The Russian government had declared a mass mobilization. Since this news became public, we have witnessed hundreds of thousands of men, as well as entire families, trying to escape Russia. All available tickets out have been sold, long lines of cars at the border countries keep growing, and there are a lot of Russian social media groups where people share and discuss the best ways to escape.
Russia, the colonial empire that has become a fascist state, has more than 143 million people. The absolute majority of the population has not only supported the annexation of Crimea, the war in Donbas, but has also glorified the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. They have accepted the idea of exterminating their neighbors by the hands of their compatriots. They have accepted the idea of genocide.
One may say that there were many who were against the war. But it doesn’t really matter if you are merely against the war your country has started. To make an impact, you must act. You must create partisan movements, go into the streets, you stop collaborating with the Nazi government. You do something, rather than do nothing.
Only one comparison: Ukraine, 2013. Pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych reneged on signing the document related to European integration, which had previously been on the agenda. Students immediately mobilized and came to Kyiv’s Maidan, as Independence Square is known, to protest. Yanukovych listened to his Russian advisors and tried to violently crush the protests. The next day nearly one million people, about a third of Kyiv’s entire population, came to the square. People came because the students had been beaten. People came because no one was allowed to break the social contract so openly and rapidly.
Yanukovych waited, listened again to his Russian advisors and gave the decree to fire on the protesters. The civil resistance did not stop; it became even more meaningful and coherent: people of different ages, genders, ethnicities, educational backgrounds started coming to Kyiv from all parts of Ukraine. As the result of months of resistance almost 100 people were killed by the riot police during that Revolution of Dignity. They are remembered as the “Heavenly Hundred,” ordinary men and women resisted because there are situations when you cannot act differently. Freedom and human dignity are the ultimate preconditions for existence in certain moments of life.
Weren’t all those millions afraid of being beaten, arrested, tortured, or murdered? The answer, obvious, is yes. Indeed, there were murdered, tortured, arrested and beaten. Did Ukrainians have any guarantee they would win? None whatsoever.
Now, back to Russia. Russian protests both in 2014 and now are immeasurably weaker – Russian protesters do not really resist. They perform, they record it on video, they pay fines and ascribe themselves to the fancy status of the “opposition.” This protest movement is infantile and the visible absence of any strong solidarity is not a surprise: they live in the country they live in.
Twenty people with cameras are filming one person being carried away by the police. In Ukraine, these twenty people would have sacrificed their lives in order to save someone who is being beaten.
This is the essential difference: Russians did not go to the streets when the horrific news from Bucha or Hostomel became available. Nor did they when the Mariupol theater was bombed with children inside it. Neither the constant shelling of Ukrainians cities, nor the torture and rape of women and children made them go into the streets.
The only thing that made these millions of people start commenting in social media was the understanding that they would need to participate in the war themselves. And here we come to the central problem, the people running away now from Russia are in the majority of cases not against the war, but merely against actually fighting it. In other words, they accept that their compatriots are killing Ukrainians but they do not want to be killed themselves.
These people call themselves “patriots,” they have “Z” signs on their cars or elsewhere and they are approaching any country they can get into. Russian Telegram channels, Viber chats and other social media are full of examples of this kind of approach. Russians ask other compatriots whether they need to remove the “Z” sign before crossing the border or not. They call themselves “simple patriots,” they call for Georgians “to be the next for denazification.” Their comments are full of hatred toward the hosting societies. Their naive incomprehension about why people are not welcoming Russians who “are simply saving their lives” are the stuff of parody.
Europe will be making a grave mistake if it opens its borders to these men. Today they come as victims of the “Putin regime.” The men who escape the war are not necessarily those who are against it. They ask for their right to speak Russian, demanding the restoration of an imperial discourse that will follow with racial hatred towards the hosting society. This has been evident in various chats about how to cross the borders, which are full of hatred toward Georgians who demand signing the document on Georgia’s territorial integrity or Crimea’s belonging to Ukraine.
The naïve argument that hosting Russian “opposition” today will lead to helping them build democracy in Russia tomorrow is the weakest of its kind. The only way to have democracy in Russia is to have people ready to fight for it today. To resist the fascist government, which is weak and afraid of itself, is the only way to build a future for Russia. To act as Ukrainians did in 2013 on the Maidan.
Russia started the war. Who, if not its own citizens, will be responsible for stopping it? And who will have the privilege of coming to Europe?
The biggest number of soldiers are coming from Chechnya, Dagestan and Buryatia. Now Crimean Tatars from Crimea are targeted as well. First, all of them were colonized and oppressed, and now they are treated as second-class citizens. Might Europe introduce a special policy with respect to these particular groups?
The problem with the mass escape is that white Slavic men from big cities, who can afford it, will be the main group to reach Europe. These men were privileged compared to the colonized and racially oppressed minorities. When Germany says it wants to open its doors to the “good Russians” does it imagine a Chechen man or a Tatar woman?
Another argument for opening the borders is that “good Russians” escaping the mobilization will return to build a democratic Russia soon. What this argument profoundly misses is the understanding that “liberal Russians” have failed to build anything resembling a normally functioning society. Therefore, it is a childishly dangerous fantasy to put any expectations on them. Moreover, the idea of democracy in Russia is based on maintaining the colonial order. Does this fantasy say something about democratic Dagestan? Or democratic Buryatia? Will these Slavic men from Saint Petersburg and Moscow, who were not able to make significant contributions previously, be the ones to bring democracy to Bashkortostan?
By opening the borders to the so-called “refugees” from Russia, not only will security issues loom large, but also moral ones. Who will guarantee security to millions of Ukrainian women and children forced to flee their country due to the same nationals coming to Europe today? Remember, there are women who were raped and humiliated by the Russian soldiers in Ukraine. There are children whose parents have died, sometimes after torture, rape, or humiliation before the eyes of these children. There are millions of stories that the human mind cannot bear, and yet these people with a crippled fate, a mutilated past that will remain with them forever, continue to live on.
Now these Ukrainian survivors are in Europe where they have come to gather their broken lives. Will we, the civilized world, allow them to experience a double traumatization? This could lead to the increase of the suicide among both women and teenagers. This will lead to an increase of psychological disorders and aggression. Who will guarantee that Ukrainian children will not be bullied by Russian children, who come with their parents fleeing the war but who are fine with the imperial racist views? Who will guarantee that Ukrainian women will not be subjected to symbolic or even direct violence from these fugitives?
The wounds need to be healed, it takes years if ever, to overcome a single traumatic experience in life. So what happens if the wound is constantly irritated? The pain never stops.
Ukraine is fighting for the safety of all of Europe. Europe is commitment to protecting Ukrainian women and children. Russia started the war and it is the burden and responsibility of every Russian citizen to destroy the monster they have created by their own inability to resist.
Alina Zubkovych holds a doctoral degree in social science and is head of the Nordic Ukraine Forum, a Swedish-based organization.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the Kyiv Post.
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