When the first Russian missiles hit the airports in Ukraine in the small hours on the 24th of February, we all (and I am talking on behalf of my generation of Ukrainians) shared the same emotion. I know it, because I felt it too and because my friends and acquaintances, bloggers and celebrities were all talking about it weeks into the war. You might be guessing it was fear or helplessness, panic or freezing horror, or all of that at once, but I am talking about the sense of guilt as the strongest one.
Yes, guilt. A paradoxical emotion to feel when your country is under attack and your lives under death threat, right? But I guess that’s who we are. The biggest guilt was felt by those who met this day in a safe distant place — on a vacation or business trip or as a new migrant. The safer you were, the bigger guilt would wash over you. I was one of these people, too. It also made me think of the first violent act in our fight for freedom and a European future — the February days of shootings in Kyiv during the Maidan revolution. I was in Warsaw, where Polish TV streamed the protests non-stop. It was then that I had learned that psychologically it is way harder to watch from a distance than be in the epicenter of the action, able to act physically in this space.
At the same time, we, Ukrainian millennials, were much more aware of what was going on with our emotions, sharing them openly and trying to support each other. That is thanks to the fact that we are the first generation of Ukrainians going to therapy en mass to get rid of the consequences of Soviet upbringing, heal generational wounds, and open our eyes to who we are. Just like fish which don’t know that such thing as water exists, we grew up in the post-Soviet environment, mental and physical, unaware it was there. For instance, the monuments made of old Soviet tanks and standing in the streets of our hometowns were just part of the landscape we took for granted.
Only growing up, defining and unshelling what was imposed and not part of who we are, we came to realize that the Soviet tanks are the monuments glorifying the enemy and must be demolished together with Soviet thinking, methods, and propaganda.
It seems to me this is one of the deep reasons we, the Ukrainian people, never met Putin’s expectation to surrender in a blitzkrieg or mentally surrender our identity. Even if our state didn’t manage to build a powerful cultural image of Ukraine to beat the myth of the “great Russian culture” because of the political and economic turmoils of the past three decades, we, the Ukrainian people, have become so mature and self-aware that no oppressor can take it away from us. Simply because we know who we are. We know what is ours, and we know our own strength. And we are quite assertive about it.