The Ukrainian View
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The Ukrainian View

Existential Right to Exist

Reflections from the War on Ukraine

Exhibit in Kyiv at White World Ukraine Gallery: Artist: Vladyslav Shereshevskyi: Photo by Author

In Ukraine, we go to bed at night not knowing if we will exist in the morning. If we wake up in the morning, we wake up knowing we may not exist when it is time for us to slumber again. We walk out the door to run an errand not knowing if we will return. We here live daily with existential crisis. No, not the type of existentialism that bothers those not living under constant threat of death but the one where a whole nation denies our right to exist. Maybe Ukraine should be the new thinking movement that adds the “Right to Exist” as an amendment to its Constitution. That is, of course, if we continue to exist here in Ukraine and are not wiped off the face of the planet by an enemy that increasingly seems not to be human.

Psychologically and spiritually can you set your mind on how difficult it can be to exist in this existential reality of ours here in Ukraine? How we wake up every day and go on? Some do it for the belief in the country; others for the pursuit of freedom; many because of their faith in God; soldiers in uniform because they must and are ordered to do so while maybe still employing all or one of the above reasons. Do you have any idea of the daily human toll this takes upon us? We see either right before our eyes or on some sort of screen, dead children, mothers, grandmothers, and so many more slaughtered by an enemy that just pushes a button and never sees the innocent dead.

Ukraine is trying and has been trying for many years to redefine itself as a nation. Now, they are doing it under fire and we who are here with them, only want them to succeed. Success depends on our continued collective existence. Wrap your mind around that. Individually and collectively we must fight every day for the “Right to Exist.” Existentialism is based on the idea that humankind determines its own destiny. Christian Existentialism posits that we follow the will of God in order to find meaning in our existence by trying to follow Him. Orthodox Christians are the majority in Ukraine and we must balance our faith with a Christian Existentialism which doesn’t necessarily mesh with the dogmas of the Orthodox Church.

Yet, we do, every second, every minute, every hour, week and month. We fight within ourselves as we fight the enemy each in our own unique ways. Do you have any idea of the stamina this takes for millions of people? Don’t blame those who became alcoholics and drug addicts after February 24, 2022. The ones who were that before were already that. They are still that and wander zombie-eyed through the streets of Kyiv just like they always have. Their existential dilemma is long over as they already are what they are. Those of us who are not and realize it, well, we’re kinda fucked, aren’t we?

There is, of course, a portion here that exists as deniers who deny this is real despite their neighbors being killed. There are the ostriches with their heads in the sand. There are the collaborators who betray their people and nation. This is a small minority, which means the majority of us are having to deal with this whether we like it or not. We have to deal with the fact that what is attacking us no longer seems human yet it is also not some supernatural being of lore. No, it is flesh and blood on a grand scale that is seeking to take away our existence. Even we faithful understand that not every person in Russia and Belarus is demon-possessed. But how to we see what they are doing and still see them as human?

We know we are human. Early in the war, the attacking forces were soon called “orcs” from that of Tolkien fame. We can call them any name we want but the fact is that for the most part, they look like the rest of humanity. Pictures of Nazi atrocities to those of us who did not live through World War II were just awful black and white photographs of a time before. Now, we who are alive and in this have to face what the Jews and other persecuted peoples of the Third Reich had to face. Pure human evil hat does not seem to be human at all. One can now understand how the Nazis were seen as monsters. People in the west just see pictures and videos of awful events but they have no feel for the dark energy and smell of sulfur that emanates from the enemy here. Maybe two whole Slavic nations are demon-possessed. No, the rational mind just can’t wrap itself around that, can it? It would be easier if we could.

Ok, forget about Satan for a minute if you are not a believer. How do we explain this from a purely rational and scientific standpoint? Ok, so maybe they are a nation of complete sociopaths and psychopaths. Nah, that doesn’t make sense either. So, our existence goes on and we focus on survival for ourselves and the Ukrainian nation because no one can really explain how we can continue to believe the enemy is human and also has the “Right to Exist”. Historians, psychologists, lawyers, military strategists, spiritual leaders will ponder and study us for years after this war ends. It will end and we pray it doesn’t end with our end. But none of that pondering will help us now. Now we need more powerful weapons in greater numbers since the world has left us to shoulder the responsibility of defeating one of the largest conventional armies on the planet. Killing them is not a problem, they are an infestation from somewhere we choose not to admit exists.

We have the Right to Exist, therefore, we are.

Kyiv City Museum Exhibition: Artist Roman Bonchuk: Photo by Author: July 2022

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