Nine years ago, Maidan, the main square of my home city of Kyiv, was full of people with EU banners and Ukrainian national flags. Maidan, or the Revolution of Dignity, was the last successful European democratic revolution. The protestors won. They – we – managed to overthrow a regime that was already then actively preparing the Russian political annexation of Ukraine.
Exactly these days, nine years ago, the human ocean of Maidan carried on its arms and shoulders the coffins of activists who had been shot by the police. The tragedy of people dying was immense but the spaces for mourning were immediately reduced as the annexation of Crimea happened and it became obvious that the Kremlin had started a war against Ukraine, against us.
We learned then that achieving the impossible might be romantically beautiful in songs or movies, in our reality, however, it came at a price, a price which was too high from the very beginning. But Maidan was still a place for change and a point of reference. The image of people standing there with Ukrainian and European flags remained. Social togetherness and community, democratisation and responsible citizenship were our official goals.
But now these citizens, these people with flags are sinking into the ocean of a war of extermination, only the flags are flying above the surface.
Which are today those places full of Ukrainian flags? – The cemeteries of our cities and towns, where funerals are taking place non-stop.
At the moment genocide is being perpetrated on my country as punishment for those Ukrainians who persisted in and still insist on their own political subjectivity. Graves with Ukrainian flags provide a good illustration of the Putinist idea of counter-revolution. Seen from the Kremlin, the desire for change must be crushed. Maidan should rest in war. Vladimir Putin's physical hatred of Ukraine is not just ethnic, it is political. The revolutionary vision of the future should be buried. What we witness is the physical extermination of life and time.
Since our military authorities keep silent about Ukrainian losses, avoiding these horror data for strategic reasons, the cemetery with its newly planted woods of flags is the place where the concrete numbers become visible. And this concreteness is related to the truth, the truth of death.
Vladimir Putin's physical hatred of Ukraine is not just ethnic, it is political. The revolutionary vision of the future should be buried. What we witness is the physical extermination of life and time
What is the truth of what is happening today? There is a country in Europe where the ongoing death of hundreds every day is considered bearable. The living bodies of this country – if they are not male and of the age between 18 and 60 years, or they are not living under Russian occupation – can freely cross the borders. They are accepted by other European states. At the same time, death becomes more and more concentrated within Ukraine, inside its borders.
For the last nine years, even before the full-scale Russian invasion, I have often heard Ukraine being described as the backyard of Europe. Today, this backyard is becoming more and more like a graveyard, where the war itself is working as a gravedigger – missiles and shells form huge pits, digging graves for Ukrainians themselves. This cemetery is planted with beautiful flowers – notions of unbreakability, courage and resilience. The aspirations of Ukraine becoming a peaceful garden, of rebuilding everything that was destroyed. These flowers should give hope, a promise that life is possible after all the horrors.
Just as in the 20th century cemeteries became places of displacement of death, hidden away both from the central places of urban space and our everyday life, my country is becoming a displaced graveyard – although it is also a battlefield that must remain delineated by a very clear border. And to help Ukraine in this context means rather preserving this border, preserving the status of this space.
A few weeks ago, I crossed the border between Ukraine and the European Union. Today there are no fast connections to or from Ukraine. It takes a long time to travel, and this long journey has its own logic: human mental transformation takes time. In order to move from peace to war or from war to peace, one has to go through a certain process. To get out of accelerated time where the countdown applies not to seconds, but to human lives. To get into the time where there is room for reflection, discussion, and sometimes just wasting words. And most importantly, where there is time for choice.
This is a mental metamorphosis that does not happen just like that. It shakes, creates anxiety, fears, disrupts sleep and deprives you of the most basic confidence in the ground under your feet, even when this ground is no longer dug up by shells and grave shovels.
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It's something like a mental disorder, borderline. And I think that the Ukrainian-European border does actually not have to be physically crossed for this to appear, it has become so deep and fundamental that the borderlines are making themselves felt very far away from the border itself. Today, it is not necessary to know the Ukrainian experience from within in order to feel the volatility of the European present, a moment occupied with a great catastrophe that has not yet received its visa to enter reality.
Perhaps the current situation, the Western strategy of dosed support of Ukraine in this war, can be viewed through the prism of the fatal political logic of the borderline. The repressed can wait. But for how long? For me, being inside the borderline means being haunted by a question: What would anti-war politics look like if the bloody slaughter was not taking place on the margins of Europe?
I hope to be able to refrain from making moral reproaches. But I would still like to raise some ethical questions. The truth of death is that we see it without the embellishment of heroic rhetoric and admiration for dignity and courage. It is often said of Ukrainians, and they themselves willingly say it, that they have lost their fear. Yes, giving up the fear of death can be the key to freedom.
What would anti-war politics look like if the bloody slaughter was not taking place on the margins of Europe?
But does Europe attribute to us the virtues of courage and indomitability because we live in a territory that is frightening in its proximity? Does Ukraine frighten with its identity, which cannot be accepted into the inner self, and must be kept on the other side of the border?
The question of overcoming that border thus becomes a question of peace. To integrate Ukraine as soon as possible into the European Union, to accept Ukraine, means to integrate the repressed into one's being. When the catastrophe of genocide, displaced by the nightmare of war, becomes part of European experience, the desire to overcome it or stop it may have completely different manifestations. Recognizing the concreteness and irreversibility of death will mean to access the truth, while truth in its performative aspect means overcoming death and stopping its multiplication.
Crossing the border also means rethinking the limits of what is possible. What seemed incredible a year ago has become commonplace today. It's time to think about one's own limits and one's own limitations.
When my colleagues comment on the current Russian war against Ukraine, they refer to our century-long history, they talk about imperialism, about Russification, about Stalinism and colonisation. For me, this war has a fairly clear point of reference – the Maidan. Perhaps it is worth returning to this place to find the future. Our common future. The last European Revolution, which has not – not yet! – received its proper place in the general and common history of Europe. A signal from somewhere in the margins of Europe that peace and justice, key goals of the European Union, make up a complex, sensitive, and inclusive construction.
But was it possible to hear anything from there? Were the signals from Maidan noticed? Did we, the people on the margins, have the authority to talk about transgression, about the future, about the revolution of the idea of how to build the European project?
The idea of a radical transformation seems to be in the air, but the political and strategic decision-making process in Europe is now influenced by fear. This fear will corrode. It will make pressure and slowly suffocate the new impulses. The willingness to fight for Ukraine means challenging the death that Russia is so fatally in love with today.
I feel that the imaginary collective Europe is currently on the threshold, that it is ready to step into the future. It is rediscovering itself, rethinking the subjectivity of its Eastern-European part, it is looking beyond its own borders, so well established and protected over the years. I believe in the European potential to overcome its own indifference. And most importantly, I believe in a European victory, that is in a joint victory over contemporary Russian fascism, which to some extent manifests itself as the culmination of the growth of right-wing radical movements and sentiments throughout Europe.
What I want to do is to voice a position from the borderland for the sake of overcoming borderlines.
Today European cities are full of Ukrainian flags. But what does their presence mean? Do these flags represent the revolutionary future or rather its commemoration? Is Ukraine supposed to be a dead hero or a living partner? It's time to decide.