When Maria Semionova heard the news about the first attacks by Vladimir Putin’s forces against Ukraine, she trembled. Afterwards, she burst into tears. She is almost 86 years old and with the invasion of the Kremlin she has already lived through three wars. Now, this commercial technique that feels a bit nostalgic for the “security” of the Soviet Union fears that the violence that is already devastating cities in the east of the country and in the south will reach Dnipro, in the center, with force. She is terrified of suffering another occupation like the one she experienced as a child, when the soldiers of Nazi Germany and their allies took over her town, very close to Krivoy Rog, the city of President Volodímir Zelenski. Memories of her from that time, she says, turn her stomach. “What else can this country suffer? It’s so unfair. I have lived through wars, my daughter and my grandson too. How many more generations”, she laments herself.
In less than 100 years, Ukraine has experienced a famine planned by the communist regime of Iósif Stalin —the Holodomor, “death by hunger” in Ukrainian—; the Second World War; the war in Donbas, in the East, with pro-Russian separatists supported by the Kremlin; and the invasion of the troops sent by the head of the Kremlin. Putin believes that the former Soviet republic is actually a fictitious country that he wants to keep under his orbit, and that Russians and Ukrainians embody the “same people” to be protected from the Kiev government, which he has accused of being a bunch of “Nazis”. and drug addicts. Putin’s war against Ukraine exceeds two weeks and, as Russian troops enter the heart of the country of 44 million inhabitants, a geostrategic state between Russia and the West, the attacks become more violent and the number of civilian and refugee casualties has continued to rise.
In the house of Semionova and her daughter Svetlana Svetlova, an old black and white photo of her grandson, Igor, then a chubby kid with a hat and scarf, and her husband, a metal worker who died seven years ago, occupy a place of honor. in the living room cabinet. The paintings that Svetlova, 60, a real estate entrepreneur and passionate about brushes, has painted adorn the walls of the house, in a neighborhood east of Dnipro, a city with a large Jewish community. “We are a mixed family, secular and Jewish. Putin’s argument that this is ruled by Nazis is so ridiculous that he doesn’t even deserve a sigh, ”says Svetlova. “We want democracy, liberalism, European values. The Kremlin and its propaganda work according to the training manuals of Nazi Germany. Here we want to live in peace, calmly, ”she insists.
Semionova, petite and frail-looking, has asked her daughter to pay special attention to the pantry these days. She never forgets the stories about the Holodomor, which she started in 1932, which she heard at home as a child. Neither does Svetlova. “My grandmother told me that there was a time when there was literally nothing to eat, the security commissioners [soviéticos] They took the harvest. When spring came, at least they ate grass,” says the businesswoman as she serves black tea in a china cup on the table in the living room.
In 2006, Ukraine declared the Holodomor an act of genocide. The famine, ignored and silenced in the USSR and also by a large part of the international community, was “deliberately created” by Stalin between 1932 and 1933 to eliminate any idea of autonomy in Ukraine, considered the breadbasket of Eurasia and perceived as a threat by central power, writes journalist Anne Applebaum, who has thoroughly investigated the Holodomor in her book red famine Applebaum He believes that the famine, together with the repression of intellectuals and of any element that had to do with Ukrainian culture, was an attempt by Stalin’s apparatus to prevent a counterrevolution. Ukrainian authorities estimate that 3.8 million people died of starvation. And then Stalin forbade talking about it.
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Less than a decade later, in 1941, Semionova recounts, the Nazis invaded Ukraine and took virtually the entire country under their control. Memories of World War II have been revived these days in memory of her. The calf that was born dead and whose skin had to be handed over to the Nazi occupiers, who kept strict control of everything; how her father went off to fight in the Red Army and her mother was assigned to ditch digging, while she and her brother were left in charge of her 70-year-old grandfather. The image of her older brother, very tall for his age, dressed in women’s clothes to prevent the Nazis from forcing him into compulsory mobilization. “How terrible were the battles. Only the chimneys of a village remained, they destroyed everything, ”she recounts with teary eyes. “And now we are facing fascists again, fascists from the Kremlin,” adds Svetlova.
Some 1.5 million Ukrainian Jews were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators (one in four victims of the Shoah), most at the hands of death squads. In just a few days, more than 33,000 were shot in Babi Yar, a Kiev ravine today converted into a Holocaust memorial and which was hit by the effects of an attack on the Kiev television antenna, which the Ukrainian government has attributed to Russia. Between five and seven million Ukrainians lost their lives in World War II.
Then, Timothy Snyder, a professor at Yale University and a specialist in Central and Eastern Europe, analyzes, came the Soviet repression that considered many Ukrainians suspected of collaborating with the Nazis. Russification policy started again, says Snyder. And for four decades after World War II, the central power in Moscow tried to erase the Ukrainian language and culture.
Today, at Semionova and Svetlova’s house, they make plans in case they have to flee. That scenario was never on the table in 2014, when Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea with a referendum considered illegal by the international community, nor when the war broke out in the east against the secessionists raised by Moscow that has been charged in eight years about 14,000 lives. But now, the Russian troops are advancing and also covet Dnipro, with almost a million inhabitants – before the exodus began due to the war throughout the country that the UN estimated on Tuesday at two million refugees – and a strategic enclave in the center of the country due to its location for the passage of supplies and its industries.
Meanwhile, the city prepares for the arrival of the invader. There are barricades, checkpoints, patrols, and anti-tank traps on practically every corner. Svetlova has put away her brushes and is now preparing Molotov cocktails with other volunteers. For now, despite the insistence of her son Igor, who lives in Israel, they will not leave. “We will hide from the bombing in a bomb shelter, we will prepare Molotov cocktails that the men will throw at them, we will do something, we will fight. We are not going anywhere. My mother survived Hitler, my family survived Nazism and now we will also survive fascism and Putin”, she assures.
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