After the presidential elections in Ukraine it has been quieter in the mainstream media in regard to the Ukrainian crisis. The far right has not taken over the Kiev government (or even achieved the kind of results nationalist parties in France or Britain netted in the European elections on the same day). Poroshenko is decisively executing an anti-terror operation against pro-Russian separatists in the East. Russia has recently declared it is respecting Ukraine’s borders. There has (so far) been no invasion by the official Russian army into the disputed territory. Yet underneath this blanket of nearing-resolution events continue to happen that will make Ukraine elude proper peace for sometime. Namely the conflict in the East of the country has turned from skirmishes between armed separatists and the Ukrainian army into a full-out war that is affecting all of the civilian population in a variety of towns such as Sloviansk, Lugansk and Donetsk. Reports coming out of the region tell of heavy bombardment and even sniper actions against the civilian population. As ever in a conflict, which so heavily relied on the usage of propaganda, misinformation and twisted facts, it is difficult to establish how much of this is true. The Ukrainian side speaks of targeted bombardment of strategic points such as railways, stations and rebel strongholds. The Russian television claims numerous deaths among women and children. Yet, the arrival of eastern Ukrainian refugees in the West of the country and even on the Polish border and the displacement of numerous people into the so-called ‘pre-front’ region to the West of the contested areas is testimony enough that war is not a choice for some radicals anymore but a brutal reality for all inhabitants of this region.
Presidential Choices: Poroshenko would do well to look at history about the consequences of large-scale bombardment. It has been a favorite of the military arsenal since WWII, when Churchill believed he could weaken the German war effort by obliterating German cities, and it has been much in evidence in recent NATO and US campaigns in Serbia, Afghanistan and Iraq. It keeps military casualties down, while driving civilian deaths up – even when executed with the best intentions of precise targeting. Its short-term success might be great, its long-term consequences disastrous for future peace. The bombardment of civilian housing violates the very center of people’s intimate and private spheres. Its random aspect leaves a sense of injustice and helplessness that is hard to convert into post-war trust. In Eastern Ukraine, where so many identities and allegiances were fluid and undecided even until quite recently, the decision to launch a large-scale bombardment (a decision that in all likelihood arose in no small extent because of fears that Ukrainian ground forces would suffer heavy casualties), will harden fronts that had not solidified or were not even in existence a few days ago. It creates memories of collective victimhood, which will inform local consciousness for years, if not generations, to come. It also gives post-factum justification to a regime of crazy and brutal separatists, who had started to discredit themselves with execution of traitors and perceived enemies even among people sympathetic to them. It is understandable that Poroshenko wants to start his presidential term with a display of strength, but this has not and will not bring the country closer to peace. Rather despite relative calm on the media front, the conflict in Ukraine is escalating in a way, which makes a swift solution even more improbable – not least because it provides Russia with a pretext to keep a foot in the door to Eastern Ukraine (if not much more).
—Juliane Fürst is a Senior Lecturer in Modern European History at the University of Bristol and currently a fellow at Harvard’s Davis Center. She is the author of Stalin’s Last Generation: Soviet Post-War Youth and the Emergence of Mature Socialism