The Party of Regions Viktor Yanukovych won the 2010 presidential elections with 48.95% of the votes in the second round, by 45.47% of the pro-European Yulia Tymoshenko. The pro-Russian candidate, who had already come close to victory in 2004, when his closest rival, Viktor Yushenko, was grossly poisoned by the Kremlin, won the support of 12,481,266 voters. Almost two thirds of the votes were concentrated in the provinces of Donetsk, Lugansk, Kharkov, Dnipropetrovsk, Crimea, Kherson, Mikolaiv and Zaporizhia.
In some of these regions – notably Donetsk – the vote was almost unanimous for Yanukovych and it was no accident. When, four years later, the so-called “Euromaidan revolution” broke out and Yanukovych had to leave for Moscow hidden in a car, it took a few days for the Russian-backed popular militias to take over all of Crimea without practically firing a shot and they managed to organize a referendum in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions to establish autonomy as republics outside of kyiv, starting a war that is the germ of what we have been seeing since February 24.
That Putin and his advisers were wrong about the reception their army was going to receive in eastern and southern Ukraine when they began their “special military operation” is a given. They expected hugs and flowers and met with fierce resistance in places with a huge Russophone tradition like Kharkiv, beginning with its capital of one million inhabitants. They hoped to take Odessa easily thanks to the paramilitary groups that had already brought the city to the brink of civil war in 2015, but Odessa resisted and resists.
[Rusia contraataca desbordando el río que Ucrania necesita cruzar para su ofensiva en Jersón]
However, this mistake cannot hide a reality: in much of Ukraine, Russia is seen as a brother country and kyiv is mistrusted. Not so much of Volodimir Zelensky, born east of the Dnieper and belonging to a Russian-speaking family, but of kyiv as a concept, of an authority that has often been considered alien and even hostile. This hidden confrontation between Ukrainians has only been aggravated by Russian military interference. Strictly speaking, Zelensky now has a huge double task for the future: first, kick the Russians out of their territory; second, to do so without further damaging the perception that Ukrainians in the occupied areas have of their government.
The discomfort of the “liberated”
Last Saturday, the London newspaper The Times published an article by its correspondent Louise Callaghan in which the ambiguous reception that the Ukrainian army had had in some of the liberated towns after the Kharkov counteroffensive and the withdrawal of Russian troops was explained. One of the soldiers who had participated in the attack expressed himself in the following way: “I would say that the thing was divided fifty-fifty between those who wanted us to be there and those who did not. Many enthusiastically hugged us while others asked us why we had come.”
It is no scandal or surprise. Many of the towns west of the Russian border were conquered in the first hours of the invasion and had maintained a certain tranquility ever since. At least as far as half of its population is concerned, as is almost always the case in a civil war. That pro-Russian half lived a reality foreign to that of many of its neighbors and compatriots. A reality without missiles or bombings or mass executions or torture. A reality under a flag that they recognized as their own, although legally it was not.
The issue now is what to do with these people. What to do with the collaborators, what to do with those who directly fought in the militias, what to do with those who have lost their homes or their businesses in the liberating attack. This dilemma has been on the Russian roof during these months without worrying them too much: Russia has bombed and destroyed the very land it aspired to annex.. In itself, it was contradictory. Now Ukraine is bombing Ukrainians, often used as human shields by the Russians themselves. How to liberate without, at the same time, destroying their own cities, their own factories, their own fields?
double quadrature of the circle
There does not seem to be an ideal answer to the dilemma. The city of Donetsk has been bombed several times. We know there have been hundreds of deaths. Some will say that those who have died were only Russians or allies, but it is unlikely. When civilians die, they are usually civilians who are caught in a bit of a profile by the conflict. People who want to live in peace under one government or another, who don’t want problems. For Ukraine to regain its territory, it has no choice but to attack, but attacking has its consequences.
When you destroy bridges, railways and all kinds of infrastructure, you know that you are harming a lot of people. From the outset, of course, to the invading army that uses them to use them for military purposes. But, by breaking a dam and overflowing a river, you are flooding the land of a Ukrainian, who thus loses his harvest. By destroying a hotel where Russian soldiers are staying, you are ruining a family’s business. By firing missiles at a public building controlled by collaborating authorities, you are putting at risk the lives of dozens of officials who have not had a real alternative in this conflict.
[La desbandada del ejército ruso permite a Ucrania rebasar la frontera de la república títere de Putin]
Zelensky has to square the circle and he has to do it twice. First of all, he has to win the war, and it is clear that this must be the number one objective. Now, not just any victory is worth it: it has to be a calm victory to a certain extent, one that does not destroy part of its own country. Russia can allow itself to do what it did in Mariupol with no more scruples than the morals, which have so far been conspicuous by its absence. Ukraine cannot, for obvious reasons. They are the citizens of it, whom its leaders swore to defend. Their children, their siblings, their parents…
In the same way, have to manage victorywhen arrive, so that a civil war does not break out. Russia has armed too many people in the area and those people are clear about who their enemy is. As the soldier who spoke for the Times: “They have been brainwashed with their propaganda.” For the Donbas to become fully Ukrainian again, for the Sea of Azov regions to be as well, an almost impossible balance will be required: a military triumph followed by immediate reparation. Recover the Ukraine, of course, but without losing the Ukrainians.
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