Not giving up on Ukrainians

23:50, 31 October 2016
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Protection and rescue of own citizens are the most important tasks of any state. It is believed that the United States boasts the highest standards in this regard, being ready to deploy aircraft carriers anywhere in the world to secure the release of its citizens. The criterion is citizenship, rather than any political preferences or the state of their residence back in their homeland. It does not matter, whether it’s Texas or Alaska.

It’s not so well in Ukraine’s case. And it's not that the country has no aircraft carriers. On the one hand, over the past two and a half years, the country has well learned the Kremlin’s bloody lesson, having already paid a price too high. Ukraine has learned to defend itself by all means available. On the other hand, millions of citizens of Ukraine living in Crimea and in the parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions bordering with Russia are forced to live under occupation anyway. There are no effective mechanisms of assistance to  these Ukrainians. Neither there are any reliable data on their life conditions. Ukrainian journalists don’t cover the life in the occupied territories, while local residents receive no TV signal from government-controlled Ukraine. No one really knows what’s happening there.

It is horrifying to see how certain Ukrainian politicians start drawing conclusions and making them public, based on propaganda-driven bias. Recently, the Ukrainian Facebook community was hit by a wave of angry comments under the images of thousands of people in Donetsk who came to a pompous funeral of Russian mercenaries.

Millions of citizens of Ukraine in Crimea and parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions bordering with Russia are forced to live under occupation

Some of the most "intelligent and patriotic" MPs said they did not want to share the country with such people, naturally suggesting to "get rid" of Donbas. However, in order to get rid of something, this something must be in your possession. Today the occupied Donbass can be called anything but Ukraine. No one seemed to take their time to consider that the “extras” for the funeral were largely the workers from the so-called public sector who were simply forced to attend. A technology well-tested by the Party of Regions was applied when "foremen" were appointed to monitor the attendance. Skipping the event would mean layoff.

There are nearly 3 million Ukrainian citizens living in eastern Ukraine right now. It would be foolish not to recognize that some of them were happy to turn sides and collaborate with invaders. But it certainly would be a crime to abandon all of the Donbas residents. The experience of the liberated town of Slavyansk shows that once the Russian tricolor mast is pulled from the central tower, the whole city gets repainted in Ukraine’s yellow and blue colors.

There is a very similar pattern in the issue of releasing Ukrainian political prisoners from Russian prisons. The reason is simple. Many believe that Ukraine was "burned" with the release of Nadia Savchenko. Indeed, it took an enormous effort  to get Nadia back home. The long process of liberation of the Kremlin prisoner resulted in an actual creation of the image of Ukrainian Jeanne d'Arc, who was blunt enough to flip off her captors right from the cell. Many admired her defiance and courage, contemplating Nadia as the future Ukrainian defense minister or even the president. While in prison, Savchenko became a people’s deputy and received the country’s highest awards. Upon her return to Ukraine, the process of her de-heroization hit warp speed and there came major disappointment. Perhaps, there is a demand for a messiah in the Ukrainian society, some hero who would come and magically save Ukrainians. Meanwhile, the main mistake is to forget that the goal of all these efforts and the enormous media support is the liberation of the Ukrainian citizen, whatever their name is.

Many believe that Ukraine was "burned" with the release of Nadia Savchenko

Once back home, she can exercise her right to say anything, she has the right to closely cooperate with people who appear questionable to many. In turn, the Ukrainian voters also have the right to never again vote for her, or for the party, which once put Savchenko on top of its electoral list. And even if this whole story stinks today, it does not mean that the Ukrainian state can leave any Ukrainians in the Russian prisons.

Here’s what happened: the latest arrested Ukrainian in Russia was a journalist Roman Sushchenko. However, many politicians in Ukraine are very cautious in their statements in his defense. There is a similar approach to other Ukrainians behind bars in Russia. Indeed, what if they suddenly show themselves as the "agents of the Kremlin" after their release, or what if they’ll not be patriotic enough, or say something not very pleasant to the current authorities?..

Rehabilitation of Ukrainian citizens following the occupation or the Russian dungeons is a long and complex process. It is a challenge for the whole society. People should not create idols and put them on a pedestal, not to feel the bad aftertaste later. Not everyone can be the real heroes, but they are still citizens of Ukraine.

Roman Tsymbaliuk, Moscow

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