What’s going on in Ukraine? And what happens with Russia?
Between the 26th and the 29th of April, our delegation visited several civil society organisations and also institutions in Kyiv, and had dozens of hours of conversations with citizens, volunteers, activists, and among ourselves. We cannot aspire to say: Look, this is what happens in Ukraine. But we can tell you what we saw, what we learned, and the personal stories told by the people we met.
First of all, the Ukrainians we met were divided between the blow of fresh air of what Euro-Maidan meant to many people, and the will of political and social regeneration; and the tragedy of a war (or several wars) that started right at the end of the Euro-Maidan events.
Iryna, Aleksandra, Dimitriy and many more were among the million people that for more than one year were camping at the central square of Kyiv, with the demands for political regeneration. Their stories talk about the solidarity developed in the square, where everybody took food and tools to share; about hospitals ran by volunteers in churches so that injured people would not be taken by the police in the public hospitals; about the assassination of civilians by policemen and snippers; and about the manipulation of media, trying to extend the belief, in Ukraine and Russia, that the Euro-Maidan was a violent demonstration.
In Europe, I was one of those worried of what was the role of extreme right movements in the Euro-Maidan. The clearest answer I received: in the present Parliament after the elections, extreme right did not get any representation; if we compare this to what is happening in many countries in Europe (where far right enters with strength in several parliaments), it is easy to see that Ukraine is far from being dominated by these forces. Nevertheless, with the question of the war, and in the conflicts post-Maidan, there are some worrying facts regarding these groups. Violent incidents like those that finished with 49 pro-russian people killed by fire after the persecution by extreme right pro-ukrainians in Odessa; or, even more worrying, the existence among the so-called “voluntary batallions” (non-professional groups that join the army in the war) of 2 batallions dominated by extreme right groups; when we asked how many people they could have, the answer was “about 30.000”. What will happen when these groups will come back from war, empowered with war techniques, maybe arms, glorified as heroes, for sure with post-war traumas, etc.?
It might be the moment now to also clarify something: you will not see violence in the street in Kyiv, people can live there with the absence of a constant violence. And why it is important to say so? Because we are willing to insist that the support of international civil society is crucial to bring changes for peace.
Because…here we see the terrible “ears of the wolf”: the war. Or the conflicts that include a war. On the one hand, Crimea was annexed by Russia; on the other, two regions, Lugansk and Donetsk, declared their independence unilaterally, and nowadays there is a war, where the Russian army provides weapons and soldiers, unofficially but totally evidently. We were not in a war zone at all, but the perception of the harms of the war was there in Kyiv. On the one hand, maybe the most
humanly shocking, how our friends were affected by the feeling of being abandoned by their beloved ones; first, by their relatives in Russia, who influenced by the Russian propaganda have broken relationships; second, by an international community (meaning partners, organisations in the field, colleagues) of whom they do not receive a lot of support sometimes. At least we who are in the International Voluntary Service movement have to change this trend or perception. The conflict situation affects to the extent that a mistrust “of all Russians” a disappointment that “nobody helps us”, therefore the disease of generalisation starts to invade some perceptions. We are nobody to judge such perceptions (at least we should consider them an effect of the war), but nevertheless we can challenge them a bit by talking about several inspiring cooperations among Ukrainian and Russian organisations, which feed our stubborn hope for peace. We exchanged by Skype with Elisaveta, from the Lights of Eirene movement, a social movement in Russia, that defies the Putin regime asking for peace in Ukraine. Everybody against the war could be putting a candle on their window to state: I am against this war, I believe in peace. Amnesty International and the Crimean Human Rights Mission also explained that HR organisations in Russia (and Belarus and Georgia) cooperate with Ukrainian partners in reporting Human Rights situations in territories now under Russian or pro-russian control…There are stubborn activists, who believe in a grassroots peace, in Ukraine, in Russia! and… do we make part of those who believe in it worldwide?
The consequences of war go far beyond, with now thousands of deaths, with 1.5 million Internally Displaced People (IDPs) and with broken human stories and relationships. We will talk more in depth in next articles about the IDPs, about their
situation of having lost everything where they used to live, their difficulty to establish a new life, home, jobs, education, and to fight in some cases the prejudices of their hosting communities; and also about the amazing initiatives that, like Crimea SOS, empower them to build new opportunities, and are grassroot responses of integration and solidarity.
Again, we come back to a society that, even with the war, is trying to believe in the social change that the events of Euro-Maidan helped to imagine, …and to open some doors, even if, as everybody says “a change of system is a very slow process”, and with lots of threats.
With the very humble iniciative we are launching here, we basically aim at connecting people to create stronger winds of change, first by understanding, second by generating initiatives of cooperation, of support, in terms of facilitating spaces for dialogue and cooperation between activists and organisations in Ukraine, in Russia, and in European countries, where we have powerful networks through which we try to build everyday peace.
Being in Ukraine was not a dangerous experience at all for us. There was no open violence in the streets of Kyiv; this means that it might be time to start to think of seminars, to help exchanging volunteers, to support the organisations who are in the field. It is not about us thinking that we know what the change should be and take it there: it is about to support spaces so that genuine solutions by their activists and civil society will be strengthened and developed in the territories of Ukraine, of Russia… of Europe. It is also our turn!
Oriol Josa, Coordinator of the Raising Peace Campaign