«We came back to 1944.» Vitaly Portnikov about the lessons of World War II

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After the Second World War, we got a world that remained a world of evil, as if there was no victory over Hitler. Not only did we give half of Europe to the Soviet Union, but also allowed this empire to exist as a nuclear power.

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Ukrainians are constantly trying to prove, to both themselves and the world, that they were active participants in World War II, and that this victory would not have happened without Ukraine. And it’s absolutely true. But we should also understand some important points concerning Ukraine, explains Ukrainian publicist, writer and journalist Vitaly Portnikov during the broadcast of «Explaining Ukraine» on «Tvoe Misto».

Firstly, the Soviet Union wasn’t planning at all to wage war with Hitler’s Germany, Vitaly Portnikov says. It was not going to be an ally of Britain and the United States, but allied with Hitler’s Germany at the first stage and took part in destroying the Polish state, which was really proud of. Vyacheslav Molotov, chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, called Poland a terrible formation of the Versailles Treaty. The Soviet Union was also opposed to the Treaty of Versailles, and Joseph Stalin wrote telegrams to Hitler about the friendship cemented by the blood of the two nations.

If Hitler had not attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, the USSR would never fight against Nazi Germany, the journalist emphasizes.

«Mankind was just lucky because if the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were at war together, we don’t know what kind of world we would live in. You would know, while I – a person of Jewish descent, simply wouldn’t be born. By the way, I had such a chance not to be born after the Second World War, when Stalin was preparing to deport and exterminate Soviet Jews, which was a continuation of the Holocaust because the Soviet Union was the successor to Hitler’s Germany,» – said Vital Portnikov.

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The second important point is that Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, as he had earlier invaded Poland, because of having an idea – to expand the living space within the Nazi ideology.

«What was the struggle of the Soviet Union with Hitler? It was the struggle for the preservation of this historical Russia that Putin is talking about now. The Soviet Union was a historical Russia in the eyes of its Stalin-led leaders. And this was stated by Stalin in 1945 quite clearly. In 1941-42, the Soviet Union returned to the concept of historical Russia, breaking the idea that the country’s history dated back to 1917 [the October socialist revolution],» – he said.

The publicist says that the Soviet Union purposefully established the orders of Nevsky, Kutuzov, Suvorov, and Bohdan Khmelnytsky (the last one was presented as a person who led the annexation of Ukrainian lands to the Russian state). According to the journalist, for most Russians who lived in Russia or were in exile, it was absolutely obvious what they were fighting for. They fought for the preservation of this historical Russia because they understood that if Hitler won, there would be no chance for the existence of this Russia.

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«Millions of Ukrainians served in the armed forces of the Soviet Union, but it must be clearly stated that they rescued this concept of historical Russia. The Ukrainian state was destroyed in 1920, Ukrainians did not fight for their state, they were soldiers of the empire. Soldiers of the anti-Hitler coalition, but they were not soldiers of Ukraine. The question of what will be the historical destiny of Ukraine was completely unresolved as of May 1945. In other words, the solution was simple: Ukraine remained a colony of the Soviet Union, even more powerless, faulty than it had been before,» – Vitaly Portnikov adds.

The first thing the Soviet government did after the victory was to fight against various nationalisms. Everywhere, those who still remained carriers in some national spirit or culture, were being destroyed. Therefore, it must be realised, remembered and emphasised that the Russians, who fought with the Ukrainians in 1941, occupied Ukrainian land, fought for the Bolshevik regime and witnessed the Ukrainian famine, the destruction of the Ukrainian national and cultural movement.

«Everything is clear with Russia, not even what they are celebrating today, but what they celebrated yesterday – the salvation of Russia, as people in London celebrated the salvation of Great Britain. But for many colonies of the empire, it was not such a holiday. And when we do not talk about this, we find ourselves in a completely deceptive historical situation, when we always want to prove to the Russians «you know, we were like you, we were with you, but not by our own free will.» Because these same Russians, who fought with the Ukrainians in 1941, occupied the Ukrainian land. They were the population that accepted and fought for the Bolshevik regime. They, as a society, witnessed the Ukrainian famine, the destruction of the Ukrainian national and cultural movement,» – he explains.

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«What is the main lesson of World War II? Was it a battle of good and evil? Yes, it was. Was part of evil on the side of good? It was. The Soviet Union was as evil as Hitler’s Germany, no better. And this, again, if we move on to all these favourite parallels of fairy tales, which are so loved by Ukrainians, who for some reason call the Russians «orcs», instead of just calling them Russians,» – said Vitaly Portnikov.

In fact, after World War II, we got a world that remained a world of evil, as if there was no victory over Hitler. After all, not only did we give half of Europe to the Soviet Union, but also allowed this empire to exist as a nuclear power. Empire, which was absolutely similar to Hitler’s one.

«We handed over our nuclear weapons to this empire in 1991. Moreover, we fought to have a single nuclear weapons centre and to be in Moscow. And now what? Now, in 2022, we are faced with the question of whether they will use nuclear weapons or not. In 1944, in fact, we were wondering if Hitler would have time to conduct a nuclear strike or have a nuclear bomb, and the heroic «Stirlitz» [Russian spy] from the movie «17 Moments of Spring», which Putin may have watched, did his best to keep the physicist Runge in a concentration camp and prevent him from creating this bomb... And here we come at this moment, at this very point. And now, we are in the same state of extermination as in 1944. Now, we have the global Holocaust. And its reason is that no one has drawn any conclusions from World War II. The main conclusion of World War II, as Winston Churchill said in his Fulton speech, is coexistence with evil. But this coexistence lasted for another 80 years and continues today. And as long as we coexist with it, we will always be on the verge of extermination,» – the publicist stressed.

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He believes that Ukraine’s victory will be the return of Ukraine to its borders by 2014, and its accession to NATO.

«I have always said that Ukrainians take two exams: the first is whether the Ukrainian people are capable and competent of state-building. And the second exam – whether the Ukrainian state can exist within the borders of the Ukrainian SR as of 1991. We haven’t passed both of these exams yet. The Ukrainian state has not controlled its territory since 1991, and we do not know whether it will succeed, because this is a matter for the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

And secondly, we do not know what conclusions the Ukrainian people will draw from the current war. We always believe that the citizens living on Ukrainian territory draw the same conclusions as we do, and then it turns out that they draw the opposite conclusions. This was the case after the Maidan in 2004, and after 2013-14, and it may be the case now. So that we don’t wake up after the first post-war election in a state of emotional shock asking «No, didn’t they understand anything again?» After all, none of the historical lessons of state-building has been passed so far. And we must fight for this exam to be passed by the Ukrainian people sooner or later,» – Vitaly Portnikov summed up.

It will be recalled that the media hub «Tvoe Misto» media hub has launched a series of «Explaining Ukraine» meetings for foreign media to help better understand Ukraine, explain its aspirations for freedom and independence, and reveal the contexts of the Russian-Ukrainian war. You can watch all the videos of the project here.

Antonina Kostyk, translated by Vitalii Holich

Photo: Ivan Stanislavskyi/ Tvoe Misto

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