Hill Times | 11May2015 | Oksana Bashuk Hepburn

Russia must be stopped

It is heart-wrenching that once again Ukraine must fight the repeat offender

I am looking at old footage of Berlin after it was liberated by the First Ukrainian Division at the end of World War II. The scene is familiar.

I was there, in the rubble of ruined cities, hiding behind pock-marked walls; shocked by the blown up roads, carcasses of destroyed cars, burned villages, torn up fields with cavities large enough to swallow buildings; and inching forward in the endless snake of humanity, a tear-stained child dropping from exhaustion. We left our lives behind with only one thought: get away from this hell. Eventually, Canada took us in.

It was to have been the end of all wars: the "never-again". Yet, 70 years later, war is raging in Europe once again, ironically, on the same territory. The blood lands of Ukraine, where some 20 million perished, were exiled to the Gulag, or fled, during the war years, are being re-enacted by the Russian autocrat violating the world order.

My family arrived in Canada in 1949. The journey lasted some eight years. It was filled with hunger and deprivation and with arrests, beatings, murder, death and displacement. A formerly wonderful world, it became Hitler's and Stalin's bloody banquet. Family members died on the front; no one knows where or when. My father was captured by the Gestapo and incarcerated in Auschwitz. The Nazis imprisoned my mother and beat her until her back was minced meat.

The post-war period was no better. Just as politically-naive leaders had failed to grant statehood to Ukraine after World War I, their successors repeated the mistake after World War II and handed over a reconstituted Ukraine -- the area under Austo Hungary then under Poland -- to Russia.

In fact, for Western Ukrainians, the war never ended. They were "too infected" by the West for Moscow's Communist leaders who slurred them as "fascists and Nazis", a practice they still use today. There were repressions and ethnic cleansing of millions to create living space for Russian nationals. My family was scattered from Poland to the Gulag. The Russian language was imposed and Communist propaganda became supreme. Religion was forbidden except for the official Russian Orthodox Church. This was done to prevent further Westernization.

Today, Russia's policy is identical. But Ukraine is saying no.

Today, Berlin is rebuilt. The death, smoking ruins, fleeing refugees, and crying children wandering through empty streets left to fend for themselves are gone, but they've moved to eastern Ukraine.

I am crying with them. I am the lost child again. I am the aging woman boiling rain water on a tiny fire in the middle of the street among the ruins. I am the patriot soldier -- not a fascist! -- castrated to "eliminate the Khachky", Ukrainians. I am his violated young wife.

So where are the lessons learned? Why, after the horrors of the war, the years of autocratic excesses by the U.S.S.R., the dangers of Cold War did we decide to trust the Russians with the exclusive control of the former U.S.S.R.'s nuclear capability? Invited them to join the G-8? Looked into their eyes? Wined and dined with their oligarchs, and reset buttons? Now Ukrainians die, the world is unstable and we must deal with the mess.

I take a deep breath knowing that in Canada we're safe. Safe, because things we take for granted really matter -- the rule of law, free elections, separation of power, punishment for abuses of office or officialdom's corruption. All are essential ingredients to making us a humane, stable and generous nation. Ukrainians want this. It is heart wrenching that once again they must fight the repeat offender.

We must find a way to deal with Russia. We must sting its perverse leaders with ever more powerful sanctions, shun them internationally and if that does not help, hit them militarily.

We did it before because it was the right thing to do; it saved us. We must do it again.

Oksana Bashuk Hepburn, the former president of a consulting firm brokering interests between Canada and Ukraine, is an opinion writer.
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The Hill Times