23 February 2022
by Lev Ponomarev, human rights activist, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group (included on the Russian Ministry for Justice’s register of individuals deemed to be ‘media foreign agents’)
It is better to give flowers for a celebration than to lay them on a grave. On the Day of Defending the Fatherland, that very Fatherland is finding itself in mortal danger. Soldiers who are supposed to be guarding our borders are crossing the borders of other countries.
The invasion of Ukraine has officially begun. When two armies stand against one another, a bloodbath can begin at any moment. It only takes a single match to start a fire.
I do not want to platitudinise about what is happening. It is much more important to talk about defending the Fatherland in practice, about what we need to do now and what we must never do.
We must never say that Putin hasn’t gone mad and that there will be no invasion. I am addressing those who have said these things. You were catastrophically wrong; you chose the comfort of inaction, even though action was both possible and necessary, and now you are paying the price for that. That price will rise faster than the economy will fall, and the price is paid not in money but in blood.
Do not dare say now that nothing has changed, that this is a psychological game that will not end in bloodshed. That is clearly not true, so do not insult your own intelligence. It is impossible to stop a nuclear reaction; we can only prevent it before it begins. Make yourself reckon with that fact.
Now a few words about what must be done.
Firstly: no individual actions are sufficient to replace collective efforts. A Facebook post or even an article on Ekho Moskvy is not enough. We must mount a powerful anti-war movement in Russia, a movement in defence of Peace, Progress and Human Rights – any initiatives in these areas will complement one another. We must publicly declare our adherence to this movement and call on others to do the same. The more socially active people who do this, the greater our chances of influencing the outcome.
Secondly: we must prepare yourself for the fact that, if full-scale military activities do take place, we will need to come out onto the streets. If there is any other way of stopping the war, I do not know what it is. The only thing capable of protecting people on the streets from police brutality is the number of those others who came out with them. The more people who agree to this today, the fewer graves we will need to dig tomorrow.
Thirdly and finally: Andrei Makarevich, who I so admire, recently wrote: “How can we tolerate all this?” That is absolutely the right question. Let each one of us ask ourselves this question. I will answer on my own behalf and on behalf of my friends and colleagues. We cannot tolerate it and we are already doing everything I have written about.
We have united to form a large network of supporters of Peace, Progress and Human Rights. Become a part of it right now. The first step is to read this anti-war letter and sign it. The second step is to encourage others to do the same.
Translated by Judith Fagelson