Kimmy Baggelaar, former NVI Intern, is teaching English in Prague.
She kindly shared her take on Ukraine from that vantage point.
"The sound of bombs rang out over the cities of Ukraine." Using his new vocabulary words, my English student created an aptly harrowing sentence to describe the past week's events. We moved on with the lesson as if he had just told me what he had for lunch.
Here in Prague, about 1000km away from the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, an existential dread grips the city. Over 1,000,000 Ukrainian civilians fled their homes as 2,000 Russian civilian protesters were arrested in what is now the most significant war in Europe since WWII. Last Saturday, newspapers reported a vast mobilisation effort across the Czech Republic as Prague witnessed the first train of Ukrainian refugees (predominantly women and children) arrive after their journey through Poland. Hospitals prepared to treat civilians and soldiers while neighbours quickly readied emergency accommodations, converting buildings into shelters and offering up beds in their homes. Czech Railways enlisted trains to help transport Ukrainian citizens to safety as donation sites materialised across the city, providing food and medical necessities to the new refugees.
Beneath this widespread humanitarian effort is a growing fear within former Soviet bloc countries. Many Czech people see the violent imperialism of Putin's regime as a threatening reminder of the occupation they endured not so long ago. Organisations throughout Prague are fundraising for Ukrainian military aid. Both domestic and international news media highlight the unwavering resolve of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has received public admiration for his courage this week. Instead of evacuating Kyiv at the directive of the United States, Zelenskyy responded, “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride,”.
This story, as well as Zelenskyy’s recent public addresses, have helped shape a charismatic narrative in support of the Ukrainian army's 'struggle for freedom and democracy'. It paves a well-defined path with a clear enemy and an arch towards justice. Of the 80,000 war protesters that took to the streets in Prague last Saturday, it seemed that most were open to US intervention and further militarisation of the region. It is difficult to find perspectives that challenge this discourse.
Another one of my English students fought back tears when I asked about her 19-year-old son. "He is still a child, he can't be called on to fight this war, '' she told me with warranted trepidation.
The time is overdue for us to collectively interrogate the roots of this conflict and commit ourselves to anti-imperialism. International solidarity will require us to divest from the global killing apparatus of US militarism and condemn NATO aggression in the 30 years leading up to its hegemonic power struggle with Russia. The implications of Western interventionism have not only contributed to the invasion of Ukraine, but also the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine and more. Peace from these global wars must include divestment from the weapons profiteers that influence state violence and maintain the Military Industrial Complex. We must work towards a world that is free from nuclear threat. It is vital for the US government to shut down its military bases abroad. The Pentagon is currently deploying US armoured combat teams to eastern Europe as NATO is moving multinational battalion-size battlegroups further east- a move that is certain to escalate tensions in neighbouring NATO countries. We have an opportunity to confront Russian warmongering and Western interventionism with international support for all people who endure the violent impacts of imperialism. In the EU and US, we can provide safe refuge for the working class, youth and all vulnerable people who find no honour in sacrificing their lives for territorial expansion or patriotic duty.
As their bodies are brutalized by bombs and pierced by bullets, it is the masses who will suffer the death tremors of this war and the next. International solidarity with refugees of war starts with acting against imperialism.