Ukrainian Expats: The Guilt of Safety

4 min readJun 1, 2022

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I monitor a few of the Telegram channels about the Russian-Ukrainian war. We all do; we, the Ukrainian expats, and many non-expats, too. Right now, Telegram, Viber and Facebook, but mainly Telegram, provide a fast, not always reliable, but in most cases true sources of information about what’s happening. Sometimes they post the audio of the conversations between the Russian occupiers and their families or friends. Usually I don’t listen to those, as they’re full of the cruel ugly truth I don’t want to hear, can’t hear, because I just can’t cope. But sometimes I do it anyway. I listen.

This part of the recording wasn’t the cruellest, as the person speaking didn’t even talk about any killings or mutilations. But it left me cold to my bones.

“And I met a girl here, [I want to], I don’t know, to ask her out. For us two. She’s sitting tied up at our place.”

It was about a rape.

Not even a rape. An intention of rape.

It was probably about the killing too though, because the man speaking might not want to leave the victim alive. But who knows? He might have been one of the “good ones”. He might have spared her life… though on second thought probably not, because in the earlier part of the same recording, he also tells about a bus with twenty-five civilians who tried to evacuate, obviously through the place that his department occupied, and were all shot. He speaks about it as if it was a matter of course. No judgement, no emotion.

And I was sitting there frozen, imagining that somewhere out there there’s a young woman, tied up and listening to this emotionless voice, and knowing what fate expects her.

I am wondering if by some miracle, she survived.

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

I am wondering if the Ukrainian Security Services, who are listening and intercepting these talks, could trace the call to that man. If they know who it was. If they intend to ever find him and bring him to justice.

I am also wondering how I can go on with my life and not feel guilty for being safe. For having a roof over my head. For my child not having to hide in the basement for days and weeks. For me not having been raped, mutilated or killed, like so many people from my homeland were.

Still are.

Recently, I posted a picture of me and my child on Instagram. My husband saw it and told me to delete it. He thinks it shameful to display any happy moments in the open now. We dare to live our lives, we have to, because we have no other choice. But he says that we can no longer show happy emotions. Or was it that we shouldn’t feel these emotions at all?

For some Ukrainians, the show of anything but grief and outrage is blameable right now. For some, it’s even being able to feel happy. Or take vacations. Or sleep, for that matter. Many people can’t sleep because they think about the Ukrainians who are hiding in bomb shelters right at this very moment. They can’t eat because they feel as if they’re stealing the food from the hungry Ukrainian children.

It’s not logical, or true.

But how can people help feeling what they’re feeling?

We cope in different ways. Some people drink too much, or work too much. Some help out in refugee organizations or shelters whenever they can. Some collect money to buy armoured vests or other gear for the Ukrainian army. Some just scroll the Telegram channels endlessly, sharing the information to Facebook or other social channels, trying to make the world see, hear, understand.

Photo by Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash

Guilt is productive, you know.

There’s a popular argument from the Russians right now about how they don’t need to be told bad things about their country.

Its essence is approximately the following: stop putting all sorts of unpleasant feelings like guilt or responsibility on us. Or show us pictures from Ukraine. We are already suffering because of the sanctions, and here you are with your moral judgment. It can make us depressed or at least feel very bad, and in such a state there is no motivation to do anything.

Oh, but there is.

The theory about people needing to be in a “resourceful” state to be productive is flawed. It doesn’t really take into account how brain works. And it works in a pretty simple way.

Motivation appears not when there’s an ample supply of the resource, but when it’s lacking.

People don’t want to go hunting for food when they’re full; they do it when they’re hungry. They don’t look for water unless they’re thirsty.

So in fact, the underlying source of motivation is ultimately discomfort. We want to make Russians uncomfortable; we want them to feel the need to do something, to change something. To speak out. To get out into the streets. To “vote with their feet” — by leaving the country. To at least call it what it is — a war. Not a shameful “special operation”.

Fat chance of that, you tell me. People in Russia are getting arrested for “holding invisible posters”! And anyway, most of them support this shameful war.

But what do we have to lose?
If there’s a possibility, however remote, to get through, we should probably keep trying.




In German, Rabenmutter is a “Raven mother” — a mother, neglecting her children. In short, not a very good mother.