These questions were at the heart of a discussion between Tetyana Oharkova, Philippe Sands, and Volodymyr Yermolenko, moderated by Misha Glenny, that took place as part of the Lviv BookForum. Taking the “idea of Europe” as its jumping-off point, the discussion raised important issues of culpability and accountability, forms of imperialism, and building the future.
In Die Zeit (in German; original in Ukrainian) Yermolenko lays out what he sees as the key elements or features of Ukrainian culture, in the broadest sense: for example, that it is anti-tyrannical, tied to the earth, with a key role played by women, regenerative, an active choice, and has always seen itself as part of European culture. He argues that Ukraine today gives Europe a chance to be reborn, to see itself as a family again – in short, that Ukraine is becoming a home for Europe, “ein Zuhause für Europa.”
Yet the disconnect between Ukrainian thinkers and their European counterparts is often stark, nowhere more so than in the case of the Left. In an interview for dschungel, Vasyl Cherepanyn argues that the “so-called pacifism” displayed by many western leftists, as they speak out against weapons for Ukraine or call for a negotiated peace on Putin’s terms, can be understood as a “petty-bourgeois ideology” that fails to reckon with what is actually at stake. “Currently, we all live a borrowed life that was granted to us by the Ukrainians who are keeping the frontline. Without the Ukrainian resistance, my country as well as the EU itself wouldn’t exist in their current forms. At the moment, the EU societies are privileged in the sense that they can still pay for the war crisis financially, whereas Ukrainians pay with their lives. But the more time passes, the less opportunities we have on the table. There is still a big chance to stop Russian fascism on the Ukrainian territory, if the West shows a more dedicated attitude.”
The new wave of terror attacks launched by the Russian Federation on civilian targets using Iranian-made drones underscores just how important one concrete form of support for Ukraine is: namely, air defense. As Nataliya Gumenyuk writes for the Guardian, in a piece published in the immediate aftermath of the attacks in Kyiv and around the country on 10 October,
Ukrainians also worry that after a few hours of compassion from people around the world, we might hear new calls to surrender. These, coming from the safety of far-off European towns, sound not just inappropriate, but unethical. The multiple crimes committed in occupied territories such as Bucha and Izium show that the alternatives to resistance can be not just persecution, but mass execution and torture.
We are scared at the moment, but that is different to living in perpetual fear. Ukrainian defiance doesn’t mean bravado. More than anything, the feeling you get while sitting in a basement looking at the air raid warning map for five hours and 37 minutes is pragmatism. We think not about grand ideas, but electricity and water supplies, documents, daily rations and contingency plans.
Out of more than 80 rockets fired into Ukraine today, at least half were reportedly shot down by the Ukrainian air defence. What can look terrifying and inevitable can be stopped with proper defences. This looks like the only rational answer to the irrational assault on our parks, universities, museums. It must continue.
"As the missiles strike Kyiv, of course we are scared – but war has made us practical" by Nataliya Gumenyuk