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Russian Democrats Offer Support in Ukraine

KYIV, Ukraine, April 27th — As Vladimir Putin’s regime continues to foment unrest and stage armed provocations in eastern Ukraine, hundreds of prominent Russians—cultural and intellectual figures, civil society leaders, journalists, pro-democracy politicians—gathered here last week to express solidarity with the people of Ukraine and voice their support for a democratic and European future for both countries.

The forum, titled “Ukraine-Russia Dialogue,” was initiated by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, head of the Open Russia Foundation and, for more than a decade, Russia’s most prominent political prisoner. The event was intended, above all, to demonstrate that Putin’s unelected regime and Russian society are two very different things.

“We are here to look one another in the eye and to say once again: No dictator, no matter how powerful, will turn us, independently thinking individuals [in Russia and Ukraine], into enemies,” Khodorkovsky said in his opening speech. “Once again, this time in Ukraine, [Putin] is using his office to avenge a personal grudge. He is offended by the revolution and because the thieving former President Yanukovich and his corrupt entourage have been forced into exile. The parallels hit too close to home for him … I take pride in my fellow countrymen who are capable of maintaining a sensible mind and thinking about my country’s future.”

“This is not heroism,” observed Ludmila Ulitskaya, one of Russia’s most prominent contemporary novelists. “This is normal behavior by decent people.”

The forum was attended not only by representatives of Russian and Ukrainian intelligentsia, but also by political figures from both countries—including Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, State Duma member Ilya Ponomarev (the only Russian legislator who voted against annexing Crimea), Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev, and leading Ukrainian presidential contender Petro Poroshenko, who, in his remarks, drew a difference between Russia’s current leadership and Russian society.

Many Russian participants in the forum made a point of visiting the Maidan (Independence Square), where a giant poster, put up during the revolution and still overlooking the square, reads “We love Russians—we despise Putin.” Such sentiments—and the sentiments of prominent Russians who came to Kyiv to support a neighbor in need—offer the best hope that Ukraine and Russia will be able to maintain mutual respect despite the best efforts of Vladimir Putin.

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