The Right to Exist

  • National Newswatch

In 2002, my wife and I were invited to speak to congressional leaders in Washington D.C. and to address the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the civil war between north and south Sudan.  We had just returned from the region, and the Americans held great interest in the unfolding conflict.While meeting with the Democratic Black Caucus chair, Donald Payne, in his office, an intelligence officer burst into the room with satellite photographs of the bombing of a defenceless southern Sudanese village by northern MIG jets.  The atmosphere became immediately electric, and within three days, special meetings were held to determine the U.S. response to the atrocity.  At one point, while briefing Republican Senator Sam Brownback in his office, one official reminded us all that the north wanted everyone to forget that south Sudan even existed.A year ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin said something similar, publishing an article claiming that there “was no historical basis for Ukraine,” going on to state that it really didn't exist.  He continues to maintain that Ukraine isn't a real country and acts as though its territory belongs to Russia.This seems ludicrous to us, but to the Ukrainians, it is history.In 1932, a human-made famine was enforced on Ukraine by Joseph Stalin and the Politburo.  Decisions were made that deepened the famine across the entire countryside, and Ukrainian farms, villages, and towns were placed on a Soviet blacklist denying the right to food.  By the time it was done, almost four million Ukrainians had starved to death.But Russia wasn't finished.  It kept the vast tragedy a secret for decades so that others wouldn't learn of its culpability.  But as the Soviet Union faltered and fell in the 1990s, details of what happened were circulated across the globe.  Countries began to officially recognize the tragedy.  I was honoured to be a part of the May 2008 Parliament that officially recognized the great famine that came to be called Holodomor.  By 2019, 15 other countries, and the Vatican, passed resolutions declaring that “Joseph Stalin and those around him committed genocide against the Ukrainians in 1932-1933.”This is important because it is history, despite the Russian attempt to pretend it didn't exist.  It is forever embedded in the hearts of the Ukrainian people, whether it is recognized elsewhere or not, and is likely one of the key reasons for their fearlessness in the present conflict.Fortunately, this modern world of instant communications has kept Russia's current attempt to obliterate towns, villages and cities off of the map from being kept under wraps.  The world sees what is happening, and every drone attack, every bombing of the infrastructure that keeps Ukrainians alive, and all those killed during the Russian invasion, is chronicled and broadcast in great detail across the face of the earth.  These are war crimes, and they will be remembered.  Russia's only real hope of having any kind of partnership in the family of nations is to lose this war and to at last acknowledge that Ukraine and its people have, in fact, always existed and have successfully fought for that right to exist.North Sudan's attempt to wipe out the south eventually became news and the global community responded with sanctions and legal actions.  The president of the north in those years now awaits a war crimes trial, and the people of South Sudan, for all their struggles, have been recognized as their own country by other nations.This is the fate that awaits Putin and his country.  The oppressed have prevailed, not just because of western support but because of the collective memory of the Ukrainians.  Not only have they not been forgotten, they have now become the heroes of the world.Glen Pearson was a career professional firefighter and is a former Member of Parliament from southwestern Ontario. He and his wife adopted three children from South Sudan and reside in London, Ontario. He has been the co-director of the London Food Bank for 35 years. He writes regularly for the London Free Press and also shares his views on a blog entitled “The Parallel Parliament“. Follow him on twitter @GlenPearson.