Regular Ukrainians in their Revolution of Dignity, 2014
On the Real Ukraine podcast, Joe Lindsley and Konstantyn Chyzhyk, former chief of office of Ukraine's President's Investment Council, discuss the situation on the ground in Ukraine, and why it matters.
The good-will messages flood my phone: Will you leave Ukraine? On the ground I don’t see any reason to worry: life is calm, people carry on as they have during the past eight years that Russia has occupied portions of Ukrainian territory. As a source close to Ukraine’s president Zelenskiy said to BuzzFeed News this week, «Americans are safer in Kyiv than they are in Los Angeles… or any other crime-ridden U.S. city.» It is only the headlines and intelligence warnings from afar that cause worry.
In those headlines, I see two strains of thought regarding Ukraine congealing in America and Europe: one side predicting and almost begging for disaster, and in the American polarized way, the other side suggesting Ukraine should be part of Russia.
One side: ‘Let’s Have a Good Ol’ War’
«I think we are basically just of the cusp of war,» Alexander Vindman, former European Affairs director for the U.S. National Security Council, said on Nichole Wallace’s MSNBC show this week. «I think it’s all but certain in my mind that it’s going to be a large European war. My concern now is making sure that the US is postured for that outcome. The ball is in Putin’s court.»
"I think we're basically just on the cusp of war. I think it's all but certain in my mind that there's going to be a large European war... My concern now is making sure that the U.S. is postured for that outcome... The ball is in Putin's court" - @AVindman w/ @NicolleDWallace pic.twitter.com/QXiGv4B9as
— Deadline White House (@DeadlineWH) January 22, 2022
These words are notable because Vindman perhaps, whether intentionally or not, did more than anyone to hurt Ukraine-U.S. relations during the Trump presidency.
Vindman, who later tried to retract some of those words, is a native of Kyiv who grew up in America, earned a Purple Heart fighting for the USA in Iraq, and became a top National Security Agency official in the White House. In the latter capacity, he overhead in summer 2019 the Trump-Zelenskiy call that led to President Trump’s impeachment.
Congressional Democrats claimed that Trump was endangering Ukraine with his threat to withhold funding if Zelenskiy did not investigate then-candidate Joe Biden’s son Hunter’s dealings with Ukraine. Months after Ukrainians peacefully sent the pro-Moscow regime of President Viktor Yanukovych feeling to Russia in the Euromaidan Revoluton, Putin took over Ukraine’s oil rich Crimea, and Hunter Biden became a $50,000/month director of energy firm Burisma, owned by a Putin ally, with most of its operations in Crimea.
The impeachment campaign, initiated over Trump’s call with Zelenskiy, did enormous damage to U.S.-Ukraine relations. The Trump White House became terrified of any real communication with Kyiv.
I saw this first-hand: In October 2019 I visited friends at the White House just two days after returning to the USA after a long global trip that culminated in two months in Ukraine.
Learning I had just returned from Ukraine, a high-level woman who worked in the West Wing screamed in panic. And even my friends who worked there said I had to leave immediately. The Trump White House was broken and could do nothing to help an ally like Ukraine.
We only know about the Trump-Zelenskiy call from Vindman. And now, after creating a situation that marginalized Ukraine for years, Vindman says that a massive war over Ukraine is inevitable but no one asks him if he accidentally played a role in exacerbating the situation.
Meanwhile, from the same country that couldn’t seem to manage its Afghanistan withdrawal after 20 years there, we hear increasingly dire reports about the Ukraine situation. Before Christmas, President Biden said the world had «two weeks» to solve the Ukraine-Russia situation. Now it is four weeks later.
And with the UK government in turmoil over whether or not Downing Street had Covid parties, Prime Minister Boris Johnson says that the intel is «gloomy» and Russia is likely to invade.
Can we trust these voices?
Other Side: ‘Let Russia Take Ukraine’
On the other side from Vindman’s war-is-inevitable perspective, and on another channel, is my old friend Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, one of America’s most popular cable television hosts. Understandably sick of America’s long and unsuccessful foreign wars, he doesn’t want the USA to get involved in another foreign conflict.
But he goes further: He suggests that the USA should side with Russia instead of Ukraine.
«Why is it disloyal to side with Russia but loyal to side with Ukraine?» Tucker Carlson asked on his show this week.
Tucker: Why is it disloyal to side with Russia but loyal to side with Ukraine? pic.twitter.com/SX8GtYjDPO
— Acyn (@Acyn) January 25, 2022
I used to know Tucker when I worked as protégé to Roger Ailes; he gave me advice when I escaped the world of Fox News. I admire his willingness to speak his mind but in trying to resist the war-mongers I think he misses why Ukraine matters.
Months ago, Tucker made a big deal of visiting Budapest and broadcasting his show for a week from Hungary, which shares a border with Ukraine. He found Hungary to be an especially free society, but the president there has clamped down on the free press.
Regular Ukrainians at the Revolution of Dignity 2014
I thought this strange at the time, that he was missing the great secret next door. In Ukraine, lockdowns were less severe and the government in Kyiv does not exercise control over its citizens. In practice at the local level people did as they wish and still the situation has been no worse health-wise here than anywhere else, and it certainly has been freer.
Despite his love for Hungary, which had strict lockdowns, Tucker has missed perhaps an even greater love for freedom in Ukraine.
«The strongest part of Ukrainian society is not like in Russia or Belarus,» Ukrainian folk musician Sasha Boole, who sings Americana blues style music, told me last fall. «[Here] this society will never let the government – we have a really high degree of freedom after Euromaidan, especially. People felt this kind of thing. We don’t have this kind of fear in front of the guy in the uniform. In Russia, Belarus, when policemen tell people ‘stop,’ they’re stopping. and in Ukraine,» here he laughs, «they are arguing, they are like dude, ‘let’s figure this out.’»
It would seem that such a country would be an ideal ally of Tucker Carlson’s «free America.» But Americans ignore the «freedom aspect» of Ukraine, while Beijing and Moscow seeing strategic value in Ukraine, which has long been the gates of Europe and the West, swoop in.
Skyline of Lviv
What I want Americans to realize:
Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity poses a threat to Beijing and Moscow: By refusing to leave the main square of Kyiv for months in the winter of 2013-2014, sometimes in the face of bullets, the Ukrainian people claimed their democracy. This inspired the people of Belarus and Hong Kong in their unfortunately failed bids for liberty. In fact, Hong Kongers were waving four flags back in 2019 when they could still protest: their own, the American, the British, and the Ukrainian.
This is because Ukrainians won–and so they must be stopped and silenced somehow, in the minds of Moscow and Beijing, and perhaps other regimes.
Ukraine, unlike so many other European countries, never locked people in their houses, restricted movement, or engaged in forced contact tracing during the pandemic. Often, on the local level, the people followed their own rules. In other words, they are free.
Profesor José Casanova at Georgetown University told me two years ago that Ukrainian civil society today–actual communities and connections, not NGOs and think-tanks – is akin to the amazing civil society that Alexis de Tocqueville witnessed in early America.
These past two years of pandemic exile I have seen the strength of that civil society: people who with a wink and a nod heard the edicts from on high and then together kept their lives going.
In 2014, in the wild days after Ukraine’s Euromaidan Revolution, with its army in tatters, Ukrainian people largely defended themselves. Now, the Ukrainian army is patriotic, well-equipped, and trained by the Americans and others.
The position of this country seems strong to me. And it also seems that Ukraine should matter greatly to free people around the world. And maybe Putin knows this, and he is only trying to find leverage to get concessions from the west.
As my friend Konstantyn Chyzhyk says in our new Real Ukraine podcast, ‘Putin is rattling the nerves of Americans and Europeans, not Ukrainians.»
For reference: Kyiv-bornnn Alexander Vindman’s twin, Yevgeny Vindman, also a lieutenant colonel, was a US National Security Administration ethics official who had been posted to the White House. Among his tasks was to censor a book written by former US National Security Advisor John Bolton after Trump fired Bolton. On 7 February 2020, two days after the Senate acquitted him of impeachment charges, Trump fired the twins.
Lviv Now is an English-language website for Lviv, Ukraine’s «tech-friendly cultural hub.» It is produced by Tvoe Misto («Your City») media-hub, which also hosts regular problem-solving public forums to benefit the city and its people.
The author’s column is a reflection of the author’s subjective position. The editors of Lviv Now do not always share the views expressed in the columns, and are ready to give dissenters the opportunity for a reasoned answer.