Volodymyr Yermolenko admits that he does not know how to use weapons and, therefore, may be of little help when the advance of the Russian troops reaches the capital, Kiev, if they finally do. This 41-year-old Ukrainian philosopher, journalist and writer is currently staying in the city, the one where he was born. He took his family, his wife, three children and his parents, to the west of the country, on alert for the offensive, but less hit than the eastern fringe. Then he came back home. Yermolenko remains in Kiev as a volunteer in what he calls the “defense” of the city, be it logistics, food distribution, elder care or moving acquaintances away from there. He acknowledges, in a telephone conversation with EL PAÍS that he does not know what he will do in the medium term. “I’m not capable of shooting, I don’t have military training,” he says, “and you have to be rational and know how you can be useful; my mission is to tell the world what is happening, if you are a civilian and you cannot resist with weapons, you are useless”. So maybe it’s better to go.
Yermolenko fits into what we call an intellectual. Trained in political science in France, in philosophy in his homeland, he collaborates as an analyst with foreign press, has published several essays and is in charge of journalistic projects such as Ukraine World. But when he calls out the military invasion of the neighboring country, he is one more. “I have seen friends of mine volunteer to defend the territory, but I have to think cold and know how I can be more useful.” As he talks, the British intelligence service reports that there are Russian troops about 25 kilometers away, information that largely coincides with US satellite images shown in the last 48 hours. With a nuance: they bring the Russian battalions a little closer to the Ukrainian capital. This Saturday, in addition, the army sent by the Kremlin struck south of the city, in Vasilkiv, about 35 kilometers away.
“Kiev has become a fortress,” Yermolenko maintains. He does not see so clearly that his city is going to fall before the advance of the Russians. “Perhaps they will manage to surround it and bomb it heavily, causing a new humanitarian disaster.” But don’t catch her. Asked how someone who lives in Kiev finds out what the world reads in the press, this philosopher replies that he travels from one place to another, he has friends in Bucha, through the northern exit of the city, recently attacked during the evacuation of civilians; He has also recently reached Brovary, on the eastern bank of the Dnieper River, where he helped acquaintances to leave the area – a Russian convoy was ambushed this week in the same town.
And speaking of the possible victory of Moscow in the Ukrainian capital, a question arises almost in the field of philosophy: what is victory? And all in connection with the demonstrations of rejection in the streets of towns in the southeast of the country such as Melitopol or Kherson, already under the control of the Russian soldiers. They win, but… “This victory has no meaning as you see in the protests”, says Yermolenko, “it is the end of Russia as a great power, it is something irrational, but this irrationality is very cruel, it is a gesture of desperation, but that provokes enormous crimes”.
Reading the texts of this great Ukrainian communicator, there is something common that serves as the backbone of his parliament: the Ukrainian identity. And this, as he defends during the talk, necessarily changes due to the effect of violence. “First”, lists Yermolenko, “because the Russians will no longer be loved in Ukraine and the number of them in the country will drop tremendously; furthermore, if what Russia wanted was to attract Ukraine into its area of influence as in the past, they are doing just the opposite. Now they have a huge country that hates them and will hate them for many years to come.” Of course, he points out, Ukraine and Russia are “enemies” now, but they already were since the capture of part of Donbas, in the Ukrainian southeast, in 2014.
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Yermolenko has tried in recent weeks to undo the argument of the man at the forefront of hostilities against his homeland, Russian President Vladimir Putin. That Ukrainians and Russians are the same and together they have to be like in the time of the empire ―which he describes as “fairy tales” and “fantasies”―. He has recalled that Ukraine is one and Russia another, that they have a democratic and horizontal tradition of centuries, with the memory placed even in the Cossacks of the steppe, while the giant of the East chose to keep the word of the tsar. But there is more: Putin ordered the assault on Ukraine on February 24 with the declared aim of “denazifying” the territory. This philosopher turns the tables on the Kremlin and defends that his country is now facing a “new fascism, a new Nazism”, described as cruel, causing panic, through “inhuman tactics”.
And all of this creates a pain that, Yermolenko continues, will last for generations. “I remember my grandparents hating the Germans half a century ago,” he recalls, “but even when you told them that they weren’t the same now as the ones in World War II, that they were civilized and normal, they still hated them, and what will pass. same with us. I don’t think reconciliation will come soon, it’s very difficult when hospitals, schools, children are being bombed”.
We return from the trench of ideas to the street. What is the next thing you will do now? “The truth is that I can’t give an answer, I don’t know, there is a lot of work to do here, I don’t know, we’ll see.” Stay or go.
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