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VOICES

Remember what our soldiers told the Snake Island ship? That's how I feel reading calls for us to capitulate

Ukrainian writer and journalist Polina Bashkina has made her home in Ireland in recent months – she says her nation is physically incapable of giving up.

THREE GENERATIONS OF my family – my 70-year-old mother, my six-year-old son, and myself – spent the first two nights of the war in a cold field at a temperature of minus two, clinging to our native land. Not out of love, but out of fear.

The blast waves stroked our heads, but there was not a drop of tenderness in them.

We did not want to be under the rubble of our own house if the missile hit it.

The third night we spent in our cellar – two by two metres in size.

I dreamed that our three-storey house’s walls were trembling and about to collapse
on our heads. When I woke up, I could not understand whether it was a dream or
reality for a long time.

Never-ending war

To understand what is happening in Ukraine, it is necessary to understand the
philological paradox in Lewis Carroll’s style: “It was the 17th day of the 8-year war
that lasted centuries.”

It was a strange feeling, in the early days of the war – as we cleaned up our basement and tidied away Grandpa’s Second World War belongings, grimly packing them away to make way for what felt like the start of the Third World War. Monstrous symbolism. 

When my six-year-old son found out about a child’s death from the Russian shelling,
he exclaimed: “Did the child die?! It’s enough! Now I’m definitely going to fight! I’ll tear out their eyes and give them to our dog Vega to eat.”

I was amazed why there was so much militancy in a small child.

Then I realised that we, Ukrainians, are now taking retaliation for all the injustice and oppression; we are pouring out the anger that has accumulated over the centuries, during which successive Russian rulers and governments have tried to destroy our nation.

These days we are fighting for today and tomorrow but also for our past – dating back hundreds of years. 

We are fighting because of the Zaporizka Sich, destroyed by Catherine the Second; because of Stalinist repressions; because of the Red Army killings in Western Ukraine; because of all the Kremlin agents in our ranks; because of Putin himself. There are countless other reasons – big and small.  

And – because these powers of oppression have always treated us as second-
class people – every Ukrainian has dozens of stories from the past that confirm this.

For some reason, I remembered for the rest of my life how relatives
pressed me with irritation that I pronounced the word “rain” («дождь») as [dosch]
(Ukrainian pronunciation), not [dozhd] (Russian accent).

I was six, and we had fled to Moscow to relatives after the explosion at the Chornobyl
nuclear power plant.

Now, sadly, these relatives have not called or written a single line to ask if we are alive. It is both understandable and regrettable that our neighbours across the border cannot even ask a simple question, ‘How are you?’

the-retroville-district-after-the-bombings-kyiv The Retroville district, in Kyiv, Ukraine, after a night of bombardments which left 8 dead, on March 24. Thomas Morel-Fort Thomas Morel-Fort

Warmth of Ireland

It is impossible to believe this when you are in Ireland, where even strangers treat
you with such warmth.

Once upon a time, our second president, Leonid Kuchma, wrote a book with the strange title ‘Ukraine is not Russia’. The title was weird even for us Ukrainians.

And now, in these days when the nation, which gained independence 30 years ago, is
finally being formed, we understand the full depth of these words.

We are similar in appearance. Most of us speak the same language because of Russification. We have the same Soviet past and cultural context.

There is a lot in common. But our differences are growing much deeper.

In Ukraine, a horizontal system of government prevails (people, self-organisation); in
Russia – vertical (tsar, “strong hand”, etc.).

But the main difference between our nations at this moment is the WILL, the physical inability to be broken, to become enslaved, no matter how many centuries we had to bear the yoke of imperial ambition.

Compromise isn’t an option

We are physically incapable of giving up. Therefore, when we in Ukraine read articles
by ‘political scientists’ of some European countries that we need to capitulate to save
lives or agree to negotiate with the killers, believe me, we want to send them the same message our soldiers sent that Russian warship from Snake Island.

Not because we don’t value human lives. We do, but we also have a higher value: it is
freedom — a WILL.

In the Ukrainian language, the “Will” (volya) means both the power of will and freedom at the same time.

Therefore, we will stand and fight as long as needed so that this centuries-old war will not just end up in peace but in the victory of light and justice.

Surrender or compromise is impossible for us physically and naturally.

We do not need peace without a victory. That is why we have one way only. We must fight Russia’s imperial designs to control us and refuse to bow to Putin. 

Regardless of political decisions, Ukrainians will fight to victory. This is not a
question of survival. This is a question of the dignity of our nation.

Polina Bashkina is a Ukrainian writer and journalist. Her book 12 Months. A Year
of Sense was published at the end of 2021. Previously, Polina worked in business
and political PR and marketing. She headed the press service of the General
Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine, worked in the Ukraine President’s Administration,
and also on elections in three countries.

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