When we began to put this issue together, the course of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine was still uncertain. As we go to print, some 15,000 Russian soldiers and several thousand – it’s not known how many – Ukrainian combatants have already died. Up to 14 million Ukrainians have fled their homes, including the 6.6 million who have left the country. Most have gone west (over half are in Poland), but nearly a million people have been bussed over the border to Russia, voluntary and involuntary refugees processed and dispersed to halls and schools across the country. Many people have fled Russia, too, in the wake of Putin’s hardening repression, temporarily or for good.
Most of the refugees are likely to eventually return (many already have), and cities will, I suppose, be rebuilt. But Putin will be remembered for war crimes, kleptocracy, and a grandiose and vacant ideology of aggrieved nationalism, military hubris, patriarchal orthodoxy and brutal homophobia. By the time you read this, things will look different again. We might have peace.We might have been drawn into war. Or – most probably – the conflict will develop into something in-between, a prolonged and inconclusive war turning into a running sore of global politics.
In this issue, Sana Valiulina reminds us of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, the Soviet–Nazi agreement to carve up Eastern and Central Europe between the two would-be empires. Channel 4 News’ international editor Lindsey Hilsum’s ‘Letters from Ukraine’ gives a rare insight into war reporting from behind the scenes – lodging where you can find it, air raid sirens, international colleagues, the serendipity of good interviews. Journalist Daniel Trilling collates fragments from his interviews over the years with refugees from different war zones, to reveal, with the greatest of gentleness, the condition of exile. Volodymyr Rafeyenko, Ukrainian writer and poet, was in his home, a borrowed dacha near Kyiv (he and his wife had fled once already, years ago, from the conflict in Donbas), when the invasion began. Shrapnel and shells fell on roads and gardens. First the internet connection failed, then the electricity. The Rafeyenkos fled, with difficulty, and later found out that civilians