Voices of Conflict

Voices of Conflict: “There is no space for fear left.”

We are shocked that since the 24th February 2022, there is again a war in Europe. Putin attacked the Ukraine, a sovereign country, without any legitimate reason. We say Putin, because we know this is not a war of Russians against Ukrainians. There are strong bonds between the citizens of both countries – families, friendship, solidarity and shared culture and history. In this Voices of Conflict series, we want to give these people a platform to raise there voice and to share their war story, thoughts and hopes with us. We value these perspectives a lot and respect these individuals’ exceptional circumstances. We hope you do, too.

Olha is a 27 years old Ukrainian. She has a Bachelor’s and Master’s in History from the Taras Shevchenko national university of Kyiv. Her first Master Thesis was on the Nuremberg trials and Germany’s post-war rebuilding. She came to Germany in order to conduct a second Master in European Studies at Europa-Universität Flensburg. The second Master Thesis was about the crisis in Ukraine (before the ongoing war) and the role of the international organizations in the conflict resolution. Currently, she works as an analyst of conflicts at the University of Kiel.

JEF NRW: How are you and your family/friends currently affected by the war in Ukraine?

Olha: The full-scale attack of the Russian army left nobody in Ukraine safe. Each and every single Ukrainian is now affected. Families have to spend their nights in bunkers, people do not go to work and as such do not earn money, meaning they even cannot get some specific medicine – it is now in deficit. The schooling is stopped, the children have not only lost their much needed stability, but also they have issues with sleeping (because of constant alarms). Since the Russian army openly attacks civilian houses, hospitals, schools, kindergartens and even the maternity wards (!) – there is literally no safe place in Ukraine left. The rocket attacks are irrational and unpredictable, even the western regions of Ukraine are not safe. People in the besieged cities in Eastern Ukraine experience a huge humanitarian catastrophe, there are shortages for food, water, medicine, and behind their backs stand Russian soldiers with guns. People are scared and tired, but are not ready to give up.

On the other hand, there is a very big Ukrainian diaspora abroad. They collect funds, organize humanitarian aid, help refugees, go to the protests, try to explain abroad why Russia does this to Ukraine and that Ukraine for centuries was attacked and violated by its north-eastern neighbour.  They also try to work while being massively worried about their beloved ones, since there is a need for financing Ukraine, and now it is the task of the Ukrainian diaspora, not to allow the Ukrainian economy to fail. As such, there is NO Ukrainian, in Ukraine or abroad, who is not affected by this brutal, irrational, unfair aggression by Russia.

JEF NRW: How do you deal with the war situation? What do you think about it?

Olha: I cannot just simply “deal” with it, as it means to forget it or ignore it. A lot of Ukrainians in safety now have a psychological trauma called “survivor’s guilt”. I do my best to be useful. I help the Ukrainian refugees in Germany, I help my Ukrainian friends to leave Ukraine if needed, collect money and organize humanitarian aid to Ukraine, conduct translations upon request, speak to German politicians and journalists, I go to the protests. I also try to keep the moral of my family by delivering only good news. It is often hard to respond to my mom’s questions why the German state is the least supportive government in Europe… I try to tell her instead how much the German citizens help Ukrainians despite the questionable decisions of their government.

What I think? I think it is unfair, how Russia brutally attacked Ukraine. Even though, being a historian and a researcher in security, I knew it was inevitable. I feel offended, that Ukraine is still treated by some western governments as something minor, unimportant, and a nation that actually belongs to Russia. It is a huge misperception of colonialists and imperialists. At the moment, Ukraine stands not only for Ukraine, but also for the whole of Europe. If Ukraine falls – the next bite of Putin will be Moldova, Baltic states, Poland…

I am concerned that people will soon start treating the ongoing atrocities in Ukraine as something routine, moving towards a fresher topic of “oppressed” Russians.

It is also getting harder day by day, because the war continues, but the attention of publicity in the world shifts from the bombardments of Ukraine to a potential growth of hate towards the regular Russians. I am concerned that people will soon start treating the ongoing atrocities in Ukraine as something routine, moving towards a fresher topic of “oppressed” Russians. Somehow, humanity is getting ready to put the sign of equality between a Ukrainian, whose house was smashed with bombs, and a Russian, who has no ability to travel now, between a killed pregnant woman with her unborn child in Mariupol and a Russian influencer, whose cards were rejected in Bali.

JEF NRW: Do you take action, and if so, what kind of action?

Olha: Except for the actions, that I described above, I also work as an analyst at the Institute for Security Policy at the University of Kiel. I would like to deliver to the German government (and some citizens) the actual picture of the Russian imperialist intentions and how its army was overestimated. Moreover, the revision of a current security order, international law and organizations (such as UN, NATO, the OSCE or even the EU) is inevitable. Our generation will have a lot of work with it, and we better do it right this time.

JEF NRW: Can you tell us more about the path towards the war? What were the past 8 years like?

Olha: Putin has a clear goal that he never hid from anybody: he wants to bring the Russian empire back. With the help of the Russian propaganda and already high level of chauvinism in Russian society (it is enough to read the Russian literature), it was really easy to convince the society to support his aggressive intentions.

I am sincerely impressed, that only today, after huge atrocities in Ukraine had to happen, after thousands of lives were taken, the western world wakes up

The path towards the Ukrainian war has started not 8 years ago, but in 2007, when Putin announced at the Munich security conference his desire to broaden the Russian “sphere of interests”. Already having the experience with Transnistria and Chechnya, Russia conducted a hybrid operation in Georgia. Meanwhile, in Belarus and Ukraine, Putin was satisfied with its “puppet” government. But when in 2013 the Ukrainians chose democracy and freedom over the pro-Russian regime of the oppressors, Putin understood, that it is time to act. Shortly Crimea was “eaten” and the Donetsk and Luhansk regions were prepared to be taken. A swift and strong response of Ukraine slowed down Putin’s plans, but it did not mean he lost. During these 8 years, Russia noticed, that the West never properly called them out for the aggressions. Moreover, North Stream II was announced, and Putin was close to even making the all of Europe dependent on him and his gas. During these eight years, Russian society was also nourished with the propaganda about the greatness of Russia, its exceptionalism, and lies, that NATO wants to destroy them. These eight years were nicely used by Putin to prepare for the further invasion, and they were completely wasted by the West.

I am sincerely impressed, that only today, after huge atrocities in Ukraine had to happen, after thousands of lives were taken, the western world wakes up and learns, that, apparently, Russia is an aggressor, and that apparently, they want the whole of Ukraine and much more…

JEF NRW: Did you expect an escalation of the conflict like this?

Olha: Yes, I did. It was inevitable, based on both history and the Russian rhetoric.

Moreover, I am convinced, that Russia will conduct even more horrific atrocities in Ukraine if we will not stop them from doing so. The bitter truth is, that the Russian invasion in Ukraine is actually a last “hiccup” of the colonial order. While the European countries already had their own fight for colonialism 100 years ago, in World War I, Russia (due to its delayed historical evolution), has its last fight for colonialism now. The Russian aggression is based on the imperialistic beliefs inside the country, as such, this war is going to not only complete the Ukrainian formation as a democratic state, but also will finish the chapter of the Russian imperialism. Needless to say, it will draw a new security order in the world.

JEF NRW: Are you in contact with people from Ukraine (and Russia)? 

Olha: Obviously, with the Ukrainians. I also force myself to read and watch Russian media (by the state and opposition) in order to create an objective overview to the ongoing events, but it is not easy to process the Russian propaganda when you have a privilege of consuming diverse free media in different languages.

I personally do not know many people from Russia though. I had a couple of Russian classmates at the German university. Some of them fully support the Russian “operation” and call the Ukrainians “neonazis”, others say “No War” but never actually acknowledged that Russia has to stop its aggression.

This “No War” statement is more dangerous than it looks, since it means that a person never bothered to look deeper and understand the actual cause of the catastrophe. It is not that Russia and Ukraine have some minor disputes over borderline. Russia created faulty reasons for aggression (“denazification”, “demilitarization” of Ukraine, extermination of NATO bases or biological weapon…), the Russian troops on the Russian tanks marched without an announcement into the Ukrainian sovereign territories, and started killing civilians, violating the Geneva Convention uncountable amount of time. There is a very clear aggressor who needs to stop this war, to stop attacking. Because if Ukraine stops defending, there will be no Ukraine.

There is no space for fear left. It is war time, and in war time, there is no grey, there is black or white. There is truth or false. There is life or death.

Interestingly, one of the most furious supporters of current Russian aggression, who got in contact with me, is a Russian girl, who was participating in a student exchange at one of the German universities. For me, it is really hard (and sad) to comprehend, that one of the greatest youth exchange projects, Europe’s soft power, Erasmus, did not help her to grasp and develop the main value of the Europeans – you carry a personal responsibility for your society. You cannot just take the best from it, be proud about Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, the Russian ballet and opera singers, and distance yourself from the actions of your President and state: “This is not the war of Russian people”. The Russian people pay taxes, used for the army, they work on the propagandist media, vote for Putin, work in a huge state apparatus, and hit the maternity hospitals with the rockets in Ukraine. Millions openly support this “operation” yet only couple of thousands show up at the protests. Even if you are silent about the Russian atrocities in Ukraine, it means you are implicitly in support of it. “Adults”, whether it is people or nations, have not only rights, but also duties and responsibility. It is time for the Russians to finally grow up and complete its formation as a civil society. It is time for the Russian fight as well: against propaganda, years of oppression, and against its own fear.

There is no space for fear left. It is war time, and in war time, there is no grey, there is black or white. There is truth or false. There is life or death.

JEF NRW: What kind of end to the war do you expect? Do you see possibilities for a peaceful war resolution? What could this look like?

Olha: From a scientific perspective, a “peaceful resolution” can happen only to the conflicts that are not yet a war. At the moment, there is a full-scale war and the resolution of the dispute is already not peaceful. It can end up only with the peace treaty after one of the sides start losing considerably. From the situation with the Russian economy and army, they are running out of resources and will try to make peace rather sooner than later. Then it will be only the questions on which conditions Ukraine will agree to sign it.

JEF NRW: What future do you hope for, also regarding the role of the European Union?

Olha: Unfortunately, the EU took a role of a very weak player in this situation. There are high chances, that this unit will not survive, unless significant changes will happen in the field of European security. I think the EU will survive only if it will develop its own defence.

JEF NRW: What action do you expect from the European Union?

Olha: The EU must be brave and resilient enough to meet the upcoming challenges and be capable of re-adjust. There is no way this unit will stay sufficient without further enlargement. The EU must also review its defence policy, reconsider the transatlantic cooperation in the field of security, and become COMPLETELY independent in the energy sector. Moreover, it is the moment for the EU to revise international law and initiate the creation of a real punitive mechanism in the world, that would have a mandate to stop future authoritarian regimes from atrocities and annexations. If not the EU – who else should take a lead in the fight for peace and democracy?

The war in Ukraine must show the whole democratic world, and Europe specifically, that freedom is not free, and this privilege must be ardently protected. 

Olha Husieva