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Our Enemies Will Vanish: A Book Review

By Manoel Chavanne

This book was recommended to me by my British friend Ralf saying something along the lines of “Even if you've followed the full scale invasion of Ukraine fairly closely you will learn a lot by reading this book.” So of course I had to read it and I have to admit that it stands up to the praise it received. Yaroslav Trofimov, a Ukrainian journalist born in Kyiv, is the chief foreign-affairs correspondent of The Wall Street Journal and was one of the three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in international reporting these past two years in a row.

Our Enemies Will Vanish - The Russian Invasion and Ukraine's War of Independence by Yaroslav Trofimov

In this recent publication Trofimov takes his readers throughout Ukraine from just before the full scale invasion to almost the end of 2023, as this essay was published at the beginning of this year. The book is composed of 48 fairly short chapters each one telling a separate story, trip, battle, political decision or all sorts of events that either had a significant impact on the current war or that the author and his two coworkers witnessed first-hand. At the beginning, for context, there are also a few chapters covering the “Revolution of Dignity”, the annexation of Crimea and the 8 years leading up to the full scale invasion in February 2022. It's in these chapters that the author mentions this infuriating statement Obama made in 2015 when he explained to The Atlantic that “Ukraine is going to be vulnerable to military domination by Russia no matter what we do.”

A Ukrainian soldier runs down the stairs of the bombed regional government

headquarters building on Kharkiv’s central Freedom Square, March 2022.

Another example of a short passage from the book I found as appalling as enraging is this quote: “Love it or not, endure it, my beauty,” Putin said about Ukraine at a February 7 press conference with Macron in Moscow. It was a play on a well-known song by the Russian punk rock band Red Mildew, popular during his younger years in the 1980s and 1990s. “The beauty’s lying in a coffin, and I’ve crept up to fuck her,” the song’s full lyrics went. “Love it or not, keep sleeping, my beauty.”” In case you're in doubt this abhorrent quote comes from February 7th 2022 so just a couple of weeks before Putin launched his revolting full scale invasion. It goes without saying that any human, let alone a country leader, using rape and necrophilia in a single line while justifying his decisions by pretending to be the victim must have serious mental issues.

These chapters are followed by several examples of Ukrainian resistance highlighting the famous and influential “Russian warship go f@ck yourself!” story of course or Zelensky's notorious “I need ammo, not a ride” which apparently he actually never said even though it represents the mindset of the President, Kyiv residents and the majority of the Ukrainian people that day and ever since. Through his travels and narration of events Trofimov highlights countless examples of Ukrainian resilience and bravery but also emphasizes how, even if many Ukrainians do speak Russian, they are culturally, temperamentally and mentality-wise very different from each other.

Ukrainian rescue teams remove the charred bodies of two civilians who

had been killed in a Russian Grad rocket attack on Kharkiv, April 2022.

A further chapter recounts a battle near Izyum with a couple of funny anecdotes. At one point the author was hiding in a basement as the city was being shelled and in the kitchen area of the basement there was a sign reading “Tidy up after yourself, you’re not a Muscovite.” Later in this same section of the book the author talked of meeting a commander of the Ukrainian Armed Forces hopefully in Izyum (a city South East of Kharkiv's Oblast, which would have meant Ukraine gaining ground) and the commander replied jokingly “Or maybe, why not, in Moscow?”

Interesting fact for those who don't speak Ukrainian or have never read a translation of the Ukrainian anthem the title comes from the first 4 words of this extract, here's how a few lines are translated in the book:

Our enemies will vanish,

Like dew at sunrise,

And we, oh brothers, will become the masters once again

Of our own land.”

Unfortunately even though the lyrics were written in 1862 they are still quite relevant today as Ukrainians have to defend their territorial integrity one more time. This is despite the Budapest Memorandum signed by the US, UK, Russia and Ukraine in 1994 where it was agreed that Ukraine would give back the nuclear weapons it held from the USSR in exchange for the guarantee that others would “Respect the signatory's independence and sovereignty in the existing borders.” It makes you wonder what the point of signing international treaties is, recognizing that out of the four signatories I just mentioned Ukraine is the only one that did what it agreed to do yet it is still the one suffering the most. Russia quite obviously failed but so did the US and UK, even though they are helping now, Ukrainian borders have been violated more than 10 years ago already. This makes one wonder what would have happened had Ukraine kept its nukes in the 1990s, would we be in the situation we are in now? Would Crimea still be Ukrainian? What might authoritarian leaders in other countries think and do when they see what is happening here? I'll let you ponder these and the consequences potentially stemming from basic logical conclusions.


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