I have 15 second cousins who live in Lviv region of Ukraine — even more cousins that are by one generation removed. A small delegation met me in Lviv in the old city for a get-together in a café. One of my second cousins is serving in the Ukrainian armed forces. His mother is grateful that he is not at the front lines of the Russian invasion of Europe, which now stretch across parts of Luhansk and Donetsk regions in eastern Ukraine. His older brother fought the Russians in Donbas in the winter of 2014-15, and was medically discharged from the army after suffering severe pneumonia — gained from months of living in trenches. It’s trench warfare and 1914-18 all over again in the Russo-Ukrainian War.
The café we ate in is called Bander Shtab, with the tag line Hutin Puilyo. This is a play on the very rude, very crude Putin Huilyo — and the kindest translation of that would be “Putin is a dickhead.” The owner is a hard-core militant and supporter of Maidan and of the volunteer battalions fighting the Russian invasion. He had very angry words for the military and political leaders of Ukraine, who he says betrayed the soldiers and the people. Ukraine could have defeated Russia in 2014, he says, but failed to do so because of leaders who were not merely incompetent but traitorous. Given the Ukrainian navy admirals who allowed Ukraine’s fleet to be captured by Russia, and the Ukrainian army generals who allowed the “cauldrons” of Ilovaisk and Debaltseve to turn into major defeats to Russia, it is difficult not to agree with this militant café owner.
This is a small music and clothing shop in old Lviv. The flag is of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, the armed wing of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, which fought Nazi Germans and Soviet Russians for an independent Ukraine in the 1940s and 1950s. The legacy of the UPA, the OUN, and of the Ukrainian republics which preceded them at the end of the First World War, is being reclaimed by the Ukrainian people. In many ways, the people are in advance of the political elites. Certainly, they are ahead of the corrupt, post-Soviet oligarchy. The 25 lost years from Ukraine’s independence to Maidan are being made up for, and made up for quickly. There is unremitting animosity towards Putin and the Russian people for invading Ukraine. There is great scepticism about when Crimea and Donbas will be recovered, but no doubt at all that they are Ukraine. The illegal Russian occupation will not stand. But most of the energy is directed towards backsliding political elites. Piecemeal lustration, such as the abolition of the militsya and the introduction of civilian patrol police, is not enough. The judges and the prosecutors are still wholly corrupt, and until they are all fired and replaced there can be no rule of law in Ukraine. Until the Soviet-trained and pro-Russian generals and admirals are court-martialled, there can be no liberation of the occupied territories. Until the oligarchs and their pocket-MPs are swept out of parliament, there can be no government of the people, by the people, for the people in Ukraine.
This is a photo I took at Boryspil, Kyiv’s airport. The banner is an appeal for the release of Nadiya Savchenko. Today, May 25, she was released. Nadiya Savchenko was serving in the Anti-Terrorist Operation in Luhansk region when she was captured by Russian terrorists. She was handed over to Russian military intelligence officers acting illegally in Ukraine, and kidnapped and spirited away across the border into Russia. There, she was held hostage by the Putin regime for almost two years. She was also put before a show trial, accused of the murder of two journalists who were killed by mortar fire sometime after she was captured. Savchenko was also charged, ludicrously, of illegally entering Russia. Nadiya Savchenko’s courageous words, her defiance of the little man Putin, and her dangerous hunger strikes, made her an inspiration to Ukrainians. Free, she is now a potent symbol of resistance to the Russian invasion of Europe in Ukraine. As a member of parliament (elected, in absentia, while she was a hostage) she is also, instantly, the most trusted and respected politician in Ukraine.