Associate Professor of UzhNU and Oakland University appeals to Russian friends on Facebook
To Russian friends
After the last great war was over, in 1946, German Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller wrote a confession poem “First they came …” where he described the creeping normality that gripped the population of Germany before the World War. The lie started small, grew incrementally, and in the end, it became overwhelming and too scary to act against. When I first learned about the poem, it touched me as a lesson of history. History that we should have learned from. History that should have never repeated itself. We have not, and history repeated itself.
What is going on in Ukraine is deeply personal. I grew up in a small town in Ukraine, in an apartment next to a family of elder Russians. I had a childhood friend who would spend his summers with his grandma and grandpa upstairs. We called each other on our birthdays every year for 50 years in a row. For us it had always been personal, not political. Shared memories of childhood create a strong bond that is difficult to let go even if all hell breaks loose. For the last decade I felt that my friend was getting more and more convinced by the deceptions fed to him by Putin's propaganda. We argued about the USSR, the Crimea, Donbas, European Union, NATO, and everything else, but we did not stop talking. Deep inside, each of us felt that if we were still talking, there could never be war between our people.
It was my turn to call him again last week. On the 23d of February, my friend told me that the threat of war only exists in the imagination of western media. On the morning of the 24th I wrote to him: Why did you lie to me?
Then came the shock. On the morning of the 24th Russian tanks started rolling across the border. Russian ballistic rockets started hitting targets in the Ukrainian cities. Hundreds of thousands of refugees, mostly women and children started fleeing the country fearing the unknown, but the men stayed on to fight. The heroic resistance put up by my people has surprised everyone in the West. It was predicted that Ukraine had no chance. The news anchors talked about the fall of the country in hours, in days, weeks.
In this dark hour, I watch my people grew angry and determined. Everyone joins the fight. Ukrainians entered the fight despite the colossal superiority of the enemy both in the military equipment and in numbers and have done something seemingly impossible. They convinced the world that they will resist, and their example has inspired the world. I know that we will win. The madman in Russia wanted to invade to topple our government, and establish his control over my people, and that was his biggest mistake. You can fight with the governments, but you cannot fight with the people.
The inaction of my friend in Russia and millions like him is why this happened. They were lied to, but they let themselves be lied to. Little by little, the lie has crept into their minds and taken hold. In this world of twisted mirrors, the real world was upside down: First they were told Ukrainians are oppressing the Russian language. Then, they were being manipulated by NATO and the US. Then, that they were run by “nazis and drug addicts”. Finally, they have been told that there was no choice but to demilitarize and denazify the neighboring nation, and the horror has begun.
Over time, millions in Russia have become convinced that we were the enemy. They have built a giant echo chamber where no other voices could be heard. The voices of opposition have been cut off or shut off. Finally, there was no one left to speak for them. The media report that many Russians believe they are being unfairly punished by the sanctions for their governments full-scale invasion in Ukraine. They don’t think they should suffer for the actions of their leaders.
My dear Russian friends. You are not the enemy, we do not hate you, but we will blame you because you have enabled one. You have let the lie creep into your minds and slowly become the creeping normality, not unlike the one Pastor Niemöller described in his poem. When you woke up from your deep lie on the morning of the 24th, you were sick and scared of what you saw, but this was what you have created.
If you still have any compassion left in your heart and any sense left in your brain it is not too late to do the right thing. Reach out to us, tell us that you stand with us, and we will embrace your help. Let us stand together against the common enemy. I know of many who are coming out now, protesting and often risking their lives confronting the police in Moscow, St. Petersburg and in other cities all over Russia. We respect their bravery. If you are not in Russia right now, there are many more things you can do: join the anti war actions, donate to the Ukrainian cause, send medical supplies, aid humanitarian organizations, receive refugees, fight propaganda, and convince others.
There is still time for you to be on the right side of history, but you must act now, or you will have to forever live with the guilt, regret, and shame that your leaders brought onto your nation.