Dear President Obama,
My name is Damian Kolodiy and I am a 2nd generation Ukrainian-American. My grandparents came to the United States fleeing the Soviet regime during World War 2. In America they were given a unique opportunity to build a new life for themselves and their family. My parents are both teachers, my father is a University professor, my mother teaches Montessori pre-school. I grew up in a household that favors logic and rationale, and thereby progressive politics. I became part of the anti-war movement, and demonstrated against the senseless Iraq war many times. I was devastated when Bush was re-elected. I only began to have renewed faith in America again in 2008, during your campaign. For the first time I registered as a Democrat. I volunteered with OFA going door to door in Philadelphia to give out polling station information and talk to people about your campaign platform. I am an original member of the Ukrainians for Obama group, defending your politics of reason from criticism by conservative Ukrainians. I was on the Mall for your inauguration, freezing and filming that monumental day for a documentary called "Bigger than the Beatles: Obama & the Peeps."
I'm a documentary filmmaker by profession. In 2004, disenchanted with Bush's re-election and America's seeming path of ignorance and bluster, I went to Ukraine as an election monitor and got caught up in and filmed the events of the Orange Revolution. I was impressed and amazed by what I had witnessed; Ukrainians demonstrated peacefully for democracy in their country, for their voices and votes to be fairly counted... and people power actually won! I proudly produced a film about these inspiring events called "The Orange Chronicles" which played at film festivals around the world.
But I am writing to you today about Ukraine's current conflict with Russia. As I am sure you are well informed, I won't go into the details of how Russian troops and mercenaries are terrorizing the population of eastern Ukraine with thousands of civilian deaths, torture, and treatment of Ukrainian POWs that violate the Geneva conventions of war. It would not be fair to say that there is no local support for the Russians, there is some minority support in the Donbas, but the Russian propaganda machine, which blatantly lies and distorts factual events, heavily influences them. It has long been a Soviet technique to call everything that goes against the interests of the Kremlin a "provocation" of the enemy, to muddy the perception of truth. Lying about facts is a key war strategy for Moscow, and instrumental in winning support from average Russians. Putin continues to try to position himself as a peacemaker rather than the president of a state that sponsors terrorism. Russia has become quite adept at this "diplomatic strategy" as is evident from the United Nations Council, which has been rendered useless by allowing Russia an overriding veto.
We know from history that when justice and law break down, evil rises up. Evil has indeed ascended from within Russia and Putin's empirical ambitions. It will continue to grow as far as it is allowed to. We can dream that Putin will scale back after he gets his land bridge to Crimea. We can pretend that Chapter 5 protects the Baltics and Russia will not go there. But as has been evident time and again, international norms and law are not anything that Putin respects; he only seeks to manipulate them towards his own end. While the West issues declarations of condemnation and support, innocent civilians in Ukraine are suffering and dying, fighting for their country's independence.
I am writing this letter to urge you to fast-track implementation of The Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014. I, more than most folks, understand the United States and the American people are fatigued of foreign conflicts, but nowhere in the world is democracy more in need of support, as well as ready to take root and prosper, than in Ukraine. I do not expect America to put boots on the ground, but military hardware and intelligence is desperately needed. America was a signatory of the Budapest Memorandum and promised to support Ukraine's territorial integrity if Ukraine destroyed its' nuclear arsenal. Do such multinational treaties no longer have any value? The dangerous answer being sent to Russia is 'No they don't.' There is no doubt that if Ukraine still had its' nukes today, Russian aggression would be much more limited.
Russia does not deserve the privileges of being a member of the global community if it chooses to make up its own rules and act with subterfuge. Sanctions should be expanded so that even if the price of oil rises, there is still stress on Russia's artificial pseudo-democratic system, which much like the Wall Street credit bubble that brought on our own economic crises, has a weak foundation because Russians do not live in a free democratic society. It is past time Russians realize what their governing system is truly built on.
The Ukrainians I met asked me to pass along their plea for help. I told them it is difficult to get a direct message to the President of the United States, but I promised that I would try. I am including a DVD along with this letter. On it is a short 7-minute video about Ukrainian volunteers who bring supplies to the Ukrainian soldiers on the front line. It illustrates the extremely minimal resources these soldiers are working with. Also on the DVD is my new documentary film on recent events on Kyiv's Maidan Square. I have made it my mission to tell the truth of this uprising and I hope you will be impressed by what I documented; people who were ready to fight and die for their freedom. This is man's most noble pursuit. As the de-facto "leader of the free world" it is America's responsibility to support them in the name of liberty, democracy, and international law.
I'm an anti-war activist at heart, and I understand the US is hesitant to risk escalation of a direct confrontation with Russia where America's direct interests are not at stake. But if Russia is allowed to invade sovereign countries, to violate international treaties, to disregard internationally recognized borders of sovereign countries, to lie and distort on the world stage mocking institutions like the UN, I truly believe the precedent such actions set warrant even greater risks to international law, global stability, and the interests of the United States itself.
Edmund Burke famously said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." I believe you are a good man. And I don't believe you are doing nothing. But more can and urgently needs to be done. Ukrainians are being slaughtered as they wait for the United States, Europe and the free world to truly stand with them, not issue another statement. Enough with "calling for Russia to withdraw", they haven't and won't. It is time to react accordingly. The only thing Putin respects is power. Ukrainians need lethal military weapons to gain Putin's respect that they are indeed a nation that can chart their own course. There is nothing left to salvage with Vladimir Putin. He has already painted to his people an America that is the cause of all of Russia's ills.
President Obama, I am proud I stood with you and Joe in 2008 and again in 2012. Let your legacy be that you truly stood with the Ukrainian people in their fight for democracy. Their struggle is just. Please don't let them lose that fire of hope. Please don't let me lose faith in America again.