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The borders of Europe have shifted eastwards

By Oleh Saakyan, co-founder of the Ukrainian National Platform for Resilience and Social Cohesion

2022 brought a geopolitical tsunami. It was a year when old ideas and assumptions gave way to new realities. War returned to Europe – something unthinkable one year ago. The events of 2022 will be scrutinized by historians for years to come.

A Defining Moment

Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine reminded the world that attempts to build personal utopias behind ‘high walls’, are fruitless. Many empires have crumbled while pursuing this path.

No doubt when awakening on 24 February 2022, many eurocrats found themselves in the same position as the patricians of the Roman Empire over a thousand years ago, when they learned about the invasion of the Vandals. History repeats itself, and a strategy of trying to save one’s own oasis, while the world around you is in chaos, is futile.

In 2022 the world was forced to face reality. Democracy was retreating as illiberal, revanchist, and repressive regimes became bolder. Years of short-sighted policies left the European Union (EU) in a particularly perilous situation.

Rather than taking steps to strengthen its own security and prosperity, the EU had foolishly become dangerously dependent on third countries, buying cheap energy from Russia, and cheap goods from China, while its security depended on political stability in the United States (US).

2023 will become the year of European resilience, self-sufficiency, and greater strategic autonomy. Ukraine, is already one step ahead, having begun this process in 2022.

Russia’s invasion shattered all illusions that a deal could be struck with the Kremlin, that transformations were possible through compromises within the old system, as well as illusions about the strength of the international order and the right to its protection. Ukrainians are paying dearly for having forgotten what type of country Russia is.

2022 – The year of the perfect storm

Tragic as it may be for Ukraine, our society was well prepared for this new reality. Centuries of living in a permanent storm have made Ukrainians resilient and innovative, providing society with crucial survival skills.

The thorny path to independence in 1991, two revolutions, and the start of the war in 2014, prepared us for the 2022 war and the geopolitical storm. When it comes to psychology, resources, and institutions, Ukrainians were better prepared for such a full-scale war than the citizens of most countries around the world.

While the western world was waking up to the reality of 24 February, Ukraine hit the ground running, working out its own policies, identifying key needs, and formulating strategies, and solutions, and has been doing so ever since.

While Ukraine may seem to be lacking in resources, Ukrainians have ideas. Support for Ukraine in the form of weapons and funds is a case in point.

This is why Ukrainians are admired by democratic societies. We are a democracy that fights, setting an example for the world. We have the ‘moral’ upper hand in our David -v- Goliath battle.

We have demonstrated intelligence and individuality, proving that this is not merely a battle between small and large post-Soviet countries and armies. Ukraine began to form its own identity.

While we have not yet completely answered the question “who are we” (even within our society), 2022 nevertheless became a mirror we managed to look into and see that bravery is our brand.

We are determined and audacious enough to rise to the current challenges head-on and prepare for new ones. The post-war recovery and reconstruction will be another major test.

The Soviet Union’s demise

Many people were fooled into believing that the USSR collapsed in 1991. In fact, it survived in a half-dismantled form until 2022.

How will the USSR’s final death impact Ukraine? We will no longer experience post-Soviet dependence on Russia for energy, the oligarchs who misappropriated Soviet resources will no longer exist, Soviet military equipment is running out, and the old Soviet aesthetics of public spaces are being destroyed.

It is being replaced by a new, modern Ukraine. Yes, perhaps we would have preferred a gradual rather than a shock transition, but Russia made this choice for us and is completing what we failed to fully accomplish during three decades. In the only instance where Putin was honest, he promised to show us real decommunisation — and he is.

The initiation of a new political generation

The transitional generation is not to everyone’s liking. It has weaknesses and defects which developed in the 1990s and became vocal in the early 2000s. Although this generation, like its predecessors, still has time to make mistakes, it is the generation of an already-independent Ukraine.

It has different values. It has been toughened up through different life experiences and it demands real change.

This is the generation that is teaching itself, Ukrainian society, and political elites to be Ukrainians and build a strong and democratic Ukraine. They came to power in the last elections, and today they are proving that this was not by chance.

No more borders

In 2022, the EU and Ukraine’s borders finally came down, and we returned to Europe. Ukraine and Europe discovered each other, and our country is now clearly seen as part of the European space.

While a European teenager of today may not know the flags of all European nations, he will be able to identify three – his country, the EU, and Ukraine. For him, Ukrainians are an integral part of a single European space.

The borders of Europe have shifted eastwards, right up to the border with Russia.

While we are gradually picturing our future victory, in 2023 we will need to create the image of Russia’s defeat. We must finally convince the world that Russia’s defeat is inevitable.

After all, they now fear the collapse of Russia no less than ours. And this is the last fear that Putin lucratively trades on, as all others have already been overcome.