Kyiv. March 23, 2022

A “little man” is the alpha and omega of the “great Russian culture.” A little, despicable, cowardly, uncomplaining, gray, voiceless someone. Whatever and wherever they are, their ability to act is non-existent.

A burly, deaf and mute Gerasim obediently drowns the only soul that loves him. Looking into his dog’s eyes, he wraps a rope around a brick, makes a loop, and ties it round his neck… He betrays his dog and kills him. He could have taken him somewhere, sold him or given him away. He could have tied the dog to a tree in the forest and visited him every day, feeding and loving him. But no. Gerasim is a little man. He is too weak to resist the circumstances. But he is strong enough to kill.

A “trembling creature,” Raskolnikov decided to measure his largess and height with murder. A murder out of curiosity. He is a little man who believes that he has to kill another person to grow bigger.

A little man is an unknown soldier, a nameless hero, a missing warrior. Their name is legion. And they don’t have a name, at the same time, being fused together into the body of a machine that either devours or kills.

For many decades, the “great Russian culture” has been trying to make the world choke on its tears over the destiny of people who trembled with fear, doubt, and helplessness and committed crimes, unable to resist them.

A “little man” is the alpha and omega of the “great Russian culture.”

When the war broke out, my older children’s landlords called them and said, “Well, now that this happened, you can pay only for utilities, if you can afford it. It’s alright if you don’t pay the rent. We’re good people, after all.”

I wouldn’t call them good people before the war. The landlords, a mother and daughter, were “half-Vatniks[1].” Lots of people like them lived in Kyiv back in the day. Their opinion about what Moscovia did in 2014 fit the pattern of “it’s not so straightforward,” “we’re brotherly nations, after all,” and “we have no power over anything.” I am not sure if their opinion has changed now that the “brotherly nation” is skinning people alive out of curiosity or helplessness. I hope it has.

But even if it hasn’t. They called us to clarify what kind of people they were. Between the “little” (those who don’t decide anything) and the “good” (those capable of doing something), they chose the latter.

Ever since the war started, I have been using the crime series — about riot squads, police departments, and private detectives — as my sleeping pills. They lull me into confidence that good really wins over evil. They drew my attention to the fact that even the most cruel maniacs put the guns down; the filthiest bastards willingly cooperate with the investigation; and the most corrupt police officers admit their treason and often shield their colleagues from bullets to remain — at least for a little bit — good people.

“Are you a good person?” — this question, a key one in the negotiations with the criminals, creates a completely different mirror in which the civilization is looking. Not a nameless soldier, but Private Ryan who has to be saved, for he is his mother’s sole surviving son.

“Am I a good person?” is a question that teenagers and seniors, the rich and the poor, men and women keep asking. What’s more, even zombies from apocalyptic movies say, “I’m a good person,” refusing to bite a child.

This is the difference. The war between “the little” and “the good.” The ruthless, cruel, mindless, unscrupulous, filthy little people — and the good people. If the civilization shaped around the question “Am I a good person?” loses, Gerasim will consistently drown dogs, and Raskolnikov will methodically kill old people. A new Z-swastika, sanctified by the “great Russian culture,” will leave no chance for anything human. Anywhere in the world. White Fang will never find its Weedon Scott, and Private Ryan will be buried, unrecognized, in a mass grave.

[1] Vatnik — a political slur for people with post-Soviet mentality who feel nostalgic for Soviet times.

Author — Olena Stiazhkina, historian, writer

Translator — Hanna Leliv

Illustrator — Victoria Boyko

Editor — Maryna Korchaka

Program Directors — Julia Ovcharenko, Demyan Om

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