“Do Not Try to Interrupt a Ukrainian Woman”: Explaining the Struggle to Europe’s Skeptics

After three weeks of working across the clock and barely sleeping, my nervous system gave in. My French husband grabbed me by the earlobe and dragged me off someplace with loads of bushes and the chance to experience our bikes round. This “somewhere” was a two-hour drive from Paris, the town the place I’ve lived for the previous six years with our two youngsters and a canine. My quiet lifetime of writing books and working literary programs ended on February 24. As it did for everybody else. Because you may go away Ukraine, however Ukraine won’t ever go away you.

In an previous nation mansion, transformed right into a small lodge, plump French hens scratched in regards to the yard, and on the opposite aspect of the pond, three goats and a sheep checked out me with curiosity. My mother and father’ residence within the Carpathian mountains seems one thing like this—however all of the rooms at the moment are full of refugees, each shared by an entire household along with their cats and canine. My mom takes everybody in, and she or he even moved her issues to sleep within the attic. “It’s a pity I can’t do more! I feel useless,” she says to me, almost sobbing into the telephone on her solution to the college the place I as soon as studied, however the place ladies now collect to weave camouflage nets and do different volunteering to guard Ukrainians from the Russians. 

“Mom, calm down, you’re already doing a lot, you’re making yourself useful!” I then frighten her with statistics of incidence of stroke in younger individuals who go with out meals and sleep between volunteer efforts. It appears to assist for some time. But I do know she is going to hold studying the information, and hold cursing the one that pressed the set off of the airstrike that hit the Mariupol drama theater, the place the phrase youngsters had been written in massive Russian script on the road exterior.

“But your ultraright was there…the Azov Battalion, right?” A voice from one other actuality, a French one, reaches me. Ah, effectively, sure. I had dreamed of getting a couple of hours with out having to clarify the fact in Ukraine to a European citizen. I ought to have put my mouth beneath lock and key. After all, how can I calmly reply to them that Azov’s alleged philosophical outlook is irrelevant to this conflict and Russia’s persevering with conflict crimes, such because the bombing of the maternity hospital in Mariupol and the mass execution of civilians in Bucha? These days, the standard remark of “Oh, you have a light accent, where are you from?” inevitably turns into an extended, drawn-out dialog. Sometimes for the French it’s simply small discuss, “Oh, how awful, we sympathize with you.” Sometimes folks present actual solidarity and perceive the nitty-gritty, just like the pharmacist throughout the road in Paris: “So many people from our neighborhood have been buying medicine for Ukraine! And the mayor’s office is collecting humanitarian aid. Only, for some reason, they won’t take canned food, do you know why?” Recently, a Moroccan taxi driver was happy to declare that Vladimir Putin had by no means seen such ardent Ukrainian nationalists in his nightmares. His son was learning to change into a health care provider in Odesa and had a Ukrainian girlfriend. But there’s one other class of homegrown geopolitical specialists who need so badly to disbelieve the mainstream media that they go on the lookout for skullduggery and conspiracy on some utterly bullshit sources, generously fed to them by Russian propaganda.

For the previous three weeks, I’ve virtually change into a everlasting fixture on French tv. How does the saying go—“Beware of your dreams, they might just come true”? All my mates, each in Ukraine and right here in France, say that their goals, in no matter damned type, are coming true. “I always wanted to travel with my children!” says Iryna, the spouse of the guitarist in my Ukraine–primarily based rock band Qarpa, whereas I sit along with her and her two sons at my French pal’s home throughout the road. “And here you are…” “I always wanted my Ukrainian friends to see how I live in Lyon!” says Elena, setting an extended desk for the ten folks now dwelling in her home. I used to dream in regards to the musicians in my band dwelling in Paris, and now I’ve my drummer and her 13-year-old daughter at residence (the latter is an unbelievable supply of pleasure for my youngsters, as a result of now they’ve a little bit gang). And I all the time wished to speak about Ukraine on French tv. We all received what we wished. Not precisely beneath the circumstances we dreamed of, however the universe has all the time had a selected sense of irony.

My baptism by hearth got here on CNews (suppose Fox News, solely everybody’s talking French). Without warning, I received right into a sparring match with two skilled manipulators directly: advisers to the right-wing politicians Marine Le Pen and Éric Zemmour (the latter finest recognized for his racist views and his 2018 assertion that he longed for a French Putin). Given present occasions, these guys appeared a little bit extra modest than common, however their inside nature rapidly revealed itself: At one level, attempting to interrupt me, they shouted so loudly in regards to the Ukrainian elections (messing up dates and names a little bit, however that’s not an issue for his or her voters) and one in every of them even dared to say that the very best resolution to finish the conflict can be for Putin to drop a “small atomic” bomb that may destroy “only” Ukraine. “And how would I, a living participant in Ukraine’s two revolutions—which, by the way, Putin is now taking revenge on us for—know the truth?” I retorted. I simply love these omniscient theorists. I endured that broadcast and even informed the entire reality (I’m telling you, don’t attempt to interrupt a Ukrainian girl). After that, my uneasiness talking French (I’ve all the time been extra keen on English) was wiped away.

Moreover, I gained a brand new expertise: Before the host went to industrial, I managed to make a lightning-speed elevator pitch in regards to the revolutions of 2004 and 2014; Ukraine’s option to orient itself towards the West and reject a return to the USSR; Russia’s annexation of Crimea; the invasion of Donbas, and the eight-year-long conflict, which the French media tirelessly known as a civil conflict regardless of affirmation, even by a Russian court docket, of the presence of the Russian military; the futility of talks with Putin; our gratitude for all of the weapons despatched to us and our readiness to stifle Russian enlargement on the territory of Ukraine; Russia’s vile homicide of civilians and the necessity to report this as a conflict crime; and—goddamn it—about Azov, which, being a volunteer battalion in 2014, is in the present day a particular unit of the National Guard. It is stuffed with Russian–talking folks and reportedly even Jewish members. And didn’t they know that the president of us “Nazis” can also be a Russian–talking Jew?

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