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What Are They Really Fighting, Dying for in Ukraine?

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From Correspondent Anna Ivanova in Russia.

A war in Europe is the last thing anyone could have imagined happening in 2014. A war some 500 km from my hometown was even more unimaginable. And yet the Ukrainian army is shelling rebels holed up in Donetsk, civilian casualties are on the rise and the refugee stream from eastern Ukraine is ever-present.

Armed conflicts are often ruthless, and it seems that after awhile the warring parties tend to forget what it is they’re really fighting about. In Ukraine even at the beginning of the conflict, the message of the rebels was skewed by Russian and Ukrainian media propaganda, making it unclear. Were they protecting ethnic Russians from the fascist gangs of neo-Nazis (albeit unseen)? Did they want to become an independent state? Follow Crimea’s path and join (or, more accurately, be annexed) by Russia?

What they are fighting and dying for now is unclear to the public and, perhaps, to the rebels themselves.

Closely watching the conflict in Ukraine unfold, I battle multiple emotions. These include a deep disenchantment in my fellow citizens who are so susceptible to ruthless media propaganda, who choose stability over freedom and equate democracy with chaos. Another emotion is a feeling of isolation, because there are very few here who share my views or would be willing to engage in a mature debate on the subject. If you’re not with us, you’re against us, you’re the fifth estate, the enemy of the state, you are alone. But the strongest of these emotions is fear – fear for Russia’s future.

Take the ban on imported goods, for instance. If the sanctions imposed by the West did not really affect ordinary Russians, the embargo the Russian government established on the import of many foreign goods will affect the economy greatly. Interestingly enough, this is not clear to most people with whom I’ve spoken about it; they are, in fact, supportive of the import embargo and convinced that it will strengthen the national economy.

With this embargo, like its entire strategy on Ukraine from the very first days of protests on Maidan Square in Kiev, Russia has been tirelessly working on reanimating long-forgotten Cold War-era animosities. However, this will not end with the great Russian empire being reborn from the ashes, but in further isolation and loss of respect in the eyes on the international community.

The 21st century is a time of globalization and integration, a time when more of the world is focused on human development and the overall progress of the human kind, not on arms races or superpower stand-offs. The sooner the Russian people and the Russian government understand this, the better it will be for them and for the world around them.


Anna Ivanova Anna Ivanova
Anna is a graduate student in International Affairs and Conflict Studies. She has worked in a number of countries in Europe, Africa and Asia and is interested in post-socialist states and economies in the 21st century.

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