I didn’t manage to fit all the material I have into this article, which ended up focused on Odessa.
In Donetsk, one woman who wants independence from the ‘fascist’ Ukrainian government said to me “What do we have here? We used to have jobs. Now all we have is the graves of our grandparents who fought for us.” An anti-Ukrainian government militant on a roadblock in Gorlivka, who had picked up a gun to protect his land from ‘fascists’, gestured to the cemetery a few metres away: “that’s where my grandparents are, who fought the fascists. How can I let them down?”
I don’t even understand what these people mean by ‘fascist.’ I don’t understand why it isn’t possible to move on from something, however terrible, that happened before they or their parents were born. But then, my country was never invaded. In my country, people did not have decide whether to collaborate or whether to fight. My grandfather never told me tales of wartime death and suffering, although he did fight in the war.
Witnessing what seems to me the incredibly destructive influence of the Second World War on the current conflict in Ukraine, the one hopeful sign I see is the young people who, the Odessa Catacombs guide says, are not interested in history and cannot say what happened seventy years ago when Soviet partisans fought Axis troops from here. I think it’s better not to know history at all, than to know a simplified version of history that is being used to incite hatred and violence in Ukraine.
I mean no disrespect to anyone who fought in the war. I never thought I would champion ignorance.
From the Odessa catacombs museum: pictures drawn on the walls by Slovak troops who defected from the Axis side near the end of the war, and came over to the Soviet side. It is alright to remember this piece of history in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia. it is not alright to remember the many, many Red Army soldiers who defected to the Axis side.
Maybe I don’t want to champion ignorance. I want to champion deeper, more nuanced knowledge.
Blood for blood, death for death, says the soviet partisan slogan scrawled on the walls of their underground hideout in the Odessa catacombs, from which only 30 percent emerged alive at the end of the war. I understand that they were heroes. I also understand they must have done terrible things, because that’s what war demands.
But those defecting Slovak troops did not draw death and hatred on these walls. They drew a picture of Easter traditions in their country, of boys and girls in springtime.
On both sides in war are just people; boys and girls who want to live in peace.