MH17 and the Inhumanity of Putin

by Jillian Kay Melchior

In today’s New York Post, I write about how the horrors of MH17 aren’t some freak event—in fact, such violence against the innocent is highly characteristic of Russia under Putin and his predecessors.

Reading the horrifying details of the crash and its aftermath, my mind wandered back to an interview I conducted with Ukrainian artist and former Soviet dissident Boris Eghiazaryan.

We’d planned an interview to discuss the connection between politics and art in Ukraine. So on a sunny afternoon last April, I hiked up a dimly lit, concrete staircase in a Soviet-era building in Kiev, arriving at his studio slightly out of breath. Eghiazaryan sat surrounded by his own paintings, pausing occasionally to smoke out the window, which didn’t slow him from passionately describing his views on the Ukraine crisis.

He was insightful, describing the conflict as not just between Russia and Ukraine but between two competing world views: Ukraine values life, which derives from God, and seeks to give it the liberty it deserves, while atheistic Russia seeks power and wealth, often at the expense of life, he said.

Eghiazaryan’s assessment resonates particularly this week, as the world learns more about how Russia supplied terroristic separatists in Eastern Ukraine with the weapons they used to shoot a passenger plane from the sky.

But where Putin repeatedly seeks to destroy, Ukraine has responded not just with political protest but through spontaneous acts of life-affirming creation; the Maidan protests had a strong artistic component from the beginning, Eghiazaryan said, which lent it moral authority.

To drive this point home, he told me a story. It’s haunted me as particularly apt and vivid, so I included it in my op-ed today:

Facing off against the berkut, he recalls, the Maidaners wore helmets painstakingly painted by their fellow protesters, each unique and special.

Opposite them stood the riot police, all in identical uniform, well-armed mirror images of each other, perfectly interchangeable, a true embodiment of Putin’s “cult of death,” Erghiazaryan said:

. . . The Maidaners won.

Here are a few photos of Eghiazaryan in his studio, with his painted helmet and the stick he carried to defend himself.

And here’s a photo of Eghiazaryan’s coat. It’s pierced by a bullet that somehow missed his body during the last days of the Maidan protests, when Russia-backed President Viktor Yanukovych’s riot police began firing into the crowd, killing around 100.

Unless Americans understand the nihilistic nature of the Russian aggressor, they’re likely to misunderstand the crisis in Ukraine. The MH17 tragedy makes such a misperception a bit harder.

You can read my op-ed on Eghiazaryan, Russia, Ukraine and MH17 here.

— Jillian Kay Melchior is a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.

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