Exit roads

by Danko Simić

I took this video (see below) on 3rd September 2018 when returning to Kyiv, our homebase during a Ukraine trip. You can see one of the main entry roads to the city from the West. A typical, busy, overcrowded road with bad air in a European capital. Pictures of such entry roads travelled the world the last days, but this time as exit roads.[1] The tracks towards the city remained almost abandoned. The war in Ukraine made many of us speechless, but it is important to act – now! I am sharing some thoughts that were informed by discussions with friends in and outside Ukraine. Thereby, I want to try to unveil intertwined layers and map out possible fields of intervention.

Calling things by their names: World media is full of reports about the current ‘situation’ in Ukraine and the Ukraine ‘conflict’. It is not a situation and it is not a conflict. Russia is not defending its own territory, Russia is not safeguarding the people in the Donbas region. It is war! It is Putin’s invasion and Putin’s aggression against Ukrainian sovereignty, integrity, all people living in Ukraine and those who solidarize with them all over the world. We have to call things by their names!

It did not come by surprise: The last days I repeatedly heard the phrase ‘who could have imagined that’. The Russian aggression did not start with its invasion one week ago. Already for decades Russia has been heavily intervening not only in Ukraine, but also in other countries in the region. While it is a fact that Putin started the war by invading Ukraine, we have to ask for the responsibilities of the European Union, NATO, USA, China and other world powers, that resulted in destabilization beforehand. But this does not allow to justify the invasion: It is Putin who pulled the trigger of the gun and the Russian political and economic elite who keep him in power. However, these old white men who wage war are not those to fight on the front line. It is mainly young men – some of them just reached adulthood – who are recruited and forced to join the army and who are used as gunpowder! It is civilians – non-binary, women and men, old and young – who have to volunteer for the defence of their lives and our joint freedom. A seemingly surreal scene is the reality of people living in Ukraine currently: if they are not fighting on the front line or trying to leave their country, they are preparing Molotov cocktails[2] following recipes they received by their government and constructing improvised barricades to hold back the Russian troops. These people are not anonymous numbers in a strategic game, they are sisters, brothers, cousins, friends, daughters and sons. We should be clear that this situation did not fall out of thin air, it did not come by surprise!

Being affected: Ukraine is sharing borders with four EU-countries; i.e. Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. Air strikes were reported from the western-most big city Lviv, which is located only 600 km air distance from Vienna. While it is the biggest war of aggression on European ground after WWII, armed conflicts, war and post-war situations represent the reality of many Europeans and people around the world today. The European Union has already announced to welcome Ukrainian displaced persons. What does this act of solidarity mean for displaced persons from the Middle East, stranded on the European periphery for weeks and months facing illegal pushbacks and political instrumentalization, e.g. in Belarus[3], Greece[4] or Croatia[5]? What does this mean for people of colour who face racism at the borders right now, trying to make their way out of Ukraine? Thousands of African[6] – mainly from Marocco, Nigeria and Egypt – and Asian students[7] are trapped in Ukraine and prevented from fleeing[8]. What other effects will the Russian invasion have on the rest of the world? Did you know that EUFOR increased their forces in Bosnia and Hercegovina as ‘precautionary measure’?[9] What does the current Russian aggression mean for Transnistria, Abkhazia or South Ossetia? For most of us not too much (yet). Our solidarity seems to be nuanced by the physical and emotional proximity to people and countries affected. Solidarity should not be dependent on how close or far we are to someone. Wars and human rights violations do not happen in a vacuum, we have to be affected!

Standing together: All eyes are on Ukraine the last days. Ukraine arrived to the living rooms and table talks by media reports and pictures from social media. Worldwide monuments, landmarks and iconic buildings are lit up in the national colours blue and yellow, that symbolize the bright skies and golden wheat fields.[10] Citizens, politicians, artists all over the world show their support. Demonstrations are organized globally, also in Russia! Russian citizens are raising their voices against war and against the decisions of their government throughout the whole country, putting themselves at risk of being imprisoned or politically pursued.[11] Russian scientist condemn the war in an open letter.[12] Oligarchs are publicly speaking out against the aggression.[13] It is not ‘the Russians’ who started war, it is Putin’s Russia. However, it is the people in Russia – almost 150 Mio – who have to claim their rights and rase against the war. Sometimes I ask myself: What can a voice change? We will see how much it can change once we raise it. Hate will not erase hate. We have to confront hate with unity against aggression. It is time to raise our voices and stand together in solidarity!

Weapons for peace: At a local protest against the Russian invasion I attended, a speaker urges ‘the West’ to deliver weapons. Demonstrators support the speaker with a loud applause, I applaud too. I understand the necessity of it. It strikes me: what would have made me join a protest only one week ago – i.e. arms delivery – seems so logical today. Ursula von der Leyen announced a watershed moment. The European Union will buy and deliver weaponry to Ukraine in the worth of €500 million.[14] Several member states already provided weapons. Germany’s chancellor Olaf Scholz announced a significant increase in expenditures for the German armed forces proclaiming a ‘turning point’.[15] Other countries are expected to follow and relocate national budget to national defence. Is this turning point the start of another arms race? Weapons and peace relate indirectly proportional: More weapons will not bring more peace!

Fake news: While being well informed can save lives, information and news are also used to manipulate the war situation.[16] Russians are trying to interfere in intelligence service and vice versa. Before sharing information, especially explicit content, we have to understand the sources of this information and evaluate its validity. While information can save lives, fake news can threaten them!

Green nuclear energy: Only one month ago the European Union changed taxonomy, enabling the labelling of nuclear energy as ‘green’.[17] On Monday, Putin put his nuclear forces on special alert.[18] The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and the Chernobyl nuclear power plant sarcophagus are under control of the Russian army currently.[19] The radiation levels around the plant have raised due to resuspension of radioactive dust from the ground into the air. It is not clear yet if the shelter structures were damaged in the fights and if and to what extent radioactive material may be released.[20] Having such critical infrastructure in hands of aggressors gives me chills. The more nuclear energy we use, the more repositories we will need. Repositories or ‘final’ disposal sites, that are not as final as they pretend to be. Deteriorated nuclear power plants can be found all over Europe, malfunctions can occur any time despite the use of modern technologies. What seems to be clear, is that Chernobyl proves – once again – that we have to exit nuclear energy! 

COVID-19: Although we have learned to live ‘with’ the pandemic and normalized certain situations that were anything else than normal before, the pandemic is not over yet. While it is clear that the acts of war are pressing, we should not forget what role the pandemic could take. I see pictures from metro stations in Kyiv and Kharkiv used as air-raid shelters, dozens and hundreds of persons in crowded places.[21] The international community has to make sure that medical supply and care are guaranteed for war injuries but also consequences of COVID-19!

What can be our role? At the moment not only me but a lot of my friends feel useless and helpless. However, there is a lot we can do. Our responsibility is to inform ourselves and talk about happenings of the last days and weeks and spread the information. Although it seems hard to find words, by entering a dialogue we will find them. We have to ask how we can help. We can offer direct support if possible, if not we have to send non-monetary and monetary donations. We can formulate political claims in our home countries. We have to stay solidary with the people in Ukraine. There is only one side to choose: peace!    

This war is also telling the story of the journey of Volodymyr Zelenskyy, from comedian to one of the most important political figures presently. He refused US-American help to evacuate him from Ukraine: “The fight is here. I need ammunition, not a ride”.[22] People living in Ukraine are also fighting for OUR freedom. They feel left alone. It is on us to change that!


[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/25/terrible-and-fantastical-fear-and-farewells-on-the-road-out-of-ukraine-kyiv-russia

[2] https://www.vice.com/en/article/wxd7p9/ukraine-molotov-cocktails-kyiv

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2022/feb/08/in-limbo-refugees-left-on-belarusian-polish-border-eu-frontier-photo-essay

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/dec/01/refugees-forced-to-claim-asylum-in-jail-like-camps-as-greece-tightens-system

[5] https://balkaninsight.com/2021/01/15/croatia-returned-7000-refugees-in-2020-bosnian-minister-says/

[6] https://globalvoices.org/2022/02/28/africansinukraine-we-are-students-we-dont-have-guns/

[7] https://edition.cnn.com/2022/02/28/europe/students-allege-racism-ukraine-cmd-intl/index.html

[8] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-60555650     

[9] https://balkaninsight.com/2022/02/24/eu-doubles-bosnia-peacekeepers-as-global-security-deteriorates/

[10] https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/25/world/empire-state-building-eiffel-tower-ukraine-russia.html

[11] https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/24/world/europe/russia-protests-putin.html

[12] https://www.science-diplomacy.eu/russian-scientists-publish-open-letter-condemning-the-war-with-ukraine/

[13] https://edition.cnn.com/2022/02/28/business/oligarchs-russia-ukraine-fridman-deripaska/index.html

[14] https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/statement_22_1441

[15] https://edition.cnn.com/europe/live-news/ukraine-russia-news-02-27-22/h_86cf0cd7f6f9169538f80fea0209ed7c

[16] https://www.euronews.com/next/2022/02/25/the-disinformation-war-the-falsehoods-about-the-ukraine-invasion-and-how-to-stop-them-spre

[17] https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_22_711

[18] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/27/vladimir-putin-puts-russia-nuclear-deterrence-forces-on-high-alert-ukraine

[19] https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-60528828

[20] https://www.euronews.com/green/2022/02/25/radiation-levels-at-chernobyl-are-rising-the-environmental-impact-of-russia-s-war-in-ukrai

[21] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/02/25/ukraine-russia-video-photos-shelter-subway-stations/

[22] https://edition.cnn.com/2022/02/26/europe/ukraine-zelensky-evacuation-intl/index.html