“For Us this War is a Civi­liza­tional Breaking Point”

Foto: Imago

On the 24th of August Ukraine cele­brates its Inde­pen­dence Day. An inde­pen­dence for which the country pays a high price. In his commen­tary, Vitaly Sych, editor-in-chief of the Ukrainian media house NV, explains why it will still be a day of hope.

For the last 30 years many people, both within and outside Ukraine, believed inde­pen­dence was granted to Ukraine free of charge when the Soviet Union dissolved. Though Ukrainians fought for their identity and statehood for centuries, the emergence of inde­pen­dent Ukraine in 1991 went smoothly and without the cost of human life.

However, most other countries, including those from the former USSR, had to go through fierce fighting or brutal wars to acquire independence.

The price of inde­pen­dence is high

That is no longer the case. Nobody will ever again say that Ukraine acquired inde­pen­dence for free. The country and all its citizens are now going through the 18th month of brutal war, Europe’s largest since WWII, where the price is high and tangible.

Though Kyiv doesn’t reveal the number of casu­al­ties, Western diplomats believe the Ukrainian army has suffered about 150,000 dead or wounded soldiers. The death toll among civilians is estimated to be in the dozens of thousands and rising. Even these figures may turn out to be an under­state­ment as the exact number of victims in occupied terri­to­ries is simply unknown. Inter­na­tional orga­ni­za­tions have no access to Mariupol, for example, a port city of half a million before the war, where more than 20,000 people may have been killed by Russian bombings.

“For us, the number of victims is not just statistics”

For all of us, it is not just statis­tics or a shocking story on TV. During the first days of war, I drove my family for four consec­u­tive days on congested highways – with almost no food or sleep – so they could reach the Western border. At that point we didn’t even know whether we would ever return home to Kyiv. I will never forget the despair at the over­crowded Lviv railway station where mothers almost threw their children into train wagons, often even leaving their luggage on the platform. They were all trying to flee to the safety of Poland. My wife, my mother and my eight-year-old twins, Peter and Anna, moved to Ireland where they had to find out what life as a refugee is like.

They returned a few weeks ago and are starting school in Kyiv on the 1st of September. It was quite an awakening when I realized my children will have to imme­di­ately start running every time they hear an air raid siren, to then spend hours in a basement with only basic neces­si­ties hoping a Russian missile will be shot down.

“Our children now know the differ­ence between normal and ballistic missiles”

The school director told me he changed the protocol for the evac­u­a­tion of children. Once the Russians started using hyper­sonic missiles, the kids had to be down in the basement within three minutes, unlike the prior protocol’s four and a half minutes. Our children now know the differ­ence between regular and ballistic missiles and that is the price of independence.

“We don’t just report on the war – we also have to take part in it”

In the media house NV, which I am the head of, we don’t just report on the war. We must take part in it. Fifteen staff members, including three women, have joined the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Some of them volun­teered, some of them were drafted. An art director, an IT reporter, three anchors from the radio and so on. Our financial jour­nalist became head of a mortar unit on the front line in the Donetsk region.

“If we stop fighting, we will disappear as a state”

Those who stayed have learnt to work without elec­tricity, sometimes without water and heating, and under Russian missile attacks and air raid sirens. We are exhausted but we all under­stand that it is our exis­ten­tial war – a fight for inde­pen­dence. If we stop fighting, we will disappear as a state.

“...Or we can simply be free people”

For us this war is also a civi­liza­tional breaking point. You may become part of the “Russian world” – a country with a one-party political system, a dicta­tor­ship, censor­ship in media, incred­ible propa­ganda, and oppo­si­tion leaders in jail with 20-year terms.

Or you may simply become a free man. With rights. In a democracy. And a possi­bility to sack your leaders and speak your own language.

For the Russian elite it is painful to admit that the “Russian world” has nothing to offer except a journey in a time machine back to the dark past when human lives did not matter. During 18 months of war more than 300,000 Russian soldiers were killed or wounded in Ukraine, according to most estimates. Shock­ingly, nobody seems to care.

“Inde­pen­dence Day is also a day of hope”

At the same time, Ukraine is also fighting for NATO and EU member­ship. NATO is about security and survival. The EU is about prosperity.

In a few days we will be cele­brating our Inde­pen­dence Day. It won’t be just another day off. It will be a day of pride and a day of memory of the price that we paid. But it will also be a day of hope — for a better life for us and our children. And for the oppor­tu­nity for our children to never again expe­ri­ence what we are going through now.



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