How is the Russian war of aggression changing Ukrainian society? What goals motivate decision-makers in Russia? And does the Western astonishment at the invasion of February 24, 2022 also have something to do with scientific failures? These and similar questions are now being discussed by Ukrainian and German experts at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin.
“Ever since the Maidan days, I’ve been hearing that Ukrainian society is divided – as if that were a justification for Putin’s violent intervention,” said author Kateryna Mishchenko, currently a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg. As if pro-Russian forces in the country were legitimizing a war of aggression.
In addition, those regions in which there used to be many supporters of the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych are under particular pressure. “Those who used to vote for Yanukovych are now being deported and killed, and their cities reduced to rubble.” So there will be no more “Russia-friendly” Ukrainians for a long time, says Mishchenko.
In general, the term “Russian-speaking regions” is problematic, explained Andrii Portnov, Professor of Entangled History at the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt/Oder. “We need a more differentiated language, new categories in order to be able to measure Ukrainian society correctly from a sociological point of view.” According to Portnov, there is widespread situational bilingualism.
Accordingly, large parts of the population grow up with both the Ukrainian and Russian languages and use both according to the context. “The question of whether people speak the Russian language for political reasons or in specific everyday situations cannot be answered scientifically.”
Societies are always divided somewhere. The war is likely to give rise to new potential for conflict in the Ukrainian population. The Ukrainian historian and publicist said that social media is already showing an emotional tension between people who fled and those who stayed.
Meanwhile, Mishchenko said Russian atrocities could foster a militarized society. “Because people know how the Russian army treats civilians, there is a great need for protection and the demand for privately owned weapons.” The debate on this is already underway.
Otherwise there is the socio-political dissent that is usual in pluralistic societies, says the publicist. One problem is that there is no reasonable political representation for all social and political groups. According to Mishenko, for example, “the socialist or social-democratic language” was hijacked by the Yanukovych camp at the time – although said actors had nothing to do with socialism and social democracy. Their corresponding rhetoric, however, means that groups that oppose conservative or neoliberal positions in the political process are often suspected of being wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Once the war is over, new forms of political representation are needed here. Mishchenko says that one must also work on an inclusive model of bilingualism that does not make anyone feel excluded. “It’s a pity that the issues of the Russian language and Russian culture are overshadowed by pain in Ukraine.”
Portnov and Mishchenko left no doubt that this was his concern. Putin’s goal is not to occupy the Donbass, but to destroy Ukraine as such. “This is not about some national stubbornness, the society is fighting for its very existence,” said author and publisher Mishchenko. The Kremlin actually has no interest in the Donbass itself, says Portnov.
This is only a hanger of the larger goal of a global geopolitical power shift. The Ukraine is only the beginning. “There is no longer a Mariupol, you have to realize that, we are not fighting this war just for independence, but for sheer survival.”
There are currently 14 million Ukrainians on the run, half of them in the country. The associated traumatizations are not yet measurable at all, says Mishchenko. A gigantic wave of poverty is also rolling, many people are literally left with nothing.
And in view of this far-reaching devastation, how does Ukrainian society perceive Germany’s hesitant action and the debates in Germany about arms deliveries? There is great frustration here and the impression that Germany – like Hungary – is a highly problematic partner, according to Portnov.
As a historian, he can understand Germany’s hesitant reaction, but it is devastating for Ukraine. Kateryna Mishchenko objected that the Russians were now imitating Nazi war policies. “For this very reason, Germany should take on a more active role and charge the concept of coming to terms with the past with a new anti-fascist energy that must now turn against Russia.”
And why didn’t large parts of the science scene anticipate the war catastrophe? The historian Timothy Snyder has already complained that for a long time there was little interest in Ukraine as an independent historical-political entity in his profession.
“I also see a lot of catching up to do here,” explained Munich historian of Eastern Europe Martin Schulze Wessel, who moderated the event at the Wissenschaftskolleg. The turning point also has consequences for research.