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Monday, March 20, 2023

Anna Myroniuk: I lost my home to Putin once. Now it can happen again

by Anna MyroniukFebruary 2, 2022 11:07 pm
A resident of the Russia-occupied eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk walks through her apartment building destroyed by the artillery fire on June 24, 2016. (AFP/Getty Images)

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in the op-ed section are those of the authors.

The threat of Russia’s invasion might be new for Kyiv and most of Ukraine. To me and millions of other natives of eastern Ukraine and Crimea, it is a flashback to what we went through eight years ago.

I have not visited my home city Donetsk for eight years now. I’m not welcome there anymore.

If I, a Ukrainian journalist who has extensively covered Russia’s war against Ukraine, go to Donetsk today, I will likely never return. The people who occupied my hometown made it clear – they publicly called me a traitor.

In 2014, Russia took away from me the city where I was born and raised, where I lived and which I loved. It separated my family, along with millions of other Donbas natives. Those of my relatives who stayed are trapped there -- being unable to see them keeps getting more painful.

Now Russia is threatening to come and destroy my new home, Kyiv, for the benefit of the Russian president's imperialistic ego.

Now I’m facing the risk of losing my home for the second time. My mother, in her 50s, might have to start over from nothing once again.

Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine and more recently Belarus and Kazakhstan -- the history of Russia’s invasions of its neighbors shows that Vladimir Putin’s appetite is only getting stronger, and he won’t stop until someone puts him on a strict diet. The West could do that.

I have personally lost enough to Putin’s Russia, and I don’t want to lose any more. More than that, I’m keen to take my home back.

But Russia just doesn't want to let Ukraine go.

First, the Soviet Union occupied Ukraine and tried to kill its national identity by starving millions to death and imprisoning people in gulags. Now its successor Russia continues on the same path. 

Putin’s attachment to Ukraine is toxic. He perceives it as Russia’s rightful possession that was taken away when the Soviet Union fell apart. 

Putin is like that abusive ex-boyfriend that stays fixated on you after being dumped. You tell him to leave you alone, but he still follows you. When a woman reports something like that in Ukraine, the police usually shrug and refuse to do anything – similarly to how certain Western countries shrug off Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. 

Think of how Germany has been refusing to provide weapons to Ukraine, fearing this would escalate the security crisis. 

Well, if Germany fancies waiting to see what happens next, it can sit back and watch how Putin forces his “love” onto Ukraine. One day he will proclaim he still has feelings for East Berlin.

I saw Russia occupy Crimea, then my home, Donetsk. I am not going to silently watch Russia take Kyiv. Nor should Germany if it really cares about peace in Europe as it says it does.

Ukraine will never be enough for Putin. Isn’t it obvious?  

It is easy to understand why Putin is especially obsessed with Ukraine, though. Democratic Ukraine gives him nightmares.

He’s a ruthless dictator who’s afraid that the wind of change and freedom blowing from Kyiv will reach Russia and end his reign.

Then Russians would come to Putin’s infamous palace on the Black Sea shore and turn it into the museum of corruption as Ukrainians did with the Mezhyhirya Residence of fugitive ex-president Viktor Yanukovych in 2014.

Ukrainians may have inspired Belarusians in their fight against the dictator Alexander Lukashenko. Putin is afraid his nation would rise against his totalitarian regime too.

So, instead of implementing reforms or introducing the rule of law in Russia, Putin sends troops to the border with Ukraine and threatens full-scale invasion.

That’s how Putin sorts out his problems – with violence. 

Putin does not like the voice of opposition? Prominent Putin critic Boris Nemtsov gets murdered.  

Putin is irritated by Ukraine’s European course? He seizes Donbas and Crimea from Ukraine.

Concerned by Ukraine’s ambition to join NATO? Why not occupy the entire Ukraine, Putin thinks.

Imagine armed strangers coming to your house and saying: “Now it’s mine. Get out!” Would you be fine with it? Neither am I.

I will never forget and never forgive the decades of Soviet repressions of Ukrainians, as well as the horrors of Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine.

Russia has no right to decide Ukraine’s fate, and this must be made clear to Putin. The West must stand up now to stop Russia and make Putin answer for the war he inflicted on Ukraine and the 13,000 lives lost in it. 

I want him to answer for the killing of my friends in the military.

Let’s not allow Putin to ruin any more lives than he already has.

Ukrainians shouldn’t have to flee their homes. I, along with millions of other natives of Donbas and Crimea, shouldn’t have to live through this nightmare again.

Anna Myroniuk
Anna Myroniuk
Head of investigations

Anna Myroniuk is the head of investigations at the Kyiv Independent. Anna has run investigative projects on human rights, healthcare and illicit trade. She investigated presidents and oligarchs. She has written for New York Times, Washington Post, Coda Story and OCCRP. Anna holds a Masters in Investigative Journalism from the City University of London. She is a Chevening Scholar, a finalist of the 2020 Thomson Foundation Young Journalist Award, an honoree of the 2022 Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe Media & Marketing list, the runner-up in the investigative reporting category of the 2022 European Press Prize, and the finalist of the 2022 National Investigative Journalism Award of Ukraine.

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