At a central square in Kharkiv, a slogan greets visitors ‘We’re Together, We’re Kharkiv’. On the face of it, it looks like a gung-ho slogan one would expect to see in a country fighting a war but Kharkiv also holds answers to some important and key questions surrounding the war narrative.
The slogan also speaks a hard political truth and shows that this is not a mere slogan. The ‘we’ in Kharkiv means people who are predominantly Russian speaking and they are an overwhelming majority in the city which was recently liberated from Russian troops.
But Russian-speaking Kharkiv burst into celebrations when Russian troops were defeated and forced to depart.
Language and Loyalty
To be Russian speaking and to be Russian are quite different matters. The inability to see that, or to accept it if he sees it, lies at the heart of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine.
However, this is not just applicable to Kharkiv, it applies to everyone living along eastern belt of Ukraine, particularly the Donbas region, that includes primarily the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.
Most people living in this belt speak Russian, just like Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who can speak both Ukrainian and Russian with ease.
But by Putin’s logic, Zelensky should be a Russia loyalist – since he speaks Russian – and so should everyone living along Ukraine’s eastern belt.
The old Soviet umbrella over both Russia and Ukraine under Moscow’s writ explains much of this.
“We had a lot of Russian schools in Ukraine before, so a lot of people speak Russian, Mariia tells CNN-News18. “We just got used to the language. But all people support Ukraine and want to live in Ukraine. Nobody wants to be Russian.”
Sasha in Saltivka suburb of Kharkiv sits across two languages but not two loyalties.
“When I heard explosions on February 24, I could not believe the war had started,” he tells CNN-News18. “Russians came here and fired artillery into our homes. Nobody could understand who needed this and why.”
Sasha says that like most people there he speaks both Ukrainian and Russian. “But we hate Russians,” Sasha adds.
Kharkiv does have the simple answer to that important question. Putin faces opposition from the very people he claims are his and that he has set out to own.
It was visible in Kharkiv and the same sentiment could well surface in Donbas region. Putin claims that in these regions the prevailing sentiment is ‘Russia Forever’ but it could slowly turn to ‘Russia Never’ as the war rages on.
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