When ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych surfaced in Russia last week, no one could have predicted the events that would follow. Over the weekend, Russia boosted its military presence on the Crimean peninsula, citing the need to protect ethnic Russians in the region, prompting UK Foreign Secretary William Hague to call the situation the “biggest crisis” facing Europe in the 21st century. The Calvert Journal asked high-profile cultural figures from Russia and Ukraine for their response to the stand-off.
  • Text: Igor Zinatulin, Samuel Crews, Maryam Omidi, Jamie Rann, Anya Harrison and Anton Sazonov

Ludmila Ulitskaya, author

I see this action as dangerous madness. A hundred years ago a single shot from an extremist — the simpleton Gavrilo Princip [the Bosnian Serb who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand] — in Sarajevo led to the World War One. Unfortunately, this lesson has been forgotten by politicians today. And not just in Russia. The line between war and peace is a good deal thinner than they think.

Pavel Pepperstein, artist and novelist

My life is closely connected to Ukraine and Crimea. It is where I have spent most of my time since 2000. I left Crimea on 23 January and think that I’ll probably never see Ukraine, a country so dear to my heart, again. The recent occurrences in Kiev have nothing in common with the Orange Revolution, which I supported. The current revolution demonstrates ultra-nationalist tendencies and is supported by the US with the aim of undermining Russia. The putsch is harmful not just for Ukraine but for Europe and the US in general. The Russian government has no choice. The prevalence of Russophobia in Europe and the US is similar to that of anti-Semitism in fascist Germany, and will ultimately lead to a nuclear conflict. Sadly, the following must be said: the people of Russia, Ukraine and the EU should prepare themselves for death.

Marat Guelman, curator and gallerist

Fuck the war. I have been trying to explain for a long time that Putin is not right in the head. Of course I’m against the introduction of troops from my country into Ukraine. When I was listening to the speeches in the Federation Council I just froze. These are the people ruling us. We are ruled by bloodthirsty vampires. They are taking us back to the 19th century. Even in the 20th century Germany’s annexation of Austria under the pretext of protecting fellow Germans looked crazy. That they can call this action “peacemaking” is ridiculous.

First, it increases the chances of bloodshed. Second, it creates a wall of enmity between Ukrainians and Russians. Third, on this wave, the election of the Ukrainian president will end up in the worst possible way for Russia. Fourth, Russia’s place in the civilised world will deteriorate and the movement, albeit slow movement, in the direction of Europe will come to an end. The people of Crimea have the right to self-determination. But, now that the results of the referendum will be determined at gunpoint, who will recognise them?

Petr Pavlensky, performance artist

I think this photo, taken at the recent anti-war protest in St Petersburg, is a sufficient answer to your question about my response to Russia’s military invasion in Ukraine. [Editor’s note: It is reported that around 30 people were detained at the anti-war rally in front of the St Petersburg parliament on Sunday. Petr Pavlensky was among the detainees. Similar actions in Moscow resulted in more than 300 people being arrested by security forces.]

Maria Galina, poet, novelist, translator and critic

Anxious is not a strong enough word. I have lots of friends in Ukraine and close family too. They are all intellectuals of different sorts — poets, writers, artists, academics, doctors and so on. In other words, the best Ukraine has to offer. The native language of some is Russian, of others, Ukrainian. But they all speak both languages fluently. They are people of different ethnicities — western and eastern Ukrainians, Russians and Jews. They get along wonderfully and none of them supported Yanukovych and his gangster regime.

The attempt by Ukrainians to build a new state free from corruption should be welcomed by brother nations. It really pains me that in Russia this situation is being presented in a twisted way. An escalation of the conflict is the worst that could happen; the consequences of such a conflict are unpredictable, but in any case they would be awful. I hope that Russia will withdraw its military forces from Crimea in the near future. Ukraine is a fantastic country. I am proud of it, I am proud of its citizens and wish them happiness and prosperity. Ukraine can and should solve all its own problems itself.

Dmitry Kosyrev, novelist

It’s not what Putin did about the Ukraine disaster that matters. His actions were after all too obvious and universally expected of him. It’s the way he did what he did that matter. That guy has got style. He is dream material for future historical fiction writers; I’ve got such personalities in several of my books, but Putin would outshine them all. Of course, when certain well-armed Rightist fellows grab power in the capital, ruin the government and start killing and harassing people, it’s only too logical to stop their advance to the Russian eastern half of the country which, after all, has been supporting the Ukrainian west with tax money all these years. But beautiful Putin’s silence before acting, as well as his stiff upper lip, and his minimalism and restraint too, is what makes national leaders. It looks very much like we’ve got currently one of the best leaders in all our history.

Pavel Bardin, filmmaker

I feel ashamed. Ashamed of a regime that thinks the best argument is a Kalashnikov. Ashamed of the lies told by journalists in the service of the state. Ashamed of the soldiers hiding their insignia. Ashamed of my fellow citizens tacitly supporting militarism and the idea that might is right. Ashamed of my own unwitting involvement. I also feel pity. Pity for everyone: both those who understand and those who are deluded. And I feel fear. If someone is holding a gun, their finger can twitch on the trigger at any moment.

Alex Amyotov, co-founder of media group Look At Me

Any war is bad. A war in which your country is participating is doubly so. What makes it even worse is when it is a ridiculous war with a people who are so close to our hearts. It all seems like a bad dream. But the worst part is that you can’t wake up from the dream and the longer it goes on, the worse it gets.

Sergei Kuznetsov, author, journalist and cultural commentator

As a child, I, like many Russians of my generation, heard two histories about invasion and betrayal. In school we learned of the betrayal of Czechoslovakia by the US, France and Britain at Munich in 1938; and from our parents, in secret, we heard about when Warsaw Pact troops ended the Prague Spring in 1928. We would never have imagined that these two stories could be united in one so that, as with the crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968, our troops would threaten a brother Slavic nation, and, as with the annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938, the threat of invasion would be founded on the need to “defend compatriots”. I am still bothered by the idea that the people who have planned what is going on right now in Crimea studied in the same Soviet schools as me, and should also remember the story of the Sudetenland and of Munich.

Anna Starobinets, journalist, novelist and screenwriter

I think that the introduction of forces into Ukraine — or the threat to introduce them, whatever you want to call it — is a big mistake. The prospect of it inspires fear and sadness in me. The Russian-speaking population in Crimea, which is the majority of residents, is genuinely now in a weak and undefended position. Many western media sources do not mention this fact in their coverage of the situation in Ukraine, but it really is the case. Nevertheless the problem of Russians in Ukraine can and must be solved in a peaceful way.

Taking troops into Ukraine will bring nothing but harm to either side. The citizens of Ukraine — whatever language they speak — will end up living in anarchy and suffer the loss of human life. We will also be hit by an economic crisis, experience visa troubles and all the other delightful effects of a “cold war”. There can be no beneficiaries here, not, at least, among citizens.

Mikhail Yelizarov, author and musician

Given the fact that Russian troops haven’t been sent to Ukraine and the situation is a legally prescribed deployment of a “limited contingent of troops” to protect the Black Sea fleet, the question makes no sense. Instead, it gives a political flavour to Russia’s peaceful position by inflating political hysteria in the west. Criminal oligarchs, with the support of western diplomatic services, carried out an armed fascist coup which directly threatens the lives of the Russian population on Ukrainian soil — 15 million ethnic Russians. This coup is categorically unacceptable to the millions of Ukrainians living on the territory of the autonomous republic of Crimea and the south-east of Ukraine — historically Russian territories. Political and moral support from Russia will allow these areas to hold referendums on self-determination so that for the first time in 23 years the will of the people will be heard in Ukraine.

Boris Khlebnikov, filmmaker

This situation has stirred up many different types of fear in me. The first fear is that we are only going to exacerbate the complete chaos, which is there [in Ukraine] already. The situation can only be resolved in Ukraine by Ukrainians. Our involvement will inflame nationalism. My second fear is that Putin doesn’t have a good grasp of reality, which is a consequence of the Olympics. He felt as if he was a resident of Mount Olympus. He’s feeling euphoric. The kind of euphoria associated with someone who’s not quite right in the head.

But what scared me most is the public response to what’s going on. The response by some is that Putin is doing great work, that he is helping Ukrainians, that Maidan is a disgrace and that they’ve got the fate that they deserve. Having said that, I don’t think there’ll be a war. What happened on Maidan is a logical step for Ukraine and we need to leave them alone and let them live without big brother.

Leonid Tishkov, artist

I’d like to remind you of a John Lennon song. It seems to me that the lyrics are educational for everyone: Russians and Ukrainians, Orthodox Christians and Catholics, Jews and Muslims, black and yellow.

Imagine there's no countries / It isn't hard to do / Nothing to kill or die for / And no religion too / Imagine all the people / Living life in peace / You may say that I'm a dreamer / But I'm not the only one / I hope someday you'll join us / And the world will be as one

Mikhail Mordasov, Sochi-based photojournalist

I am not in Crimea and for me, there’s not a single source that I trust that would report that Russia has deployed troops in Crimea. I cannot therefore comment on something that has not yet happened and I hope that it won’t happen in the future.

Eugene Safonov, contributing editor, The Village Kiev

On the day when Russia sent troops into Crimea I was at a volunteering event and just happened to be thinking that it would be good not to lose the energy of Maidan, but to redirect it into some constructive projects needed in the city. Now it is clear that in the near future, Kiev and the whole country will be troubled by one project alone — if not war, then heated confrontation with Russia.

If war does happen, then everyone loses. Russian soldiers will die defending an entirely happy Crimean from an imaginary Banderovets [Ukrainian nationalist soldier]. And some Russian middle-manager will have all the reasons explained to him on TV. My reaction to all this is a strong desire to tell that Russian middle-manager watching TV that he is the one who is responsible for all this.

Yevgeniy Fiks, conceptual artist

The whole thing is totally shocking. I still can't process it. It feels like complete madness, and as far as I’m concerned completely unexpected. I haven’t lived in Russia for the past 20 years so I don’t know what type of divisions have occurred between the Russian Federation and Ukraine over this time but clearly something occurred right? When you see Ukrainian forces and Russian forces dressed in uniforms confronting one another it totally destroys my vision of history and my understanding of how history unfolded.

Marina Kozlova, Ukraine-based writer

War is always a tragedy. But a war between brother nations is hard to imagine. Impossible. Nevertheless, in the last few hours, Russia and Ukraine have ended up on the verge of war. Right now in Ukraine, we are praying to God but we also believe that the diplomatic possibilities of overcoming this crisis have not yet been exhausted. We believe in the bright minds of our diplomats. As to the idea of Russian troops in Ukraine, and their presence in Crimea, I consider the pretext absurd. Never in my whole life have I, a Russian-speaking Ukrainian, experienced discrimination on a linguistic basis. No one forbids me from speaking and writing in Russian. If someone decided to limit my Ukrainian-speaking friends and their right to speak their native language, I would be the first to come to their defence. Our Maidan speaks different languages. We want the people of the world — especially our closest neighbours — to respect the will of the Ukrainian people, its choice and the memory of those lads who died for the Ukrainian revolution. I really hope that common sense will prevail.

Andrei Rubanov, author of Do Time, Get Time

The recent events in Ukraine have shown that the Ukrainian people are objectively not ready to have their own separate state. Crimea has historically been part of the territory of Russian culture and no other. Ivan Aivazovsky, who lived in Crimea, is a globally famous Russian painter despite being ethnically Armenian. The writer Grin and the poet Voloshin lived in Crimea. The writer Aksyonov wrote a novel about Crimea. Millions of Ukrainians could have lived pretty well on the income of the Crimean tourist business if Ukrainians, in their 20 years of independence, had at least done something. As long as Crimea is Ukrainian, it will remain a territory of mismanagement and laziness. Crimea needs to be given the broadest possible autonomy.

Maria Godovannaya, experimental filmmaker, curator and teacher

I am categorically opposed to the introduction of Russian troops into Ukraine. It is the occupation of a sovereign nation, the citizens of which have the right to self-determination. All the recent events in Ukraine need to be analysed and made sense of, but these events belong to the history of this specific country. And Russia does not have the right to intrude on this process by resorting to military force.

It’s hard for me to agree with the situation when in this day and age you can send troops into another state on the basis of some abstract ideas — “brotherhood”, “saving the Russian population”, “threats coming from Kiev” and so on. I, as a Russian citizen, am ashamed of the president’s decision, of his administration and of “people’s deputies” who could not find the will or the strength for dialogue.

I would like to express my complete support for the citizens of Ukraine and hope that the situation does not lead to confrontations, bloodshed or civil war. In any military conflict it is the peaceful population that suffers. Unleashing an open military conflict will be an unforgivable mistake for the Russian president.

Arkady Shtypel, poet

In my opinion the new government of Ukraine will, with difficulty, overcome the after-effects of the criminal reign of Yanukovych and his gang. The people of Ukraine have a chance to build a democratic and, in the long term, flourishing state. I am, therefore, outraged at Russia sending its troops into Ukraine and at the unscrupulous lies of Russia’s official representatives and media outlets. I have many friends in different cities in Ukraine, both in the west and the east and none of them is confronted by discrimination of any kind, nor by any infringement of their human rights on the grounds of ethnicity or language. The change in government took place as the result of outrage of the whole nation. I hope that the Russian authorities will soon change their minds and withdraw the military divisions not included in agreements with Ukraine from Crimea and stop breaking its international obligations.

Artemy Magun, philosopher

I oppose the current intervention of Russian troops in Crimea. However, this requires some clarifications. I oppose it primarily because of the near-fascist style in which this operation is being undertaken (paramilitary troops, Russian nationalist slogans, untruthful propaganda and violent repressions against intellectuals at home). The Russia that conquers Crimea now is a reactionary, ultra-nationalist, uncultured force. This doesn't represent the developed, progressive part of Russia that I know.

The Ukrainian revolutionaries, taken together, showed a miracle of solidarity, spontaneity, and enthusiasm. However, we have witnessed that the slogans and proclaimed purposes of this revolution are in a large part based on a bourgeois nationalism bordering on xenophobia.

I must further say that the purpose of the Russian intervention would be legitimate under some circumstances, for example as a trade-off (for instance, Ukraine or part of it joins the EU). Crimea is mostly populated by Russians and it's understandable that many in Russia are anxious about it being closed by visa control, or a ban on land purchases purchased by Russians.

Russia does not bear unilateral blame for the conflict. Even though Russian officials exaggerate, it is true that European Union tried to bring Ukraine into its orbit, and that the secret services of some western countries had been involved in similar uprisings in the past. Europeans unilaterally supported the revolutionaries against Yanukovych, without considering either the structure of interests in the region. This could be a blind apolitical moralism, but could be a more or less conscious geopolitical game against Russian influence.

Therefore, the situation is indeed reminiscent of the Sudetenland in 1938, but in many senses: by 1938 Hitler was a leader of a brutal totalitarian state, but his political purpose as such was for that moment not unjustified. Germany was violently redressing the past wrongs that had been done to her in the Versailles treaty. But because, for 20 years, any attempts to insist on its influence or interests had been morally denounced, by 1938 the German state that finally tried to reinvoke its rights was already a big moral monster. Let's just all hope that history does not repeat itself. So that it does not repeat itself, all political actors should learn to deal and negotiate with political subjects, with their standpoints and interests, on all levels, not just with nation states and not just with revolutionary crowds.