Will Ukrainians be able to forgive Russia?

Kharkiv after the rocket attacks. Photo Marienko Andrii i UNIAN

Ukraine has recently commemorated the victims of the Holodomor of the 1930s, an artificial famine initiated by the top leadership of the Soviet Union, led by Stalin, to subdue and destroy Ukrainians as a nation that was virtually impossible to subdue and chained.

It is noteworthy that the anniversary of one of the largest global tragedies of the last century is an uncomfortable topic for Russia, which has been trying to restore its imperial ambitions for almost two years now and is waging a bloody, unprovoked, invasive war in Ukraine. So, in their own terrorist manner, the Russians “congratulated” Ukrainians on the commemoration of the starved to death by releasing a record number of kamikaze drones.

The sick behaviour of our northern neighbour proves once again that no one inside the terrorist country has the slightest desire to stop this madness and does not realise that their actions are a crime. In his post, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy said: “They wanted to enslave us, kill us, exterminate us. They failed. They wanted to hide the truth from us and conceal their heinous crimes. They did not succeed. They wanted to confuse us, to mislead us, to make us not believe, to make us not remember and therefore forgive us. But they failed.”

These words “to make us not remember and therefore forgive” are the greatest tragedy of Ukrainians, who, over the decades under Soviet rule, were nevertheless “put to sleep” by methodically cleaning up the past. Those who disagreed, who were resilient and conscious, were imprisoned, sent to Siberia, and killed, depriving the disloyal people of their identity. And now, after a long “slumber”, Ukraine has finally woken up, being one step away from losing its own statehood. The price that Ukrainians pay to be Ukrainians is extremely painful. Tens of thousands of lives lost and destinies mangled, with no end in sight to the all-out war. Daily rocket attacks, the destruction of cities, civilian casualties and, most horrifyingly, children. This is unforgivable, as evidenced by the recent results of a sociological survey, according to which the vast majority of Ukrainians, 90%, are not ready to cooperate or interact with the Russians. This also applies to the persistent belief that bilateral relations between the two nations cannot be expected to be restored in the coming decades.

The overwhelming majority of Ukrainians say they will never forgive Russia for attacking them and for the Russians who are not making any effort to end the war, and even rejoice in the deaths of innocents and large-scale destruction. The few Russians who have taken up arms and are fighting on the side of the Ukrainian Armed Forces against the Putin regime are also aware of this. For example, the Chief of Staff of the Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC), Alexander “Fortuna” has a rather disappointing forecast for the future of his country: “Ukrainians will never forgive Russians. There is a very faint hope that maybe someday the grandchildren of Ukrainians will be able to talk to the grandchildren of Russians, at least communicate.”

Admitting mistakes and abandoning imperialism

Almost every interview of Volodymyr Zelenskyy for foreign media includes a question about forgiveness. And almost every time, the president’s answer boils down to one thing: Ukrainians will never forgive. Especially those who have lost loved ones, their property and homes, returned from captivity after torture, or are recovering from serious injuries on the battlefield. Under no circumstances will these people engage in dialogue with the enemy. Even after the war is over, as most Ukrainians believe it will be – our complete victory.

It will take at least 10-50 years for at least minimal contact to be established between the countries, and this is only in the political sphere, if adequate people come to power there, who admit guilt, agree to reparations and refuse revanchism. And this will be difficult to achieve, because the fighting is currently taking place only on the territory of Ukraine, which is why the average Russian does not even feel the discomfort associated with the war, let alone suffer or lose.

Under such conditions, the collective Russian will not admit defeat and will try to “repeat”. Without a sense of guilt and a rejection of imperialism, nothing will work. Only complete repentance and recognition of one’s own mistakes, as well as a sane attitude towards neighbours with respect for borders, cultural and ethnic identity, can be the first step on a long path to a future serious conversation.

Rules for reconciliation – international practices

But any war comes to an end sooner or later. At least its hot phase, because there are still several territorial conflicts in the world where the parties have not legally put an end to the war. Rivers of blood, millions of victims and erased lives – the consequences of the Second World War are still reverberating today. However, most of the participants in that horror signed peace agreements and are now reliable partners. In particular, the United States and Japan.

These countries were ready to destroy each other in the past, and their fighting in the Pacific and over the islands is considered one of the most brutal in the context of the Second World War. It culminated in the only combat use of two nuclear bombs by the Americans on the territory of Japan. It seemed that nothing could quench the rage and thirst for revenge. Yet, after the end of hostilities and Japan’s surrender, relations between the two countries changed dramatically, and they became strategic partners. It is noteworthy that the point of reconciliation, but without admitting guilt for the attack on Pearl Harbor and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was put to rest by Barack Obama and Shinzo Abe in 2016, who took turns visiting the sites of the tragedies.

Another illustrative example of post-war reconciliation is Germany and Poland. It was the invasion of sovereign Poland by German troops that started the bloodiest war in human history. For a long time after the end of the war, the Poles were in a state of permanent hostility and distrustful of all German moves towards reconciliation. However, one small gesture by the German chancellor made them talk about forgiveness. For Willy Brandt, who visited Warsaw in 1970, it was a moment of remorse – the result of 25 years of reflection, re-awareness, and work on mistakes. He “unofficially” knelt down and stood for half a minute with his head down in front of the memorial to the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

After this event, states and peoples began to move towards reconciliation. However, there is still a chill between the countries. Similar stories of reconciliation have happened and will continue to happen. But will this be the case for Ukraine and Russia, which has been trying to erase the people and their memory from the face of the Earth and history for more than three centuries. Only time will tell what the future will look like. However, the most important thing now is to withstand and repel the Russian military machine, defeating it and inflicting deadly wounds, in order to teach our northern neighbours a lesson.

SRT Fondas
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