In Ukraine, we’re watching Europe’s cowardice — and fearing a repeat of history


LVIV, UKRAINE—Walking through the busy streets of the historic city centre here, one might wonder whether the news reports on the radio, TV, social media are true. Is war with Russia inevitable? Are there really close to 120,000 Russian soldiers amassed along Ukraine’s border, stretching from Belarus (Russia’s puppet state) to the occupied territories of the Donbass? And moreover, is there also a threat in the south from occupied Crimea, which Moscow has transformed into a powerful military base?

I arrived in this lovely ancient city in western Ukraine, 70 kilometres from the Polish border, at the beginning of January 2022, and spent a wonderful week celebrating Ukrainian Christmas (Jan. 6 and 7) with my cousins. There was a lot of sabre-rattling from Russia at the time, but most Ukrainians were more focused on celebrating Christmas, New Year’s and the religious feasts.

People in traditional garb take to the streets of Lviv, Ukraine in a Christmas parade on Jan. 8. The rituals of normal life — work, school, holidays — continue to go on there despite the talk of a Russian invasion, writes Christine Eliashevsky Chraibi.

After the festivities, life returned to normal, though when I go to buy groceries at the local market and supermarket, I find prices have skyrocketed, and they say more is coming. Suddenly, more and more alarming reports began appearing in the western media as the Kremlin made outrageous demands on NATO and the EU.

In Lviv and all across the country, Ukrainians continue to go about their business, but I feel that the general ambience has changed. There’s no longer this boisterous, happy-go-lucky feeling in town, but a quieter, more restrained mood. Yes, the cafés and restaurants are crowded, the theatres and concert halls have returned to full capacity, but the atmosphere is more subdued, more grim. There are fewer tourists and more soldiers in the streets, but perhaps because Lviv is home to the Hetman Petro Sahaidachnyi National Ground Forces Academy.

Some people are probably scared, though I don’t know any. Most of my friends and acquaintances are simply worried — their level of anxiety has gone up, but they’re resolute in their conviction to stay and protect their families, come what may.

One early morning I switch on the news and hear that there’s been yet another bomb hoax triggering an alert in several schools in Lviv — just another facet of Vladimir Putin’s hybrid war against Ukraine, something my teacher friends must live with every day.

Many civilians, young and old, are joining territorial defence units, learning how to defend themselves and protect their families in case of a Russian takeover. Others are learning to use simple handguns and rifles. (Isn’t it so much easier to shoot at bottles than at another human being?) When I asked a friend whether she had a weapon at home, she smiled coyly and said: “There’s always the kitchen knife, right?!”

Yet others are getting ready to evacuate, probably to local villages, the mountains or the countryside. Emergency rucksacks or suitcases are packed and ready in the hallway. My bag is in the back of the closet, although I really don’t know where I will go or how I will travel.

Toronto’s Christine Eliashevsky Chraibi is living in Lviv, Ukraine and sees people around her concerned, but not panicking, about the Russian threat.

Sometimes, I wake up at nights and start thinking about my parents — their flight from the Soviet Union, my mother’s internment in Ravensbrueck concentration camp, and the horrors of the Second World War. January 2022 seems to be a reset of the late 1930s in a more modern context. I marvel at Europe’s blindness and cowardice before Putin and his thugs, at Germany’s refusal to provide defensive weapons to Ukraine.

If Russia pushes further into Ukraine, there will be a bloodbath here: most Ukrainians will stand and fight. Others, though, will run and will soon be hammering at Europe’s doors, causing a devastating humanitarian crisis in the heart of the continent.

Everybody here and abroad is talking about Putin’s ultimate plan — the invasion of Ukraine! But it’s not an invasion per se; Russia already invaded Ukraine back in 2014 and is now occupying Crimea and parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk territories. Just read Putin’s long tirade “On the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians.” This is the Russian narrative; Putin’s mindset in a nutshell!

Everyone here is also talking about western military assistance to Ukraine, especially the recent deliveries of defensive and lethal weapons from the United States and the United Kingdom. All of my friends agree that it’s only with the help of the West that Ukraine will be able to resist. People here support their soldiers, and place their trust more in the Armed Forces of Ukraine than in the government or different politicians.

This morning, I read that the Canadian government recently issued a travel warning for Ukraine.

“Avoid non-essential travel to Ukraine due to ongoing Russian threats and military buildup in and around the country. If you are in Ukraine, you should evaluate if your presence is essential.”

Is my presence essential? No, definitely not. But I’m not going anywhere yet. History is in the making here. Ukraine changed its course in 2014 with the Revolution of Dignity, declaring its NATO aspirations and its desire to integrate the EU. I was here during the Euromaidan in 2014, and I’ll be here when Ukraine emerges from this chaos both stronger and victorious.

Christine Eliashevsky Chraibi is a volunteer editor/translator from Toronto, living in Ukraine.




www.thestar.com

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