“For injuries ought to be done all at one time, so that, being tasted less, they offend less.” Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince
Donetsk and Luhansk are under seige, but what of the rest of Ukraine?
Attention is rightly focussed on Donetsk and Luhansk and the virtual daily shelling of the population by Kiev's military forces assisted by the neo-Nazi groups from the west of the country. We must not forget the encouragement and financing of this reprehensible situation by the USA and her NATO allies. The active participation of the CIA that has gone on for years in order to harass Russia, the open support by US politicians like Biden and McCain, is all well-documented. We must recognise and expose this as infamy pursued in the interests of imperial strategies of global dominance against the common interests of the general population.
Having visited the Ukraine of several occasions, having contacts in different parts of the country, we are well acquainted with the situation on the ground. Our first visit took place shortly after independence in 1991. We have been there several times more recently. Initially, much was left of the Soviet era. Petrol stations were few and far between and it was not uncommon for what we assume was petrol to be pumped by hand into our unsuspecting motor car. Crossing the border into Poland was nightmarish and could take anything up to 24 hours. Smuggling of everything, including money, household items and even people was fairly common. Police patrolled the mountain roads on the border and took bribes. Things have changed somewhat since those early times. However, the country is still plagued by corruption. This begins at the top and filters downwards even to the doctor's surgeries. A doctor will expect something to be slipped into his jacket pocket as you leave. The traffic police often target foreign vehicles to impose bogus fines, the proceeds of which disappear into their own pockets. Considering the very low pay, such petty bribes are understandable. Opening a business is difficult and only takes place with the agreement of the local 'mafia bosses'; they and local government officials will almost certainly want their cut and even regular payments.
Wages are poor and even those with a university education will often be forced to take menial employment to make ends meet. Energy costs, especially for gas, are high. Pensions for the old are a pittance. In country areas, extended families often live together and pool resources. Household plots of land tend to be quite small, but are often sufficient to produce a basic supply of essential vegetables. Relatives living in the towns will often benefit too. Some families keep pigs and poultry and may even have a goat or a cow for milk. They get by. In winter heating in country areas will often be from wood that has been prepared in the summer months. Interestingly, access to the internet and mobile phones is widespread, better often than here in the UK.
On our visits, it was difficult to get anyone to express any real views on politics, just a nudge and a wink. Once driving past a local prison, our hosts suggested that's where the president and much of the government belonged. The 'Orange Revolution' of late November 2004 to January 2005 was deemed a disaster, a betrayal of trust and again its leaders viewed as corrupt and in it for themselves. In the aftermath of Maidan, the riots and mysterious shootings of February 2014, the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych and the coupe instigated by the West propelling Petro Poroshenko and Arsenly Yatsenyuk into power, the inclination to talk about these matters, particularly with outsiders has subsided even more. Most keep quiet, few say very much.
What is of considerable interest to us is how the good people of Ukraine are faring under the repressive regime now in power in Kiev. Nothing is said in our media, little comes out of Ukraine itself. What we do know is not encouraging. Opposing TV channels and newspapers have been closed down. The regime sought almost immediately to round up any protest leader they could find and charge him or her with being a separatist with a possible stretch in prison of anything up to eight years. Many officials fled the country, some to the East and Crimea, others to Russia. The banks, notably the Privat Bank owned by the oligarch Kolomoyskyi, freeze accounts at will, especially those in the south and the east of the country where opposition is widespread. Persons working in industry, coal and manufacturing, were told that should they join any protests or even speak about them, they would be fired. At one point 30% of workers' pay was deducted ostensibly to pay for the new National Guard. This militia group is made up largely of neo-Nazis who continually threaten the population.
What the puppet regime in Kiev does not seem to realise that they are pawns in a much bigger game and nothing will come from their present 'benefactors' that will in the end profit them or their fellow countrymen. The EU is already turning its back on them. Despite the bloated claims of the rightwing putschists, what awaits Ukraine from Brussels and the IMF are devastating economic policies and an austerity programme that will bring the country to its knees. Economic collapse, political chaos and social upheaval are on their way. They will go the way of Greece? If history is anything to go by, it will probably be much worse. There will be more extreme violence. The Ukrainians will end up with nothing to show for all their suffering, a more depressed and corrupt economy, a huge IMF debt that they will be squeezed to repay beyond the point of reasonable possibility at which point what remains of any assets will be seized. Social services, now at breaking point, will be pushed to the verge of extinction. There will perhaps be a hollow form of democracy dominated by neo-Nazis and ultra-nationalists held in place by the West, but only as a buffer against Russia.
Sad to say, Ukraine is not a place we intend to visit at present. The hospitality we have enjoyed in the past would now cost these folk dear. It is risky for us and for those we would visit. The story is, of course, much more complex than it is possible to relate in such a short article. We can but hope and pray for better days. It would be of considerable help if outsiders with their own agendas would stay clear. The Ukrainians need a helping hand, but not of the kind so far on offer from the West.
D. William Norris
“We shall squeeze you empty, and then we shall fill you with ourselves.” George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four