I remember the beginning of the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine. I was a university student and was energized by the revolution. I left my native town in the western part of Ukraine to go to Kiev and actively participate in the revolution. Why? Because I, along with all Ukrainians, longed for a better future.
After years of disappointment, new hopes were sparked by Ukraine’s recent Maidan protests. Some people were excited about these events, but this time it was intermixed with heightening feelings of anxiety and fear.
When the first victims appeared, Ukrainians were angry and sad but also optimistic that this time would be different and that young people weren’t dying in vain. I remember the portrait of a very young boy hanging on a regional white house and the sounds of the funeral. I couldn’t make myself attend. It would’ve been too hard to see him lying there.
And then, all of a sudden, the war in the east began. It was followed by more victims, more funerals. When at first we heard about it on TV, especially in the West, it seemed like it was not real. But the bodies of the dead people and the funerals proved that it was. And it was horrible.
How did this happen? The vast majority of people in Western Ukraine blame Putin and Russia for everything. There is no doubt that Russia is hugely involved in the conflict and that its mass media distorts the real information.
Walking down one of the central streets, I stop on the sidewalk to let the funeral procession pass. I see the photo of a young boy. People are crying and saying, “He is a hero! He is a patriot!” I stop for a moment and ask myself: Am I patriotic, and what does it mean to be patriotic? I love my country, the land I was born in, and the culture — but if being patriotic means dying, then I am not patriotic. Dying for what? A new government’s ability to have absolute power and becoming richer?
I am not ready to give my life without fully realizing for what. I am just tired of obvious manipulation disguised with idealism. I would like to believe that the deaths so far were not in vain but … it seems like nothing is really changing inside the country. The war exposed the rotten system Ukrainians are living in. The army is not equipped. The military leadership is not professional. People volunteering for the war are used as frontline ‘meat’ .
What’s the real cost of patriotism? Thousands of dead people, sons, brothers and husbands. How many more people should die from both sides in order to understand that this war is useless? The value of human life must not decrease and must overpower any theoretically ideal notions.
The war continues, the economy slumps and we all live on the edge of normality. There is no stability in anything, and everyone just hopes that the new government will manage to solve the conflict.
But as time passes, these hopes are starting to vanish. The old tree of our system with rotten roots should be taken away and a new tree should be planted. We need help to plant this new tree and change the system. Only then will we become a strong country and be able to finish the war and start building a real democracy.