No End in Sight
Anyone can be a barbarian; it requires a terrible effort to remain a civilized man.
Crucially, Putin seems not to care about casualties in his ranks.
-David Remnick, The New Yorker, 2/19/23
"The world came to Ukraine, and Ukraine became the World," Peter Zalmayev writes in an essay about the war for Meridian Czernowitz Magazine of International Literature. A month into the war, his copy of The New Yorker arrived with a cover illustration of Zelensky holding up the blue-and-yellow flag. A political analyst based in Kyiv, and fluent in English, Peter quickly became a regular spokesperson on BBC and CNN International. In April 27, 2022, Hudson Valley One published a photo of him on its front page holding the "Russian Warship, Go Fuck Yourself" postage stamp accompanying an article by this reporter.
With the one-year anniversary of the war approaching, I caught up with Peter on Facebook Messenger as he was departing the Munich Security Conference and returning to Kyiv. We spoke on the eve of Biden's surprise visit to the capital, which bodes well for continuing support, despite naysayers in the US and the EU. Peter promised to read David Remnick's New Yorker interview (he's a subscriber!) with Russian scholar, Stephen Kotkin, and let me know his thoughts about a "golden bridge of retreat" still not being in sight after one grueling, tragic year of war. In that year, more than five million Ukrainians are in exile, the country faces a wrecked infrastructure, and an estimated 250,000 Ukrainians and Russians have been killed.
No writer can sum up the atrocities of this war perpetrated by Putin and his criminal cohort, so I will express my concern here by paying tribute to the fortitude of Peter Zalmayev and his friends, family and colleagues in Ukraine. They, among many, have been, and remain, stalwart freedom fighters, relinquishing the safety of the EU after attending the Munich conference to return to Kyiv—under guard—to continue living and working through its continuing rolling blackouts, air raid sirens, air raid shelters, and loved ones still living far away. Recently, Peter's gym was destroyed by shock waves after a missile strike on a nearby building. The playground where his children used to play was destroyed some months ago. None of this wartime turmoil and destruction has eased.
Peter traveled to Munich with his photographer friend, Alex Zakletsky, who took the haunting black and white photo of Peter in his pork pie hat. Peter looks weary and a bit older than when I last saw him; surely the constant stress takes its toll. Or maybe he's just travel weary. He is still an energetic interviewer in three languages—Russian, Ukrainian, and English. He grew up in Russian-speaking Donetsk, a major industrial city in the Eastern Donbas region of what was then-Soviet Ukraine, now under siege in Russia's offensive. In fact, as Peter always reminds me, Ukraine has been at war with the Russian Federation since they invaded in 2014, taking Crimea and occupying nearly the whole of the Donbas region.
I wonder how he rests and relaxes, and then I turn to his Facebook page. The answer is there in the photos of him chatting and drinking with friends after his broadcast of "This Week," his smile radiant, his laughter and determination palpable. Looking back on the past year, he says, being in Ukraine during the early days of the conflict was like being part of a large, extended family, all united in their struggle. That feeling has not dissipated; if anything it has strengthened.
In addition to Peter's job as a broadcaster, he is also the Director of the Eurasia Democracy Initiative, an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of democracy and human rights in post-Communist transitional societies of Eastern and Central Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia.
The war in Ukraine, the resistance of its people, has inspired other decolonization efforts. Leaders and activists of other national movements, including those from the North Caucasus, are discussing the prospects of independence from Russia following the end of the war with Ukraine. In a recent forum, a declaration was adopted which outlines the principles of self-determination. It states the need for direct dialogue between the European Union and NATO states with regional and national movements.
This war, this awful war, is already exceptional in its intensity, threatening as it does all of Europe and beyond. In order to accept the necessity of pushing the Russians out of Crimea as well as the Donbas, it means we also have to accept that there may be no end in sight for a while, and that expensive, precision weaponry is required to thwart Putin's savagery.
If we consider the war in Ukraine to be a just, necessary war, as just and necessary as the war against Hitler, it may be easier to support its continuation and resist the temptation of the "enough is enough" refrain, or worry about how much American aid to Ukraine is adding to our national debt.