Social Justice after the Invasion of Ukraine

The war in Ukraine has (perhaps) given a new sense of perspective to the social justice debates in the U.K. As we all now know, around the same time that Aneil Karia and Riz Ahmed were being honoured for their unsparing depiction of a hypothetical Britain, identical crimes were being uncovered in Bucha on the North-western outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine: the bodies of civilians lying in the street, some with their hands tied behind their backs, many shot in the head. Mass graves held around 150 more bodies.

This was real. These were not trained actors in a dystopian drama. These were actual, living people, and their “inalienable rights”, not just to respect and equal treatment before the law, but to life itself, had simply evaporated on the day Russian troops had arrived in their town. 

They were just like us. They lived normal lives on the outskirts of a modern European capital city, with Twitter and Netflix and lockdown-acquired kittens underfoot and the gloom of Monday mornings on the way to work. Maybe sometimes they forgot to put the bins out until they heard the lorry, and had to rush out in embarrassing pyjamas. 

Like us, they didn’t live in a warzone. They had no need of that miserable civilian fatalism until February this year. Just the other day they walked where they wanted, acted according to their own desires, talked of their hopes and fears, loved and were loved. 

And then, suddenly, without time to prepare themselves, only a few moments, perhaps, of terror and despair, of disbelief, of awful pain, they became nothing. Lumps of putrescent, blackening meat, relics that once held the gleam of sacred fire. 

And nobody came to save them. Nobody could. No well attended protests, no “speaking truth to power” or “calling out injustice” rescued them or could have. No statistics on inequality would have made a difference.[1]

Because, the truth is, Inalienable Rights are a fiction. Life isn’t fair. All we have is a series of fragile and approximate truces. 

[1] There was a joke or a cartoon doing the rounds in Russia a few weeks ago: two Russian soldiers are sitting in a Parisian café, having conquered the whole of Europe. One is saying to the other, “Apparently, we lost the information war…”

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