By now, you’ve probably heard the expression, “Slava Ukraini, Heroyem Slava.” It means “glory to Ukraine, glory to the heroes,” and is a wonderful way for Ukrainians to show solidarity. Soldiers say it to each other going into battle, politicians say it as they conclude their statements, protesters chant it during rallies, and ordinary citizens say it, well, whenever they feel like it. It’s an inspiring salute that can rally Ukraine around a common passion – the sovereignty of the country – and is something I heard on hundreds of occasions throughout my time in Ukraine.
After the war started, I’ve begun hearing another phrase. It’s less popular than Slava Ukraini, but is much more concrete, direct, and potentially ominous.
Все буде Україна
Vse boodey Ukraini.
Everything will be Ukraine.
Many Ukrainians see victory as regaining all Russian-occupied territories. They want Crimea back, they want all of Luhansk and Donetsk, and of course the newly-captured territories like Kherson must be returned. These conditions are just the beginning of the demands for many Ukrainians, and don’t even touch on reparations or NATO Status. Any peace-agreement that allows Russia to successfully annex Ukrainian land won’t sit well with the Ukrainians who have seen their friends, family, and neighbors killed by the Russian army. If the Ukrainian government allows Russia to officially take an inch of Ukrainian land, the world should expect a revolt from the Ukrainians.
We don’t need to go too far in the past to understand why – just look at the Maidan Revolution in 2014. The initial protests kicked off in November 2013 because the Ukrainian president at the time, Viktor Yanukovych, backed out of an economic agreement with the EU and signed one with Russia. What started off as protests against the new law turned into greater pro-Western demonstrations and soon attracted hundreds of thousands of people. The state-funded
terrorist police force, the Berkut, soon started attacking protesters, which only inflamed tensions, and by February the center of Kyiv turned into a warzone. Over a hundred citizens died but the demonstrations continued to intensify, and on February 22nd Yanukovych flew to Russia in the middle of the night due to fear for his life.
This all started because of an economic agreement.
It’s a worthy cause to fight for, of course, because sed agreement with Russia would have changed the western projection of the country that Ukrainians had worked so hard for. However, the tragedy of making a friendly economic deal with the Kremlin pales in comparison to the Russian state killing thousands of Ukrainians, obliterating the economy, causing hundreds of billions of dollars of infrastructure damage, pushing millions of Ukrainians out of the country, and annexing Ukrainian land. Do you really think that Ukrainians will accept a peace agreement that involves Russia officially taking over Crimea, let alone the newly occupied territories? After all they have sacrificed?
I’ve seen some people (mostly on Reddit and Twitter) argue that Zelensky should just let Russia have the occupied territories so the war can finally be stopped. But imagine – if violent protests with hundreds of thousands of people were catalyzed due to an economic agreement with Russia, what sort of demonstrations will happen if Zelensky agrees that Russia can take 10% of Ukrainian land? Zelensky would be seen as a traitor and a capitulator. His image of being a modern day Churchill would evaporate and in a moment, and he would be immediately seen as a Chamberlain, except one thousand times worse. And he knows this.
My wife demonstrates epitome of this mindset. To her, if Ukraine doesn’t get its land back, all the sacrifices Ukrainians have made and all the lives that have been lost would be for nothing. Sure, on the outside one might think that keeping Ukrainian sovereignty and not letting Kyiv and other major cities fall into the hands of the Russians is a victory, but for Ukrainians like my wife Alina that’s not where the goalposts are. The goalposts start with gaining back all occupied Russian land. After that Russia and Ukraine can begin negotiating, and anything less is seen as complete and utter capitulation.
That’s why any sort of deal that involves Russia keeping Luhansk, Donetsk, Crimea, and any newly-occupied territory resulting from the war is a non-starter. If Zelensky agrees to that, the people will revolt.
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