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PRESS RELEASES

04.09.2014

Remarks by Alexander Kramarenko, Minister-Counsellor, at the ceremony of presentation of Ushakov Medals to British veterans of Arctic Convoys

Dear friends,
We are often asked by British media, why we do it, why we care now, 70 years after the end of WWII. May I try to explain.
Some reasons are on the surface. We were allies. The convoys were material and human incarnation of that alliance till the opening of the second front in Europe. But there are deeper reasons. Like WWI for you, WWII became a defining moment in moulding our national identity in modern times. And we were in it together. I was born after the war. My father, who came from Ukraine, fought for two years, was wounded and died early. As a kid I saw many amputees. Their numbers decreased fast. Among neighbours were those who drank themselves to death. For decades we lived burnt in various ways by that war.
Still, the War and other tragedies of the XXth century brought into sharp focus something in our nature which is not unique overall for it is plainly human, but is unprecedented in the place it occupies in our life. We have a word “rodnye”. In its original meaning it refers to blood relations. But more often it is used to refer to other people, neighbours and others, with whom one shared the burden of everyday life, quite tough most of the times, with whom one has been through various trials, shared all, grief and misfortune, joy and triumph. This trait went deeper in history. It explains why we survived as a nation. As you can see from our literature, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, it transcends ethnicity, religion and borders. It is an inherent need for some sort of collective life, for caring for others and for being cared for. For mutual support, for mutual forgiveness, for mutual confession.
Dostoevsky, talking on Russia’s mission in the world, said that it was not about the glory of sword and science, but brotherhood of men.
Good or bad times, deep down it remained a source of our strength, irrespective of Government policies and official ideology. It has everything to do with Christian love and laying down one’s life for one’s friends. It is a relationship born out of shared life experience. It is very tactile, part of human environment as we understand it. Take it out, and you feel a gaping void. It reaches to the very quick of one’s soul. As in love, when the people you emotionally depend on go, you feel as if part of yourself is dead. It is mutual penetration of personalities. Bonding at war comes closest to that.
Virginia Woolf wrote about it when she discussed Russian literature. D.H.Lawrence came close to it when he explored the need for living warmth. All of Salinger is about missing this human touch.
Since we are in a crisis over Ukraine. Why is all of Russia, including perceived liberal opposition, united on this issue? In my view, the single most important reason is the betrayal by the new authorities in Kiev of this shared life and history. The politics of consensus, that kept Ukraine together was ditched. People are told what language to speak in the street and what historical narrative to believe. Not to mention that people are shelled indiscriminately into submission, instead of being talked to. I believe this attitude is close to how many in Britain feel about the prospect of Scottish independence, though nobody, of course, expects violence nor legislated history and language.
This attachment, unlike alliances of interest and convenience, is difficult to define in political terms. Nonetheless it is very much material and consequential. Those of the British veterans who visited Murmansk or Arkhangelsk at war or afterwards, I am sure, felt this. By virtue of that common experience you are “rodnye” to us. Simply, it is recognition, pure and clear, of our common humanity that is timeless and transcends everything else. That is why we remember and seek to express our appreciation of your effort in the ways available to use.
This is why we are grateful to the British Government for giving its consent to this award. We thank the Ministry of Defence for helping us compile the list of the veterans. In my forty years on Diplomatic Service I have never had a mission more important, and I am sure, I will never have.




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