My friend Joe has this really nice property that ends at a beautiful lake in Texas. It’s about three acres, wooded. Across the road from his place are some other, less lucky owners. I mean, their properties are big, 10 acres and more, but they don’t have a lakefront. In fact, his neighbor Tony talked Joe into letting him set up a barbecue pit on the beach. Tony’s always telling Joe what a great property he has, even though Tony has more than three times the acreage. Sometimes Tony’s beach parties get a bit rowdy, but he always invites Joe and his wife to join in, so Joe doesn’t mind, even when they don’t. Tony makes a point of telling Joe what a babe his wife is, too, which Joe doesn’t mind, because Tony is a paunchy, balding 59 year-old who likes to walk around bare-chested and flex his muscles. Joe’s wife just laughs when he does that. Sometimes when he’s drunk, he waves his Luger around and fires the occasional shot into the air, which the kids think is very cool.
Then one day, Joe comes home from work to find his neighbor Tony sitting at the kitchen table, Luger in his hand, eating Joe’s dinner together with Joe’s wife and kids, and all Joe’s wife says is “Joe, I’m getting a divorce.” Before Joe can open his mouth, Tony adds: “The beachfront is mine, too,” and pushes some papers towards him with the Luger. “I left you the upper part. Two acres. Which is pretty generous of me, don’t you think?” He grins and eats some more chicken. He’s taking the beautiful beachfront and the great house that Joe built from scratch on an abandoned foundation 20 years ago. And Joe’s wife and kids, who look very scared.
What would you do? Run to the den for your gun? Call the police? Collapse with a cardiac arrest?
Actually, this is what happened to Ukraine. Tony the neighbor, aka Russia, walked in, in the middle of the night on February 27, 2014, took over the government and just annexed Crimea. And claimed that Crimeans were happy to be divorced from Ukraine. Meanwhile, guys in unmarked uniforms with machine-guns began to patrol everywhere and anyone who tried to protest was arrested. Many were forced to flee; some were never seen again or turned up dead. The only problem was that Joe, aka mainland Ukraine, provided all the power and drinking water Crimeans used. Ukraine also provided 70% of the food and tourism Crimeans enjoyed. Life since the divorce hasn’t been so great for the wife and kids, either, apparently.
My friend Sue breeds chinchillas at her ranch house in Santa Cruz. One day, out of the blue, she goes into the yard and finds three of them skinned and dead, their innards strewn along the garden path. Her husband Sam says he’s seen the neighbor’s teenage boys lurking around, eying the rabbits, but neither of them has ever seen the two boys actually in the yard. The fence isn’t high, though, and anyone tall enough can easily get over it. A week later, Sam’s workshed is broken into and some expensive tools go missing. Sam and Sue are pretty sure it’s the neighbor’s boys, but they don’t really have any evidence, so they hesitate to say anything to the police when they report the theft. They also mention the dead rabbits, but the police just shrug. “Try installing an alarm system or motion-detecting lights and hope for the best,” they say. “We can’t arrest kids just because they hang around.”
Sam and Sue install an alarm and motion-detecting lights. The next day a couple of the ladies from Sue’s Monday poker group come by and say, “Hey, Sue, what’s the problem? This is a nice neighborhood. What’s with the alarms and lights? It’s like you’re advertising that you have something to steal.” Sue tells her friends about the rabbits and the equipment, but the ladies just shrug. “Why don’t you just invite the boys around to help you with the rabbits?” Sue doesn’t say anything. She can’t afford to have the neighborhood turn against her.
A few days later, someone sets fire to the chinchilla hutch and before Sue can get to it, half the rabbits are burned to death. The remaining ones are crazed with fear and their beautiful fur is badly damaged. Sue’s distraught. Sam says that it looks like someone tossed a molotov cocktail over the fence. The police just shrug. “Shit happens. Maybe you shouldn’t be breeding expensive rabbits in your neighborhood.”
What would you do? Buy a gun? Patrol your yard? Move away?
Actually, this is what happened to Ukraine. In April 2014, just weeks after Crimea is annexed, the neighbor’s kids, aka some Russian special forces operatives, attack the city hall and police station in the town of Horlivka, taking down the Ukrainian flag and replacing it with a Russian one. A local councilor hauls down the Russian flag and puts the Ukrainian one back up. The next day, he disappears, along with two other Ukrainians, kidnapped by the Russian operative, Igor “Strelkov” Ghirkin. Three weeks later, their naked bodies are found in the nearby river. They’ve been tortured and their bellies cut open, guts floating in the water, very dead.
As the weeks go by, Ukraine is faced with a proxy war in its eastern provinces. Thousands of Ukrainian men and women volunteer to go to the region and help drive out the Russians and their minions. By July, they’ve nearly succeeded in overcoming the ragtag army of drug dealers, petty thugs and losers who fill the ranks of the Russian operatives’ troops. They quickly liberate Sloviansk and some other towns and look set to recover most of the territory that has been occupied by the Russians. Suddenly, on July 17, 2014, a passenger plane is shot down over territory controlled by the Russians. 298 people die. At first, Russian television says its proxies have shot down a Ukrainian fighter plane, but 10 minutes later, the truth comes out that a commercial passenger plane flying at 33,000 feet has been shot down, and not a fighter plane flying at 20,000 feet, and the Russians immediately blame Ukraine for the shooting. Eventually an international commission concludes that it was a Russian crew that shot down the plane using a BUK surface-to-air missile launcher.
Meanwhile, Russian propaganda has also been busy claiming that this is a civil war between the country’s capital and “separatist” regions that don’t want to be in Ukraine and much of the neighborhood, i.e., the EU, believes this. As the Ukraine’s mostly volunteer forces are about to overwhelm the Russian proxies, Russia realizes it can’t afford to have its operation fail, so it sends in its own troops. In late August 2014, Ukrainian troops are routed at a town called Ilovaisk, losing 62 men over August 24-28. On August 29, Russia and its proxies offer them a “green corridor” to leave the battlefield safely. Yet the minute the column of retreating soldiers and their equipment is well into the corridor, the Russian side opens fire. 259 died in the barrage, including one American who had been living in Ukraine for years and had taken out Ukrainian citizenship. Fragments of 22 other KIAs have never been identified.
Ilovaisk was a turning point in Russia’s war against Ukraine.
To date, Ukraine has had 4.5% of its territory annexed illegally and another 3% has been occupied by Russia and its proxies for over three years now. What would you do if your neighbor did something like this to you?
Author Lidia Wolanskyj