How Russia Took My Home Twice Under The Pretext Of Liberation

Photo: Serhii Mykhalchuk / Shutterstock
irpin ukraine

As a Russian-speaking Ukrainian who grew up in Crimea in the 1990s, I know Putin’s playbook for invasion and destruction first hand. Russia has invaded my land twice. First in Crimea, now in the Ukrainian city of Irpin as Russian forces attempt to overtake Kyiv. With their tanks and missiles, once again Russia’s military is murdering children and crushing lives — to save me. An Orwellian future I never imagined.

Still, I’m lucky. Many others have lost much more — including the lives of their families, friends, and children. Can you imagine what it’s like to lose everything just in one week?

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On February 24, Russia lashed out with a war against Ukraine on the bogus pretext of “liberating Russian speakers” and denazifying the country.

On March 12, Russian forces made a futile attempt to conduct a forced “referendum” on temporarily occupied southern territories. The referendum’s intent was to unite several cities into a “Kherson People’s Republic.” Once again, under the barrels of tanks and guns.

As a philosophy faculty graduate with a major in political science and a minor in history, I couldn’t fail but notice a common pattern — a playbook for Russia’s actions. Eight years ago, another fictitious referendum took away a part of my life in Crimea.

In the past, Putin has used the false premise of “saving” a nation by sending in troops, repressing the dissidents, and orchestrating a referendum with a high voter turnout to show how people welcomed “Russkiy Mir” — the “Russian World.”

From Wikipedia:

A referendum (noun) is a direct vote by the electorate on a proposal, law, or political issue. This is in contrast to an issue being voted on by a representative. The voting is held in support of the most important issues of national, regional, or local significance. It’s the most important tool of direct democracy.”

So how can totalitarian powers use the most democratic process as a tool for imposing forceful governance?

Let me explain.

Dictatorships can’t exist without an idea — a grand, sweeping idea. The main pillars of dictatorships are the sacred ideas of “bringing salvation,” leading a “chosen” nation, and “reclaiming what’s rightfully ours.”

Russia and Putin use all of these narratives. They provoke “civil conflicts,” sow destruction and destroy the lives of entire generations by covering it up with the idea of seeding the “Russian World” and saving the Russian speakers.

But every time they lead a “holy war” to save Russian speakers within the territory of one country or another, their alternate intent becomes more clear — their desire to promote Russian people and cultural dominance over any other national identities. Undeniably, this is happening in Ukraine.

For centuries, Russia has not only tried to steal our history and cultural heritage but has blatantly destroyed Ukraine’s right to be a sovereign state. That’s the third of the mentioned pattern — “taking back what’s mine.”

That’s why, prior to firing missiles at Ukrainian cities, Putin released a long history lecture on national television, where he drilled the same idea into the citizen’s heads — that Ukraine does not exist as a county. There is no language. There is no culture.

There is no right to exist. It was Lenin who created Ukraine, he falsely said. Ukraine is Russian land allegedly temporarily captured by some imagined Nazis. This means that the great Russian people 1) must be saved and 2) the lands must be returned to the bosom of the Russian state. Once again, this propaganda-based narrative is hardly new and has surfaced many times during the course of Ukrainian-Russian relationships.

“We have been left no other option to protect Russia and our people, but for the one that we will be forced to use today. The situation requires us to take decisive and immediate action. The people’s republics of Donbas turned to Russia with a request for help.” Putin before firing missiles at Ukrainian cities.

In the temporarily occupied eastern territories of Ukraine, where so-called referendums were held in 2014, this narrative has been told for decades. Through radio, newspapers, TV, and even leaflets anonymously dropped in post boxes.

People were intimidated by stories about nonexistent Ukrainian Nazis or forceful “Ukrainization” (whatever that means). They were led to believe that someone will deny them their right to speak the Russian language, or even torture them to do so.

My family fell victim to Russian propaganda. My Crimean-dwelling grandmother succumbed to every word uttered from the TV by Russian propaganda-spreading channels. Together with her granny girlies, she kept seeking nonexistent NATO buses and was scared of the Americans and “Western Nationalists.”

She kept berating the “dying Europe” and idolizing the “Russian World.” My grandmother never left Crimea. Her only link to the outer world was the lying Russian media. She stayed aloof to all logical arguments or reasons.

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During the 2004 Orange Revolution, when the whole country rose against the rigged elections, my grandma made her final judgment.

“You are no longer my kin,” she told my mom and me. “You are under substances, a gas that brainwashes you into joining the revolution,” she said. It was painful to hear this, especially from a highly educated person who also happened to be my grandmother. However, this perfectly illustrates how Russian propaganda sets the stage for further action.

Was this “fake referendum” playbook only used in Ukraine? Let’s dive into the history of former U.S.S.R. countries. When you analyze the history of self-proclaimed republics — TransnistriaAbkhaziaSouth OssetiaCrimeaDonbas — you can trace the following patterns:

  • An internal conflict, cooked up by Russian propaganda. The main premise is an alleged suppression of pro-Russian tendencies by the government.
  • Separatism, self-proclamation of independence of the pro-Russian part of the country.
  • Military aid from Russia to separatists, positioning of Russian troops at occupied territories.
  • A civil conflict with Russia unofficially backing separatists but actually leading the assault.
  • The mass fleeing of local populations (over 80%) with heavy repressions with those against the new pro-Russian policies.
  • A forced referendum with untrustworthy results which are not recognized by anyone other than satellite entities created by Russia. Typically, 97% of voters choose “yes” to pro-Russian politics.
  • The territories remain in disputed status; Russian military forces are permanently stated there.
  • At any time, Russia can attack under the pretext of saving the separatists or allegedly at their request (Georgia, Ukraine).

Now in 2022, Russia is attempting to play the same hand in Kherson. Russia needs Kherson to get a land connection between Donbas and Crimea.

But this time they’ll fail because the residents of the Kherson region are well aware of the devastating consequences of the “Russian world” — the ones we saw in Donbas and Crimea.

Generations have changed, values have changed. Ukrainians have become more prosperous, well-traveled, and more open to alternative vectors of development.

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Dmytro Kuleba, Foreign Minister of Ukraine wrote:

“Using a playbook from 2014, Russia desperately tries to make another sham ‘referendum’ to proclaim a ‘people republic’ in Kherson. The support amongst people is nonexistent. It’s total fiction. Harsh sanctions must be imposed against Russia if they attempt to do so. Kherson has always been and always will be Ukraine.”

I agree with every word. Even in besieged cities of Kherson, Berdyansk, and Melitopol, residents risk their lives to show defiance. They curse the occupiers, who are pointing guns at them, and urge them to go home, leave our land, leave our county.

It’s now apparent to everyone but Russia that Ukraine doesn’t want to join up the “Russian World.” Ukrainians are united in their battle against it — against this plague and a stale past we don’t want to live in. With our defiance, we say “no” to sham referendums and bogus voting results. Because for us democracy means fighting for our freedom.

Alice Korzh is the Head of Brand and PR at, and a digital marketing consultant. She has a degree in political science.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.