Ukraine mourns ‘our golden generation’ killed on the front line | Ukraine
There are funerals every day in Kyiv, but this one was particularly poignant. Hundreds of friends and other activists, dressed in Ukrainian flags, gathered on Saturday to pay their respects to Roman Ratushnyi, a prominent political and environmental activist who was recently killed fighting near Ukraine’s second-largest city , Kharkov.
“All of our brightest and bravest guys are dying. The toll of the war on society is immense,” activist Ivana Sanina, 23, said Thursday at an earlier ceremony to commemorate Ratushnyi.
He was one of several student protesters beaten by brutal Berkut riot police on the first night of the pro-Western Maidan Revolution in 2013. The decision of then pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych to crushing the student protests soon sparked larger protests and eventually led to Yanukovych fleeing Kyiv for Moscow.
After Maidan, Ratushnyi worked as an investigative journalist, exposing local corruption. But he is best known in Kyiv for leading a campaign in 2019 to protect Protasiv Yar, a green area in central Kyiv that developers wanted to take over. It was near Protasiv Yar that mourners gathered last week.
His death, weeks before his 25th birthday, underscores the heavy toll the Russian invasion is taking on Ukraine’s promising new generation.
“He was the voice of free and independent Ukraine. He had such a great future ahead of him,” Sanina said, adding that none of his friends were surprised when Ratushnyi decided to join the army at the start of the war.
Thousands of young Ukrainians, who have only ever known an independent Ukraine, volunteered to join the army and its territorial defense forces when Russia launched its invasion on February 24.
And although the country managed to repel Russian forces, it is now suffering some of its heaviest casualties since the start of the war as the battle for the east of the country enters its decisive phase. It is believed that between 100 and 200 Ukrainians die every day as the fighting turns into a protracted war of attrition with no end in sight.
Many are fighting with virtually no military training against a Russian army that, while stuttering, still outscores its opponent by 10 to one.
In a recent interview with the EconomistUkrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said the deaths of young Ukrainians were an inevitable consequence of the Russian invasion, blaming Ukraine’s lack of heavy weapons.
“How could it be otherwise? The young guys find themselves on the front line, where no one wants them to be, and they die…the world should know that.
Valya Polishchuk, a photographer from Kyiv, said her days are now “full of going from funeral to funeral”. “I was at another friend’s funeral when I heard about Roman,” she shrugged, before kneeling as the car carrying Ratushnyi’s body passed.
There is a stark contrast, his friends say, between the deaths of Ukrainian activists-turned-soldiers like Ratushnyi and Russian contract soldiers.
“Our golden generation is dying because it is fighting for an idea. In Russia, many are fighting for money,” Sanina said.
Russia last announced its official death toll in late March, but independent Russian media have kept their own tally of Russian casualties, illustrating that the poorest and most remote regions have been disproportionately affected by the war. . According to the independent Russian website Mediazona, only eight soldiers from Moscow have died so far in Ukraine and 26 from the second-largest city, Saint Petersburg.
The highest number of confirmed deaths – 207 – were among soldiers from the Muslim North Caucasus region of Dagestan, followed by Buryatia in Siberia (164), two regions where a career in the armed forces is considered one of the only way out. poverty. Some analysts have also linked the gap to Russia’s desire to keep the grim realities of war out of largely affluent urban areas.
In an attempt to highlight the perceived hypocrisy of Russian elites in Moscow, anti-war activists have launched an online campaign, taking to senior politicians on Twitter to ask why they are not sending their children to fight.
Masi Nayyem, 37, a prominent Ukrainian lawyer-turned-soldier, said the war would harden Ukraine’s new generation for many decades to come. “It’s not Roman who died, but also part of Ukraine’s future. This will leave an imprint on his friends.
Nayyem was talking to Observer from a hospital in Dnipro, where he was recovering from severe head injuries inflicted in fighting earlier this month, blinding him in one eye.
“The new Ukrainian generation will be different – they will remember this war for the rest of their lives. There will be no reconciliation with Russia for decades. »
The war had certainly hardened Ratushnyi, who wrote on Twitter a month before his death: “The more Russians we kill now, the fewer Russians our children will have to kill.”
In Kyiv, where anti-war and anti-Putin art can be seen in virtually every corner of the city, young people who don’t volunteer at the front have found other ways to help the army. When war broke out, dozens of youth-run restaurants in Kyiv focused on cooking for the military, and local hospitals and popular young designers quickly moved from high fashion to making military uniforms Ukrainians.
“The war created a new sense of unity and awareness,” said Kyiv-based designer Anton Belinskiy, one of the main faces of the new Ukrainian fashion movement.
Yet they fear the war could lead to a demographic catastrophe in the country, with millions having fled Ukraine since the invasion began, while thousands of men die on the battlefield.
Perhaps sensing the urgency, Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy recently addressed Ukrainian students across the UK, calling on them to come back and rebuild the country.
“I can build a state for all of us, for our generation and for the elderly. We can try a lot of things,” Zelenskiy said. “But building a future without a younger generation is something impossible to do.”