Letters from Ukraine: Trampled Dignity

Letters From Attacked Ukraine.

by Halyna Pastushuk

Dear friends,

Here’s my next installment, finally… You may have been wondering about the long pauses after the letters sent as far back as  the eve of the assassination of Kremlin critic and activist Boris Niemtsov… There are many reasons behind these pauses, and yet the main one is  banal: I was just very, very tired after Easter and, in a way, relieved that the intensity of military escalation dropped down at least for a time. You might be thinking that the crisis in Ukraine is fading away. This is not true, at least as I see it from here. My friend Misha told me five of his closest combat friends died within three weeks of Easter. Russian troops and pro-Russian combatants “continue to train and try their artillery and military skills using the Ukrainian soldiers as live targets… probably planning a future attack. Since April, according to official data, 6200 Ukrainian people (military, volunteers, civilians) have died in the contested zone. The figure grows daily. How many more are missing, lost, captive, or blown to bits by shelling leaving nothing enough to indicate their identity?


Shortly before the Ukrainian Easter, I finished translating a book dedicated to Maidan events. It was the process of this translation that gave me another opportunity to ponder the issue of dignity–human dignity–especially the place and role of human dignity in contemporary Ukraine. The book, The Stones of Maidan, was published in a form of a photo-and-sermon collection. The visual aspect presents some of the best pictures taken during 2013-0214 winter in Kyiv and the verbal aspect is compiled of sermons preached to common people in Ukrainian churches Ukraine. These  messages are accompanied with quotations from the Bible. The book has a deep personal dimension, because it is written by a priest and illustrated by his own daughter, both of whom took active roles in the events. Among hundreds of pictures, the one that appeals to me most of all shows a soldier’s boot stepping in a puddle of human blood (during the phase of Maidan events when civilians were beaten by the Berkut.) The photograph is a micro-image of human dignity in Ukraine as I see it now, in both synchronic and diachronic dimensions.

The two most painful things for me are the lies constructed by the Russian propaganda machine and the humiliation suffered by average Ukrainians who are often not even aware. For example, one day I dropped into a photo shop to make some copies and the clerk was embarrassed when I addressed her by Pani, (which means “miss” of “madam”.)  She told me the title was too “high” for someone of her status, and that she preferred to be called “woman” or “lady”–a very Soviet way of treating someone. I tried to convince her that each person, regardless of age, sex, social position or origin, bears an inborn human dignity …, and … nobody can deprive us of our fundamental worth…. She smiled back to me and said the unbearable, “Well, I don’t know…” Upset by this reluctance to accept her own value, I recall the words of one of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church leaders, Cardinal Lubomyr Huzar, who said in early 1990’s that after  70 years of Soviet rule, only half of the problem was that the people in Ukraine had lost their faith in God. The other half of the problem was that they had been deprived of their basic humanity. How right he was…

As I look through the various analyses of world  media, I cannot help but be saddened by the imbalance of indignation expressed on the occasion of, let’s say, the terrorist act of the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris compared to the program of terrorist acts taking place in the context of Russia’s war on Ukraine. It feels like the dead Ukrainians are not as precious as dead French journalists on the scales of justice that serve the international community. It also feels like the world community thinks radical Islamists present a more serious threat to world peace than Putin’s regime. We shall see. We shall see. I emphasize this not because I am Ukrainian myself, but because I have observed this tendency before– in the years before the war. Ukrainains are considerably less “noticed” in Europe, despite the size of their country and the number of population. Of course, size and numbers are not everything… I have been analyzing this and I will share some bits of this analysis.

In this message I want to say a few words about Mykola Leontovych (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mykola_Leontovych), a Ukrainian composer. Many Westerners will be familiar with his 1904 composition Shchedryk or The Carol of The Bells.



Dudaryk or The Little Drummer Boy was composed around the same time:


The melodies he composed are familiar and loved all over the world, yet his story is almost unknown outside Ukraine, like the stories of many prominent and talented Ukrainians. You can read a full story of his life elsewhere, but here is the story of his death:

During the conquest of Kiev on August 31, 1919, the Denikin Army persecuted the Ukrainian intelligentsia. Because of this, Leontovych returned to the city of Tulchyn with his family. There he started the city’s first music school, because the college where he had worked had been closed down by the Bolsheviks. He also began work on his first major symphonic work, the opera Na Rusalchyn Velykden‘ (On the water nymph’s Easter).

During the night of January 22–23, 1921, Leontovych was staying at the home of his parents for the Christmas season when he was  murdered by Soviet state security agent Afanasy Grishchenko. Grishchenko, undercover, had asked to shared a room with Leontovych. At dawn, he shot the composer in his sleep. He also robbed the family.

Several facts point to a political motive behind the assassination such as Leontovych’s participation in the independence movement,  commissioning the capella of the Ukrainian Republic, aimed at promoting Ukraine as an independent state, earned him many enemies…

To round out this passage on human dignity, I invite you to view pictures of average Ukrainian families. This is part of the project “My Ukraine” initiated by Daisy Sindelard, a journalist from Radio Liberty. http://docs.rferl.org/infographics/2014/2014_11/my-ukraine-uk/

http://www.rferl.mobi/a/26819853.html (in English)

Here you can listen to her telling about the project:


And, finally, here is a story of a man tortured for showing elementary Ukrainian patriotism: http://www.rferl.org/content/eastern-ukraine-torture-weapon/25387572.html


More follows,


1 Comment

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One response to “Letters from Ukraine: Trampled Dignity

  1. Anne Mackie

    Such a profound piece.
    Thanks for sharing this and reminding us of the real and significant stories taking place around the world that western politicians choose to ignore and media chooses not to cover.

    Sent from my iPad


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