war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

For those who couldn’t return

Halya Coynash
On calls by supporters of the rightwing party VO “Svoboda” for a return of the“fifth point” regarding nationality and on how a party so capable of harming the country and betraying the memory of all those who had no place to return to can have the gall to call itself nationalist

            Each year migratory birds find their way home. Only cranes in my mind are somehow always flying far off into the horizon. Illogical of course, and my theme, anyway, is political struggle, slogans, calls of “Ukraine for Ukrainians”. Yet beyond the human cacophony, it is another cry which endures: the cry as the cranes fly away: “I will die in a foreign land”. The Ukrainian poet and author of these words, Bohdan Lepky lies buried in Poland, in Krakow. His words have for decades been a requiem, a last farewell for Ukrainians in Poland, Hungary, across all the seas.

            Whether all Ukrainians now living in other countries have a choice in the matter is hard to say. Some perhaps do. That most of the Ukrainians who found themselves in exile after the victory of the Bolsheviks, during or after the Second World War, later as the result of persecution, had no choice at all is not difficult to say, and necessary.

Futile for Bohdan Chervak, together with his cronies from the rightwing party VO. “Svoboda” [«Freedom” Party], to try to convince us that the slogan “Ukraine for the Ukrainians” meant and means only one thing: “Ukraine without occupiers”. There is little doubt that Mykola Mikhnovsky, the nationalist who died in 1924 meant precisely that with his phrase. However, excuse me, when in all European countries, as soon as poverty and unemployment are on the rise, you can hear various versions of that selfsame call, what has Mikhnovsky got to do with it? Do the supporters of VO. “Svoboda”, who boast of close ties with some far rightwing movements in other countries, really believe that those “comrades-in-arms”, if they come to power, will make problems exclusively for “non-whites” and Jewish people? They are badly mistaken. Sure, when another person stands out more than you do, then they’ll be the first target. When there’s no work and you’re the one who stands out the most, then it will be you who’s taking people’s jobs away, it will be you who should go home.

And what if you can’t? One refugee whose father had fought for a free Ukraine against the Bolsheviks dared to criticize the Prime Minister of the last country where they found asylum. She paid taxes, had long had the right to vote, yet the response she received was primitively simple: “Well if you don’t like it here, go home”. The supporters of VO “Svoboda” clearly have no idea what it means when there is no home to return to. You could envy them. Or just bitterly regret that they have no qualms about betraying those who know all too well what it means.

The gaining of independence meant a very great deal, both in Ukraine and for all Ukrainians abroad. The list of mistakes is long, missed opportunities legion, however there were some wise moves. All those living in the country became citizens of independent Ukraine, and shortly afterwards the notorious fifth point in the Soviet passport indicating ethnic origin was abolished. Each person became a Ukrainian citizen, beyond that he or she decided what information to impart. This is the same in all democratic countries and nobody suffers a loss of identity as a consequence, rather the contrary.

Among those who sought independence for Ukraine, whether in the Ukrainian People’s Republic in 1918 or the UPA [Ukrainian Resistance Army] there were by no means only ethnic Ukrainians. In December 1991 independence was supported by citizens of an already free Ukraine, regardless of their ethnic origin.

In my view it is typical that the political force, VO “Svoboda” which is most actively campaigning for the return of this “fifth point” regarding nationality [ethnic origin] uses the same words about the right to self-identification that the Soviet authorities trumpeted.

We know what the right to self-identification, the right to ones own “traditions” meant in Soviet times. Ukrainian ensembles were to travel around the world, showing how beautiful embroidered blouses were, how wonderfully they sang and danced. In short, how happy and free people were in the Soviet Union. It was precisely this fifth point in the passport that demonstrated such cultural diversity, such a chorus, so to speak of friendly voices all singing in harmony. Those, admittedly, who sang out of tune, that is, who tried to sing not only songs about the motherland, but to actually speak Ukrainian, or tell the truth about these friendly relations, had problems. Just as many Ukrainians, that is, citizens of free, independent Ukraine, will have problems if VO “Svoboda” comes to power. Although here too, as far as the words are concerned it’s by no means so bad. After a scandalous speech by Oleh Tyahnybok in 2004 when he painted the future to a group of supporters as follows: ““It’s time to give back Ukraine to Ukrainians. … it is you …  that the Moscow-Jewish mafia ruling Ukraine fears most.”, he and his comrades have become much more circumspect. Now VO “Svoboda” is simply in favour of a Ukrainian State in which the Ukrainian people will occupy the dominant position due them. While according to the son of the Deputy Leader of the party, Andriy Illyenko, “We have nothing against minorities as long as they don’t come out in favour of the destruction of the Ukrainian State”. We know who according to the Soviet version of reality was deemed to be engaged in “anti-State activity”, was supposedly seeking the destruction of the Soviet State, but what about under these self-titled “nationalists”? Not that you have to read between the lines particularly, since the texts on regional branches of the party make everything entirely clear.

            Painfully familiar it all is. There is only one thing that remains unfathomable – what any of this has to do with nationalism. It has a great deal, certainly, if we use the terms from Soviet propaganda as we are increasingly hearing from pro-Kremlin media outlets and their parrots in the Crimea. It sometimes feels as though VO “Svoboda” protests and campaigns are orchestrated to suit these highly questionable sources. Whether this is by accident, others must decide. I cannot aspire to objectivity since for me it is totally incomprehensible how you can call yourself a nationalist while doing such harm to your country and its people (however narrowly you may define that term).

            For all its other problems, Ukraine was perhaps the most tolerant country in the entire region. Despite frightening predictions, there was no bloodshed in 2004 and no schism in the country. The international community watched the Orange Revolution unfold with genuine amazement and respect. Why some forces, especially in the Crimea, are doing whatever they can to stir up enmity is unfortunately clear. Why so-called nationalists should wish to divide the country and ruin its reputation in the world,, is beyond me.

With regard to the damage, you need have no doubt. The party’s leader, Oleh Tyahnybok can wax as lyrical as he likes about the “dawn of a renewal of Europe”. He will convince only skinheads and other far rightwing elements.

The European Parliamentary elections demonstrated no dawn of a new life, but people’s disorientation in conditions of serious crisis. It is precisely during such periods that people look for somebody to blame. It is then that radical movements offering primitive slogans and simplistic answers for everything gain in popularity. Lenin managed to catch and use such a moment, Hitler no less so. In the UK, it was mainly in two regions which are suffering badly from the crisis, that the rightwing and racist British National Party [BNP] got most of its votes, both for the European Parliament and in local elections. Those to blame for the BNP are now “immigrants”, although it is worth noting that one of the two new members of the European Parliament from the BNP, Andrew Brons, first joined the extreme rightwing movement in the 1960s. The National Socialist Movement was founded on Hitler’s birthday, and among the “nationalist” actions of its members were arson attacks on synagogues. About this period in the history of the British far right movement, its “veterans” also prefer to remain silent.

You can find any number of analogies however the situation today is not so catastrophic. After the victory of the Bolsheviks, those who ended up in exile found to their despair that western intellectuals were seized by the ideas of the glorious future, especially when not in their country. For decades they wanted to hear nothing of Holodomor, the Great Terror, the labour camps. In Nazi Germany for years before the War people were persecuted, thrown out of their jobs, or worse, with supposedly decent people either doing nothing or tacitly in support.

In Britain this time the fight against dark forces of primitivism was taken up by intellectuals, religious figures, veterans of the Second World War and their children. Are they infringing the rights of their compatriots through such opposition? I believe they are not. Nobody is denying the right of any person to choose the candidates that they trust, nor their right to stand for office. However when some political forces resort to primitive slogans, suggest measures which will, without any doubt, lead to violations of the rights of citizens of the county, and have the nerve to lie and call themselves nationalists, then in my view, we all have a duty to uphold the truth. We must demand that they have the courage of their primitive convictions and quit conning people with vague and hypocritical euphemisms.

Our relatives fought for a free and independent country and many paid with their lives, or with exile. Stop betraying their memory.


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