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March 30, 2022

In Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, I cannot help but see my two sister-nations at war

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Growing up in Kazakhstan, I’ve always felt a sense of “brotherhood” and familiarity with the other post-Soviet republics. After all, Kazakhstan is home to 3.5 million Russians, 605,000 Uzbeks, 260,000 Ukrainians, and hundreds of thousands from other ethnic groups.

Only a couple of decades earlier we were all one, large country. Back then, one could easily travel from Kazakhstan to Armenia, Russia, Ukraine, and Georgia without having to get a visa or go through customs. At one point, in the 1980s, my parents even moved and settled in Crimea, but were forced to move back due to the poor health of my grandmother.

Today, many of my parents’ close friends are from our neighbouring post-Soviet countries. A couple of years ago, we travelled to visit my father’s friends in Uzbekistan, where we were met with open arms. Visiting a local store, I was asked by one of the merchants where I was from. When I replied with “Kazakhstan,” he gave me a wide smile, offered me a discount as a “distant brother,” and asked me about Tselinograd (now Nur-Sultan) where he used to live as a student.

Last summer, my mother and I visited Tbilisi, Georgia for the first time. A stunning city, Tbilisi – like Tashkent – once again welcomed us with warm smiles and hugs. Our tour guide was coincidentally half-Kazakh, and she explained how the history of Kazakhstan and Georgia was interconnected long before the Soviet Union ever formed. I genuinely felt like I was still at home when visiting the two countries. Sure, our cultures are different, but we are all tied together by our shared history, beliefs, and language.

When my friend and I attended a summer camp in the US in 2019, the very first people we got to know were two boys from Ukraine, Alex and Yegor. To my surprise, we didn’t have to introduce ourselves or go through the usual small talk. We said we were from Kazakhstan and they said they were from Ukraine. That’s all we really needed to know.

I’ve never been to Ukraine, and neither of them had ever been to Kazakhstan, and yet somehow we instantly understood each other. Situations like these show just how connected our countries still are, even though we have drifted apart politically.

In Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine, I cannot help but see our two close nations at war. Although many in Kazakhstan dislike Putin and his government, we still feel close to the Russian people. I have friends, and even family, in both countries, and it is painful to see our part of the world go through something so dark and violent.

People across Kazakhstan have come out in peaceful demonstrations to show their support for Ukraine and encourage peace between the two countries. A local businessman, Margulan Seissembai, started a volunteering service to help send food, medicine, and supplies to Ukraine, raising $240,000 in just a couple of days. Another woman, who wanted to remain anonymous, personally donated over $35,000 in medicine to the cause. Yesterday, people in Almaty, my home city, went out in an anti-war protest, even though the city is still recovering from the “Bloody January” unrest earlier this year, which ended with Russian military forces entering Kazakhstan – they left only a few weeks ago.

In Kazakhstan, like in any other former Soviet republic, there is a strong feeling that the Ukrainian struggle against Russia is going to define our fate as well, no matter which way it goes.

Written by:


Ilya Kan

Fiction & Poetry Section Editor

Almaty, Kazakhstan | Boston, United States

Co-founder of Harbingers' Magazine

Born in 2004, Ilya Kan is a Kazakh national of Korean origins, currently studying in the United States. He is fluent in Russian and English, and has some command of Kazakh. 

At Harbinger’s Magazine, Ilya is the editor of the Fiction & Poetry section and writes about history, economics, and culture as well as creative writing pieces.

Ilya’s past projects include a month-long research project on the Holocaust in Poland, after which he wrote a short story and later turned it into a script; and a short project on Korean deportation from the USSR during the Second World War.

Ilya’s main interests are economics and history. He enjoys reading autobiographies, historical accounts, and classical fiction.  Outside of school, Ilya is interested in football, fishing, and chess. He also enjoys watching military movies with his father, and often goes hiking with family or friends.

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