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Russia’s Invasion Is Making Ukraine More Democratic

What were once perceived to be weaknesses are turning out to be advantages.

Residents stand outside a building on the outskirts of Chernihiv (Andrii Bashtovyi)

On a recent trip to a village near Ukraine’s border with Russia, during a break between the seemingly constant explosions and skirmishes taking place nearby, a teenage Ukrainian soldier told me of how he did not want to live under a leader like Vladimir Putin, someone “who believes he may tell others what they should do.” Another volunteer fighter, a former Thai-boxing coach, chimed in that whereas Russia offered only “stagnation,” Ukraine was “a place where things are developing with the influence of the people.” In a neighboring area, a former appliance repairman recounted to me his disbelief that Russian soldiers would invade “and kill innocent people, as if they have no choice.” He would prefer to go to prison, he said.

As a Kyiv-based journalist working for Ukrainian and international media, I am very much a representative of the professional class, what many may call my country’s “liberal elite.” My circle of friends and I discuss democracy, accountability, and the rule of law, but we long believed we were a minority in Ukraine, that the majority of our compatriots did not care about these abstract terms. Yet in reporting on Putin’s invasion, in traveling through my country, I have heard fellow Ukrainians, without any prompting, explain these enormous concepts better than many academics.

I listened as those frontline fighters spoke of the freedom to choose who governed them and change course if need be, and the freedom to chart one’s own path in life. I heard a mayor say that his town near the Russian border was defending civilization and fighting on behalf of a world where laws mattered. A window installer in Odesa, on the Black Sea coast, told me he had learned how to fire a gun to ensure that he did not have to “live in a country where Moscow tells me whom to elect.”

This started happening so often—in bombed-out villages as well as bustling cities—that I began to understand that something deeper was under way.

Read the full story in The Atlantic here.

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