In my essay a couple of days ago about “Bunny Rabbits,” I was talking about the political class in Ukraine, and in particular, about the radical nationalists, call them “neo-Nazis,” call them “terrorists,” who took power in February 2014 following a U.S.-backed and stage-managed coup d’état. Whether you had a stern oligarch like Poroshenko sitting in the presidential seat or, as today, the boyish hyper-communicator Zelensky occupying that seat, makes no difference whatsoever. The presidents are just front men for the militants who have delusional hopes of marching on Moscow with NATO help.
Now I want to direct attention to what everyone in the West is seeing daily on their television screens, whatever the channel: the Ukrainian refugees pouring into Western Europe in their hundreds of thousands. Perhaps one million five hundred thousand have fled Ukraine since the start of the Russian incursion. There will be many more. The subject gets so much attention in our media for a number of obvious reasons.
One unacknowledged reason is that there is not much else for them to report on. Neither the Russians nor the Ukrainian military forces have “embedded” journalists in their troops. Reporters thus have very little firsthand experience of the fighting, nothing to put on air other than interviews with fleeing civilians and some of the damage to residential homes in areas which are under Russian siege. For their part, the Russians are intentionally holding back all information about their present and next operations so as to keep the enemy off balance.
The spokesman for the Russian military, Igor Konoshenkov, in his daily briefings, gives only summary figures of tanks, planes, weapons stores that Russian forces have destroyed, as well as the names of villages that Russians or Donbas military have captured or retaken. This kind of “information” leaves the Western press clueless about Russia’s intentions and about the degree of its successes. But even in this vague presentation of data there is something of importance to find, if you have the will and the editorial encouragement to do so. For example, keeping in mind the latest news on the front page of today’s Financial Times, the reported negotiations between Washington and Warsaw to transfer Soviet era jet fighters in the Polish inventory to the Ukrainians, you should pay attention to Konoshenkov’s figures for the number of Ukrainian aircraft Russian forces destroyed on the ground, as well as in the air. If you just make that small mental effort, which our Western media do not do, you have to wonder what good the dispatch of Polish MIGs to Ukraine will do: they will be a write-off within a day or two of landing, i.e. if they can find a landing strip. And if the idea is for the Polish airmen to fly into Ukrainian air space for “day trips” from NATO bases, then that is inviting the escalation of the war to a NATO-Russian war just as a declared no-flight zone over Ukraine would be. As for the Ukrainian briefings, no one with his head screwed on right takes the figures they spout regarding their military feats with more than a grain of salt.
Then there is the “human interest” dimension to coverage of the refugees to justify Western media attention. The movement of people inside Ukraine fleeing bombs and artillery, the movement towards and across the borders to the West is massive, as I remarked at the outset. Among the refugees in transit and among those who have arrived in Hungary or Poland, there are a multitude of potential vignettes of the suffering experienced by innocents in their fear of the incoming Russians. We are shown the tearful partings of young women in Kiev and other major cities holding their babies as they are about to board trains taking them into emigration. They are embracing their husbands, who, under martial law, are obliged to stay behind and defend the Fatherland.
I fully understand the human tragedy in all of this and extend my full sympathy to the civilians caught in the crossfire which their government and their radical militias have brought upon them. But in this essay, I want to look at what our Western journalists are not reporting because they have been parachuted into the conflict zone with no prior knowledge of the peoples and the issues, or because they are not looking at the other information sources readily available to them on Russian television, which provide an essential context and comparison to what these reporters are seeing in Kiev, at the borders with the EU and inside Hungary and Poland.
Let us start with the emigration itself. As we know, more than two-thirds of the new refugees are landing and are presumably staying in Poland. Why are they not all on their way to Germany or to the United Kingdom, the preferred destinations of the migration wave of 2015 nominally relating to the civil war in Syria, though mostly consisting of economic migrants from North Africa, Pakistan and other places farther afield? The reason is not hard to discern if you have a little bit of background knowledge and a little bit of discernment.
Ukrainian migration to Poland has been going on in great numbers for the last several decades. It was driven by economic considerations above all. Like the Baltic States, Bulgaria and Romania, post-Soviet Ukraine experienced rapid and destructive de-industrialization, which was worsened with each policy shift of their governments away from Russia, which was their long-standing export market and towards the European Union, which had little need for their industrial goods which were, in all cases manufactured according to different technical standards from those set by Brussels. All of these countries have seen loss of their able-bodied populations to Europe and to the U.K. amounting to as much as 25% of overall population.
The Ukrainian preference for settling in Poland was dictated by clearly identifiable factors, among them language and physical proximity. Spoken Polish is rather close to Ukrainian and is easy for them to learn and bring up to the level necessary to function well in society. By contrast, few Ukrainians were fluent in English or German or French. Then the physical closeness of Poland made it easy for Ukrainians settling there to regularly go back to visit with relatives by car, by bus.
On the receiving end, the Poles were very happy to take in Ukrainians to fill the job vacancies for doctors and other medical staff, as well as for construction workers, not to mention unskilled labor given that so many of their own citizens had left Poland for better paying employment in Western Europe over the preceding twenty or thirty years, first illegally and then with full legal cover. Poles had no desire to take in Muslims during the 2015 wave, but were delighted to receive good Catholic (West Ukraine) neighbors from the East. Moreover, Poland was quick to give naturalization papers to all Ukrainians who could prove (by real or fake documents) that they had some Polish ancestry. Given the way that borders have shifted so many times between Poland, Belarus and Ukraine over the last century, this test became especially diluted.
With respect to the naturalization question, I freely admit that my information is anecdotal though wholly reliable. For reasons of personal safety of my sources, I am not free to give details here and now, but will do so at the first opportunity when the war ends. From these personal sources well known to me over the course of four years of weekly conversations, I heard a great deal about Poland’s issuance of passports to Ukrainian arrivals.
In the context of the Russian invasion, chaos and declared humanitarian “disaster” per the drum-beating of Western NGOs, Ukrainians who had once thought of leaving now pack their bags posthaste to take advantage of settlement conditions in Poland and elsewhere which those who migrated in the past decades could only dream about.
To this I am obliged to add a further snapshot of what is going on that you will not find in The New York Times or on CNN. Yes, at the train stations in Kiev, only women and children are allowed to board. However, there are other ways of leaving Ukraine and the Russians are reporting that many young and able Ukrainian men are deserting the country via readily accessible escape routes rather than fight and die for Mr. Zelensky and the band of rogues who keep him in office.
I find it not at all surprising that our press is not looking for such cases. They never did report that a great many if not most of the arrivals on European shores in 2015 were not the picture pretty mothers with infants fleeing the murderous regime of Assad in Syria, but were able bodied and quite muscular gentlemen from elsewhere who took advantage of the once in a lifetime indiscriminate opening of European borders to migrants.
I close out the migration question of Ukraine with an essential look at those who headed East during the past 8 years of chaos and death in Donbas meted out by the Ukrainian regular army and by the Azov Battalion and other radical militias all this time. More than one million Ukrainians, perhaps two million moved to the Russian Federation to find safety. Needless to say, you will nothing about what motivated them or about the relatives they left behind when you pick up Western newspapers.
Moreover, you will find nothing in the Western press about the present, ongoing artillery bombardment of Donbas villages by the Ukrainian army and irregular forces on the other side of the line of demarcation established in the Minsk Accords. How, you may wonder, can this be continuing now that the Russians have arrived? The answer is that the Russians have left much of the fighting in the Donbas region to the forces of the Lugansk and Donetsk republics for reasons I set out in an earlier essay: so that they can create their nations from the ground up, by their own efforts and not receive it all on a silver platter from the Russian Federation.
One has to bear in mind, that before the start of the Russian incursion into Ukraine, Kiev had massed two thirds of its total armed forces just to the West of the Dniepr River and the line of demarcation. These 150,000 or more men in arms were prepared to pounce on the Donbas, and would have done so had the Russians not brought an equal number of their own troops to the Ukraine border back in November 2021. Once hostilities began, the Russians have fanned out to other parts of Ukraine, meaning principally the southeast, the Black Sea littoral and the area surrounding the capital, Kiev. Their objective is pan-national, to force the regime to capitulate. The Ukrainian army and radical battalions, however, seem to have remained in large numbers along the Donbas and it is taking huge efforts of the locals to neutralize them.
And when the Donetsk and Lugansk forces, with air and logistical support of the Russians, take back one village after another from what had been the full territory of their oblasts before the civil war of 2014-15, the retreating Ukrainian militias are blowing up all infrastructure and homes out of pure vengeance. You will not find in Western media any videos of the damage or videos of interviews with local residents whose lives are shattered now, at the very end of their eight years of occupation by Kiev forces. For that, you have only to go to Russian news coverage, which is readily available to our American and European editors if they cared to look.
All civilian lives matter, whichever side of the demarcation line is theirs. The world is rightly deeply concerned by the several hundred civilian deaths in Kiev-administered Ukraine due to the ongoing war with Russia. The world has shamefully ignored the 14,000 mostly civilians, mostly Donbas residents who died under shelling and small arms fire these past eight years of low-intensity civil war. Is it any wonder that the Russians said “enough is enough”?
© Gilbert Doctorow, 2022