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For Ukraine, A Restoration of Truth is a Restoration of Unity

By Kiran Yeh

The truth doesn't drown in water and doesn't burn in fire - Ukrainian Proverb

In the aftermath of the Kakhovka dam explosion in Ukraine, water flooded every crevice in Kherson (The New York Times, 2023). Thick plumes of smoke billowed from the fiery orange flames on the Bakhmut frontline, where some of the most brutal and violent battles have unfolded (Forbes, 2023). Since Putin’s devastating attack on Ukraine on February 24, 2022, it’s estimated that 8,983 people have been killed and 15,442 injured (United Nations, 2023). A desperate cry for justice and healing echoes amidst the debris as a profound need arises for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)— a catharsis to move the country forward.

Russia's armed invasion not only intensified the rivalry between Ukraine and Russia but also exacerbated internal divisions within the former Soviet Republic regarding its national identity, evoking sentiments reminiscent of the collapse of the Soviet Union. After 1991, unifying the nation proved challenging. Former ambassador to Ukraine, Steven Pifer, explained the transition to democracy was turbulent, leading many Eastern Ukrainians to yearn for the stability of previous times (National Geographic, 2023).

Many of those from Galicia, the historical and geographic region spanning what is now southeastern Poland and western Ukraine, hold the predominant perspective that Ukraine is a defender of the West against Russia, rejecting any relationship with it. In contrast, many individuals from the Malorossiya region (Little Russia) view it as a bridge between Europe and Russia, seeking to advance a harmonious partnership between the three (National Geographic, 2023).

Since 2022, this tension has continued with Russian intervention: in occupied territories, Russian forces pressure Ukrainians to acquire Russian citizenship and set up elections to boost loyalty among locals (Skorkin). Moreover, communities and infrastructure are not the only casualties of destruction– an overwhelming cascade of deep fake videos on Twitter and false announcements on Telegram propagated by the Kremlin have led to confusion and distrust. It’s evident that this war is not solely about territorial control, but also a battle for, and against, the truth. The legacy left from history coupled with recent Russian action, thus, weakens a united Ukrainian identity.

A TRC between Russia and Ukraine is a distant prospect; the deep wounds inflicted by the war will take a long time and much more than that to heal. Instead, as Professor Nikolai Petro proposes, a TRC between Ukrainians that would provide a space to those “who fought on either side of this conflict” would lead to “a purging of the soul that restores healthy perspective by removing hatreds” (Petro, 2022). By providing a calm space for open and honest discussions, such a process could facilitate the forging of a sense of trust, forgiveness, and most importantly verity, thus, mending the concept of Ukrainian identity.

A TRC between Ukrainians would prioritize reconciliation over punishment or persecution, seeking to engage all parties involved in the conflict and prevent further exacerbation of ideological divisions. By facilitating public testimonies from survivors who experienced the atrocities committed, the commission would work towards delivering justice, strengthening the rule of law, and ultimately putting an end to the cycle of violence between Russia and Ukraine. In the spirit of justice and healing, Ukrainians who aligned or sympathized with Russia would be offered amnesty after revealing the full extent of human rights violations or untold stories that would benefit the nation (Lauterpacht Centre for International Law). Through this process, a more resilient Ukraine would emerge, anchored in a collective memory that is free from a narrative clouded by Russian influence.


Works Cited

Conant, Eve. “Russia and Ukraine: the tangled history that connects—and divides—them.” National Geographic, 24 February 2023, Accessed 30 June 2023.

Khavin, Dmitriy. “Why the Evidence Suggests Russia Blew Up the Kakhovka Dam.” The New York Times, 16 June 2023, Accessed 30 June 2023.

Mack, Eric. “Views From Space Show Bakhmut Burning As Ukraine Battles To Hold The City.” Forbes, 10 March 2023,

OFFICE OF THE HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS UNITED NATIONS HUMAN RIGHTS MONITORING MISSION IN UKRAINE. Ukraine: civilian casualty update. 5 June 2023, ty%20update%20as%20of%204%20June%202023%20ENG.pdf

Skorkin, Konstantin. “A New Potemkin Vote in Occupied Ukraine.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 12 June 2023, Accessed 30 June 2023.

“UKRAINE OPTIONS PAPER Transitional Justice in a Settlement to End the Conflict between Ukraine and Russia.” Lauterpacht Centre for International Law |, ukraine/calvet-martinez_transitional_justice_in_a_settlement_to_end_the_conflict_b etween_ukraine_and_russia.pdf. Accessed 30 June 2023.

Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. Prospects for Peace in Ukraine: The Non-Military Aspect. A talk by Nicolai N. Petro, a Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island, at Brown University. 13 April 2022, Youtube Video.

Androff, D. K. (2010). Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (TRCs): An International Human Rights Intervention and Its Connection to Social Work. The British Journal of Social Work, 40(6), 1960-1977.


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