Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

Ukraine : On-the-Spot Reports by Good Correspondents are Invaluable : Tony Connelly (RTÉ) and Daniel McLaughlin (Irish Times)

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Every major war tests news sources. Blizzards of disinformation should not deter us from seeking the truth. We can identify good and bad journalists. Two excellent war reporters are quoted here. Tony Connelly of the Irish State Broadcaster RTÉ, and Daniel McLaughlin of the Irish Times. We need them. We are attempting to rescue the reputation of the international revolutionary anti-war Left. In this respect the quotations below from two outstanding chroniclers of World War 1 and the 1917 Russian Revolution – John Reed and Leon Trotsky, are extremely good guides for activists combatting the Russian Ethnic Cleanser invasion of Ukraine in dark days of 2022.

Tony Connelly in Ukraine – as of noon Irish time, Sunday February 27 2022 – Day Four of the Invasion and Some Predictable Conclusions Already

It’s day four of the invasion and some predictable conclusions already. A civilian death toll – over 200 killed. But I suppose a more surprising element to this is a strong sense that this is going to be a lot harder than Vladimir Putin had expected.

It seems he wanted to capture Kyiv quickly, force the government into submission and start putting about a new order in Ukraine that would be forced away from the EU, from the West, and firmly back in Russia’s orbit.

Even though there has been a fairly brutal onslaught by the Russian military, both in terms of air strikes and tank movements, Russia has found it harder than had been anticipated.

There has been fierce resistance in key cities, including Kyiv, places like Kharkiv, Odessa, and it’s clear that the Ukrainian military which has been preparing for something like this for perhaps eight years, and which has been funded and equipped by the West, is putting up a fairly staunch resistance.

And that means it is going to be difficult for the Russian government in terms of managing this.

If they can’t do it quickly, then the effect of sanctions from the West will start to bite.

And of course global public opinion is already firmly against the Russian invasion.

And this suggests that Vladimir Putin may want to either short circuit this invasion, bring it to a swift conclusion, perhaps by some kind of negotiations with the government, or he may intensify the invasion and take more risks with the civilian population and civilian targets in order to really terrorise the government here into submission.

But clearly this is not going according to Vladimir Putin’s plan in terms of the kind of resistance he has met on the ground.

Tony Connelly, “Each passing hour prompts massive changes in EU policy” RTÉ News, February 27 2022

Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians hail unity and denounce Russia’s occupation of peninsula

It is just three weeks since Ukrainian director Oleh Sentsov celebrated the general release of Rhino, the film he made after spending five years in Russian jails on spurious terrorism charges following the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Now, a fortnight after Russia invaded his homeland, he is a volunteer fighter “standing in the trenches as a participant of the territorial defence of Kyiv … Life has changed in an instant with the fall of the first bomb on the territory of Ukraine.”

“My motherland is mercilessly being shelled from the land, sea and air. Russian bombs are falling on Ukrainian children. Millions are sitting in bomb shelters. Millions are suffering from being cold and lacking food,” he said in an open letter to the international film community.

“My country is being ruined, but our spirit is strong. We are going to fight until our victory.”

Revolution

Sentsov is from Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Russia seized in March 2014 after a revolution in Ukraine ousted the country’s then Kremlin-backed leaders and turned it decisively away from Moscow and towards the West.

The annexation was rejected by most of the region’s ethnic Ukrainians, including Sentsov, and by its mainly Muslim Crimean Tatar community, who together made up more than a third of its two million people, while many of its ethnic Russians welcomed the occupation.

Opponents of the Kremlin regime fled Crimea as free speech and political activism were crushed by the Russian security services; now, eight years on – in politics, culture, civil society and on the front line – they are fighting the invasion in any way they can.

“We are trying to stay in a more-or-less safe place, but I don’t think any corner of my country is entirely safe now. So we are going into bomb shelters from time to time. It’s really disgusting and awful to see the barbaric reality of this,” says Emine Dzheppar, a deputy foreign minister of Ukraine who was a journalist and activist in Crimea until 2014.

Eastward journey

Her grandparents, along with the entire Crimean Tatar community on the peninsula, were sent into exile in 1944 by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin as collective punishment for supposed collaboration with the Nazis.About half of the 200,000 exiles died from hunger, thirst, disease and cold on their brutal eastward journey in railway cattle cars and during their first year in remote Central Asia and Siberia.

Crimean Tatars were allowed to return home only in the late 1980s, and often faced hostility from settlers in Crimea, many of whom were Soviet servicemen and their relatives.

“Crimean Tatars and all Ukrainians have a common history of suffering under the Russian empire,” says Dzheppar.

“In 1873, when Catherine II annexed Crimea for the first time, the Crimean Tatars were a bone in the throat of Russia’s narrative that Crimea was the motherland of Russian culture and Orthodox Christian religion and so on, because we are the indigenous people of Crimea,” she explains.

 “My father was a surgeon and my mother a dentist. When they took two suitcases and four-year-old me and returned to Crimea in 1987, they went through hell. Because without registration they couldn’t get a job and without a job they couldn’t register, and when the KGB found out they were Crimean Tatars they would give them trouble.”

Dzheppar says Ukrainians have been “traumatised for centuries” of disasters caused by Russia, whether the deportation of the Crimean Tatars, the manmade Holodomor famine of 1932-3 that killed up to 10 million people, Stalin’s Soviet terror and the 2014 annexation of Crimea and war in eastern Ukraine.

“This war is yet another trauma,” Dzheppar tells The Irish Times late at night from a Kyiv that is under curfew and shaken by explosions as Russian forces mass on its outskirts.

“But what I see today is also the tremendous unity of my country,” she adds.

“When you see people opposing Russian tanks with their bare hands in the streets and forming a human shield to stop them reaching a nuclear power plant, this makes me so proud of every single Ukrainian who fights for principles.”

Displaced people

When Russian occupation and war came to Crimea and eastern Ukraine in 2014, thousands of people fled to Lviv, a peaceful western city near the border with Poland.Many were helped by Crimea SOS, a civil society group co-founded by Crimean Tatar Alim Aliev to “work with displaced people and those who stayed in Crimea, and to inform people about what is going on there.”

Aliev travelled back to Kyiv from Lviv on the eve of the February 24th invasion after taking part in a festival of Crimean culture in the western city.

“A friend called me at 6am and said: ‘War has begun’,” he recalls.

“I spent the next night in a bomb shelter – the underground carpark of the building where I live – then colleagues told me I should leave Kyiv,” amid reports that Russian operatives planned to target prominent Ukrainian politicians, activists and journalists.

Now Aliev, who is deputy director of the Ukrainian Institute, a public cultural agency, is working from Lviv, which is the main transit point for the two million Ukrainians who have fled into the European Union.

“I’m working 24/7 on different projects and with people, complete strangers, who call asking for help, and we try to find a place for them to stay somewhere in western Ukraine,” explains Aliev, who was born in Uzbekistan before his family returned from exile.

Occupation

He says occupation not only stifled opposition voices in Crimea, but led to “the militarisation of the peninsula and of its people’s consciousness”, and the arrival of hundreds of thousands of people who are loyal to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

“At least 500,000 Russians have come in. Many are from the military and security services and there are also local administration staff and businesspeople.”

Tens of thousands have fled Crimea since 2014, and for Crimean Tatars – most of whom are Russian-speaking Muslims – it was not necessarily easy to adapt to life in western Ukraine, an overwhelmingly Christian stronghold of national identity, language and culture.

 “There is still no mosque here in Lviv, but at least we have large prayer houses now with enough space,” says Aliev. “In 2014 people met to pray in flats, and even in the office of Crimea SOS sometimes.”

Aliev says it has been “horrible” to witness the displacement of people from eastern Ukraine and Crimea in 2014 and on a vastly greater scale now, but he believes these crises have also smashed the regional, linguistic and religious barriers that divided and weakened the nation.

“A lot of our people are dying now – the other day a famous Ukrainian actor was killed, Pasha Lee, who came from Yevpatoria in Crimea. His father was ethnic Korean. There are ethnic Ukrainians, ethnic Russians, Crimean Tatars, ethnic Koreans fighting for Ukraine – this says a lot about our nation and our unity now,” he adds.

“Putin made one big mistake: he really thought we are a mess and we would be afraid and would just sit at home and say ‘Okay, here are flowers for your army.’ Instead, people are really angry and really active.”

Even as Ukraine fights for survival, there is a glimmer of hope among many of its people that Moscow’s invasion – which faces fierce Ukrainian resistance, massive western sanctions and some opposition at home – could backfire on Putin, ultimately demolishing his regime and shaking Russia to its foundations.

“Putin is going all in and we are going all in. A lot of people in Crimea realise the situation and they are just waiting for D-Day,” says Aliev.

Dzheppar says her country’s political institutions are still functioning fully, and the cabinet holds virtual meetings “a couple of times a day”; its president Volodymr Zelenskiy, meanwhile, has become a global star and symbol of resistance against immense odds.

“Ukraine is a piece of bread that Russia cannot swallow,” she says.

“The war that Putin started here in Ukraine is the beginning of his personal end. And the consequences for his country and for the Russian people, unfortunately, will be disastrous.”

Daniel McLaughlin, “Crimea’s exiles see a hard road home through Putin’s war” Irish Times March 10 2022

John Meehan April 10 2022

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