Our War on War
War isn’t a place anyone would want to visit. Even this statement borders on the inane and insensitive, given the scale of destruction, death, and suffering we’ve been shown by journalists who’re forced to shield consumers of news from the real devastation taking place on the ground. Let’s keep in mind that we’ve been given a mere glimpse of what has been unfolding in the towns and cities in Ukraine — the ones bombarded, occupied, and, increasingly, those that have been liberated by Ukrainian forces.
Generally, what we get is the sanitized version of the war in Ukraine: it’s a fraction of a fraction of the picture of a military conflict, which happens to be the gravest and territory-wise the largest since WWII. Even the wars in the Balkans (from 1993 to 2001) do not compare, since Ukraine is more than twice the size of the postwar Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. What does call for comparison is the genocidal cruelty towards civilians. In 2001, Slobodan Milošević became the first head of state to be charged with war crimes in connection with ethnic cleansing. At Vladimir Putin’s behest, Russian forces are currently engaged in similar systematic murder and/or removal of native Ukrainians from cities and towns they’ve occupied. They’re aided by soldiers of the “Kadyrovtsy” (Chechens sent to the front by sinister Putin ally, Ramzan Kadyrov), and members of the murky Wagner Group, a private militia or mercenary army for hire.
Despite the strange mix of ethnicities among the would-be invaders, their military and political aims are unmistakable. In an article, “Vladimir Putin’s Ukrainian genocide is proceeding in plain view,” which appeared on June 29, 2022, on the Atlantic Council website, author Taras Kuzio wrote: “The sheer destructiveness of Vladimir Putin’s Ukraine invasion has stunned international audiences. Many have been particularly perplexed by the methodical annihilation of predominantly Russian-speaking Ukrainian towns and cities such as Mariupol which have been reduced to rubble despite deep historic, cultural and family ties to Russia. Any lingering sense of shock is misplaced and reflects a failure to fully grasp the genocidal objectives driving the Russian invasion.…Moscow aims to extinguish Ukrainian statehood and eradicate all traces of Ukrainian identity while incorporating much of the country into Russia itself.”
So far, Russia’s effort to occupy Ukraine has displaced 14 million people, caused irreparable destruction to historic buildings and vital infrastructure, and has, according to Reuters, resulted in nearly 40,000 deaths and some 54,000 injuries. Yet many features of Russian military and associated ‘administrative’ activity remain either under-reported or have been kept out of routine coverage of the war because they’re deemed too disturbing for wide dissemination. Nevertheless, information and detailed reports of brutalities involving helpless civilians — men, women, and children — are emerging. The trickle of facts has turned into a torrent of disclosures about atrocities, including sexual violence of the most heinous kind.
The UN recently published its findings regarding war crimes committed in Ukraine. In her October 28 article for the CNBC, journalist Amanda Macias revealed this in her key points: “A U.N. report says Russian forces committed an array of war crimes, including summary executions, torture, rape and other acts of sexual violence against Ukrainian civilians” (among them, girls as young as four years of age). The U.N. isn’t the only sources of information about torture and rape, however. Thanks to the conscientious efforts of doctors, mental health professionals, and trauma therapists, in countries bordering with Ukraine and now others (Canada included) where Ukrainians have taken refuge, victims’ stories are being documented and are reaching those of us who care to learn the grim truth.
Moreover, and because WordCity is a literary magazine, it would be terribly remiss of me not to acknowledge the crucial volunteer work done by Russian and Ukrainian expat writers, poets, and artists, now living in the United States, Canada, and in Europe. They’ve been doing everything possible (and occasionally, the seemingly impossible) to assist Ukrainians — from fund-raising, to publishing the individual accounts of survivors of unspeakable violence, to helping refugees connect with service providers.
On the artistic front, to facilitate a form of bearing witness, émigrés have ensured that the voices of Ukrainians who’ve been subjected to the tumult, destruction, and pain of forced displacement, are heard by way of articles and essays that have appeared in major publications across the US and Europe. Poems are being translated, and anthologies featuring Ukrainian poets are being organized and published. This rousing show of support, and the underlying empathy and generosity, is the surest sign of the compassion and faith in humanity that animates artistic practice. We’re seeing that art continues to unite people across the globe. Art continues to provide a shared purpose.
For this very reason, we cannot overlook the current situation in Iran, and the cause of women taking a stand against religious fundamentalism, its restrictive dress codes and other violations of basic human rights. The current nation-wide protests were sparked by the murder of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini at the hands of the Guidance Patrol or Iran’s morality police, essentially a goon squad empowered to intimidate and arrest women they judge to be non-compliant with the mandatory wearing of a hijab. No woman is safe because these squads are vested with the ultimate authority to assess and respond to women’s ‘moral’ conduct — that is, not merely to arrest, but also to inflict severe corporal punishment.
Of course, the fatal beating of a 22-year-old woman is only the latest example of a crime enabled by a regime that has maintained an iron grip on Iran’s populace since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. That revolution brought to power the regime of Shia clerics and their inseverable ties with the Revolutionary Guard, that part of the army responsible for maintaining the theocratic and authoritarian core of the Republic of Iran. Since 2009, on a regular basis, Iran’s Islamic government has been challenged by protests and strikes due to violations of human rights, and the mismanagement of the economy. The government has typically responded with ruthless force. Amnesty International reported that at least 304 people were killed by Iran’s security forces in the past six months. Twenty-three of the victims were children. Another 80 people were killed in the recent round of protests.
Let’s recognize that what is happening in Iran is a state of war. Violence against women, artists, journalists, and human rights lawyers are common occurrences. Rape and torture of political prisoners or anyone characterized as a threat to the regime are par for the course. At this point, we cannot criticize the war on Ukraine and Putin’s dictatorship while turning a blind eye to Iran’s despotism and the courageous resistance it has provoked among Iranian women and their allies. We hope to amplify their voices of resistance in our pages. We wish to thank all who have sent us writing, art, or poetry for this issue. Let us make war on war together.
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Olga Stein holds a PhD in English, and is a university and college instructor. She has taught writing, communications, modern and contemporary Canadian and American literature. Her research focuses on the sociology of literary prizes. A manuscript of her book, The Scotiabank Giller Prize: How Canadian is now with Wilfrid Laurier University Press. Stein is working on her next book, tentatively titled, Wordly Fiction: Literary Transnationalism in Canada. Before embarking on a PhD, Stein served as the chief editor of the literary review magazine, Books in Canada, and from 2001 to 2008 managed the amazon.com-Books in Canada First Novel Award (now administered by Walrus magazine). Stein herself contributed some 150 reviews, 60 editorials, and numerous author interviews to Books in Canada (the online version is available at http://www.booksincanada.com). A literary editor and academic, Stein has relationships with writers and scholars from diverse communities across Canada, as well as in the US. Stein is interested in World Literature, and authors who address the concerns that are now central to this literary category: the plight of migrants, exiles, and the displaced, and the ‘unbelonging’ of Indigenous peoples and immigrants. More specifically, Stein is interested in literary dissidents, and the voices of dissent, those who challenge the current political, social, and economic status quo. Stein is the editor of the memoir, Playing Under The Gun: An Athlete’s Tale of Survival in 1970s Chile by Hernán E. Humaña.
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