O brave RU world


September 2, 2014 by AK

Putin’s supporters are touting him as a defender of a “Russian world” (russkiy mir). In an earlier post, I have mentioned “Russian-worlders” abusing a patriotic Ukrainian lady. She has been freed and the BBC has some details on her ordeal and release. However the BBC abridged and sanitized its account of the woman’s treatment by Russians and separatists. Radio Free Europe has a good report in English. Radio Liberty has more but in Russian. I have translated some of the captive’s story.

Detained for giving clothes to Ukraine soldiers, she was brought to the headquarters of Battalion East (Vostok). The captors searched her belongings:

It was a screenshot I had made to show an acquaintance so she would know that these people had appeared in Donetsk – not Ukrainians, not even Russians but mercenaries from other countries [Ossetia is part of Russia though]. When they found a photo of Zaur, he first abused me cruelly – he forced me to stretch my arm and yell “Sieg Heil!” because he said I was a fascist [Russians often call Nazis "fascists"]. When I refused, I was beaten. I was lying on the floor and he squatted by and started screaming in my year – I don’t know how many times, several dozens: “Sieg Heil!” – all of them screamed. I covered my head. They said: “Turn around, let’s see how we’re going to rape you now. How many men do you want – 10, 20? There’s a lot of us here. We can supply 40 or 50 men for you!” All that lasted for a very long time. I told them the PIN codes to all my family cards… Someone hacked our bank accounts and found something. The found out we had a family bank account, EUR12,000, and demanded I give the money to the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) because I had donated to the Ukrainian army…

Then someone printed out that sign, that I’m a fascist and I’m killing children. They put this sign on me, wrapped me in a[n Ukrainian] flag, added other Ukrainian accessories and drove me out to a square, a major intersection in Donetsk. I wasn’t tied to that post – I was merely using it for support. They kept yelling at me, “Sieg Heil! Stand to attention!” I was not allowed to bend my knees or move – I was forced to stand on my tiptoes, pressed against that post. Cars drove by… There are hundreds of Ossetian mercenaries in Donetsk. They stopped, they asked questions, they laughed, they took pictures with me in the background. Someone put up a show, saying: “Disperse – I’m going to shoot through her kneecap now.” I started shrieking, jumping up – they laughed. He shot but missed. Did you see the woman in a photograph kicking me in the belly?

(Interviewer) Yes, she has been identified.

She was hardly the only one. There was an older woman – she beat me with her walking stick – beat me on the head, on the back, on the shoulders. I’m covered in bruises. Apart from the fact that they beat me with rifle butts on the legs, there was that older woman hitting me with her walking cane. And how many young women hit me on the face, on the head, on the ears – one photograph cannot tell it all. But the people who hit me were not as frightening as those who merely walked up. Cars would stop and well-dressed young guys would get out. One would take a picture with me in the back, then pass the camera or phone to another one, who’d take another shot. Young girls did the same. No one defended me, not one person. They kept telling me that I’m a fascist, a dirty creature, that I direct artillery fire [for the Ukrainian army], that I’m killing children. I shouted that I have two kids and an a granddaughter, that I’ve never killed anybody. My eyesight is “three plus”, I must wear glasses. It’s just so absurd – I don’t want to repeat all that. Then there was a woman who took such effort – she opened the trunk of her car and took out some tomatoes and started throwing at me first. Then she smeared two tomatoes against my face, flooding my eyes with the juice. Then I saw through that juice what I thought were gentlemanly [intelligentnye] faces – first a bearded man with a professional camera: I realized I was being photographed by the press. Then there was a taller man – he also took pictures of me. I started hoping: people with these gentle faces – perhaps they would intervene. [They did.] I had been saying goodbye to life all that day, begging all the time: please kill me. Don’t tortment me, just kill me. If you think I deserve it, just shoot me. They replied: “Bitch, you won’t get off that easy.”

She was taken back to the barracks, or rather headquarters, of Battalion East.

They brought me back from the square to the ground floor of the building and locked me up in a small room. They kept tormenting me, spraying gas from a can at me. The Ossetian who took to hating me for some reason came twice. He had a sophisticated method: he ran towards me and kicked me with his foot in the chest. I was hurled across the cell, my back hit the opposite wall and I could not breathe for a long time. They liked that very much – they enjoyed themselves. Then there were breaks because other people were brought in and also beaten. They screamed and were taken away. I saw nothing: I was crouching in a corner, suffering from convulsions.

She mentions a man accused of pedophilia being brutally tortured.

They detained me at 9am; at 10am, the Ossetians seized me. When I was taken up on the third floor again to the Vostok people – let’s say they were normal, Ukrainian people [as opposed to the Ossetians] – it was already dark. I was all bruised, all covered in spit because the women had not only beaten me but had spat me in the face many times. They let me wash a little. Then I lost consciousness. I spent all night hanging under that radiator [handcuffed to a heating radiator, the way Russian thugs treat their victims] – it was a horrible night…

One of them said: “Your house will be occupied by people who support us, whose houses were damaged by shelling”… I recalled that phrase and realized that I would never live in my own house again. This lasted for three or four days. I lost count. I refused to eat… They threatened me, they said they would find a probe and tear my esophagus…

Her house was vandalized and all the valuables were stolen. She lost all her savings. But at least she and her family are safe now.

Novorossiya: a geographical name misused by propagandists


August 31, 2014 by AK

Novorossiya is a historical and geographical, rather than political, term. It has recently been much abused by Russian demagogues. The term dates back to the 18th century, when it referred to the steppes north of the Black Sea where agricultural settlement began about that time.

In a broader sense adopted by the end of the 19th century, Novorossiya included all the steppes from the Dniester to the Kuban and even to Stavropol. Dnepropetrovsk was founded as Novorossiysk in 1776, later to be renamed Ekaterinoslav. The Russian port of Novorossiysk, founded as a fortress in 1838 on land ceded by the Ottomans and captured from the Circassians, is evidence that the term Novorossiya applied to lands on the east coast of the Black Sea as well.

I believe the paragraphs above are in agreement with the Encyclopedia of Ukraine’s History (2010). Interestingly, the Great Soviet Encyclopedia limited Novorossiya to the south of Ukraine and admitted it had been settled mostly by Ukrainians and Russians. The much-respected Brockhaus and Efron encyclopedia (1890-1916) also favored a narrow definition and includeв a detailed account of the 18th-century settlement.

The -rossiya in Novoròssiya sound close to Rossìya, but does it meant today’s Russia? No, rather the old Russian Empire or its tripartite core: Greater, Minor, and White Russia, that is in today’s speak Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. The term was never meant to exclude Ukraine. Recall that Grushevsky insisted that Ukraine was the true Rus’, and Gogol’ russky includes “Ukrainian”.

Why “Novo”? Because it was a colony in the sense of empty land to be settled, like New France, New England, New Holland or New Caledonia. Why colonized so late? Because slave raids by the predatory Crimean Khanate prevented safe settlement until the Russian Empire put an end to them. Settled by whom? Novorossiya’s countryside, largely by Ukrainians and Russians but also by Serbian, German, Greek colonists. Novorossian cities were ethnically mixed: Russian-speaking with strong Jewish, German, Greek and Armenian presence. It all changed after WWII, of course.

Novorossiya is no more Russian than New England is English – the dominant language may be a dialect of Russian but that’s it. Ethnically and culturally, Novorossiya is a unique mix and is closely related both to “old” Ukraine and to Southern Russia, the Russia of the steppe – which is also a “new” Russia compared with the forests north and east of Moscow. But Canada is not aiming to annex Maine and armed minutemen from Seattle don’t cross into British Columbia. Even if the UK breaks apart, it’s hard to see England sending tanks over the border because the south of Scotland is so much like the north of England.

In the next post on Novorossiya, I’d like to discuss Grigory Danilevsky’s once-popular novel, Fugitives in Novorossiya (1862). Danilevsky’s focus is on the eastern parts, “Rostov, Mariupol, Taganrog.” I’ll get back to this work because Danilevsky (not to be confused with the proto-Eurasianist Nikolai Danilevsky) drew from his experience as an ethnographer and geographer charged with describing the Azov Sea area in the late 1850s.

Vladimir Bukovsky on how to speak to Putin


August 30, 2014 by AK

I have freely translated pieces from a recent interview by Vladimir Bukovsky, the famous Soviet dissident, with Ukrinform. The subject is how to deal with Putin: tell him to go hang himself.

To clear things up from the start, poslat’ na khuy technically means “to tell one to impale oneself on the speaker’s or somebody else’s penis” but in practice is a rude way to tell a person to go away and never come back. A short version, poslat’, is essentially the same but more socially acceptable. I’m using “f— off” and similar expressions in the translation.

You mustn’t give in and you shouldn’t put up with it. While the enemy is in your territory, don’t negotiate. That would be admitting defeat, de-facto. I understand that one has to put up with pressure from Merkel and other clueless people. They think they are peacemakers but they actually do a lot of harm. In fact, if you’re negotiating with Putin, it means he is halfway to winning. But Merkel does not understand anything – what can you expect from her? She was chief of East German Komsomol under Honecker. She’s a conformist by nature.

What can you do then? I’ve thought about teaching a special course in the West: how to tell people to f— off. We’ve got a simple answer in such situations in Russia: “Go do you-know-what to yourself.” My lessons are primarily for politicians. Together with my friend Edik [Eduard] Kuznetsov, we spent two hours teaching this to the current Israeli PM, Netanyahu…

In Camp 35 in Perm, convicts had their own interethnic Grand Council. It dealt with problems in the camp unofficially, making sure there was no arbitrary breaking of rules [proizvol]. Once Ukrainians complained to the council: “We have a problem. One of us, an aging, mild-mannered teacher from Transcarpatia, often gets summoned by the kum [a cop with broad authority overseeing convicts' lives in a camp] and from his office, the cop always sends the teacher to solitary for fifteen days. So he gets locked up all the time and he’s an old man and his health isn’t that great…” I said the case was clear: “The cop is recruiting him as an informant and the teacher doesn’t know how tell the cop to f— off. The teacher is replying to him in a nice way: ‘Sorry but I can’t… sorry but I don’t really want to…’ You’ve got to tell it the Russian way: explicitly, looking him in the eye.’

The High Council asked me to explain all that to the teacher. When he was out of the hole, I approached him and we brewed tea… The teacher turned red: ‘I cannot say such words.’ I spent two hours teaching him… His lips wouldn’t curl to utter that expression – he knew several languages but couldn’t tell a person to f— off. But I prevailed. The cop called him to his office again; the teacher told him to go f— himself and got locked up again. But they left him alone after that.

Telling people to go hang is a great art, which the West never mastered in dealing with the Soviets. But that’s the only way because KGB is a special breed of animal. They don’t understand a “no”; you can’t have an agreement with them – they won’t offer a compromise themselves and an adversary’s offer of a compromise is a sign of weakness to them. So if you don’t flip off KGB, you’ve just brought great trouble upon yourself. It means they are going to pressure you more and more until they recruit you. To the KGB, you’re one of two things: either you’re their enemy or you’re their agent. And there’s nothing in-between the two.

That’s why you have to stare Putin in the eyes and say, “Putin, go and do you-know-what.” That’s all. I’m ready to go to Kiev and teach Petr Alexeevich [Poroshenko] how to do that.

Two notes. Bukovsky is speaking Russian so it’s natural that he calls Poroshenko Petr, or Pyotr, Alexe(y)evich rather than Petro Olexiyovych. If Putin were to move to Ukraine and speak Ukrainian, he would be addressed as Volodymyr Volodymyrovych.

Second, Bukovsky was truly famous in the USSR: only 29 in 1971, he was arrested for a fourth time and sentenced to seven years in prison and five in exile for protesting against the political abuse of psychiatry in the Soviet Union. The Soviet press tended to avoid mentioning political dissenters but Pravda not only wrote about Bukovsky but called him a “heinous hooligan.” When the dissident was exchanged for the leader of Chilean communists, Luis Corvalán, a doggerel became popular in the USSR that went like this:

They’ve exchanged a hooligan
For Luis Corvalan.
Where can we find a suitable whore
To exchange our Brezhnev for?

Echoes of Afghanistan


August 28, 2014 by AK

Earlier this week, reporters from several Russian media outlets, including Novaya Gazeta, Colta.ru, and Gubernskie Vedomosti, found two fresh graves of Russian servicemen in the Pskov region, where one of Russia’s famous paratrooper divisions is stationed. From interviews with witnesses of the funeral service and burial, it became clear that the two men were laid to rest with military honors but the ceremony was low-profile. In other words, there were good reasons to believe the soldiers were killed in action in Ukraine. Leonid Bershidsky has much more on Bloomberg View.

The influential Soldiers’ Mothers’ movement has spoken out against sending Russian soldiers to Ukraine, estimating that up to 15,000 troops may be involved in the operation. That would be three paratrooper divisions so the number sounds overstated, but could be a sensible estimate of the total number of troops massed by the Ukrainian border. Also this week, Ukraine detained nine Russian soldiers who, according to the Russian defense ministry, simply lost their way and found themselves 20 kilometers from the Ukrainian border, on its wrong side. There’s no way the Kremlin can plausibly deny its involvement any longer. Oh yes, technically the Russians in Ukraine are on vacation or had their service contracts terminated days before crossing the border. But that’s not fooling anyone.

If Russia seeks to establish a land corridor to Crimea (“Danzig Corridor” anyone?), it will probably have to fight its way from Mariupol to Genichesk and the best Ukraine might be able to inflict as much damage as possible, hoping that parents and wives of Russian soldiers demand an end to the slaughter.

Donetsk as Dogville


August 26, 2014 by AK

After seeing the photos (1, 2) of hate-infested Donetsk residents violently abusing a lady accused of being a “Ukrainian spy”, I could not help wishing that Donetsk might meet the same fate as Dogville. In the words of Brecht’s Jenny, “At noon, there will be stillness over the harbor when they ask me who should die. And I’ll hear myself reply, ‘Everybody!’”

This disgusting spectacle in Donetsk comes as a sequel to the parading of captured Ukrainian servicemen by the separatists last Sunday. The Donetsk show was supposed to mimic the 1944 German POW parade in Moscow. But the Germans were not marched with their hands bound behind the back. More importantly, the Soviet crowds were silent. Although the Nazis had caused enormous suffering (many of the onlookers had lost relatives in the war) and had badly mistreated Soviet POWs, there was no spitting or throwing stones at the German soldiers, and no mocking. Some witnesses admitted that as they watched the dirty, sad, mistreated German boys drag their feet, they first saw them as human beings like themselves.

Ukraine’s Independence Day


August 24, 2014 by AK

More Ukrainian flags put up by Russian activists today, Ukraine’s Independence Day. Two by the Kremlin, and one in St. Petersburg.

Six activists showed up in Lubyanka Square, by the KGB/FSB building, holding flags of Ukraine, Georgia, and Chechnya (Ichkeria) and shouting, “Free political prisoners” and “Rusnya, pull back the tanks!” (Rusnya is pejorative for Russia or the Russians.)

Also, “death to the Empire” and “freedom to Boris Stomakhin”, a radical journalist who served five years in prison for his articles and has recently been sentenced to seven more. For nothing but his writings, extremist as they may sound.

On the dark side, after Satan’s Parade in Donetsk, I find it rather hard to have a shred of sympathy for the natives supporting the separatists.

Flags and maniacs


August 24, 2014 by AK

To begin with, a video of Russian activists hanging a Ukrainian flag from the Bolshoy Kamenny bridge near the Kremlin and getting detained by cops. This very Sunday morning.

On to Yulia Latynina on Ekho Moskvy:

The “tower desecration” case. What does it mean, desecration – is that tower a temple? At least Pussy Riot sang in a church. What’s going to be “desecrated” next? A 5-story apartment building?.. A garbage heap? What religious cult does the tower stand for?.. are we officially at war with Ukraine?

For me, the goings-on about this high-rise indicate that it’s a major-league crime that has greatly offended one person… most likely the one at the helm of the state because I can imagine how orders were given to investigate…

In the Moscow region, police are searching for a gang of criminals who kill drivers for no apparent reason. Along the Don highway [connecting Moscow with Rostov-on-Don on the Azov Sea] the gang’s mode of operation is this: …late at night, they would throw a spiked metal object on the road… the driver would get out and they would kill him without taking anything…

Imagine a gang, a maniac operating like that, murdering people in the US – and at the same time, someone raising a Canadian flag, say on the Empire State Building… when the Washington sniper was killing people just so, all America was in panic and the news was on the front pages. But a psychotic killer operating near Moscow killing drivers in that manner is apparently uninteresting to the people who govern the state because it has nothing to do with the Great Power idea.

It’s only my approximate translation from a transcript and I did not aim for literal accuracy.

Flag Day


August 22, 2014 by AK

In the quote below, the workers are not merely being investigated – they were detained yesterday and police were planning to bring a misdemeanor charge:

Six workers are being investigated after they accidentally painted a high-voltage transmission tower in southern Moscow in Ukraine’s national colors.

It gets better: a man has been stopped and detained by St. Petersburg police for wearing a yellow and blue cap with the Ukrainian coat of arms.

Not sure if it’s something out of Švejk or the town of Glupov but I remember anecdotes about Soviet authorities stamping out any color schemes remotely reminiscent of pre-Soviet flags. The Lithuanian flag – yellow, green, and red – must have haunted them each spring, smiling from flowerbeds.

The Kremlin, however, has declared these blue-and-yellow lines in Red Square harmless.

By the way, today is the day of the national flag in the Russian Federation.

Gangsters and…


August 22, 2014 by AK

Gazeta Wyborcza quotes Latvian politician Artis Pabriks speaking at a conference dedicated to the 25th anniversary of the Baltic Chain:

[Russia] has responded to the EU sanctions so as to damage small countries. The majority in our countries is in solidarity with the fight for Ukrainian liberty. However, people are not ready to make sacrifices. Moscow has imposed the embargo [on EU food imports] to stoke these sentiments.

I did not mention Latvia but I thought that Lithuania with its well-developed dairy business was possibly being punished for misbehavior:

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Kremlin’s primary target are those two countries [Poland and Lithuania] with their firm pro-Ukrainian stance, since they critically depend on Russia for their agricultural exports.

The article is interesting for other opinions as well, including of course Adam Michnik’s, such as this: Russian FM Lavrov’s negotiating principle is “what’s mine is mine; what’s yours… we can talk about it.” Reportedly, Russian gangsters put it more bluntly: “What is mine is mine. What is yours is also mine.”

Old flags, new meanings


August 21, 2014 by AK

Twenty-three years and two days ago, on August 19, 1991, people started flowing to the square by Moscow’s “White House”, the seat of Yeltsin’s Russian government, to show support for the recently elected president and prevent the Communist hardliners who had seized power in the Kremlin from storming the building. Three defenders died on the night of August 20-21 trying to block tanks around the White House. By August 22, the restorationist coup d’état had been defeated, clearing the way to a dismantling of the Communist party dictatorship and the USSR.

At that time, the old Russian tricolor was a symbol of a new, free, post-Communist Russia. The flag was apparently used by Russian merchants in pre-Petrine times, in the 17th century, and Tsar Peter flew it as early as 1693 during his voyage to Solovki in the White Sea. It was the flag of the short-lived Russian Republic (March-November 1917) and the Volunteer White Army in 1917-1920.

Fast forward to 2014. The official Russian flag represents Putinism while the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag has come to symbolize anti-Putinist resistance. Yesterday morning, Russian activists hoisted a Ukrainian flag on one of the seven “Stalin” towers in Moscow, painted the top blue to make it look like the Ukrainian flag, and parachuted (!) down. Police have detained two men and two women aged 25-35, who could be charged with “vandalism”, which carries up to three years in prison.


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