Ukraine – experiences of ordinary people on the ground

Anastasia Dimitriou

Propaganda and Reality

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine we have been bombarded by the propaganda of the big media outlets which aims to present the Western side (Zelensky’s government, USA, NATO, EU) as “democrats” and “peacemakers” and the side of Putin’s Russia as the “war-mongers” and “aggressors”. 

This narrative deliberately hides the fact that a large percentage of Ukraine’s inhabitants are Russian/Russophones. It also hides the fact that this portion of the population has been targeted by right-wing neo-Nazi battalions and the Ukrainian state and military for several years. This fact in no way, of course, justifies Russia’s invasion. 

My relatives, living in the town of Nikolayev, are also facing the violence of war. 

In particular, my grandfather and grandmother, who have Russian national identity and Ukrainian citizenship. Speaking with them, we learn first-hand that their Russian identity alone puts their safety at risk. 

Every day currently, they say goodbye to friends and acquaintances who become refugees. They see homes of acquaintances and friends bombarded. And they themselves are rocking on their heels so that at any moment they are ready leave their homes. They wake up and go to sleep to the sound of war sirens and explosions. 

But they believe that they are more in danger from the Ukrainian neo-Nazis, especially now that they have been received extensive weaponry, than from the Russian army, which is seen as trying to avoid causing large civilian casualties. 

However, there is division in the local community. To be with Russia or with the European Union and NATO? The citizens are under no illusions, i.e. they recognize that the aim of the Russian invasion is to serve Russian capitalism and Russian imperialist/geopolitical interests. 

The “protection of the rights of the Russian-speaking populations” and “the denazification of Ukraine” that Putin puts forward are just pretexts. After all, Putin himself grants immunity to Russia’s neo-Nazis. It is worth noting that he has banned all anti-war rallies in Russia, proving that the regime he will create in Ukraine will be anything but democratic. 

Similarly, many ordinary people in Ukraine see the hypocrisy of the EU and the US supporting dictatorial regimes in various countries and arming Ukraine’s neo-Nazi battalions. 

Both sides have caused crimes and share responsibility for the situation in recent years and for the nationalist hatred that is spreading. The Russian and Ukrainian people have nothing to gain from this war. On the contrary, they are the only losers. 

Economic Situation

This war is a disastrous showdown and will leave enormous social and economic problems for both the Ukrainian and Russian people who are already suffering from the economic policies of their governments. 

To understand how economically disastrous this war will be, one can consider that before the war 1 dollar traded at 88 rubles, but now after only 10 days of war, 1 dollar is trading at 134 rubles! 

The economic history of Ukraine since the fall of the Soviet Union has been a continuous downhill slide. For example, in 1990 the GDP per capita of the then Socialist Republic of Ukraine, which was part of the USSR, was $16,428.5, while in 2020 it was only $12,375.9, i.e. down by 25% in nominal terms. In real terms the fall was harder. 

The drop in GDP is also explained by the decline in the Ukrainian population from 51.9 million to 44.1 million – the result of the massive migration of recent decades. 

Ukraine’s vacillation between Russia and Europe also has an economic character, creating the dilemma: to remain within the Russian sphere of influence and rely on client capitalism or to embark on a new wave of liberalization in joining the European capitalist economy? 

The occupation of Crimea and the two autonomous/independent regions of Donbass (Donetsk and Luhansk) have cost Ukraine’s economic growth dearly as a study by the British CEBR institute proves. Economic losses were reported to amount to $40 billion per year, i.e. a quarter of Ukraine’s GDP. Moreover, between 2014 and 2020, the cumulative losses have been shown to amount to USD 280 billion.

Pensions at Hunger Level

For ordinary people, living conditions are very difficult. 

From the experience of my family, the poor economic situation in Ukraine is confirmed by the two pensions that my grandfather and grandmother receive, which total about €210, while market prices are similar to those of many European countries. Thus, my grandfather at the age of almost 70 years old is forced to work to this day so that they can live with some dignity. 

Pensions are similar in Russia, salaries are just as low and life is just as expensive. A quote from a relative is typical: “We lived on the outskirts of Russia and still have relatives there. We do not want to become Russia”. 

In capitalist Russia there is a two-tier society and an economic gap between the big cities and the provinces. Much of the wealth is channeled to tourist destinations while provincial towns remain in poverty and misery, as if they belong to an undeveloped state or are in a post-war period.

For all these reasons, we should stand neither with Putin, nor with Zelensky and the Westerners. We must stand with the ordinary people, Ukrainians, Russians or those of any other nationality, because their common interest is peace and prosperity.

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