Ukraine’s New Sense of Nation – POLITICO

Russia faced no military resistance in annexing Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula after it invaded in 2014. And when the Kremlin seized a large part of the Donbas region through proxies, for many months, there was only disorganized military defiance from kyiv.

However, with the most recent invasion, it has been a different story, and not just because of the flow of military supplies from abroad, Western tactical training, and combat experience gained during eight years of low-intensity warfare in eastern Ukraine.

All of this has been important. But the crucial difference has been the stubborn Ukrainian refusal to resign or be intimidated, even when outgunned and outmanned.

It doesn’t matter if they are in the cities to the northwest and east of kyiv, or in Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city, which has been under relentless bombardment, or in the southern seaport of Mariupol, where around 3,000 defenders have remained hidden in a cavernous steelworks, the Ukrainians refuse to surrender.

In Mykolaiv, near the Black Sea, Ukraine’s military has withstood successive waves of Russian attacks and, despite nightly shelling, managed to push the attackers back into the city of Kherson, where they clashed with protesting locals.

For Moscow, there have been many frustrations and setbacks on the Ukrainian battlefield, but it is stoic resistance and fortitude that has allowed all of this to happen, upending the Russian plan to rush into kyiv or seize the Black Sea rim. from the country. It is also disrupting Kremlin plans for an offensive in eastern Ukraine to establish a land corridor between Moscow’s breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk with Russian-controlled Crimea.

Few Western military strategists had calculated that Ukraine would be able to hold out for more than a few days in the face of a major Russian attack. And judging by what the Russian POWs have been telling their Ukrainian captors, neither does the Kremlin.

“We are showing the whole world that we are a nation, capable of uniting, capable of fighting; and every day since February 24, we have been proving that we are something that Putin says does not exist: a political nation,” says Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, a former Ukrainian deputy prime minister and now an opposition lawmaker.

“Putin says that our nation has no right to exist and that we are Little Russians: But here we are, neither New Russians nor Little Russians; but Ukrainians,” he adds. “We’re taking back our history,” she says.

Ask almost any Ukrainian if the war is changing the country and, if so, how, and they will invariably reply that it is a collective experience that has brought people together, helped bridge ethnic and regional differences, and is forging a new consciousness. national: one that is empowering Ukrainians to resist Russia but also to criticize Western powers for not doing enough to fight for liberal values.

“I have never seen my country so united,” rejoices Anna Mosinian from Odessa, Ukraine’s third most populous city and a major seaport, which may well have escaped a Russian assault thanks to stubborn resistance from Mariupol.

As a flight attendant before the invasion, Mosinian says that while the 2014 Maidan uprising, which toppled Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ally Viktor Yanukovych, exacerbated deep-seated divisions between Ukrainian-speakers in western and central Ukraine and Russian-speakers in the south and east: including their city of Odessa, the war has done much to shape a new national pride.

First of all, the Russian-speakers among his friends and family never thought that Moscow would invade. They hoped that Putin would be satisfied with further land grabs in the eastern Donbas region. When the invasion came, and civilian infrastructure was attacked and towns and villages were left in smoldering ruins, they were shocked. With disgust, many Russian speakers have switched to Ukrainian as a form of personal protest.

“It is the predominantly Russian-speaking cities and towns that are suffering the most — Kharkiv, Melitopol, Mariupol, Luhansk — that are feeling the full impact,” says Yaroslav Azhnyuk, a businessman and co-founder of the Ukrainian startup Petcube. “A few years ago, it would be relatively rare to hear the Ukrainian language spoken on your streets. And now, in those towns, citizens go out and protest and sing in Ukrainian and speak in Ukrainian. I bet those cities never heard as much Ukrainian as they do now.”

While there was some initial skepticism about the first reports of Russian soldiers raping and murdering civilians in the towns and villages north of kyiv, those doubts have since faded and been replaced by cold rage.

“There is no man who has done more to establish the Ukrainian nation than Putin,” says Azhnyuk. “Previously, people from eastern Ukraine could not understand us in western Ukraine and why we hated Russia for all the atrocities of World War II. Now they get it,” he adds.

According to Azhnyuk, the war is making Ukrainians more confident about who and what they are, and what their place should be in a post-war world. “Ukrainians have united around a geopolitical vision: This is a war about a civilizational choice between freedom and authoritarianism,” she says.

“The war has definitely changed Ukraine,” says Mykolay Danylevych, a priest of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate, an autonomous church that is subordinate to the Russian Orthodox Church. “This is a national war, and when it ends, there will definitely be a new Ukraine in terms of identity and form of society,” he adds.

The reshaping of Ukrainian society is already taking place between Ukraine’s two rival Orthodox churches. Since the invasion, more than 150 parishes have defected from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate to the smaller kyiv-based Orthodox Church of Ukraine. The defections are a reaction to weekly broadcasts by Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, justifying Putin’s invasion and describing the war as an apocalyptic battle against evil forces determined to break the divine unity of Holy Russia.

Danylevych expects more defections, but also suspects there could be an even bigger religious and cultural schism, saying there is a chance the Ukrainian Orthodox Church could “lose its connection, or maybe even break it altogether, with the patriarchy.” from Moscow and become independent.”

“The priests and the bishops are talking about this; the trend is in that direction,” he says.

However, there are risks if Ukraine rejects everything Russian, Danylevych warns. Due to its tangled history, the Russian language and culture are also part of the Ukrainian identity, he says. And he added: “When the war is over, we should all draw conclusions about our lives before the war and learn from our mistakes. And the government will have a unique opportunity. [Ukraine’s president Volodymyr] Zelenskyy said that, before the war, there are no right Ukrainians or wrong Ukrainians; we are all Ukrainians; and he needs to keep that message going after the war.”

There is a way to go before that, and in the coming months, there may well be an even higher price to pay than has already been extracted for the refusal to surrender. The Russian offensive now taking shape in Donbas is being commanded by Aleksandr Dvornikov, the general who oversaw Russia’s destruction of Grozny in Chechnya and Aleppo in Syria.

Ukraine’s strengthened sense of nationhood has been formed on the anvil of war, but the blows to come are likely to test its resilience even further.

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