He wondered why I gently took it from his hands, held it with love and kissed it with respect. Sir, I said there is no stone on earth not irrigated by blood. Lots spilt here on Planet Earth. But the Earth still lives, still breathes. Our Earth still lives.
(Kostas Hadjis, Greek song)
Valentin M. Yakushik is a Ukrainian intellectual whom I had the privilege to work with in the past. He is a political scientist in Ukraine. Our five year interaction took place within the International Permanent Study Group on national and inter-ethnic reconciliation and religious tolerance in the Balkans. We were at the European Center for Peace and Development at the University for Peace established by the United Nations (Belgrade, Serbia). Today he is a Member of the Supervisory Board of the Ukrainian Institute of Political Analysis (Kiev, Ukraine) having served as professor of social and political science and international relations and sciences at the National University of Life and Environmental Sciences of Ukraine. Currently, he researches the theory of state in transition and comparative political and legal systems.
Valentin it is so good to be in touch with you again even under such horrifying circumstances. It is heart-breaking to say goodbye to everything you have ever known, which is the case for myriads of your compatriots now forced to do so. It is difficult to maintain the resilience to face an uncertain tomorrow and we cannot know the scars it will leave years down the road if you survive. 80 years on from WWII the sirens that warned of air raids then somehow still disturb me.
It seems almost impossible to contemplate a deliberately smashed city pounded to rubble with civilians trapped under it as Russian thinks of celebrating the end of WWII and remembering its colossal losses. Can you describe the emotions in the Ukraine and some relative responses/words from your countrymen?
My compatriots have had a whole spectrum of forms of reaction: readiness to fight; getting stupefied in despair; extreme fear of war and the desire to take their dearest ones as far as possible away from the dangerous areas. And all that has been accompanied by a wide range of emotions: confusion, grief, fear, anger, rage, hatred, as well as calm self-concentration and a readiness for self-sacrifice.
The resulting societal reaction of Ukrainian citizens was embodied in a quick and tough rejection of the external intervention. It was unexpected for many foreigners who knew the weaknesses of Ukrainian administrative, political and economic elites, widespread corruption and inefficiency. But it turned out to be a real Patriotic War during which most of the political and socio-economic cleavages were to a large extent put aside.
It seems that decision making in politics is shifting to lower cortical levels and empathy is losing out?
I see that the role of decisions at the ‘grassroots’ level, and often at the individual level, is growing significantly, but I would like to emphasize the pivotal role of decisions made at the upper levels of geopolitical and conceptual power, even more so – at the so-called ‘conspirological’ (conspiracy theories) level and, if you think within the framework of the ancient Greek and Vedic traditions, at the level of the Divine.
I’m not going to let you pull me into our discussion fields of the past but to remind you, as you know, Valentin, in these pages I have protested to Mr. Putin in Springtime begins in Saken, a small village hidden from the world on the north-west shore of the Black Sea. It called for a change of heart without failure Mr. Putin, saying we do have an obligation to examine any and all attempts that consciously rewrite, and persistently deny well known happenings or attempt to destroy individuals. We do have an obligation to de-falsify false historical narrative. We appealed as human beings to human beings: remember your humanity, and forget the rest; in the words of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, 1955 on nuclear disarmament; words that should be our universal guide today.
I do agree that aggressive chauvinistic and imperialistic narratives have to be clearly identified and exposed by experts, and the relevant preventive measures have to be taken in the spheres of education and mass-media. Appreciation of cultural and political pluralism presupposes no tolerance towards dangerous destructive and divisive narratives and discourses.
Let me point out Valentin, that Ukraine was considered ‘one of the countries seeing the most serious violations against human rights activists’. Can you tell us about human rights violations now there?
An oligarchic regime established during the years of President Leonid Kuchma (1994 – 2004) was accompanied by the relative pluralism and preservation of human rights for those who were not threatening the basics of the oligarchy – in fact for the majority. But there were several cases of severe secret reprisals against some opposition journalists and there were even murders of opposition activists.
The times of revolutions (2004 – 2005 and 2013 – 2014 in Ukraine) and of post-revolutionary regimes (2005 – 2010 and 2014 – 2019) were usually accompanied by severe factional fights and restrictive measures aimed at the isolation or weakening of the previous dominant elites and the alternatively thinking intellectuals. All that (to a larger or lesser extent) has been present in contemporary Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the time of war usually does not provide for pluralism and gentry manners. Now it is especially the case, when for some reason the invading troops of the Russian Federation seemingly were not given any restrictions on looting civilian properties, or of avoiding destruction of civilian infrastructures.
The most important human rights – for life, safety, housing, private property, etc. – were severely violated in Ukraine by the leaders of the Russian Federation who gave the order to start the invasion into the neighbouring country. The uncontrolled military personnel who are engaged in looting and unprovoked destruction are exacerbating these violations.
We see trains playing a vital role in the journey that Ukrainians are forced to take to reach safety in neighbouring countries. What is happening? How big is migration and is there racial discrimination in treatment at the borders?
The Ukrainian authorities have been quite efficient and generous in organising mass evacuation by trains to the west of the country from the major cities in eastern and central Ukraine. Usually such numerous evacuation trains were free of charge for all. At the arrival points the local authorities and local businessmen were organising free lunches for the arriving people and usually also free transportation by buses and minibuses to the border.
More than 4.5 million Ukrainian citizens have fled abroad due to the war. The countries of the European Union have been very efficient and generous towards Ukrainian citizens and have been organising all the necessary facilities for the arriving persons – free food at the border and in the major railway stations, free transportation towards the places of asylum in Central and Western Europe, free temporary housing, etc.
I know and saw that several mainstream western media (even CNN) for some time had spread information about the alleged cases of racial discrimination at the borders of Ukraine. At the same time my friends from several international TV channels who worked exactly at the crossing points on Ukrainian borders reported and told me that all the formal processes there were organised well and without any discrimination of foreigners.
I suppose that some cases of complaints related to foreigners being prevented to cross the border of Ukraine might have been connected to the lack of valid passports or some foreigners being illegal immigrants in Ukraine, and probably, sometimes, at the beginning of mass emigration from Ukraine (in the end of February – early March 2022) it was due to the lack of clarity and insufficient coordination with Poland, whose government had earlier (in 2021-2022) taken very tough measures against illegal mass emigration (predominantly from several Arab countries and Afghanistan) via Belarus.
Do you have any insight into concerns into human trafficking and sexual violence that have been recorded during the refugee crisis in Ukraine?
Personally I do not have special information on that with the exception of publications in the press about advertisements in British newspapers offering ‘free’ housing for the exchange of agreed sexual services several times a week. And also I have heard from a real witness who in one of the humble asylums for Ukrainian women in Western Europe saw arrogant American alleged ‘teachers’ looking for nice Ukrainian young ladies to offer them spending some time together.
I am sure that the Western law-enforcement organisations pay attention to the facts and the processes of the organised crime and some individual (‘decentralised’) scoundrels’ and villains’ attempts (and their practised schemes) to take advantage of Ukrainian women travelling to the West for asylum without being accompanied by Ukrainian men. (Most Ukrainian men at the age between 18 to 60 are legally prohibited to leave the country during this war). It is ‘normal’ behaviour for rascals and villains to take advantage of suffering women in situations of dire need and desperation. And for the caring states and for democratic NGOs it is normal and natural to look for the preventive measures to protect the susceptable-vulnerable strata and to limit the ambitions of the organised and ‘decentralised’ crime and to punish them.
By the way, one of my former PhD students works in a programme, supported by the Canadian government, which deals exactly with development and implementation of such preventive measures against human trafficking and sexual violence.
Is it appropriate to ask you your worst experience in the current horror?
Having already had the worst psychological experience in 2014-2015, now I feel psychologically strong and prepared for various difficulties and unexpected situations. The worst experience in 2022 was, in fact, at the start of the war – as on its eve, I, as a political scientist and analyst, had been explaining to the world public that such a war is absolutely impossible. But the unthinkable has happened. And the second shock for me was during the 15 day stay of my relatives in the middle of the constant fire and bombing around, being in a shaky shelter, in the basement beneath a humble building near Gostomel airport which was occupied by the Russian troops on the first day of the war.
Another possible wave of horror would be if we shall face a protracted war. Hopefully, there will be a chance for common sense to come back and prevail.
The Russian leaders have lead their country into a horrific historic and civilizational trap. Ukrainian citizens suffer the utmost of the direct and indirect repercussions of that war. The way to peace must be found as soon as possible.
Valentin, during our interactions more than a decade ago, Orthodox, Protestant and Catholic Christians sat down with Muslim clerics during turbulent times in the Balkans. In the present war field we have Orthodox and Orthodox. What are your thoughts on religious tolerance?
Religious tolerance is one of the tools of humanistic forces to start moving from a terrible crisis towards the victory of common sense and pluralism. I feel that in Ukraine there is, in fact, not a problem of the lack of religious tolerance, but a problem of instrumentalization and ‘departmentalization’ of Orthodox churches, their use as political and geo-political tools. It is a set of serious problems, and it will take time to cure them, as the caused wounds are deep.
Let me get your comments on sanctions. Will sanctions on Russia weaken and destabilize it and bring about a peace settlement? Would stronger sanctions cause an intensification of the on-going madness? How will prices increase, supply shortages of energy, raw materials, rare earth minerals, grain and agricultural products occur and affect the world?
I think that, in global terms, these Western sanctions are leading to the restructuralization of the geo-economic and geo-political space – acceleration of further processes of world regionalization. Most probably, Russia will introduce conservationist mechanisms of national self-reliance, more socialistic and populistic socio-economic approaches (somehow borrowed from the contemporary Iran). After the end of the war, the imminent change of oligarchic and autocratic regime in the Russian Federation will be accompanied by the introduction of a mobilizationist model of development and strategic cooperation with China and India.
Keep safe and thank you Valentin M. Yakushik. Somewhere during our conversations we discussed where did all this start and aspects of World War I. World War I was expected to be short-lived, it wasn’t! The war to end all wars, it didn’t! It was a war of horrors, abominable trench and chemical warfare; killed, maimed, crazed and demented. It left continents without men, women without men. A pinpointing of the start of this brutal war in the Ukraine probably resides as WWI came to an end and as social dementia grew further to endanger democratic society and human existence. Social dementia is the shame of the civilized world. Its greatest tragedy was the death camps in WWII. Incredibly, forgiving was emergent then. Now with war in Ukraine neither forgiving nor forgetting is emergent. But we must remain optimistic. In crisis we are all Ukrainians and safe passage for Ukrainians is safe passage for Humanity.
Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.