Russia-Ukraine conflict blurs distinction between memory and myth

Special For many Ukrainians, the Russian invasion has only served to accentuate differences and not commonality between the two peoples. (AFP)
For many Ukrainians, the Russian invasion has only served to accentuate differences and not commonality between the two peoples. (AFP)
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Updated 20 March 2022

Russia-Ukraine conflict blurs distinction between memory and myth

For many Ukrainians, the Russian invasion has only served to accentuate differences and not commonality between the two peoples. (AFP)
  • Conflict has frayed ties of family, faith, culture and history that bind the two peoples
  • Russian invasion may have accentuated differences at the expense of commonalities

DUBAI: As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine enters its fourth week, any lingering fondness that Ukrainians may have had for shared bonds of kinship and culture is hard to come by. The overwhelming feeling now seems to be a blend of anger, resentment and bitterness that is likely to last generations.

Underlying the current attempt to bring Ukraine back into the fold of Russia appears to be the conviction that the two peoples are one and the same — the product of a shared history spanning centuries.

The Kremlin has said its “special military operation” is aimed at protecting Russia’s security and that of Russian-speaking people in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

However, for many Ukrainians, particularly those who came of age after 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed and Ukraine declared independence, the invasion has only served to accentuate the ethnic, political, and cultural differences between Russia and Ukraine at the expense of their commonalities.

“My paternal grandparents are from Ukraine,” Eugene B. Kogan, a researcher at Harvard Business School who emigrated to the US from Russia in the 1990s, told Arab News. “The unexpected effect of this war is that I have a renewed interest in understanding where my ancestors came from and in my family history.”

Far from drawing Russians and Ukrainians closer, the invasion, which started on Feb. 24, appears to have driven a deeper wedge between the two peoples, while fanning the flames of Ukrainian nationalism and cementing further the political and defense ties that bind Ukraine to Western Europe.

Regardless of the seething bitterness, indeed hate, that consumes many Ukrainians as their cities are pulverized by the Russian military, the two peoples share undeniable bonds, linked by a common thread of history in everything from religion and written script to politics, geography, social customs, and cuisine.

In a recent opinion piece in The Guardian, Alex Halberstadt, author of “Young Heroes of the Soviet Union,” said: “Ukrainians and Russians share much of their culture and history, and an estimated 11 million Russians have Ukrainian relatives. Millions more have Ukrainian spouses and friends.”

Both nations, alongside Belarus, can trace their cultural ancestry back to the medieval kingdom of Kievan Rus, whose 9th century Prince Vladimir I, the Grand Duke of Kyiv, was baptized in Crimea after rejecting paganism, becoming the first Christian ruler of all Russia. In fact, in 2014, when Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea, he cited this moment in history to help justify his actions.




The former dictator of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin. (AFP)

Religious identity has played a part in the justification of the war on the grounds of defending the Moscow-oriented Orthodox Christian population of Ukraine, who are divided between an independent-minded group based in Kyiv and another loyal to its patriarch in Moscow.

Leaders of both Ukrainian Orthodox communities, however, have fiercely denounced the invasion, as have Ukraine’s significant Catholic minority.

Another factor is demographics. When Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, a policy of Ukrainian out-bound and Russian in-bound migration saw the ethnic Ukrainian share of the population decline from 77 percent in 1959 to 73 percent in 1991.

Upon Ukraine’s independence, however, this trend was thrown into reverse. By the turn of the 21st century, Ukrainians made up more than three-quarters of the population, while Russians made up the largest minority.

Modern Ukraine shows influences of many other cultures in the post-Soviet neighborhood — not just Russia. Prior to its incorporation into the Soviet Union, the country was subject to long periods of domination by Poland and Lithuania. It enjoyed a brief bout of independence between 1918 and 1920, during which several of its border regions were controlled by Romania, Poland, and Czechoslovakia, all of which left their mark.

We always thought of ourselves as brothers and sisters. We have so much shared history and to see what is happening is even more heartbreaking because of that.

The Russian and Ukrainian languages, while both stemming from the same branch of the Slavic language family, have their own distinct features. The Ukrainian language shares many similarities with Polish.

Although Russian is the most widely spoken minority language in Ukraine, a significant number of people in the country also speak Yiddish, Polish, Belarusian, Romanian, Moldovan, Bulgarian, Crimean Turkish, and Hungarian.

Russia has left an indelible mark, nonetheless. During both the tsarist and the Soviet periods, Russian was the common language of government administration and public life in Ukraine, with the native tongue of the local population reduced to a secondary status.

In the decade after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, the Ukrainian language was initially afforded equal status with Russian. But, during the 1930s, a policy of Russification was implemented, and it was only in 1989 that Ukrainian became the country’s official language once again, its status confirmed in the 1996 constitution.

Many of the present-day commonalities between the two cultures are actually the result of long spells of Russification, first under the Romanovs and later under Joseph Stalin when the Soviet dictator unleashed his disastrous collectivization policy on the Ukrainian population.




While Ukraine enjoyed a brief period of independence from the end of the First World War in 1918 until 1920, for much of its history it has been a junior partner in its own existence — despite this, many Ukrainians and Russians have familial ties to each other, with close cultural and linguistic bonds. (Getty Images)

Nadia Kaabi-Linke, a Ukrainian-Arab artist based in Berlin, was due to open a solo exhibition at the National Art Museum of Ukraine in Kyiv on March 4 but is now back in Berlin helping Ukrainian refugees.

She told Arab News: “I would not put the relationship between Ukraine and Russia in terms of similarities right now because, after the invasion, many things have changed in my mind and in the core of my own being.

“I have started to question my mother tongue — my Ukrainian mother spoke to me in Russian — and I never did before. I even speak Russian to my two children.

“I will not discuss differences and similarities, but I will put it in a way that I might not have ever done before the invasion. Now I feel it is fitting to say this is colonization,” she said.

Unsurprisingly, it is not just people with Ukrainian heritage who feel that the rhetoric of nationalism has poisoned a once close relationship, pulling the two peoples apart.




A body covered with a blanket lies among damages in a residential area after shelling in Kyiv on March 18, 2022, as Russian troops try to encircle the Ukrainian capital. (AFP)

Russian-born Tanya Kronfli, who has lived in the Gulf for nearly 10 years, told Arab News: “I feel heartbroken, sad, angry, and helpless. We always thought of each other as brothers and sisters. We have so much shared history and to see what is happening is even more heartbreaking because of that.”

Kronfli pointed out that Ukrainians, Belarusians, and Russians were “from different countries but are the same people. Our languages are nearly the same and many families have intermarried. It’s such a mix with many similarities.”

The Kremlin has repeatedly said that NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe and Ukraine’s ambition to join the alliance created a security dilemma for Russia. It has continued to demand Ukraine’s disarmament and guarantees that it would never join NATO — conditions that Kyiv and NATO have ruled out.

Kogan said: “Another security analysis is that the Kremlin felt uneasy with Ukrainians’ Westward leanings and democratic aspirations, thanks lately to the efforts of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“Past color revolutions (Georgia in 2003, Ukraine 2004, Kyrgyzstan 2005) and Zelensky’s West-leaning ambitions are of deep concern to the Kremlin’s sense of control over Russia’s near abroad.”

Intent on halting Ukraine’s drift to the West, Moscow has rejected the idea of Ukrainian national identity, saying that Russia’s Ukrainian brothers and sisters have been taken hostage by a Western-backed Nazi cabal, and that Russian troops would be welcomed as liberators.




A Ukrainian policeman secures the area by a five-storey residential building that partially collapsed after a shelling in Kyiv. (AFP)

“One often-heard argument is that the post-Soviet Russian leadership never accepted Ukraine as a nation and Ukrainians as a separate people requiring a geopolitically viable nation state in the international system,” Kogan added.

In a speech just days before the invasion began, Putin defended his formal recognition of the breakaway Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics by declaring that Ukraine was an invention of Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin, who he said had wrongly endowed Ukraine with a sense of statehood by allowing it to enjoy autonomy within the Soviet Union.

“Modern Ukraine was entirely and fully created by Russia, more specifically the Bolshevik, communist Russia,” Putin said in a televised address.

“This process began practically immediately after the 1917 revolution, and moreover Lenin and his associates did it in the sloppiest way in relation to Russia — by dividing, tearing from her pieces of her own historical territory.”

It remains unclear whether all Russians believe this interpretation of history or consider it a plausible moral justification for the invasion.

It is true that through wars, disasters, and Soviet tyranny, Russians and Ukrainians, living side by side as neighbors or compatriots, managed to preserve their kinship.

Nevertheless, for many Ukrainians, their distinctive history, identity, and sovereign right to choose their own destiny are evidently not matters open to debate.


Ex-Theranos president Balwani sentenced to nearly 13 years for fraud

Ex-Theranos president Balwani sentenced to nearly 13 years for fraud
Updated 17 sec ago

Ex-Theranos president Balwani sentenced to nearly 13 years for fraud

Ex-Theranos president Balwani sentenced to nearly 13 years for fraud
  • Once valued at $9 billion, Theranos promised to revolutionize how patients receive diagnoses by replacing traditional labs with small machines

A US judge on Wednesday sentenced former Theranos Inc. President Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani to 12 years and 11 months in prison on charges of defrauding investors and patients of the blood testing startup led by Elizabeth Holmes, a spokesperson for the US attorney’s office confirmed.
US District Judge Edward Davila in San Jose, California, imposed the sentence on Balwani, who was convicted by a jury on two counts of conspiracy and 10 counts of fraud in July.
Prosecutors said Balwani, 57, conspired with Holmes, 38, to deceive Silicon Valley investors into believing the company had achieved miniaturized machines that could accurately run a broad array of medical diagnostic tests from a small amount of blood.
Meanwhile, the company secretly relied on traditional methods to run tests and provided patients with inaccurate results, prosecutors said.
Holmes, who started the company as a college student and became its public face, was indicted alongside Balwani, her former romantic partner, in 2018.
Davila later granted each a separate trial after Holmes said she would take the stand and testify that Balwani was abusive in their relationship. He has denied the allegations.
Holmes was convicted in January on four counts of fraud and conspiracy but acquitted of defrauding patients.
Davila sentenced Holmes to 11-1/4 years in prison at a hearing last month, calling Theranos a venture “dashed by untruths, misrepresentations, plain hubris and lies.”
Prosecutors subsequently argued Balwani should receive 15 years in prison, saying he knew Theranos’ tests were inaccurate from overseeing the company’s laboratory operations, and decided to “prioritize Theranos’ financial health over patients’ real health.”
The probation office had recommended a nine-year sentence.
Balwani’s attorneys asked for a sentence of probation, arguing that he sought to make the world a better place through Theranos and was not motivated by fame or greed.
Once valued at $9 billion, Theranos promised to revolutionize how patients receive diagnoses by replacing traditional labs with small machines envisioned for use in homes, drugstores and even on the battlefield.
The company collapsed after a series of Wall Street Journal articles in 2015 questioned its technology. The case is US v. Balwani, US District Court, Northern District of California, No. 18-cr-00258. 


New Peru president sworn in after predecessor Castillo ousted

New Peru president sworn in after predecessor Castillo ousted
Updated 10 min 4 sec ago

New Peru president sworn in after predecessor Castillo ousted

New Peru president sworn in after predecessor Castillo ousted

LIMA: Peru’s Congress swore in a new president on Wednesday in a day of sweeping political drama that saw the former leader, Pedro Castillo, ousted in an impeachment trial hours after he attempted a last-ditch bid to stay in power by trying to dissolve Congress.
Ignoring Castillo’s attempt to shut down the legislature by decree, lawmakers moved ahead with the previously planned impeachment trial, with 101 votes in favor of removing him, six against and 10 abstentions.
The result was announced with loud cheers, and the legislature called Vice President Dina Boluarte to take office.
Boluarte was sworn in as president through 2026, making her the first woman to lead Peru. She called for a political truce to overcome the crisis and said a new cabinet inclusive of all political stripes would be formed.
She lambasted Castillo’s move to dissolve Congress as an “attempted coup.”
Peru’s national police shared an image on Twitter of Castillo sitting unrestrained at a police station after the vote to remove him and said that it had “intervened” to fulfill its duties. It was unclear if he had been detained.
Castillo earlier had said he would temporarily shut down Congress, launch a “government of exception” and call for new legislative elections.
That sparked resignations by his ministers amid angry accusations from both opposition politicians and his allies that he was attempting a coup. The police and Armed Forces warned him that the route he had taken to try to dissolve Congress was unconstitutional.
Some small, fairly subdued street protests took place. In Lima, dozens of people waving Peruvian flags cheered Castillo’s downfall, while elsewhere in the capital and in the city of Arequipa his supporters marched. One held a sign saying: “Pedro, the people are with you.”
The Government Palace and Congress in Lima were surrounded by metal barricades and dozens of police officers donning shields and plastic helmets.
Peru has gone through years of political turmoil, with multiple leaders accused of corruption, frequent impeachment attempts, and presidential terms cut short.
The latest legal battle began in October, when the prosecutor’s office filed a constitutional complaint against Castillo for allegedly leading “a criminal organization” to profit from state contracts and for obstructing investigations.
Congress summoned Castillo last week to respond to accusations of “moral incapacity” to govern.
Castillo has called the allegations “slander” by groups seeking “to take advantage and seize the power that the people took from them at the polls.”
The leftist teacher-turned-president had survived two previous attempts to impeach him since he began his term in July 2021.
But after Wednesday’s attempt to dissolve Congress his allies abandoned him and regional powers underlined the need for democratic stability.
“The United States categorically rejects any extra-constitutional act by President Castillo to prevent Congress from fulfilling its mandate,” the US ambassador to Peru, Lisa Kenna, wrote on Twitter.
The turmoil rattled markets in the world’s No. 2 copper producer, though analysts said that the removal of Castillo, who has battled a hostile Congress since taking power, could be a positive for investors.
Peru’s sol currency fell over 2 percent against the dollar at its session low before recovering slightly to trade down 1.4 percent.
“Peru’s financial markets will suffer, but won’t collapse, thanks mainly to solid domestic fundamentals,” said Andres Abadia at Pantheon Macroeconomics.


Putin acknowledges Russia's war in Ukraine could be a long one

Putin acknowledges Russia's war in Ukraine could be a long one
Updated 15 min 15 sec ago

Putin acknowledges Russia's war in Ukraine could be a long one

Putin acknowledges Russia's war in Ukraine could be a long one
  • In his remarks Putin said the risk of a nuclear war was growing
  • Russia launched what it calls its “special military operation” in February

LONDON/KYIV: Russian President Vladimir Putin has acknowledged that his army could be fighting in Ukraine for a long time, but for now there will be no second call-up of soldiers.
Putin has rarely spoken about the likely duration of a war that he began more than nine months ago, and in a televised meeting with loyalists on Wednesday, he said, “This can be a long process.”
Russia has been forced into a series of significant retreats in the face of Ukrainian counter-offensives, waged with increasing stocks of Western weaponry, in the east and south since July.
Russia launched what it calls its “special military operation” in February, saying Ukraine’s deepening ties with the West posed a security threat. Kyiv and its allies say the invasion amounts to an imperialist land grab.
In his remarks Putin said the risk of a nuclear war was growing — the latest in a series of such warnings apparently meant to deter Kyiv’s Western backers from more robust involvement — but that Russia would not threaten recklessly to use such weapons.
“We haven’t gone mad, we realize what nuclear weapons are,” Putin said. “We have these means in more advanced and modern form than any other nuclear country ... But we aren’t about to run around the world brandishing this weapon like a razor.”
Around 150,000 of the 300,000 reservists called up in September and October were deployed in Ukraine, 77,000 in combat units, he said. The remaining 150,000 were still at training centers.
“Under these conditions, talk about any additional mobilization measures simply makes no sense,” Putin said.
Russia’s economy has overcome the short-term slump caused by the partial mobilization order, but the disinflationary impact it had in reducing consumer demand has practically disappeared, the central bank said on Wednesday.
Despite recent retreats on the battlefield, including the loss of Kherson, the one Ukrainian provincial capital Russia captured, Putin has said he has no regrets about launching a war that is Europe’s most devastating since World War Two.
He said Russia had already achieved a “significant result” with the acquisition of “new territories” — a reference to the annexation of four partly occupied regions in September that Ukraine and most members of the United Nations condemned as illegal.
Russian forces have fired more than 1,000 rockets and missiles at Ukraine’s power grid, which is still working despite taking major damage, Interfax Ukraine news agency reported on Wednesday, citing Volodymyr Kudrytsky, chief executive of the Ukrenergo grid operator.
Eight recent waves of Russian air strikes on critical infrastructure have seriously damaged the grid and led to emergency and planned outages across the country, including in the capital Kyiv, a city of three million.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko warned of an “apocalypse” scenario without power, running water or heat this winter if Russian air strikes on infrastructure continue. He said there was no need for residents to evacuate now, though they should be ready to do so.
Kyiv could be left without central heating at a time when temperatures can fall as low as -15 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit), Klitschko said in an interview with Reuters.
Russia’s ally Belarus said it was moving troops and military hardware to counteract what it called a threat of terrorism, amid signs that Moscow may be pressing Minsk to open a new front in Ukraine as the war has bogged down.
President Alexander Lukashenko, who relied on Russian troops to put down a popular revolt two years ago, has so far kept his own army from joining the war in Ukraine. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu flew unannounced to the capital Minsk on Saturday, and he and Belarusian counterpart Viktor Khrenin signed amendments to the two countries’ security cooperation agreement, without disclosing the new terms.
On Wednesday, the Belarusian Security Council, quoted by state news agency Belta, said troops and hardware would be moving in the country over the next two days, with imitation weapons used for training. It provided no details about the number of troops or types of hardware that would be moved.
Thousands of Russian troops have deployed in Belarus since October, Ukraine says, and Belarus authorities have increasingly spoken of a threat of “terrorism” from partisans operating from across the border. Lukashenko has ordered his military to compile information about reservists by the end of this year.


Chinese president’s Saudi visit to boost investment in China-Pakistan corridor project: Experts

Chinese president’s Saudi visit to boost investment in China-Pakistan corridor project: Experts
Updated 07 December 2022

Chinese president’s Saudi visit to boost investment in China-Pakistan corridor project: Experts

Chinese president’s Saudi visit to boost investment in China-Pakistan corridor project: Experts
  • Xi Jinping scheduled to meet other Arab leaders while visiting Kingdom
  • $65bn CPEC project an economic corridor in Pakistan connecting China to Arabian Sea

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will benefit from stronger Saudi-China relations, experts said on Wednesday, as the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to the Kingdom was expected to bring in more investment to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project.

Xi arrived in Riyadh on Wednesday for a three-day visit aimed at bolstering trade ties and expected to lead to a “strategic agreement” between the regional powers.

The Chinese leader was due to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other heads of state from Gulf Arab nations when Saudi Arabia hosts China-Gulf and China-Arab summits in its capital.

Saudi Arabia and China were expected to sign more than 20 initial agreements worth more than $29.3 billion during Xi’s trip. The two countries were also discussing a plan to harmonize the implementation of Vision 2030 and China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

CPEC, a $65 billion economic corridor in Pakistan that connects China to the Arabian Sea and is part of Beijing’s infrastructure initiative, was also expected to feature in Xi’s meetings with the crown prince.

“Saudi Arabia is interested in becoming part of CPEC by investing heavily in it and also interested in BRI and this visit will improve things in this regard as China is the main initiator of both mega projects,” Pakistan’s former ambassador to China, Naghmana Hashmi, told Arab News.

Saudi Arabia, alongside the UAE and Germany, is among countries that have expressed interests in investing in CPEC. In 2019, the Kingdom announced plans to set up a $10 billion oil refinery in Pakistan’s deep-water port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea.

CPEC is a sprawling package that includes everything from road construction and power plants to agriculture. In the South Asian nation, it has been billed as a massive development program that will bring new prosperity, where the average citizen lives on just $125 a month.

“The growing friendship between China and Saudi Arabia will benefit Pakistan as the country has very good relations with both, and both are pillars of strength for us,” Hashmi said.

International relations expert Zafar Jaspal told Arab News that the visit would have a “constructive and positive impact on CPEC” and “open the way for Saudi investment.”

Xi’s trip to Riyadh could serve as a “great convergence point” between Pakistan, China, and Saudi Arabia, according to Dr. Huma Baqai, an international relations expert and rector of the Millennium Institute of Technology and Entrepreneurship in Karachi.

“The visit can give the requisite push and momentum to the intended Saudi investment in the flagship project of the BRI,” she told Arab News.


Ukraine conflict intrudes on UN biodiversity summit

Ukraine conflict intrudes on UN biodiversity summit
Updated 07 December 2022

Ukraine conflict intrudes on UN biodiversity summit

Ukraine conflict intrudes on UN biodiversity summit
  • The broadsides by the European Union and New Zealand came after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Moscow of "ecocide"
  • Russia fired back that the meeting was an inappropriate forum and accused its critics of attempting to sabotage a new global deal for nature

MONTREAL: The Ukraine conflict cast a shadow over a high-stakes UN summit on biodiversity in Montreal on Wednesday, as Western nations slammed the environmental destruction brought about by Russia’s invasion.
The broadsides by the European Union and New Zealand — which spoke on behalf of other countries, including the United States — came after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Moscow of “ecocide” and of devastating his country’s dolphin population.
Russia fired back that the meeting was an inappropriate forum and accused its critics of attempting to sabotage a new global deal for nature.
“The war brings about pollution and long-term environmental degradation, destroying protected areas and natural habitats,” Hugo Schally, an EU representative at the meeting, known as COP15, said.
“While the war rages on, it blocks much needed action on nature conservation and restoration,” he added.
New Zealand’s Rosemary Paterson, speaking for the JUSCANZ group that includes Japan, Australia and the United States, added: “The widespread environmental destruction and transboundary harm caused by Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine cannot go unnoticed in this forum.”
Invoking a right-of-reply, Russian delegate Denis Rebrikov said: “We resolutely refute allegations against us as being outside the scope of this COP on biodiversity.”
He added that conflicts of the recent past — such as those in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and Syria — were not brought up at environmental summits, despite the harms done to ecosystems.
“It’s hard to avoid the impression that these countries are deliberately trying to sabotage the adoption of a global framework” on biodiversity, added Rebrikov.
Earlier in the day, President Zelensky of Ukraine said tens of thousands of dead dolphins had washed up on the Black Sea and accused Russia of “ecocide.” Ukrainian scientists have blamed military sonar used by Russian warships for the disaster.
Delegates from across the world have gathered from December 7 to 19 in Canada to try to hammer out a new deal for nature: a 10-year framework aimed at saving the planet’s forests, oceans and species before it’s too late.
Draft targets include a cornerstone pledge to protect 30 percent of the world’s land and seas by 2030, eliminating harmful fishing and agriculture subsidies and tackling invasive species and reducing pesticides.