW, Apr 3, 2022
When reading Ukrainian media and president Volodymyr Zelensky’s speeches, one cannot help but feel upbeat about Ukraine’s great mission of defending freedom and humanity against the Mordor from the North, against Orcs who kill children and journalists, shell Ukrainian cities, fire at civilians who are trying to leave their neighborhoods under siege by Russians using forbidden phosphorus bombs, purposefully blowing up hospitals and bomb shelters, raping women and plundering houses. The aggressor is so cruel and indifferent to human life that its forces leave hundreds of their own dead and wounded while retreating from the battlefields. Russians are now called racists in much of Ukraine’s media and are seen as solely responsible for bringing death and destruction, while Ukraine is defending life and freedom – not only for the whole of Europe, but for the whole of Western civilization.
Ukraine is united, now more than ever. It defends itself militarily by counter-attacking the army of Mordor, by sending humanitarian convoys, by evacuating people from dangerous zones, by caring for Russian prisoners of war, by commemorating every day on a national scale with a minute’s silence, all those who have given their lives defending Ukraine. ‘Have you seen anything like this on Russian TV? Have you seen anything like this in their schools’, asks Zelensky rhetorically in his video address to the European Parliament on March 25.
The answer would be ‘No’ because the Russians are Nazis, ‘Racists’ who want to destroy Ukraine. The Russian military does not know what dignity is, what conscience is. While Ukrainians value freedom, Russians are happy to live in slavery. Two different worlds; two different sets of values.
Zelensky has been delivering a great many of these fiery speeches in recent days, addressing the parliaments of various Western countries, making historical references to each country’s own tragic experiences of foreign invasion or suffering. Equally, he is attempting to appeal to each country’s love of justice, freedom, and life, stirring emotions, presenting Ukraine as part of a free world, an outpost of fight against aggression of the dark dictatorial Putin’s Russia. We are all Ukrainians, we are all Europeans, all Europe is Ukraine, all the ‘free world’ is Ukraine!
Zelensky speeches are skillfully written by PR professionals who know how to spin a topic and sway people’s compassion towards the innocent victim, as Zelensky portrays Ukraine, and righteous indignation against the evil executioner Russia, which has launched an ‘unprovoked’ special military operation in Ukraine.
And yet this extensive attack on Ukraine, that took ordinary Russians themselves by surprise and shocked many Russia sympathizers across the world, was hardly unprovoked. President Vladimir Putin, before announcing the official recognition of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics in his address to the Russian and Ukrainian people on February 21, spoke of Ukraine’s unwillingness to implement the Minsk agreements that the country’s authorities had signed on February 12, 2015. These agreements were debated during long hours of difficult negotiations between Ukraine’s then President Petro Poroshenko, the leaders of the non-recognized republics, Vladimir Putin, the French President François Hollande, and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. On February 17, the Minsk agreements were unanimously endorsed by 15 members of the UN Security Council in resolution 2202(2015), as a peaceful settlement of the confrontation between Kyiv and the rebellious Donbass.
Kyiv was compelled to sign these agreements for diplomatic reasons by Western Europe and Russia, and for military reasons by Russia. Why militarily? These agreements should, in fact, be called Minsk-2 as the first attempt at a peaceful resolution of conflict in Donbass was made in September 2014 when the first Minsk agreements were signed.
Ukraine signed them after Russian troops made a brief excursion into Eastern Ukraine to prevent the defeat of the Donetsk and Lugansk insurgency at the hands of the Ukrainian army. From Kyiv’s perspective, they had signed these agreements at gunpoint, and they had no intention of honouring them. The Ukrainian army continued its fight against the insurgency, and in early February 2015 Russia had to make another short military incursion into Ukrainian territory to stop the Ukrainian army and oblige Kyiv to agree to a cease-fire.
As the subsequent events have shown, Kyiv had no intention of implementing the second Minsk Agreement—Minsk-2—either. Ukrainian officials continued to interpret the agreements to their advantage, changing the order of measures clearly outlined in the accords; the Ukrainian army continued shelling residential areas of Donetsk; the Ukrainian delegation kept simulating its work on settling the details of the peaceful resolution of conflict in the so-called contact group with the representatives of Donetsk, Lugansk, Russia, and OSCE.
Yet it was Kyiv who started that conflict on April 14, 2014 by launching the so-called anti-terrorist operation and directing the Ukrainian army against the civilian population of Donetsk and Lugansk who did not accept the anti-Russian rhetoric and legislative initiative of the post-Euromaidan government in Kyiv. That government itself was illegitimate: it was formed by the opposition who broke the agreement with President Yanukovych, brokered by the foreign ministers of Poland, France, and Germany and signed by the opposition and Yanukovych on February 21, 2014. On the same day, after signing the agreement, President Yanukovych ordered the retreat of law enforcement and special units from Maidan. In the night of February 22, the protesters on Maidan, pumped up by the tension of many days of stalemate with the security forces, assaulted and took over the government quarter in Kyiv. By this time, Yanukovych had fled the Presidential Administration, so the opposition hastily declared him outlawed, which was illegal, and formed a new government.
On February 23, this illegal government abolished the law on languages in Ukraine. This law had granted the right to use Russian and other ethnic minority languages in the public administration, education institutions, and media in regions where the ethnic minority constituted more than 10%. Russian had been recognized as a regional language in all regions of Southeastern Ukraine. The debates of this law in the Verkhovna Rada were heated and impassioned: defenders of the right to speak Russian and the deputies who wanted to maintain the monolingual national status of the Ukrainian language fought physically against each other.
All this shows how vitally important the issue of language is in Ukraine. And when the interim post-Euromaidan government suspended the language law, it sent a clear signal to the Southeast that the new power in Kyiv was not theirs. Consequently, Odessa, Mykolayiv, Mariupol, Kharkiv saw a wave of pro-Russian demonstrations, which became known as the Russian spring. Then there was a referendum in Crimea for its reunification with Russia. And there was a tragedy in Odessa on May 2, when more than forty pro-Russian activists were burned alive and killed in the Trade Union building fire by extremist right-wing radicals from the Euromaidan camp. Perpetrators of this massacre are walking freely in the streets of Odessa today.
And then there was the new language law of 2019, which practically banned the Russian language from the public and educational spheres in Ukraine, a country in which one quarter of the population uses Russian at home and almost 30% use both Ukrainian and Russian. Now Europeans welcome Ukrainian refugees in Ukrainian cultural centres and provide them with Ukrainian speaking translators, while refugees speak among themselves in Russian, go to Russian cultural centres, buy food in Russian stores. In Moldova, most Ukrainian refugees, while enrolling their kids in local schools, are asking for a Russian medium education.
Meanwhile in Ivano-Frankivsk, an almost exclusively Ukrainian speaking city in Western Ukraine, the mayor askedlocal citizens not to incite enmity within the country by reacting negatively to the Russian language, which internal refugees use, and spoke about the ‘gentle Ukrainization’ of Russian speaking refugees through schools, churches, and other means. In Lviv, Iryna Farion, a former Ukrainian politician known for her scandalous Russophobic remarks, criticized Ukrainian refugees in Poland for speaking Russian and called upon them to stop doing it, because they are providing Putin with a reason to attack Poland. Putin might do it because this is why he attacked Ukraine – to protect Russian speaking people.
She is, to be honest, not that far from the truth. In his long speech of February 21, addressed to both Russians and Ukrainians, Putin evoked how Russian speaking Ukrainians were deprived of their right to have education in their native language, how the law on the Indigenous people in Ukraine, by omitting ethnic Russians, made it clear that they are strangers in their own land.
The Russian President also stated a truth, obvious to anyone who knows the history of Ukraine and has an unobstructed vision not obscured by national wishful thinking and grandeur: Ukraine is a product of the Soviet system. It was Lenin who added Donbass to Ukraine. It was Stalin who following the victory in the Great Patriotic War, brought Halychyna, Zakarpattia and Bukovyna to Ukraine. It was Khrushchev who gifted Crimea to Ukraine in a generous gesture to commemorate the 300-year anniversary of the signing of the Pereyaslav Treaty between the Russian tsar Alexei and the hetman of the Zaporozhian Cossacks, Bohdan Khmelnytsky (according to this treaty, Russia took orthodox Malorrosiya, as right-bank Ukraine was called then, under its rule to protect it from the social, economic, and the religious oppression of Catholic Poland). There was an attempt to create a Ukrainian state before the formation of the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian People’s Republic of 1917-1921, but this Republic was defeated by the Bolsheviks.
Modern Ukraine was formed within the Soviet Union and became one of its richest republics. It had an advanced industry and modern technology and science; it had well developed agriculture; it had a highly educated population. There were almost fifty-two million people living in Ukraine by the end of the Soviet Union.
According to official statistics, Post-Soviet Ukraine now has a population of close to forty-two million. Up to six million Ukrainians work abroad, the majority – in Western and Central Europe, doing unqualified jobs that Europeans do not want to do, such as picking strawberries, house cleaning and caring for the sick and elderly, and building work. All the nuclear electric stations in Ukraine were built in the Soviet period, as well as the industrial and civil infrastructure. Ukraine became modern under the Soviet system.
After obtaining its independence in 1991, not through the heroic national liberation movement, as historical revisionists favoring the nationalistic version of country’s history pretend, but through the dismantling of the Soviet system from above, Ukrainian intellectual and political elites started building a new Ukraine. Communism was discredited, and the only available ideology was that of Ukrainian nationalism. Initially, this nationalism was not aggressive – presidents Kravchuk and Kuchma navigated more or less skilfully the emotionally charged issues surrounding the Russian language and the socially divisive question of the Bandera insurgency. It was Yushchenko who broke this line. He tried to rehabilitate Bandera and those who fought against the Soviet army and collaborated with Nazis. It was under his presidency that the Great Famine of 1932-33, which hit not only Ukraine but all wheat-producing regions of Russia, was framed officially as genocide against the Ukrainian people. Under Yanukovych this nationalization of Ukrainian history was scaled back. But even he, who was seen as pro-Russian, broke his electoral promise to make Russian the second official language in Ukraine.
The post-Euromaidan elite continued the derussification and desovietisation of Ukraine, which culminated in the adoption of the so-called decommunization laws in 2015. These laws equated Soviet power with the Nazi regime, banned the communist ideology and condemned the Soviet system, while making Bandera a national hero. Seventy years of Soviet Ukraine were blasted, and Ukrainians were made to feel ashamed of who they are. Ukraine cancelled itself.
And now, because the Ukrainian political and intellectual elites have failed to engage Ukrainians in a meaningful and constructive dialogue about an inclusive and progressive Ukrainian national project and how to build it, Russia is forcing Ukraine by sword and fire to give Russian language an official status and to recognize Donetsk and Lugansk’s right to live according to their values and speak Russian, to honour the Soviet fighters against Nazism and to maintain and develop close ties with Russia.
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