photo from the demonstration in Prague on March 24, on a chair is a Russian flag from the de-occupied city of Kupyansk (Kharkiv region, Ukraine), photo made by Andriy Kravchuk
“There is a huge difference between perceiving and understanding the war when you see the consequences of the “russian world” through your smartphone and by your own eyes”.
Anastasia Sihnaevska, USCC representative in the Czech Republic, with a live report from Kupyansk and analysis of the geopolitical influence of Russia in the material for the Ukrainian Security and Cooperation Centre (hereinafter – the author’s direct speech).
Recently I had a chance to visit the Kharkiv region. Unfortunately, the Kharkiv region was “lucky” to have a border with russia, so the russian army managed to capture part of the region almost immediately and stayed there from February until September 2022, when the Ukrainian army counterattacked and liberated Ukrainian territories.
Now Kupiansk and the suburban village of Kupiansk-Vuzlovyi, where I arrived, look more like a total wreck: burnt military equipment, burnt civilian cars, a damaged bridge and houses that were left with only a pile of bricks after artillery hits.
We came closer to the Kupiansk city administration: a Ukrainian flag flies on the flagpole, and one of the walls is covered with huge graffiti that reads “Kupiansk is Ukraine ”.
Right next to this sign is a pile of construction waste: frames and glass from windows, plastic bags, bricks and the russian tricolor. I asked the soldier next to me: “What’s this?”, pointing to the flag of the aggressor state. “It was on all the government buildings here. Many people did not believe that we would be able to get the enemy out of here, but the first thing everyone needs now is to believe and support the Armed Forces, and then we will do everything. Now each flag is in its place.“
This flag is an illustration of how russia’s presence only poisons everything around it, and the aggressor state’s place is in isolation from the civilized world. Similarly, the chair in the UN Security Council still occupied by russia prevents the organization from fulfilling its original purpose – to protect the world from war. By its influence on the internal political situation in European countries, russian propaganda is trying to turn society against its own states and against Ukraine.
For example, the Czech Republic, where I came after the full-scale invasion, is an example of a country that is still forced to fight russian influence and knows first-hand what the Kremlin’s occupation is. On 21 August 1968, thousands of Soviet troops arrived on the territory of former Czechoslovakia, and Soviet tanks drove through the center of Prague. The occupation was accompanied by numerous protests, with Czechs placing posters on various buildings with inscriptions in the Russian language that “There is no vodka, go home“, “We did not invite you“, etc. But despite all their efforts, Soviet troops remained in the country for more than 20 years, and history was filled with the names of hundreds of fallen fighters against communism. Even a country that is now a member of the EU and NATO still has to defend its democracy.
The historical experience and national memory of the Czechs regarding the war were shaped by the Munich Agreement, which was treacherous to Czechoslovakia when the Sudetenland was transferred to Nazi Germany. Later, the Prague Spring of 1968, which was aimed at liberalizing the communist regime, ended with the occupation of the country by the Soviet Union. This is what allows the Czech society to better understand russia’s actions and Ukrainian calls that russia will not stop at the Ukrainian borders. By supporting Ukraine, the Czechs are also protecting themselves.
Fortunately, both the Czech government and the public demonstrate a pro-Ukrainian position, as they elected former NATO general Petr Pavel as their president in the last election. He, unlike his pro-Russian opponent Andrej Babiš, expresses his absolute readiness to support Ukraine until its victory.
However, in each society, there is a part of the population that is susceptible to disinformation, and russia is taking advantage of this. Under the guise of anti-government sentiment, the machine of russian propaganda is trying to “push” the idea of stopping support for Ukraine: the latest allegedly anti-government protests in Prague have as one of their demands the stopping of arms supplies to Ukraine and the demise of the government, which is our powerful partner. These methods are not new or unique to the Czech Republic, as a similar situation exists in Moldova, Germany, and Serbia.
Pro-Russian demonstration in the Czech Republic, October 12, 2022 – source PrahaIN.cz
Russian propaganda’s attempts to create the impression that the Czech public is not only unsupportive but also opposed to helping Ukraine have failed. All of these demonstrations, even if thousands of protesters are bussed in from different parts of the country, are not representative of the Czech Republic at all. Public pressure from the Czech pro-democratic community has produced practical results on issues important to Ukraine, from the need to supply more weapons to, for example, the Senate’s resolution against the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in the Olympics.
These decisions of the Czech authorities can serve as an example and motivation for public pressure not to stop, but only to intensify. The participation of each country in blocking and condemning the activities of the russian federation should ultimately lead to the result of russia’s expulsion from the UN Security Council and its disappearance from political interaction with the world.
Anastasia Sihnaevska, co-coordinator of the Czech-Ukrainian initiative «Hlas Ukrajiny»
for Ukrainian Security and Cooperation Centre, 20 March 2023