Ukrainians and Australian Russians unite against Putin’s war | Russian-Ukrainian crisis
Ukrainian and Russian communities in Australia have rallied in an outcry since Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine.
Demonstrations took place across Australia, drawing crowds of Ukrainians and supporters.
As Russian forces close in on Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, many Australians feel helpless in the face of a military offensive so large that leaders warn of “ramifications far beyond Europe”.
Two of the women behind the marches and rallies in Melbourne said they were “still in shock”.
Liana Slipetsky and Teresa Lachowicz led hundreds of people on the steps of parliament in Melbourne last week to protest Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
“We Ukrainians here in Australia feel helpless and somewhat privileged,” Slipetsky said. “And…it’s just that the two don’t go together.”
“We can’t even send financial aid,” she continued, adding that friends and family on the ground in Ukraine “can’t withdraw money from ATMs.”
“All I offered them was to buy them plane tickets, or if they have to move, I’m happy to find them accommodation,” she said. just in shock.
“Ukraine finally had its chance”
Lachowicz and Slipetsky were both born in Australia to parents who had fled the Soviet Union.
They worry about the future of Ukraine, fearing that “history will repeat itself”.
“[Ukraine was] just starting to stand up, economically, culturally, democratically, socially,” Slipetsky said. “Ukraine finally had a chance.”
Lachowicz said she fears for her politically active friends who would likely be targets under a Russian regime.
“Then there is the Ukrainian church, which will be decimated,” Lachowicz said. “The LGBTIQ community will be crucified. All the indignities that the Russians suffer, the Ukrainians will be subjected again, all the freedoms that we take for granted, they will be stripped.
Another Ukrainian-Australian, Lesia (name changed for security reasons), said Ukrainians “don’t want to…be part of a union”.
“We are on social networks, we watch programs, read books and news from Russia and we know that there is no freedom of expression, that they do not support the opposition”, has she declared.
She fears for her family based in Russia and Ukraine.
On the ground, Russian forces entered Kiev and fighting broke out in the city streets. People worry about running out of food, she said.
“People are worried right now about their inability to flee, and [lack] gasoline because the queues are huge.
She said some of her relatives in Kyiv fled while others stayed.
“I just learned from my brother that [my flat] was under heavy bombardment just three hours ago,” she added. “In our street, there was artillery and the factory that we see from our kitchen window was on fire.”
Peter Kuzmin, a Russian-Australian and chairman of the Victoria branch of the Svoboda Alliance, a pro-democracy movement of Russian-speakers across Australia and New Zealand, grew up amid anti-war sentiment sparked by the former Soviet Union.
“I really believed in [it],” he said. “There were all these slogans everywhere saying ‘We don’t want war, war is the worst thing that can happen’.”
The trauma of World War II was also felt within his generation – his grandfather was seriously injured during the war – and the concept of Russia as historically a defender against invasion became part of his identity.
“I could never imagine that my country would be an invader itself,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine it in my worst nightmares…and then reality set in that Russian bombs were falling all over Ukraine, and not just along this disputed territory, but everywhere. “
Kuzmin opposed the war, helping coordinate protests with the Svoboda Alliance and the Ukrainian-Australian community.
“Ukrainians are our brothers,” he said. “There is such a cultural affinity. All this logic that Putin used to attack Ukraine, to me, is the justification for not attacking Ukraine.
“This is why we must live as independent and equal nations in mutual respect and cooperation,” he continued. “That’s how you create a kind of union, if people want [a union]. That’s how you do it. You don’t do it by force.
Dr Michael Baron, another Russian-Australian, said there was “no rational logic” to the invasion and “we don’t know what it is [Putin] aiming to achieve”.
Baron said he was not politically inclined until Russia invaded Ukraine, but recent events have made him feel very involved.
“The madman has no logic, or has his own logic, and with Putin anything is possible,” he said. “It’s not that he’s mean, it’s that he’s crazy.”
Kuzmin agreed with Baron, saying “we really have a suicidal maniac with a messianic complex… [Putin] is detached from reality.
He added that Putin also misjudged the level of support he would get from his own people.
Kuzmin said he was part of a WhatsApp group of childhood friends and he posted an “emotional speech” in the group, “fully expecting some to support the war”.
“Nobody. Nobody in that conversation supported the war,” he said. “There were people who said they couldn’t believe it. [is] happens, they want to do something but they’re scared, they’re scared to protest, they say the risks are so high.
In Russia, at least 3,000 people have been arrested for anti-war protests.
Kuzmin said that’s what it takes to stop Putin: an uprising by the Russians.
“I really hope it will increase,” he said. “I really hope that people will start opposing the war effort…by any means possible.”
It won’t stop at Ukraine
Lachowicz and Slipetsky, meanwhile, said the war was also a Western war and “defied the world order”.
“The peace [and stability] of the world as we know it today could potentially change forever,” Slipetsky said. “Europe as we know it may be no more.”
Melbourne-based Ukrainian-Australian Yuriy Verkhatsky agreed, speculating that Putin “won’t stop at Ukraine” and that the Baltic region will be next, followed by Poland.
Many feel that the West is not doing enough to deal with this threat.
Sanctions have been slapped on Russia, with Biden stepping in on Friday to join Europe in even tougher sanctions, imposing restrictions on Putin, his foreign minister and members of his security team.
Australia has also imposed direct sanctions on Putin and imposed financial punitive measures on members of Russian politicians and oligarchs.
But while diplomatic action can be effective in the long term, Verkhatsky said, it is not enough in the short term.
“Maybe they will feel [the] result of these penalties in one year, but when the crazy criminal attack you with weapons, [something really serious] should be done now,” he said, adding that the people behind Russia’s assault “don’t care about the lives… of Russians, Ukrainians, anybody.”
For Baron, this immediate action must also be more unified. The wider world should also “start moving towards a complete removal of dependence on Russian energy supplies”, he said.
‘How many lives will be lost?’
Time is running out as Ukraine fights to avoid Russia’s escalating attack, battling military forces on the very streets of its capital.
While Verkhatsky firmly believes that Ukraine will be the final victor in the war, he remains concerned about the loss of life.
“The question is, how many lives will be lost?” he said.
More than 150,000 Ukrainians have fled the country since Russia launched the invasion last week, and more than 200 people have been killed, including children.
“There could be hundreds of thousands [of] lives lost and a lot of damage will be done,” said Verkhatsky, who added that he wanted to speak out in any way possible. “Every little drop counts.”
For Slipetsky and Lachowicz, this is the only way forward. More marches are taking place across Australia this weekend and in the coming weeks.
What Ukraine lacks in military might, it makes up for in patriotism, Slipetsky said. “All we have are our words, so we need to talk to as many people [as possible].”