6.3.2022 My friend Semyon Gluzman is in his apartment in Kyiv, waiting for the Russians to come. He is not leaving, because ten years of camp and exile in the Soviet Union was enough – he is free at his home and no Russian invaders can change that.
Yet he faces the terrible feeling of having been pulled into a war imposed by a madman, in which there are only losers. Even when Ukraine has won, it will have paid a huge price and have faced unimaginable human suffering.
The following he wrote several days ago, when the first Russian armor had entered his city and the sirens were calling citizens several times a day to hide in bomb shelters from attacks by the “brother nation”, Russia. Robert van Voren
LETTER TO A RUSSIAN FRIEND
We met in prison. In a camp for political prisoners in the Urals. Relatively close to the place where Vladimir Putin lives today. Incredible fate going into the distant future… The Soviet regime kept and "re-educated" political prisoners in Russia. Only in Russia. Although our “educators” were not only Russians. Among them were also Ukrainians.
You were a naval officer, I was a doctor, it was an unexpected, unpredictable acquaintance. I remember vividly you, silent, preferring solitude, reading a lot. You rarely talked to me. You spoke more often with Vladlen Pavlenkov and Gosha Davidenko. I know you've served your entire sentence, all 15 years. Previously, you had told the sailors on the ship where you served the truth about the Soviet regime.
Later, after the camp, I wasn't looking for you. I knew that you had sincerely started believing and had become a priest somewhere in the Russian outback. You avoided politics and former camp fellows. Once in the camp, you saw "Letters to a German friend" by Albert Camus in my hands. It was a publication in Ukrainian in the magazine "Vsesvit". You asked me to read this text to you in Russian. You had heard about this heartfelt essay before. In the evenings, after work, I was slowly translating it for you. I don't remember how many evenings we were sitting next to each other on the stools. I was translating clumsily, very slowly.
From time to time, we made breaks. We discussed Camus' thoughts. About the war. To which you were professionally related. About resisting evil. About pacifism. As you said then, about the sin of pacifism, I remember those words of yours. Sometimes we talked until lights out.
We both knew then that we had no future. No real, bright, non-Soviet future. But we didn't want to talk about it. While reading Camus, we were not discussing the blood and odiousness of Nazism that had conquered France. We talked about something else – the causes of Soviet evil, Soviet tragedy. About the fate of an unknown Stalinist prisoner, our predecessor, who had left an inscription in a chemical pencil on the ceiling beam: "25 years of hard labor, 12 left, Maximov A. Gr." There had been a political camp of the Stalin era before us here.
How many years have passed. The USSR collapsed. Vladlen Pavlenkov went to America and committed suicide there. We ended up in different countries. Where the books of Albert Camus are easily accessible, but little read. I don't know if any of the Ukrainian presidents have read them… But the president of Russia has definitely not read them, I'm sure. If you were around, I would ask you a lot of things. But you're not around. Moreover, I do not know if you are alive.
In that vanished country that brought us together in prison, we were both strangers. Without any future. It is bitter to realize this, but I have been a stranger for decades in my new country, Ukraine, as well. Only now, in these bitter, bloody days of war with your country, I begin to experience other, warmer feelings. Because the former "hopak Ukrainians" (do you remember this bitter expression of Ivan Alekseevich Svitlychny?) are changing into Europeans who know how to protect their human dignity. It's night, I'm talking with you in my thoughts, and outside there are gunshots of the Ukrainian army shooting down Russian helicopters and drones. Your president wants to re-educate us, as Brezhnev tried to re-educate us with disciplinary cells and decomposing fish.
We often talked about Russia. And we didn’t accept the ideology of Igor Ogurtsov, who was serving his sentence with us, blinded by the hope of the revival of Great Russia. And here he is, a strange dreamer who has long gone to another world, embodied in Putin, your president. An amazing embodiment of the victim of the KGB, an honest, impractical and very lonely dreamer in a cynical, deceitful, poorly educated man who believes in the thoroughness of the logic of the bad philosopher Ilyin. In the worst of the KGB officers, the destroyer of Russia, Vladimir Putin.
Another shot outside. Our shot, we are resisting. I know we're going to win this war. At a terrible price, but we will win. Because the whole world is behind us. Putin has done the incredible: by hating and killing us, he pushed us into the arms of Europe.
At that time, in the camp, I told you about the famous remark of the writer Ilya Ehrenburg during the war: if you want to live, kill a German. You hadn't read Ehrenburg. But we started talking about something else: could a member of the French anti-Nazi resistance, Albert Camus, ever pronounce such words? You believed that each of us, who was at war with obvious evil, had the right to think and act like this. And I argued that Camus could not have been the author of such words.
Today, during the brutal war with Russia, I hear such words more and more often. Yes, we kill because they kill us. We Ukrainians are being killed in our country, on our territory, and we are obliged to respond in the same way. This is how resistance to Stalin's aggression was formed in Western Ukraine, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. In the camps next to us, the last of them were serving out their astronomical term of 25 years, remaining faithful to their simple, indisputable truth: a cruel enemy came to me, I have the right to resist.
Tell me, my friend, do you remember them? Those who lived in the Ural camp next to you? We were together then, we called it camp resistance. Today we are forced to kill your compatriots, perhaps young men from the families of your parishioners. I am sure that today you understand my truth, the truth of my country. But you are silent, you do not warn from the pulpit. This is a sin, the grave sin of passive complicity in murder.
Semyon Gluzman, Ukrainian psychiatrist and human rights activist