Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich: If we are not united, we will be annihilated Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich: If we are not united, we will be annihilated
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Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich: If we are not united, we will be annihilated

    NHK World
    Producer
    NHK World
    Correspondent
    "Darkness is coming everywhere, from all sides. But always, there are people on the side of light fighting back." Those are the words of Nobel laureate and journalist Svetlana Alexievich, who says people must raise their voices against Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

    Alexievich was born to a Ukrainian mother and a Belarusian father. Her perspective on the region, its history and its modern-day politics stems from the fact that she grew up in Ukraine before moving to Belarus.

    Many of Alexievich's works feature ordinary people from the former Soviet Union. She walked from village to village, knocking on doors to record the testimonies of those who lived at the mercy of the state.

    Her book "The Unwomanly Face of War" is made up of monologues from some 500 women who bear the wounds of World War Two. "Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War" contains first-hand accounts of soldiers and people involved in the Soviet-Afghan War. Her highly acclaimed "Chernobyl Prayer: A Chronicle of the Future" gives voice to people affected by the 1986 nuclear disaster.

    The Nobel Committee awarded her the Literature prize in 2015 for what it described as "polyphonic writings ... a monument to suffering and courage in our time."

    Belarus Nobel Literature Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich addresses anti-war protesters, in Berlin, on March 6, 2022.

    Speaking up for truth

    Alexievich has been openly critical of Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko, whose regime is often referred to as a dictatorship. He is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and has long used violence and intimidation to deal with opponents—leaving Alexievich under constant fear for her safety.

    Aleksander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin
    Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko (left) with Russian President Vladimir Putin (right).

    NHK spoke to Alexievich in Berlin, where she is currently based to receive medical treatment. She began with the current plight of Ukraine.

    "None of us could imagine such nationalism from Russia, slowly shifting toward fascism," she said.

    "I can barely sleep. I spent my childhood in Ukraine. Every summer, I went to my grandmother in Vinnytsia, which I suppose has now been bombed. I still have relatives there. You know, it's just impossible to imagine.

    "I feel like I am an accomplice of the aggressor because of the [Belarusian] government. It's very hard, it's very hard. It's the first time I feel ashamed to say that I'm a Belarusian."

    Svetlana Alexievich
    Belarusian Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich says she feels like "an accomplice of the aggressor."

    Silence of Russian intellectuals

    On March 1, Alexievich and more than 160 Nobel laureates co-signed an open letter condemning Russia's invasion as an "unwarranted, bloody, and unproductive way to the future." Alexievich also says she is deeply sad about how the country's intellectuals are not speaking out.

    "I had to ask, 'why are you silent?' The most frightening thing is that Soviet socialism is alive. It remains not only as badly built houses or roads, but also as corrupt intellectuals," she says.

    Alexievich is calling on Russian citizens to tell the truth about the invasion using all means available. She shares her opinions mainly through foreign media, because many outlets in Russia have suspended operations.

    an online statement published on March 5
    Svetlana Alexievich and other authors published a statement online urging Russians to speak out, on March 5. "Reach the people you know. Reach the people you donʼt know. Tell the truth," it reads.

    "Deep inside the people's minds, the revolution in the '90s was completely incomprehensible. People did not fully understand what happened," she explained. "Poverty began, the deception of the people began, the robbery of Russia began, and people were left with nothing. They blamed Gorbachev and the democrats for all of that.

    "Putin knew much of that and spent a lot of money on propaganda. He succeeded in winning a large amount of public support. And so, you have to confront the 67 percent of Russians who support Putin.

    "Now that sanctions have started, Russia will go through a major ordeal. The ruble is falling, and the cost for ordinary people will probably be poverty."

    Putin 'the man who could not proceed to the future'

    Alexievich says it is wrong that Putin is blaming the United States and Western countries for all the misfortunes in Russia.

    "People have no houses, no roads, but is it the West that should be blamed? Should the West have built them all for us?

    "For 70 years, people lived under this 'red' ideology and millions were thrown into that furnace. Going through all that, what was left for them were mass graves and a sea of blood, so they cannot change quickly.

    "But they can't just bring beautiful houses and factories from somewhere else. Such things must be achieved through hard work. It is the most primitive outdated strategy to try to achieve the goal through a strong navy, new bombers and tanks.

    "So this is the man who could not proceed to the future. He tries to pull us to somewhere that he only can understand—the past.

    "He wants to revive 'great' Russia and restore the empire. I think he cannot imagine any other world."

    Vladimir Putin
    Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses thousands people gathered at a stadium to support President Putin, the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in Ukraine, in Moscow, on March 18, 2022.

    Belarusians join the fight

    In Belarus, citizens held massive protests against the Lukashenko regime for alleged fraud in the 2020 presidential election. Alexievich notes that Russia's invasion will have a major impact on democracy in Belarus and other neighboring countries.

    "Everything will depend on whether or not Ukraine wins. If it does, then Putin will have big problems in Russia. And of course, we can say the same thing about Lukashenko. Ukraine is now fighting not only for itself but for the future of Europe and democracy in surrounding countries.

    "And that is why so many Belarusians have joined the fight against Putin. There are many Belarusians among the Ukrainian troops because everyone understands that Ukraine opens the way to our future.

    Riot police surround a protestor in Minsk
    Riot police surround a protestor in Minsk, Belarus, on August 9, 2020, as people object to what they claim was fraud in the presidential election.

    "Darkness is coming everywhere from all sides. But in any country, there are people on the side of light. Darkness comes and sometimes it seems as if democracy is fading. We will have to make it absolutely clear to ourselves that if we are not united, we will be annihilated.

    "The Apostle Paul had words that remain very important to me. He said, 'For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of; for necessity is laid upon me; for woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel.'

    "I will just do my job day by day. I don't just sit here and write 'War and Peace,' but I try to understand what is going on. I listen to people and try to write about that—about what makes people barbarians and what makes people human. You just have to do your own little job."