Our toughest challenge

7 December 2022, 02:13 PM

There is no country on Earth where there is currently a war on that has shown the same level of self-reflection as Ukrainians have. We have proven ourselves to be extremely conscious and thoughtful.

It seemed to me that I was already quite surprised by our society in previous years, when, for example, during the Maidan protests or in 2014, at the beginning of this war. Even then, these things brought about, for example, volunteering, incredible activity, and the dedication of many of our people. But, of course, this big war requires all this in multiple domains at tenfold strength.

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I remember the last time I was in Kyiv before the war, somewhere around February 19-20. And before that, during January-February, I went to Kyiv several times, where I recorded the audio of my novel Radio Night at a studio. And each time I was settled in the same hotel, which is next to the railway station.

And when I was there on February 19-20, and a tense atmosphere could already be felt, I noticed how, compared to January, there were fewer people in the hotel and, in fact, there were almost no foreigners to be found. If in January they were the main presence at this hotel, and I heard more English or Italian, this time I noticed that the hotel guests and staff communicated with each other in Ukrainian – which was also not the case back in January.

Due to its location, this hotel (if we are talking about Ukrainian residents arriving in Kyiv at the railway station) can reflect a sort of average Ukraine. Therefore, I thought that the transition to the Ukrainian language was a form of not only protest, but self-defense. After all, when people understand an impending threat, they take certain asymmetric steps in response. For example, in order not to give the aggressor a chance, they choose Ukrainian as their language of communication. And for me it was so optimistic that I thought: it means these people are ready to defend themselves and their identity. I don't know them. We met by chance in this hotel at the same time. But without saying a word, everyone switched to Ukrainian. It kind of happened by itself.

And if everything works out in our favor (and I strongly believe it will), then we will be absolutely stronger and, above all, we will get what is called conviction and confidence in ourselves.

Although at first glance, these are not the most significant things in this situation, they testified to the plasticity of our society and its ability to recognize a threat and, perhaps, even its inevitability.

And of course, today Ukrainian society is going through the most difficult test imaginable. Of course, we are not the only country where there is a war (Syria comes to mind first), but we are the only country from the advanced, most civilized world. And at the same time, no other society in the countries where a war is going on is at such a level of self-reflection as the Ukrainians. We have shown ourselves to be very conscious, thoughtful, capable, on the one hand, of sober and rational self-assessment, and on the other hand, of intuitive and “irrational” manifestations of patriotism.

How Ukrainians will emerge from this war

Much depends on how long the war will last and how it will end. It is vital for us to imagine victory so that we have a charge of moral strengthening for the future. After all, the consequences of the war are actually devastating for all of us. These are first and foremost human losses, and we are talking not only about the dead, but also about many who are mutilated, humiliated, and broken. And for this we need to oppose something, so we really need to leave this situation as victors. And if everything works out in our favor (and I strongly believe it will), then we will be absolutely stronger and, above all, we will get what is called conviction and confidence in ourselves and in the fact that we are special for what we have endured and survived.

When the first successes of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and all the episodes of peasants on tractors seizing enemy tanks began to appear at the beginning of the war, this led to a general euphoria that we here can do whatever it is we want to with this Russia. And I got this image of Ukrainians who had suddenly become a kind of world champions: everyone admired us, everyone supported us, everyone fell silent when the Ukrainian anthem played, etc. But this cannot last forever. Therefore, apart from spontaneous and brilliant manifestations, you need to show patience, endurance, and a cold mind. And I think we will get all of this. When the war ends, we will have become so mature and self-confident, and will become one of the leaders of the world community.

On Ukrainians’ Strengths

If we talk about military operations, about military resistance, then Ukrainians’ strength lies in the stubbornness inherent in them for centuries –  that is, an unwillingness to reconcile, submit and accept the conditions that someone dictates to us. This stubbornness can manifest itself destructively in our domestic life, but applied against an external threat, it works in a positive way. Therefore, the enemy cannot force us out of Severodonetsk today and have the final word, because our defenders are stationed there, and they are stubborn. Though they may say that this city has neither tactical nor strategic importance, stubbornness keeps it in Ukrainian hands.

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With this stubbornness, there is another thing – what Ukrainians might call shkidlivist’, or a potential to do harm. In relation to the aggressor, we show absolutely all our shkidlivist’.

And when those tractor drivers again appear before my eyes, with captured tanks in tow, I understand that this is really a centuries-old culture of farmers deeply rooted in their genetic code, who at the same time could not help but be warriors. In other, normal societies, this responsibility was distributed: some worked, while others fought. And those who worked shared the fruits of their labor so that the fighters would protect them. Ukrainians were forced to combine this - they had to handle the plow and the scythe just as deftly as the sword and spear. And this suddenly manifests itself in these modern pictures. The readiness to fight at any time is associated with dexterity and skill in all sorts of practical things, with knowing what is needed, how to do it, and where to get it – hence the volunteer movement, which is performing real miracles.

Ten days ago, I read that one of the American intelligence services, analyzing the first 100 days of the war, apologized for the fact that when it was formulating its forecast of military operations in Ukraine, it failed to sufficiently account for the Ukrainian will to resist. And that's exactly what's holding us together now.

On Ukrainians’ weaknesses

First of all, it should be said that we are all different people. We have some who are stronger and some who are weaker. There are those (and fortunately, I think there are more of them) who donate, collect, and distribute funds, and who work, and there are those who steal. We have and still have the habits of the oligarchic system: all sorts of methods to find loopholes and deceive: this corruption. All this, in its own way, also works against us.

Take, for example, refugees. I don’t want to say something very bad now, but, for example, there a phenomenon whereby when some people left for Poland during the war, began to receive official assistance there, and then, seeing that it was generally safe in the western regions of Ukraine, they began periodically to leave Poland with the money received and invest it somewhere here. They made a business out of being refugees. This, probably, will diminish, because one way or another, I believe that the war still does its educational work with all of us.

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