THE AGONY OF UKRAINE: WHOSE WAR IS IT ANYWAY?
Selected Passages from Correspondences
by Gennady Shkliarevsky
The war in Ukraine is rapidly approaching the end of its second year. Although the war continues to rage unabated, it no longer commands the attention that it received in its early stages. Articles and commentaries on Ukraine have practically disappeared from front pages of our MSM. The fact that the United States and the West have pumped close to $160 billion combined to support the war effort in Ukraine has made little difference. It appears to have reached a stalemate where no side can get a decisive advantage over the other.
The crucial issue that the United States and the West face today is whether they should continue its military support of the war effort by the Zelensky government and the extent of this support. There are divisions among American political elites as to future policies toward Ukraine. The Democrats want to continue supporting the Zelensky government, as they put it, “to the end.” A significant and growing number of Republicans express doubts as to the viability of such policies. They seek to limit the amount of assistance or even to terminate it completely.
The decisive argument offered by the proponents of continued support is that most Ukrainians want to continue their fight against Russian invaders. The evidence they provide is that some 70% to 80% of Ukrainians are determined to defeat Russia and liberate their country. America, the proponents of continued support argue, cannot betray courageous Ukrainian people and abandon them.
Most, if not all, the information about the war in Ukraine comes from the Zelensky administration and is disseminated by our MSM. There are practically no independent sources of information about life in Ukraine and the attitudes of ordinary Ukrainians. This situation results in a very distorted picture of what life is like in Ukraine. There is an obvious need to gain reliable information since important decisions have to be made about our policies toward Ukraine.
From 2014, when the staged insurrection removed the legally elected president of Ukraine and hostilities between Russia and Ukraine flared up, I have corresponded with many Ukrainians (I come from Kiev). My correspondents have provided me with sources of information that are independent from the influence by the government. The picture I have been able to reconstruct is in many ways very different from the one that is provided by official government sources and the MSM in the United States.
I think that American public deserves to have a more objective picture of the situation in Ukraine. After all, the American taxpayers provide most funds are used to continue financing this war. With this in mind, I want to share some selected passages from correspondences I have received from Ukraine recently. I certainly recognize that these correspondences represent subjective sources of information. However, the private views and opinions that they express are undoubtedly authentic and provide much needed correctives to the views and opinions projected by the official government sources and disseminated by American and Western governments and MSM.
So, here are the excerpts:
. . . Before the war my wife and I could take walks through the oak grove near our house. We would usually walk down the path to the lake slowly, leisurely, savoring clean air. My wife has respiratory problems. After 2014 when Ukrainian government decided that the country would pursue membership in the EU and NATO, natural gas became very expensive. As a result, many people started to use wood-burning stoves that we call “hell’s cauldron.” They have a special design that make wood and rubbish they use for fuel to smolder, not burn, which makes them very economical. However, they pollute the surrounding air with horrible, suffocating stench that irritates respiratory organs.
. . . For over two years, since the beginning of the large-scale military operations, my wife and I have not been able to take a walk through our beloved grove. A large barricade made of trees now blocks access to the path. The sign on the barricade says that one can enter the grove only through a special checkpoint set up by the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Such checkpoints have nothing to do with protecting citizens; rather, they act as bottlenecks that allow the military to control the flow of people and inspect their IDs. Officers also use them to issue draft cards to males of draft age who pass through and then send them to the war front to fight for “European values” and “democracy.”
. . . Our mainstream media is completely under control of the corrupt Zelensky regime. On government orders they print appeals to the population to fight to “protect their own together with the entire civilized world” and other such abstractions that brainwash people, thus ensuring their compliance. Deaths of hundreds of thousands of ordinary Ukrainians who are forced to sacrifice their life for “their own” are a sad proof of their efficiency.
. . . I had a patient, a five-year-old child with a severe respiratory illness. Doctors treated the disease with strong doses of antibiotics—a treatment that was progressively ineffective, as illness flared back over and over. I used an alternative approach that showed promise. One day the father was taking the child for treatment and had to pass through a checkpoint. He was stopped and issued a draft card. He was sent to the front despite the fact that he had a heart condition.
. . . Many ordinary Ukrainians accept bankruptcies, massive loss of clients, the dramatic deficit of currency that are rampant during the war as inevitable results of some fatal coincidences . . . The critical shortage of money they need for survival turns people into slaves . . . of the social system. The fact that many Ukrainian men lack sufficient resources for their survival and the survival of their families practically guarantees that they would end up going to war without any training.
. . . The growing number of Ukrainians is rapidly becoming part of the war economy. The current militaristic ecosystem has become their only source of income. It is the only source of survival for some and huge profits for others who engage in criminal activities: drug trafficking, organ trade, or pilfering humanitarian assistance. The Ukrainian military authorities engage in various scams. Their agents under false identity offer possibilities to avoid mobilization and emigrate from “free and democratic” Ukraine. All they have to do is to pay $5,000. Scammers take the money and those who paid go to war or to jail.
. . . I have so far managed to stay outside of this “Ukrainian ecosystem.” But I am not sure how long my modest resources will allow me to do this. The government blocked my site because it was registered with a provider in Moscow and because the site was in Russian. They payment systems I use are also blocked. As a result, I have lost scores of patients in Russia who could pay for my services. The government uses all sorts of devices for controlling cash flow. Invisible walls of restrictions and controls are growing exponentially on the Internet. The news about the war disseminated by the government is a sophisticated system that aids oppressive government policies and turn the lives of ordinary people into hell. This totalitarian control makes protests and revolutions impossible.
. . . Several years ago one of my patients in Russia advised me to move to her city in Russia. “Why are you suffering there in Ukraine?” she told me. “You should move to our city and open your small private practice here.” Right. She was so naïve. Lofty pronouncements about “freedom and democracy” in Ukraine conceal the core reality of our social system that is geared for oppression and exploitation. This system denies people any autonomy. Those at the top of the social hierarchy here are sociopaths and psychopaths (I call them “butchers”) who make decisions that determine our lives. In the current dominant conditions of Ukraine you see these systemic features very clearly.
. . . My main mistake was the belief that people in general are rational creatures. The reality has turned out to be very different: most people are irrational. The vast majority is not capable of countering government indoctrination efforts and of de-programming their mind. Before the war many Ukrainians protested against tax increases by the Zelensky government and demanded Zelensky’s removal. Now these same people offer no resistance to the government that demands that they should sacrifice their life for “common interests.”
. . . Zelensky and his regime spread cynical lies that a majority of Ukrainians support this war and want to continue it. Let me give you one example that illustrates the attitude to the war here. A few days ago there was a hurricane in Odessa. Strong winds uprooted trees that knocked down power lines. I called up one of my former patients and made a joke about the hurricane washed away all those agents of the government who made the life of residents in Odessa difficult. He answered was that hurricanes were less frightening than these agents. During the hurricane these agents disappeared from the streets of the city. Suddenly many male residents appeared in the streets running around and doing their errands. Americans probably do not know that government agents are usually chasing males in the streets. They shove those that manage to catch into the so-called “dignity buses” and send them to the front, obviously without any training. Another patient also from Odessa has also told me that many draftees have to use their money to purchase bulletproof vests and other special military equipment. Agents are only afraid of apprehending bikers who move in groups and can defend themselves. The practiced of forced drafting is used in many Ukrainian cities. I know, for example, of numerous cases in Ternopol. One woman told me a story about a man who was apprehended while he was crossing the street. As he crossed, there was a “dignity bus” waiting for him on the other side. Agents shoved the man into the bus while the crowd witnessing the incident expressed indignation.
. . . I can only describe this practice by the government as the slaughter conveyor belt. Like many other Ukrainians, I do not see any purpose in this war or any goals that it might pursue. The latest interview by [Davyd] Arakhamia (aka David Braun)—a prominent member of Zelensky’s party—has only strengthened this sentiment. Zelensky and his government have created an information bubble here in Ukraine. They use for mass manipulation of people. But this is a different subject that requires a separate discussion. I think that similar bubbles also exist in your country (the U.S.A.), in Europe, and in Russia. There is no reliable information. On can see only individual fragments, not the entire picture. By controlling the flow of information the political class has practically unlimited power and opportunities to manipulate people and control their behavior. The fact that one part of the population tries to kill the other part of the population in the Donbas region is just one example of such manipulation.
. . . The control over the information here in Ukraine has reached an absurd level. One cannot access any Russian sites (even those that offer cooking recipes). One cannot open even Polish or American sites. The elite submerged people into a specialized information bubble. It is practically impossible to find out the truth. The equipment required for accessing reliable information is too expensive; there is a very high threshold of accessibility (you have to have specialized knowledge of network programming). This issue is very serious. Access to reliable information is the issue of life-and-death here in Ukraine. Ukrainians have no information about this war. The government intentionally conceals this information. I will continue to search for reliable and comprehensive information sources because one’s survival depends on such sources. I know through my personal experience that the ruling elites erect walls on the Internet that prevent people from accessing reliable sources.
There is little more I can add to these excerpts. As an illustration of these views and attitudes, I attach a video that shows a draftee escaping from a recruiting station in the city of Ternopil in Western Ukraine.
Gennady Shkliarevsky is a Professor Emeritus of Bard College. He is a Ukrainian immigrant to America.