Luke Harding, jouranlist, Nataliia Popovych, chairperson, Ukraine House in Denmark
On Apr. 27, 2023, the Ukraine House in Denmark held a discussion titled "The journey from Russian invasion to Ukrainian victory: mission (im)possible?" with best-selling author and The Guardian foreign correspondent Luke Harding. The presentation was centered around his latest book "Invasion: Russia's Bloody War and Ukraine's Fight for Survival,” published in November 2022 by Vintage and Guardian Faber. It is one of the first accounts of the war that has transformed international relations and which has led to an outpouring of support for Ukraine in the US, UK and beyond.
Harding was in Kyiv on Feb. 24, 2022, when russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine at 5:00 a.m. He has visited most of the de-occupied territories where he personally saw all of the horrors of war crimes committed by the russian military in Bucha and Irpin, as well as the Kharkiv and Kherson regions, among others. Harding still works on the frontline where he records people’s stories and shares voices of the locals with the world.
“It’s a genocide. We could see it in Bucha and other liberated Ukrainian cities. People who were murdered were not military but unarmed civilians… Putin doesn’t want to just occupy Ukraine, he wants to destroy “Ukraincy”, he wants to de-Ukrainize Ukraine. That’s why in the occupied territories, Ukrainian books are burnt, the Ukrainian language is forbidden, everything is russified,”
explained the journalist at the event.
Harding reminded the audience that there's nothing new about the on-going russian terror, as Ukraine has already faced Russia’s historical attempts to erase the Ukrainian national identity over the course of the past 400 years like that of – Holodomor, also known as the Great Famine of 1932-33, organized by Stalin regime which killed millions of Ukrainians.
The author is confident – what is happening in Ukraine is “russian fascism.”
“I think it’s important to call it russian fascism. It’s a fascist attempt of one country to devour another. We know what happened in Bucha because it was de-occupied but there will be hundreds of “Buchas.” Therefore, we have to help Ukraine win and arm Ukraine until the last russian leaves,”
The journalist writes based on his significant experience of working in the region. He was The Guardian’s Moscow bureau chief between 2007 and 2011. In February 2011, the Kremlin deported him from the country in the first case of its kind since the Cold War.
“The russian military operation went wrong because they thought the victory would happen within a week and they already choreographed the triumphant parade down Khreschatyk in the center of Kyiv… But Ukrainians are not russians despite putin constantly claiming the opposite. Ukrainians are pretty anarchistic in a good way. You tell them what to do, they do something else. They are used to having a contractual relationship with authority since the Cossacks times dating back to XVI-XVII centuries. Ukrainians are cool, Kyiv is cool. Ukraine by 2022 wasn’t a gloomy, Soviet backwater, but an absolutely European country with every right to join the EU,” the author emphasized.
Talking about Volodymyr Zelenskyi, Harding admitted the president's ability to appeal to universal values and different audiences globally. “I think the Ukrainian president is basically a leader of the free world… He persuaded the world that it’s not “his” struggle but “our” struggle and it’s true. If Ukraine falls, then putin will keep going. He stole Crimea, now he wants the whole Ukraine. It’s clear he would go after Moldova, he doesn’t like the Baltic states at all, he would love to smash the Poles. If putin wins, he will remodel the international order. It will be a nihilistic world where big countries can chew up small ones, basically like in the XIX century. So it’s a civilizational war, a war of ideas,” Harding highlighted.
Simultaneously, the journalist noted he doesn’t believe in a “palace coup” for putin nor does he see a scenario where a new benign leader stops the war. "That is why we need russia to be defeated," he stressed.
The author commented on the history of Western appeasement towards Russia, whose targeting of the freedom of speech and the annexation of Crimea were met with disproportionally weak sanctions. Subsequently, putin came to view European leaders as scattered and indecisive.
“Germany became addicted to russian gas and the UK became addicted to russian money. We allowed Russian oligarchs to buy newspapers, football teams, the most expensive properties in London, to live in the UK and send their kids to private schools, and to get British passports,” Harding said.
However, he noted he is glad to see strong solidarity with as well as military and economic support for Ukraine issued by the West since Feb. 24, 2022.
“I heard that European solidarity lasts and it’s not just for a year. We recognize Ukraine as a European country and it will be a member of the EU. If russia leaves it alone for 5 seconds, it would be a super successful country,” Harding concluded.
Photos by Stephan Schulz, Kvitka Perehinets, Maya Zakhovaiko