Russia is at war with Ukraine

I’m cutting short the lighthearted myth-busting series, in light of recent developments.

Putin has finally crossed yet another red line in his steady spiral of escalation in Ukraine. Regular Russian forces are now fighting the Ukrainian army.

To all my international readers:

It’s time we stopped giving Putin the benefit of the doubt and playing into his crude attempts at presenting this as a civil conflict in Ukraine. It’s time to start calling a spade a spade. The truth is simple:

Putin’s Russia is at war with Ukraine

This isn’t news. Putin has been at war with Ukraine ever since the Russian army invaded and annexed Crimea in a sham referendum, against all international laws and against every agreement signed by the Russian Federation. After that, Putin tried to foment natural unrest in the Eastern parts of Ukraine. When that failed, Putin’s proxies in Donbas created so-called “people’s republics” and started to kidnap and torture Ukrainian citizens. Whenever Ukraine gained the upper hand against these “rebels,” Putin aided them with weapons and mercenaries streaming across the border. Russian artillery has been shelling Ukraine’s territory for months. Ukraine did not retaliate, for fear of giving Russia an excuse to escalate.

Now, when Ukraine has recaptured much of the area previously under rebel control, Putin is escalating yet again. He’s now sending regular Russian soldiers to fight in Ukraine. The soldiers are told they are going on a training exercise. Putin is lying not only to the world, but to his own citizens.

I ask all those who aren’t indifferent to help end this. This is an act of unjustified, unilateral aggression that can potentially threaten the established world order. If you have the right political connections, help put pressure on your respective governments to take a firmer stance against Putin’s aggression. If you can’t do that, please share my words with those who might be able to.

To all my Russian readers:

Dear Russian brothers. Please understand one very important thing. Ukraine is not against you. It has never been against you. That claim is a cynical, despicable lie that has been perpetrated by Russian propaganda for almost an entire year. Maidan was not against you. Maidan was against a corrupt President who betrayed his promise to the Ukrainian people. Maidan was against a system that, for 23 years, kept Ukrainians from living in a modern, democratic country and from shaking off their Soviet past. People on Maidan came from all walks of life and from every ethnicity: Russians, Ukrainians, Belorussians. Maidan had nothing to do with people’s nationality and their preferred language. I think this banner (written in Russian) from Maidan says it all:

Translation:

Translation: “Together against Putin. (We) love Russians. (We) despise Putin.”

Ukraine’s government is not a maniacal Nazi junta that wants to murder all Russian speakers. That story is an absurd, fantastic lie. To confirm that, you only need to see how the rest of Russian-speaking Ukraine—aside from Donbas—has been living for the past year. Hint: They live in peace. From Zaporizhia to Dnipropetrovsk to Mykolayiv. Peace. My exclusively Russian-speaking family and all of my Russian-speaking friends in Kharkov live in peace. I’ve been there, I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I have spent 10 wonderful sunny days in Kharkov less than a month ago with my little niece and the rest of my family. They do not need to be “rescued” from any mythical Ukrainian fascists! My biggest fear is that Putin’s “defenders” may appear there one day.

Ukraine is fighting a war of independence from Kremlin. It is fighting to keep its sovereignty. It doesn’t want to remain a satellite to Putin’s Russia. Putin is doing everything in his power to prevent this, up to sending your Russian soldiers to fight for his cause. His imperialist ambitions are driving a horrible wedge between our people. Let’s stand together to prevent him from succeeding. We’ll need to live with each other and look each other in the eye after this!

If you don’t do it for Ukraine, do it for the Russian mothers and wives whose sons and husbands are sent to fight Putin’s war in Ukraine. Not openly, in secret. They return home in coffins and their deaths are hushed up. They die for Putin’s objectives, yet they don’t even get the acknowledgment they deserve for serving their country. Don’t let Putin do this to Russia. Don’t let him do this to you. Your country deserves so much better!

To all Putin apologists:

At this stage, there exists far too much evidence of what Putin is up to. It’s hard to deny the obvious. Anyone who supports Putin is either spectacularly uninformed and mislead, or worse—knows exactly what Putin is doing and thinks it’s justified. To the latter: The blood of all Ukrainians, Russians, and others who died in this conflict (and those who will die in the future) is also on your hands. You’re enabling an aggressive leader who places no value on human lives and is willing to sacrifice everyone’s well-being for the sake of his plans. If you understand that fact and are OK with it—you’re guilty, too!

To those who still believe that Putin is fighting the good fight. To those who shed crocodile tears over civilians killed in Donbas and spread catchy tags on Twitter (like #SaveDonbasChildren) here’s all you need to know about that:

There was no war in Donbas until “defenders of Russian-speakers” showed up there.

Read that again. If you don’t want to go back and reread it, here it is once more:

THERE WAS NO WAR IN DONBAS UNTIL “DEFENDERS OF RUSSIAN-SPEAKERS” SHOWED UP THERE!

Putin, aided by his relentless propaganda machine, brought war and death to my country. Putin’s “freedom fighters” have placed Ukraine’s government before an awful choice: Do nothing, and let the rebels continue methodically torturing and killing Ukrainian citizens in Donbas, stealing their cars and apartments, and destroying the region’s infrastructure, or interfere militarily, at the risk of potential civilian deaths but in the hope that order and peace can eventually be restored. Ukraine chose the latter. What country wouldn’t? Name one government that would simply let a group of what are essentially foreign mercenaries and local criminals freely murder its citizens?! If you’re still doubtful of Kiev’s peaceful intentions, just look at how normal life is slowly returning to the areas Ukraine’s army has liberated—yes, liberated—from the “rebels.” Look again at Kramatorsk and Slovyansk. Now tell me these people aren’t happy to be rid of “Russian defenders”!

Wake up. Unplug yourself from the alternative reality propagated by Russian media. Seek facts. Think.

Don’t make it any easier for Putin to continue his “plausible deniability” campaign. It’s time all rational people stood up to him. He has already gotten away with breaking too many rules and causing far too much pain and suffering. If you let him get away with plunging Russia into a full-fledged war with Ukraine, this won’t be the end.

Putin will stop only where a true red line is drawn.

It’s up to all of us to show him where that is.

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Ukraine Map With Cities

5 Russian myths about Ukraine (it’s time to let go of) Myth #5: Junta

As Russia’s information space rapidly barrels toward becoming some absurdist la la land, the rest of the world struggles to keep up. And while it’s fun (well, “fun”) to mock Russia for its phantasmagorical claims of child crucifixions by Ukrainian troops, or MH17 being filled with already-dead people when it was shot down, it’s important to remember that these outrageous stories are part of a massive, largely successful disinformation campaign.

You see, the West is used to the news media being relatively sane (if not always completely unbiased). So a natural instinct for most foreign viewers is to gravitate toward a “the truth is somewhere in the middle” interpretation. That’s usually a perfectly reasonable approach. Usually. There are indeed two sides to every story. But when one side of the story is “Russia is fomenting unrest in Ukraine” and the other is “European Union and Ukraine are building concentration camps for their opponents and poisoning their water supply,” the truth isn’t quite somewhere in between. Using Russia’s account of events as a benchmark isn’t “listening to both the Ukrainian and the Russian side of the story.” It’s more like “listening to the Ukrainian side of the story and the ravings of the town’s crackpot who believes that flying space monkeys are stealing his lunch money and also haberdash donkey-poop *hissing sounds*.”

Unfortunately, the Russian narrative has slowly permeated the Western information space. Even though reality has long caught up with and disproved many of the Russian myths about Ukraine, a few persistent tenets keep resurfacing with striking regularity. Let’s see if we can put some of these myths to rest for good. Today, we cover Myth #5:

5. Ukraine’s government is a bloodthirsty “junta”

Russia says:
The current Kiev government is a genocidal junta that came to power through an armed coup. They are engaged in a “punitive operation”—methodical and targeted genocide of Russian-speakers—because they want to…because…shut up, that’s why!

Sample headlines (I’m not linking to wacko sources, but they can be found via Google search):

CIA, FBI agents dying for illegal junta in Ukraine

Moscow: UN report on Ukraine distorts facts to justify punitive operation

The grain of truth:
There are plenty of things to criticize Ukraine’s government for. You’ll find very few people who see Ukrainian government as altruistic angels that were beamed down to Earth by a benevolent God to impart world peace upon everyone. (If you do find some people who believe that, maybe ask whether their medicine has exceeded its expiration date.)

Corruption is deeply embedded in Ukraine’s political system. It will take years to flush it out. Many of the current politicians are unwilling to make any real effort to fight corruption, instead resorting to populist statements (hey, saying things is like, so much easier than doing them, you guys). The parliament still relapses into bar brawl mentality and has scuffles that occasionally get recognized as pure art:

Ukraine Parliament Art Fight

Finally, and most tragically, Ukraine’s military is indeed involved in an armed standoff with the separatists in the Donbass region, which is costing civilian lives. It’s a sad, largely inescapable fact of any armed conflict. This is the first such conflict in the country’s history and is the apparent terrible price Ukraine will have to pay for its true independence.

But let’s get real:
Semantics first.

Junta: “A military group controlling a government after taking control of it by force.”

First, let’s look at the “taking control by force” part.

Following the atrocious events of February 18–20, 2014, where almost 100 protesters were killed in bloody clashes, former President Yanukovich signed a compromise deal with the opposition. Then he promptly made like The Road Runner and mbeep-beeped the hell out of Ukraine. Allegedly, after promising to officially resign, he ended up refusing to do so, while still leaving the country in a power vacuum, seeing how he wasn’t physically there to, you know, run it. On February 22, the parliament voted 328-0 to impeach him. Legal technicalities aside, I’d say a vote of 328 against “fucking nothing at all” is pretty indicative. The parliament subsequently elected an interim prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Parliament speaker, Oleksandr Turchynov, became acting president until the scheduled early presidential elections.

On May 25, Petro Poroshenko was elected President, receiving 55% of the votes. The election was monitored by over 1,000 OSCE observers from 49 countries—OSCE’s largest-ever election observation mission. Despite the separatists in the East doing their best to fuck up the vote in the areas they controlled, OSCE deemed the elections a success. Now can we please move past the “coup” rhetoric?

Second, let’s briefly check out the government’s impressive “military” credentials:

Prime Minister Yatsenyuk: economist and lawyer. “Economist and lawyer”? Why, that almost sounds like “Major-General,” if you suffer from a crippling form of dyslexia.

Chairman of the Parliament Oleksandr Turchinov: screenwriter and economist. Also? A goddamn Baptist preacher. Truly terrifying in his militarism.

President Petro Poroshenko: one of Ukraine’s richest men. Made his fortune mainly in the confectionery business, hence the nickname “Chocolate King.” Judging by his bulky physique, the only battle he’s ever fought was the one against delicious-yet-unhealthy food. The food won.

Poroshenko Black Suit

Here he is holding an imaginary oversized burger.

Maybe it’s time to stop calling these gentlemen military junta? Unless you have a fetish for being wrong, huh Russia?

Finally, each of them made every effort to de-escalate the conflict at various points. At each point, they were completely ignored by the separatists.

March 18, on the day Russia was busy annexing Crimea, Yatsenyuk addressed the residents of Ukraine’s south-east. His main message was, quote: “We need peace and tranquility, and we have a huge chance to change our country for the better.” Specifically, he guaranteed unchanged status of the Russian language, decentralization of power, and maintaining good neighborly relations with Russia. You’ll notice that these are all the things the separatists are now supposedly fighting for. Confused? Well, you shouldn’t be, as long as you acknowledge the artificial nature of this conflict and the fact that these demands are a smokescreen. Have always been. Stay tuned for Myth #1.

On April 6, after the separatists seized regional buildings in Donetsk and Lugans, Turchinov reiterated the government’s commitment to regional autonomy. Moreover, he even offered them amnesty from prosecution.

Finally, on June 21, Poroshenko announced a unilateral, one-week ceasefire. Ukrainian army stopped its advance against separatist-held towns. Poroshenko once again offered amnesty to those who didn’t commit serious crimes. He once again reiterated the message of decentralization. He again stressed that the Russian language will retain its current status. All the separatists had to do was to put down their weapons and release the dozens of hostages they were holding against their will. If you’re going to click on one hyperlink in this article, make it this one, and read Poroshenko’s address. A total warmongering lunatic, isn’t he?

The ceasefire was later extended by three additional days, despite the separatists consistently ignoring it and repeatedly attacking Ukrainian positions. At least 27 Ukrainian soldiers were killed during the 10 days of the ceasefire. All while trying to give peace yet another chance. Junta? What the fuck are you smoking, Russia?

As final proof that Ukraine government’s end goal is peace and not the complete eradication of all sentient life, let’s look at two recaptured cities: Kramatorsk and Slovyansk. Both were considered key strongholds of the separatist resistance. Both were recaptured by Ukraine’s army in early July. Here’s how the Russian-friendly media described these cities prior to Ukrainian forces liberating them:

Ukraine—Kiev’s Genocide: What’s Happening in Slovyansk

Kiev junta punishers began to shoot Kramatorsk with heavy artillery in the area of Stankostroy

Now let’s fast-forward to August 24—Ukraine’s Independence Day—in each of those cities.

Slovyansk:

Slovyansk Independence Day

Kramatorsk:

Enough said, Putin?

Stay tuned for Myth #4.

Black Trashcan Nazi Swastika

The Nazi statues of Eastern Ukraine

So I’m on vacation in my home city of Kharkov, Eastern Ukraine.

I know, I know. You’re all like, “Eastern Ukraine? Isn’t that where all the Nazi Bandera fascists are brutally murdering Russian speakers, just for fun?”

What can I say? I’m an extremely brave Russian-speaking Ukrainian. I have flown right into the center of the unstoppable Nazi rampage. Not only that, I brought my wife with me. For moral support. Plus she makes for a pretty effective human shield, should that ever become necessary.

I must admit, though—the Nazis have clearly learned how to disguise themselves. I have spent the first couple of days desperately trying to find a single Nazi. No such luck. Sneaky bastards.

On the third day, however, I went to Gorky Park with my wife and my niece, Leah…that’s where the cruel reality of the new Nazi Ukraine finally made itself known.

It all started peacefully enough. We were walking around the park, posing with the seemingly neutral statues:

Leah Statue Smile

When, suddenly, one of them started openly harassing my wife:

Skirt Grab

Clearly, I couldn’t let such an audacious act of violence go unpunished. I ran forward to rescue my wife, which is when we realized that we were actually dealing with sadistic Nazi monsters. One of them immediately shattered my face with a tennis racket—the weapon of choice for Nazi militia:

Tennis Slam

While I was busy getting my face smacked, my poor innocent niece fell under the Nazi spell and was hypnotized by their relentless propaganda into becoming one of them:

Zombie Statue

“Leah! Noooooooo!” I screamed, trying to modulate my voice so as to prevent my now-shattered teeth from falling out of my mouth. I jumped forward to push Leah out of harm’s way. It worked. Leah was free. Me? Not so much. One especially heartless Nazi bastard caught me and went straight for my eye:

Eye Poke

Half-blind, I stumbled in the general direction of Katka and Leah. That’s when I witnessed the most horrific sight of my entire life: The psychotic Nazis were making my family skip rope for their own amusement:

Rope Jump Katka

“You sick, sick bastards,” I screamed, “How dare you make my family jump to the sound of German polka?! This is the worst music one can possibly imagine!”

I was wrong about that last part. The German polka stopped, but something far, far worse took its place: Justin Bieber. God, they made me jump up and down to Justin Bieber:

Rope Jump Daniel

My energy sapped, my will to live fading, I begged for their mercy. “Baby, baby, baby, ooooooooooooh,” I repeated, over and over again. My niece’s unprecedented act of bravery was the only thing that helped us escape alive. With an ear-shattering scream of “I haaaaaaaaaaate Biebeeeeeeeeeeeer,” my niece lunged forward and stabbed the main Nazi right into his cold, evil heart:

Leah Stab

He immediately turned into a puddle of delicious chocolate milk, like all Nazis with a punctured heart are wont to do. Katka, Leah, and I escaped with our lives intact, but I shall never mistrust Russian propaganda ever again: Ukrainian Nazis are everywhere, and they are among us—in parks and public areas, they stand around, biding their time, waiting for the perfect moment to come alive and strike.

My advice: Always be on your guard. Also, learn the lyrics to Justin Bieber’s “Baby.” You’ll need them.

2 Kalashnikovs

How about…

So the pro-Russian rebels have essentially given the world an ultimatum: You’ll be allowed to properly investigate the MH17 crash site, as long as Kiev agrees to a ceasefire. In related news, an infamous serial killer said he’ll allow the police to see the victims’ bodies as long as he’s promised he won’t be imprisoned.

A ceasefire?! Like the last ceasefire that you have so solemnly respected? The 10-day ceasefire during which you have killed dozens of Ukrainian soldiers?

You have, with extremely high likelihood, just murdered almost 300 innocent people in a passenger jet and now you’re trying to dictate conditions?!

If we live in the world of wishful thinking, then how about:

  • You give any and all OSCE observers, international experts, and independent journalist unconditional and uninhibited access to the crash sites, you fucking crazed apes with grenades.
  • Local criminals who have taken up arms against their own are arrested and brought to justice. Those who are found not guilty of murder and grievous crimes take Poroshenko’s offer of amnesty, if it still stands.
  • Every single one of the hundreds of people you’ve captured and tortured over the course of the past many months is let go, unconditionally, immediately.
  • All mercenaries from Russia that participate in the fighting turn around and go back.
  • Russia stops the constant supply of weapons, manpower, and equipment across the border.
  • Local people of Donetsk and Lugansk are allowed to elect their own representatives in free, transparent elections, instead of being represented by Russian proxies—self-appointed “people’s mayors” and “people’s governors.”
  • Ukrainians all across the country are given the chance to settle any possible internal differences through dialogue and political means.
  • Putin, for once in his life, does the right thing, publicly distances himself from the out-of-control disaster zone he’s instigated and declares the right of Ukraine to its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
  • Putin and his political machine stops any and all meddling in Ukraine’s internal affairs.
  • Russian media starts reporting two sides of the story, or, at the very goddamn least, starts reporting facts instead of making “facts” up.
  • People directly responsible for the horrific MH17 tragedy are identified and brought to justice.

I think the above will mark the first tentative steps toward a real, humane solution. But do you even want one? Have you ever wanted one?

Brown Bear Face

10 new ways the world can be “deeply concerned”

Throughout the Ukraine–Russia conflict, many countries and leaders have spoken out against Putin’s aggression. US, EU, and others have employed the full range of powerful diplomatic and economic tools at their disposal, from sanctioning a few people to sanctioning a few dozen people.

And yet, during all this time, they have only managed to express their emotions in a very limited way. They started out with “deeply concerned,” which later culminated into…well, “deeply concerned”:

February 28: Obama Remarks: ‘Deeply Concerned’ by Reports of Russian Moves in Ukraine

March 20: U.N. chief Ban tells Putin he is ‘deeply concerned’ over Ukraine

April 15: Turkey ‘deeply concerned’ over events in Ukraine

May 31: UN deeply concerned about incidents with OSCE monitors in east Ukraine

June 14: OSCE Chairperson-in-Office deeply concerned about today’s escalation of tension in Ukraine

Now look. I don’t mean to be hating on the phrase “deeply concerned”. I like “deeply concerned” as much as the next guy (that bastard). It’s a perfectly fine way to express concern that is deep in nature. It’s short and to the point. It’s everything a phrase should be when one wants to communicate a deep level of concern about something.

Having said that, wouldn’t you want to change it up a bit? Huh, world? Isn’t the English language rich enough to produce something other than “deeply concerned”? I think so. So, as an amateur writer and a professional worrier, allow me to offer a few useful alternative ways to express your feelings:

10. The US is somberly shaking its metaphorical head over events in Eastern Ukraine

9. Yesterday Prime Minister of Japan summed up his feelings with a haiku:

“Much loss in Ukraine,
Melancholy overflows,
I fight the anguish.”

8. Canada calls the situation in Ukraine “utter kerfuffle”

7. Multiple monocles are missing after the UK parliament collectively gasped at Ukrainian developments

6. UN calls the recent crisis in Ukraine “moderately tear-jerking”

5. Following news from Ukraine, EU give their level of worry a “9 out of 10 ”

4. When it comes to Ukraine, OSCE are not happy, not very happy at all

3. China likens Ukraine to a depressed panda lost in the wild

2. When asked about Ukraine, Angela Merkel let out a prolonged, meaningful, and tragic sigh

1. David Cameron on Ukraine: “Shite!”

Anti-Nazi Swastika

4 reasons Crimea’s upcoming “referendum” is an epic farce

It’s been over two weeks since Putin’s forces moved into Crimea in a noble attempt to protect it from fascists, leprechauns, and other mythical creatures. So carried away did Putin get with this protection that he accidentally over-protected himself into completely taking over all of Crimea. Oops, awkward!

Now Crimea stands to “vote” in an upcoming referendum on whether to join Russia or to only sort of maybe join Russia. I’ve already covered the situation in this post and this post. In this third chapter of what I hope is just a trilogy, I explore the many reasons this “referendum” is an absolute circus. Buckle up, folk, let’s go for a ride into surreal madness.

4. Crimea is essentially under total Russian military control

At this point, there should not be an iota of doubt that Russian military has de facto control of Crimea. We can choose to believe that they are simply a bunch of local “self-defense forces” who raided a “Toys R Us” store and armed themselves with water pistols and, inexplicably, Russian military equipment.

Or we can choose to live in the real world, where as many as 11,000 Russian troops have seized control of key military and government installations, set up guarded roadblocks, and continue to exert psychological pressure on Ukrainian soldiers to try and make them defect. Without even questioning the legality of these happenings, does it strike you as an environment conducive to a democratic referendum? If you said “yes,” then thanks for taking the time to visit my blog, Kim Jong-un, you can go back to oppressing your citizens now.

No truly democratic vote can take place under Martial law conditions, especially when these conditions are imposed by a foreign invader. To believe otherwise is to be Putin or to be a lunatic—so, yeah, to be Putin.

3. Crimea is under equally total political and media control

Let’s take a quick look at Sergei Aksyonov, the current “fairly” “elected” “prime minister” of Crimea. He is a known separatist, who dreamed of Crimea joining Russia for many years. That’s fair enough, but he has always been one of the few. His party gathered a whopping 4 percent of the votes in the last Crimean parliamentary election in 2010. He was a virtual nobody in Crimea’s political landscape.

So how in the gentle fuck of Zeus did this man suddenly become the leader of Crimea in late February?! I’m glad you ask, my hypothetical conversation partner. The answer is: shameless fraud. That linked article goes into detail, but here are just a few juicy bits:

1. The “election” took place behind closed doors, without journalists, and with armed soldiers guarding the entrance to the parliament building.

2. Parliamentary elections can only be valid if at least 51 representatives are present. Only 36 were present, according to independent research, but Aksyonov’s new government insists the number was 61.

3. A number of individuals who were definitely not present saw their names appear on a list of members who voted to elect Aksyonov and hold a referendum. Maybe they were sleep-voting? Eh, that could happen.

In short: If this man is a democratically elected leader of Crimea, then I’m the king of Australia. Somebody should tell Tony Abbot to pack up and cut out his “prime minister” bullshit.

“But Daniel, Aksyonov is just one man. He can’t exactly dictate to the people how they should vote,” you may say. And you’re right, perhaps he can’t outright force anyone. (Although judging by his own rise to power, that’s debatable.) However, he can do absolutely everything in his power to make sure that people receive maximum pressure and disinformation ahead of this planned referendum.

And he does. By now he has shut down Ukrainian TV channels in Crimea and replaced them with their Russian counterparts. He justified it by claiming he was protecting Crimean people from “escalation of violence, lies, and the flow of untrue information that has been flowing from the screens.” That statement instantly wins the prize for the most ironic string of words ever put together by a functioning human being. To discover just how incredibly, blatantly, inconceivably biased and state-controlled the Russian press is at the moment, one only need to read this article. It’s George Orwell’s 1984, just 30 years too late. And that’s doubleplusungood.

Or maybe you want to take a gander at one of the not-at-all-crazy, objective referendum posters currently on display in Crimea—illustrating the choices people can vote on? As you wish:

Crime Referendum Poster

“Nazi swastika? No, that represents, uh, a peaceful four-legged spider? Yeah, that’s it!”

Therefore, I think I can be excused for calling the current atmosphere in Crimea a tiny bit not-at-all-goddamn-impartial and weeping-hell-how-is-this-even-happening-in-2014?!

But, hey, at least smart people can still filter out the propaganda and make up their own minds, right? Well…

2. Crimea’s voters have no real choice

Allow me to briefly discuss the referendum ballots and the choices given to voters. The ballots will ask:

1. Are you in favor of the reunification of Crimea with Russia as a part of the Russian Federation?
2. Are you in favor of restoring the 1992 Constitution and the status of Crimea as a part of Ukraine?

If you look really carefully at these questions, you may notice a tiny, insignificant thing missing: the ability to vote for maintaining the status quo. Nobody has the choice to say “Actually I like the way things are in Crimea, let’s just keep doing that.” An option to abstain or “vote against all” is also suspiciously missing.

More than that, there isn’t even clarity about the exact meaning of the second choice. There is some discussion of what the “1992 Constitution” actually entails, but it all boils down to this summary by a Chatham House writer, Keir Giles:

“The restoration of this (1992) constitution would be a step towards notional independence under Russian control…Those citizens who were content with Crimea remaining part of Ukraine on the same basis as it has been for the last 20 years do not have a voice in this referendum. There is no third option available.”

I’m not saying that these choices are bullshit. I’m saying that these “choices” are shake-your-head-in-utter-disbelief level of bullshit.

1. There is zero transparency and neutrality

All of the above wouldn’t be nearly as bad if there was at least a shadow of transparency; if independent journalists and observers were able to monitor the vote and ensure due process.

The reality? OSCE observers have, on multiple occasions, tried to enter Crimea. Every time they were turned away by increasingly aggressive Russian troops. The last time, apparently, shots were fired to make the observers leave. I won’t be surprised if Putin soon appears on TV to tell us it was just a hilarious misunderstanding (“Because, you see, in Russia, firing guns at people is how we confess our love and invite them in for a cup of tea”).

To be sure, a while ago Russia did make a spectacle out of “inviting” OSCE observers into Crimea. The problem is that these words, so far, aren’t backed by action. If I invite you into my home and then repeatedly slam the door in your face as you try to enter, you’ll be forgiven for doubting my intentions.

As it stands today, independent journalists, observers, and any parties attempting to evaluate the true state of affairs in Crimea are prevented from doing so with any degree of reliability. Some are even allegedly abducted.

Taking into account the above reasons, to call the upcoming charade a “referendum” is the pinnacle of dishonesty. Anyone doing so with a straight face is either lying to himself or to the rest of us. I’m looking at you, Putin.

Here’s the sad bit: Barring some miracle or a next-to-impossible change of heart from Putin, this referendum will take place. The people of Crimea will “vote” to join Russia.

The big question is: What happens next? It’s a question I’m afraid to answer. It’s a question I’m not qualified to answer. But it’s a question that is already on many people’s minds, and will be on everyone’s mind come March 16. No matter what happens, my hope is that nobody sheds blood over these political maneuvers. Despite what Hollywood movies may tell us, real war isn’t all about entertaining kick-ass explosions and awesome giant robots.

I would really appreciate if those who have learned something from this post share it with others. Information is the best weapon we have in the war against oppression.

Ukrainian Flag Blue Yellow

My mission? A peaceful Ukraine

It’s been less than a week since I’ve published my open letter to Putin.

The response has been overwhelming. None of my posts have ever gone this viral on social media, or gotten read by so many people from all over the world. I’m happy my words have an impact.

Some of the people left comments, too. Kind, compassionate comments. I’m thankful for all of them. But yesterday a troll (Meki) galloped across the comment section, leaving outbursts of misguided words and hate in his wake. Some of his comments were deleted for personally insulting my other readers and their words. Most of his comments were left intact and can still be seen below the original post.

I want to focus on one of these comments, which mimicked my “open letter” format. My responses below aren’t meant to give legitimacy to this type of trolling. I realize that, in all likelihood, Meki has moved on to troll other forums. He (she?) is not interested in hearing my opinions. Responses here are for those who are curious about my take on the sad happenings in Ukraine. Let’s treat it as a sort of Q&A session (because “Daniel argues with a troll session” isn’t nearly as glamorous). Sadly, I’ve heard Meki’s words come from some people I’ve spoken to over the past few days. Here are my answers to them:

Dear Beloved Daniel,

By the way, what do you think about Afghanistan invaded by americans, Pakistan doomed by americans, Palestine is being haunted by nazi israilians with the support of americans, Iraq always had anonymous biological guns which will spray the chemical on americans just like they did on Vietnamese, all Vietnamese are terrorists because they do not honor americana, syria is some kind of bastard which doesn’t allow their people to breath since 1000s of years and people are dying there at the rate of 49/minute; Wow! Saudi Arabia is a great Muslim country who sells a lot of oil to americans so they can ship guns to mexico.

Despite the fact that most of the above is rambling gibberish and an ugly mix of truths, half-truths, and straight up nonsense, I think I hear what you’re saying.

The US government has made a lot of recognized foreign policy blunders, repercussions of which are still being felt. I don’t think you’ll find many informed people arguing with this notion. I have just read an interesting article discussing some of the underlying reasons for the current tension between the East and West over Ukraine. What I think about these matters is entirely irrelevant, since I’m neither a political expert nor someone with any proximity to the decision-making that takes place in country governments. I’m going to go ahead and assume that neither are you. Let’s leave it at that and move on.

I would like to make it clear that as you “take care” of many countries then Comrade Putin has also right to take care of couple of countries.

This is profoundly, categorically wrong.

First off, let’s even go as far as to assume that America is the unilateral aggressor that you want to present it as. That does not, by any stretch of logic, give anyone else the right to act in a similar fashion. If anything, people who truly are against the “evil invader” approach should be unequivocally against other countries doing the same.

Secondly, I am emphatically against anybody “taking care” of my country, when “taking care” means the use of military force. I’d be speaking out in the same way if US or European troops were in Ukraine trying to dictate future developments. Today, however, Russia is the only country seizing total control of Crimea under the guise of protecting Ukraine from a phantom threat. More on that later.

Ukraine is in dire need of economic, political, and social reforms that slowly start moving it toward a stable and corruption-free country. It has years, if not decades, to go. All I want, all most Ukrainians want, is to build this future by ourselves, without external military interference. I trust that, given the chance, Ukraine would be wise enough to cooperate with all outside partners, including Russia, US, EU, and others. The country simply can’t do without them. But this must be a matter for diplomats and politicians, not soldiers.

I’m not a Comrade Putin lover; but I must clear you that the person whom you are saying “dead” in above picture is not dead but lying down. Soldiers are firing in the air and he is doing what a good citizen should do.

Congratulations, you have managed to miss the point entirely. The person in the picture was presented as “dead” by the propaganda machine, and the pictures prove the falsehood of this claim. Also, notice that the “dead body” is wearing military uniform. If this wasn’t a staged event (which it was), the job of a soldier wouldn’t entail “lying down” as a “good citizen,” but fighting the alleged aggressors.

How do I know that this scenario is absolute, utter horseshit? Because to this day—since the tragic events of late February, in which almost 100 people died in Kiev in the clashes between rioters and police in the revolt that eventually brought about Yanukovich’s downfall—nobody in Ukraine has been killed by the alleged “fascist” forces. The article I linked to dives deeper into the propaganda-versus-reality picture.

I know Russia attacked on Afghanistan but they didn’t kill people, they didn’t create a Guantanamo, they didn’t took educated women in the name of God, so-called democracy and terrorism, they didn’t strengthen their economy via selling guns, they didn’t support locals to produce cocaine, they didn’t give name “terrorist, taliban” to enemy fighters. They didn’t train their soldiers that we are in the war with all muslim states around the world.

I’ve addressed most of this in my first answer, but I’d like to linger a bit on the “didn’t train their soldiers [to believe] that we are [at war]” part. This is precisely what Putin’s propaganda machine is doing. They have created a scary, powerful, and threatening enemy in the Right Sector movement. They are systematically training people to see the Right Sector as a real, substantial threat, from which Ukraine’s citizens need to be protected by the Russian army.

I won’t claim to fully understand the Right Sector’s motivations and ideology. I’m not naive enough to believe that they’re all peace-loving revolutionaries (is that maybe an oxymoron?). I have seen videos of some of their members acting decidedly uncivilized, bullying policemen, and getting into near-fist-fights with public officers. What I have also seen in many of those videos, is peaceful Ukrainians interfering and not letting things escalate.

What I find much more potent and relevant to focus on is the recent poll showing that just over 2 percent of the population would consider voting for Dmitro Yarosh (leader of the Right Sector) if he ran for president. Or this article, in which a rival politician and rights campaigner says this about the Right Sector: “But I don’t see much room for their radicalism now in democratic politics. Ukrainians are tolerant. Right Sector will have some small support if it develops as a political party, maybe five to seven percent of the vote. I don’t see a big political future for them.”

They’re a radical, marginal group, and are seen as such by most tolerant and objective people of Ukraine. To claim that the Right Sector is a real threat to Ukraine and its politics is akin to claiming the same about the KKK in the US. And even that is a poor comparison, since the Right Sector claims to not be racially biased. The last article I’ve linked to (here it is again) does a decent job of presenting a good picture of the group and its political future (or lack thereof).

And yet, despite all of this, the propaganda machine is succeeding to a large extent. Their systematic repetition of the “fascist threat” rhetoric is turning people against each other. It evokes fear and anger in people I personally know: people whom I know to otherwise be compassionate and kind and objective. People who are deliberately trained to see an imagined enemy as a threat, instead of channeling their passions and emotions toward building a stable and peaceful country.

And it breaks my heart.

And I hope and pray that these negative emotions won’t triumph over objectivity and peacefulness. It would be devastatingly sad for me to see this happen to the country where I grew up.

Okay, the women who are crying. They are crying because their relatives are in Russia and Ukraine both. They do not want any war; that’s why they have tears.

Wrong. I have had the chance to actually watch the interview. The woman is allegedly a resident of Odessa who wants Putin to come and rescue her from the fascists. In another video the (very possibly) same woman is agitating people to create a pro-Russian crowd against the fascists in Kharkov (where I grew up). Since I’ve published my last post there were further alleged sightings of this woman in other cities of Ukraine. Granted, I cannot personally confirm many of these claims. There’s a degree of subjectivity and bias on both sides. However, what I know about the situation, combined with what I have written above about the true threat of the Right Sector, juxtaposed against the woman’s decidedly exaggerated wording about the state of affairs, does indeed make me suspect her of being an agent provocateur. Even if I am wrong about this specific woman, I have already seen enough other blatant propaganda to form my opinion and feelings about it—that feeling is endless disgust, if you’re wondering.

You did touch upon a very important thing though. People do indeed have relatives and friends in both countries. Regular Ukrainians and Russians have been very friendly to each other over the years. Most of them can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to become enemies if things escalate.

That’s why kind, unifying, touching videos are being made, where Ukrainian people speak directly to their Russian brothers. Videos that don’t focus on the “us against them” rhetoric, but speak out for peace and against war.

Videos like this one, or this one, or this one.

And it warms my heart.

And it makes me believe that, in the midst of all this surreal insanity, these people and these messages are the ones that speak the loudest. The alternative, to me, is inconceivable.

Okay You say there are gays and their love is as ultimate as your mama/papa’s. We should respect them because you believe that they will be able to birth cute Daniels in coming years, right? I wish your papa could be a gay so you can see from sky and ask why you are not getting into life.

You don’t know how sentences work, do you? You can’t just throw a bunch of words into a hat, pull them out at random, and assemble them into a word-soup, hoping that others may understand you. Your message appears to be “GAYS BAD. OTHER THINGS. HAHAHA.”

That’s fine, you’re entitled to your opinion. I disagree with you completely, but I won’t be changing your mind. I am a firm believer in equal rights for everyone, regardless of their gender, race, sexual orientation, and opinions on lemon-flavored cookies. I want Ukraine to be a country that embraces this type of tolerance. And I’m far from alone. Unfortunately, Russia has a long way to go to (at least politically) acknowledge the rights of many such groups. This is one of the reasons I am against Russia’s attempt to heavy-handedly influence developments in Ukraine.

And so nicely, you called them pro-russian actors just like you and your supporters are made of milk and honey. No discussion, on such illogical statements. You fat black Buffalo; you’re totally black yourself. How you dare to ask cow, “move away from my way you black tail cow”.

Uuuuuuhm, milk and honey. Delicious!

Please (all migrated) americans do not mess with the world, Let us live in peace. Every year we’ll be giving you a thanks giving. I wish your last sentence may come true so we can get rid of you.

For the record (not that it really matters), I’m a Ukrainian living in Denmark. You would have known that if you have bothered to read my post properly, instead of smashing your fingers on the keyboard to write angry words.

But, once again, you manage to say something useful. Namely, the “let us live in peace” part. That’s what I want: for Russia’s politicians to learn to let go and give Ukraine space to live in peace. To let Ukrainians try and settle any possible internal disputes, and together start building a better future.

These may be romantic, even naive, hopes.

But I so want to believe we are capable of making the right choices. I so want to believe that the Ukrainian people at large are tolerant, kind, and reasonable. I so want to believe that, despite our corruption- and turmoil-filled past, we are smart enough to learn from history and start making the right decisions and, slowly, very slowly, turning our country around.

My only mission in all of this is to root for a peaceful resolution to this complex, polarizing, and sad standoff. You said it, Meki—let us live in peace!

***

I leave you all with a little parody skit mocking Russian propaganda, made by a bunch of Ukrainians who haven’t lost their sense of humour in all of this. It even has English subtitles. It makes me immensely happy to see these types of videos being made. A country that hasn’t lost its sense of humour during such sad times is a country I’m proud to have been born in. It’s a country that I trust can pull through this horrible mess with optimism and grace. For without humour, things would look all too depressing indeed: