Letters from Kyiv and Moscow

The writers asked they be widely shared. Some humans are predatory and abusive. We institute governments to restrain such people. When we allow such people to arrogate the use of force unto themselves, then the observers are to blame.

I thought Biden was responsible for Obama’s caution in the face of abuse and aggression. I was wrong. Or perhaps Biden has realized that he was not forceful enough. I had mostly overlooked Russia in Syria and, frankly, forgot that one of the legitimate briefs against Sadam Hussein was his palling around with Russia. That got swept under the rug along with the military the Pentagon wanted to locate there. Why? Because the press got co-opted.

Letter #1, from Tamara Hundorova, Ukraine
Dear Marina,
I’m sorry for not having responded for so long. Yesterday we decided to leave Kiev having heard what was going on in Kharkov. [My] nerves just gave out. It is such a pity to have to leave Kiev behind, [that] I am on the verge of tears. I feel shame, and pity, and anger, all at once. I love Kiev very much. Truly the city is like kindred to me. On Sunday evening [February 27, 2022] I drafted an appeal from Ukrainian scholars to the global scholarly community (I just decided that such a thing should be done, an idea like this had been passed around in our mailing list). I sent off my draft, I don’t know what will happen [to it] next, hopefully someone is working with it.
We had no intention to leave. But then, in the morning, spontaneously decided to leave. We left to the Southeast, travelling through Belaya Tserkov heading towards Vinnitsa. By the way, I had never been there before. We passed by towns and villages. There was no sign of people anywhere. I kept asking [myself]: “Where are all the people?” Probably, they were hiding in their houses behind drawn curtains and shutters, in the dark. And, this feeling of pent- up tension is extremely strong. There, inside [behind the shutters] the feeling of fury, fear, and hatred is growing. Nowadays the scenery doesn’t look too appealing, the snows have only just receded, last year’s yellowed grass is everywhere, and everywhere the prevailing color is grey. We passed by a road sign: “H[onore] de Balzac Museum.” Can you believe this? Balzac lived and walked here; he admired this landscape. And truly it is really beautiful there. Lakes, hills, and houses that dot those hills. I will definitely come back here for a stroll, definitely.
And [now,] tanks are rolling through this land, heavy war machinery. Everywhere there are members of the volunteer defense forces [samooborona] and barricades [zagrazhdeniia]. And if in the cities [the defense forces] are regular armed forces personnel, then here it is regular countryfolk armed with hunting rifles and makeshift barricades, they are keen-eyed, taking note of everything. And yesterday was the first day of spring. They might rather be thinking about the time of planting than warring. [Seeing] just how ready everyone is to defend the land drives me to such emotion that it takes my breath away. We were en route to Vinnitsa, then spent the night here with acquaintances and then tomorrow morning we plan to travel [by car] onward to Uzhgorod.
So – I am a refuge. The word itself scares me with its implied defenselessness and uncertainty. I think so warmly of Kiev, and remember my home, think about my book, that was supposed to come out in Kharkov in May, and now I do not know if it will come out at all. At this time all I can see in front of my eyes is my work desk, piled high with books and work papers, and my computer. [In my mind’s eye],I see how cozy and good it was there. Above anything else, I want to return to sitting once again behind my desk.
I do not know where we are going yet – dozens of offers from friends and colleagues [about where to settle]. I am simply astounded.
These are the thoughts that I woke up with today.
We are holding on.
Thank you for your words and your support. I feel it.
Yours,
Tamara
[March 2, 2022]

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Letter #2, from Tatiana Kitanina, Moscow
There were only a few of us at the Gostiny (one of the centrally located subway stations in Saint Petersburg) today. Despite that, the crowd has been rounded up en masse – quickly and brutally. We managed to escape from the cordon, but the woman I’ve been talking to briefly prior to arrests had started was not as lucky as us–OMON (riot policemen) literally rounded up and apprehended her. And so it goes. I know that all of us [Russian citizens] are responsible for [what’s happening right now in Ukraine] and that we will forever bear the cross of shame like the Germans did after 1939-1945. Nevertheless, I would like to be heard by those in Europe and in the United States (this is not addressed to those in Ukraine though! Ukrainians are being bombed and shelled, so any rebuke from them is justified and is taken to heart). As I said, I’d like to be heard by those in prosperous and peaceful democratic countries, whose people contemptuously say about Russians that “they take to the streets only in small groups and [instead of direct action] resort to online petitions and Facebook posts.” The truth is, Russia has turned into Mordor. It’s very scary to be here right now.
The government is working to pass a new law at the moment. It stipulates that any and all information that Russian citizens post on social media about the war is punishable by up to fifteen years in prison. Government offices are ordered to fire those employees who sign anti-war petitions. The number of people detained for protests in Russia these days exceeds the number of Russian soldiers killed in action. Besides, many of those detained are badly beaten by police. Yes, our risks are incomparable to what the people of Ukraine are enduring. Nevertheless, I beg you not to use Berlin and New York as an example for us. Indeed, there are thousands of demonstrators taking to the streets of those cities. However, peaceful demonstrations and rallies in those countries are safe and don’t require writing up instructions for one’s elder child on how to take care of their sibling(s) in case of parents’ apprehension.
Besides, we [Russians] still remember the years 2011-2013, when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to protest the falsification of elections and the usurpation of power by Vladimir Putin. Demonstrators were apprehended, arrested, tortured, and imprisoned for years. It was the time when we pleaded for help, begged for sanctions to be imposed, as well as for refusal to recognize the rigged elections. Then was the momentum for Russians to gain freedom and a chance for new, fair elections (there would be no such chance later on neither in the 2014 nor 2022 elections). The same happened last year in Belarus. Nobody helped us or them. Everyone continued to treat the usurpers of state power as legitimate leaders of the respective countries. The opposition in both countries was trampled, beaten, imprisoned, forced to flee and live in exile, intimidated, driven into depression and inaction. Now, we and the Belarusians are being treated with contempt as if we deserve our rulers. There might be a kernel of truth in that. However, in my opinion, only the Ukrainians have the right to judge us so harshly, for they were able to achieve what neither we nor the Belarusians could. Now, they [the Russian government] are tightening the screws once more. Despite that, people do still take to the streets, they write and sign petitions.
Please, do not treat these people with contempt. Russian people’s street protests, petitions, and social media posts are not equal to similar actions by people outside of Russia. I am often warned to keep my social media profiles private, just to be on the safe side. But I won’t do it. My writing is not intended for friends and like-minded people only for they share my opinions either way. My hope is that my words will be heard by the broader audience.
My apologies for writing this. I understand that we do not have any moral right to complain and whine, it’s just that our morale is low and we are losing hope
Yours,
Tatiana”