For three years, my workdays began the same way. At 7:30 a.m., I woke up, checked the news, and drove to work at the Russian mission to the United Nations Office in Geneva. The routine was easy and predictable, two of the hallmarks of life as a Russian diplomat.
February 24 was different. When I checked my phone, I saw startling and mortifying news: the Russian air force was bombing Ukraine. Kharkiv, Kyiv, and Odessa were under attack. Russian troops were surging out of Crimea and toward the southern city of Kherson. Russian missiles had reduced buildings to rubble and sent residents fleeing. I watched videos of the blasts, complete with air-raid sirens, and saw people run around in panic.
As someone born in the Soviet Union, I found the attack almost unimaginable, even though I had heard Western news reports that an invasion might be imminent. Ukrainians were supposed to be our close friends, and we had much in common, including a history of fighting Germany as part of the same country. I thought about the lyrics of a famous patriotic song from World War II, one that many residents of the former Soviet Union know well: “On June 22, exactly at 4:00 a.m., Kyiv was bombed, and we were told that the war had started.” Russian President Vladimir Putin described the invasion of Ukraine as a “special military operation” intended to “de-Nazify” Russia’s neighbor. But in Ukraine, it was Russia that had taken the Nazis’ place.
“That is the beginning of the end,” I told my wife. We decided I had to quit. [Continue reading…]