The Ukrainian revolution that took place on Kiev’s Independence Square in February unleashed a chain of irreversible events for Ukraine, and in some mystical fashion also facilitated an irreversible event of even greater scale for its neighbor: Russia became pregnant with Ukraine. The yellow-and-blue sperm of Independence Square did its manly job under the colorful fireworks of grenades, the flares of Molotov cocktails, and the whistle of snipers’ bullets. During that hot month, sitting in front of an overheated television set, Russia conceived. A new life stirred in her enormous womb: Free Ukraine. The authorities were horrified, the liberals were jealous, and the nationalists were filled with hatred. Neither the Kremlin nor the people had anticipated such a rapid development of events.
The embryo began to grow, occupying more and more media space every day. The Kievan revolution transfixed and terrified Russia. As happens during a pregnancy, the mother’s body succumbed to the inevitability of the physiological process: as women often say, “My life is divided into ‘before’ and ‘now.’” All manner of events in Russia’s life—internal politics, the economy, criminal activity—everything suddenly halted, like a freeze-frame. Russia’s rich, multifaceted life seemed to recede into the background and becаme a failed past. The future was over there—in Ukraine. Ukrainian words and the names of Kiev’s politicians came spilling from the population’s tongue. Putin’s Russia had spoken of Ukraine disdainfully—it was a backwater, dull and provincial. Suddenly, Ukraine became incredibly fashionable and modern, while enormous Russia seemed hopelessly backward, cumbersome, and provincial.
Reaction was turbulent: “We envy the Ukrainians, they’re setting an example for us!” “The Ukrainian revolution is an anti-Russian provocation stirred up by the West!” “It’s a detonator that could blow up Russia!” “Ukraine is now our enemy!”
Meanwhile, the embryo kept growing, filling more and more space. Every day brought something new and unexpected. The maternal organism grew feverish.
Society was shaken: “There’s no such thing as Ukraine, there never was and never will be! It’s nothing but a province of great Russia!” right-wing politicians shrieked. “Ukraine is a mirror of the Putin regime,” pundits nodded, astutely adjusting their glasses. “Time to emigrate to Ukraine,” democrats muttered. “Time to go and defend Russians!” nationalists exclaimed, clenching their fists.
It’s well known that pregnant women often crave raw meat. And there it was, a quickly bitten-off chunk of fresh flesh: the Crimea. Russia’s worn-down, post-imperial teeth managed to tear it off, but there was little energy left to swallow. The flesh stuck in Russia’s throat. Economists claimed that under any arrangement it would be a problem region requiring substantial subsidies. How could it be digested? How many billions of rubles would it demand annually? After all—the Crimea is an island.
It should be a gambling zone! We should let the Chinese build a Great Russian Bridge! All state employees should be forced to vacation there! Take a Stalinist approach! Turn the Crimea into a military base! And what to do with the disloyal Crimean Tatars? Evict and resettle them again? Everyone’s head was spinning… And really—how can life continue when you’ve got this Ukrainian alien growing inside you?
Finally, reaction came from the Kremlin—the brains of the maternal organism. It was firm: Abort! Get rid of that hated, dangerous, unwanted child! The abortion was designated “Russian Spring in Ukraine.” It was decided that the procedure should be performed by separatists, saboteurs, “soldiers of fortune,” adventurists, and provocateurs. The operation began in southeastern Ukraine, using surgical instruments that were neither very new nor clean, and little sterilization. Television was the anesthesia.
Televisions overheated across the country: We’ll defend the Russian-speaking population from the fascist junta! Our blood brothers are calling out for help! Donetsk and Lugansk are the pillars of the Russian world in Ukraine! We’ll rеpulse the Ukrainian liberal-fascists just like our fathers and grandfathers did! Defending Russians in Ukraine is the sacred responsibility of all patriots! America is using the liberal-fascists to occupy Ukraine!
Zombified by television, the population walked the streets with bulging eyes: Ukrainian “liberal-fascists” seemed to appear everywhere, their arms stretched out toward Russian throats. Nevertheless, the telehysterics also gave rise to jokes:
Two Odessa girls are sitting in a café. One says “Sara, can you believe it? Abraham absolutely refuses to speak Russian.”
“He’s afraid the Russians will come to Odessa to defend him.”
Heads began to overheat like the TVs. The shouts of Russian politicians and bureaucrats to “send in troops immediately and march on Kiev” became commonplace. However, despite the plentiful use of drugs, it appears that the abortion was not successful. The “fetus” can’t be dislodged from the womb.
“Why do I have to wake up every morning and listen to news about that stupid old Ukraine?” one friend complained indignantly. “We’re up to our ears in it day in and day out.” “I can’t believe that Russia and Ukraine are fighting,” says another. “It’s like a nightmare…” “All of us Russians are sitting in a huge theater, watching a play called Ukraine. And you can’t leave the theater!” a third laughs bitterly.
Not long ago, the Russian press ran an incredible story reminding everyone of the great Gogol: “On July 8, a high-placed government employee was detained on Nevsky Prospekt in St. Petersburg: the man was utterly incoherent, carried a briefcase, and wore no trousers.” He turned out to be the chief of staff for the vice-mayor of the city. According to doctors at the hospital where he was taken, he kept muttering a single word, “Lugansk!”
Ukraine has entered us. All of us—homeless people, politicians, peasants, oligarchs, housewives, and saboteurs—carry her inside. When he flew to far-off Brazil, Putin carried Ukraine inside. It bothered him, interfered with his watching the World Cup. It has interfered with the plans of Igor Strelkov (chief of the “People’s Republic of Donetsk”) to resurrect the Russian Empire. The operator of the BUK anti-aircraft missile system was bothered by an airplane flying in the Ukrainian sky. So he shot a rocket at it. The downing of the Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 was the result of a painful contraction, presaging terrible, irrevocable consequences.
Russia is pregnant with Ukraine. Birth is inevitable. There is more to come: the intensifying labor pains, the tearing of the umbilical cord, the newborn’s first cries… The infant’s name will be beautiful: Farewell to Empire. Will it have a happy childhood? We don’t know yet. Many people sincerely hope it will grow up strong and healthy. But what of the mother? The coming labor will be difficult, and there will certainly be complications. Will she survive? And what about the rest of the world?
—Translated from the Russian by Jamey Gambrell