Today, by a remarkable coincidence, one day after I posted about the Bloodlands as they were called by Timothy Snyder, Winnipeg Free Press columnist Allan Levine commented on the same issue based on Snyder’s other book. Levine’s maternal grandfather born in those Bloodlands west of Kyiv. He was 12 years old when World I broke out and 15 years old when Lenin and the Bolsheviks seized control of Russia after the horrors of that war. In my post I quoted how as Snyder said this in his book The Road to Unfreedom, “together, some ten million people were killed in a decade as a result of two rival colonizations of the same Ukrainian territory”.
Levine’s grandfather was a Jew who lived in a part of that region that was constantly fought over by various powerful and brutal forces. This reminded me of another book I had recently read by Phillipe Sands called East West Street. It is a fascinating book about the origins of the notion of crimes against humanity and genocide. It is no accident that a number of the most important people involved in that history also came from that same region. One of them was Rafael Lemkin who invented the word “genocide.” He came from Lviv a city much in the news these past 2 months, but I had never heard of it before I read that book. Here is a section of the opening chapter of the book about that city:
“Between September 1914 and July 1944 control of the city changed eight times. After a long spell as the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s “Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria and the Grand Duchy of Kraków with the Duchies of Auschwitz and Zator”—yes it is that Auschwitz—the city passed from the hands of Austria to Russia, then back to Austria, then briefly to western Ukraine, then to Poland, then to the Soviet Union, then to Germany, then back to Soviet Union, and finally to Ukraine where control resides today…the streets of Lviv are a microcosm of Europe’s turbulent twentieth century, the focus of bloody conflicts that tore cultures apart.”
It is like hyenas and lions fighting over a carcass. During these times the city never moved, but its name changed many times from Lemberg, Lviv, Lvov, and Lwów. Now Putin wants to rip it back into Russia one more time and he doesn’t care about how many people he has to kill to do that or whether they are women or children.
Levine’s grandfather was lucky—very lucky—to escape to Canada in 1921. Levine says that during the 12 years of 1933 to 1945, “upwards of 50 million civilians and soldiers were killed during those 12 terrible years.” I think he meant they were killed around the world. But this was the bloodiest part of that world because more than 10 million people died there. But that was then; this is now. As Levine said,
“Now, with the atrocities perpetrated by Russian soldiers on Ukrainian civilians near Kyiv, Mariupol, Bucha, and other cities, Russian President Vladimir Putin has once again reignited the horrors of the bloodlands. And to what end?”
Levine quotes from Snyder’s other book, Bloodlands, about how Stalin and Hitler “pursued transformative agendas with no concern for the lives of individual human beings.” That is what fascist dictators do. And that is exactly what Putin is now doing. He, like them, is trying to build up a society on the basis of lives which are meant to be sacrificed. And sacrifice them Hitler and Stalin did and now Putin wants to do exactly the same thing. This is another great moment in history. Are we up to the challenge of confronting this radical evil? That is why this issue is so important and why I am obsessed with what is happening in Ukraine. I fear there will be more blood.