From Ukraine to Myanmar : Reflections on crime against humanity

Laung Lone, Dawei // “Slava Ukraini!”, shouted a young Burmese revolutionary in a video clip aimed at the international community. Behind him, a group of like-minded people were holding signs with blue and yellow flags to show solidarity with the Ukrainians and repeated firmly “Glory to Ukraine”.

On February 24th, 2022, the Russian invasion of Ukraine led by President Vladimir Putin started in full force. It was considered the biggest conventional military attack in Europe since World War II and a bold attempt to seize the sovereignty of a state that shocked the whole world.

The ongoing incident has caught great attention among Burmese people. Many said they understand and share the sufferings with the people in Ukraine as the crisis in the West reflects back on the situation in Myanmar since the coup. 

In Kachin, north of Myanmar, the red and green flag of the Kachin Independence Army was seen floating alongside the Ukrainian flag. Displaced youths from the junta attack painted their faces and hands calling to stop the war. Burmese netizens expressed support for Ukrainian civilians who take up armed resistance to protect their land in a similar way than the People’s Defence Forces (PDF) in Myanmar. 

They also raised questions on how the international community and neighboring countries have responded to the situation in the West “unequivocally demonstrates the potential for meaningful action on Myanmar. It is not too late to step up and do something”.

On the diplomatic level, a day after the invasion of Ukraine, the Burmese government in exile, the National Unity Government (NUG), condemned the unproved act of war. When the UN took a step to condemn Russia, Myanmar voted in favor of the draft resolution along with 140 other nations. The country was represented by Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun who held up a three-fingered salute in the UN General Assembly rejecting the military seizure of power in 2021.

On the other side, the military junta has made its standpoint clear to approve the Russian invasion. The Burmese regime’s spokesperson, Zaw Min Tun, told VOA Burmese that Russia was “trying to strengthen its national sovereignty” and called it “an appropriate action”.

Russian and Burmese military apparatus are good friends. Russia is one of the main diplomatic enabler and is among the top weapon suppliers to the junta along with China and Serbia according to the latest UN report.  High-level military delegates have been visiting one another knitting a tight link of army brotherhood and Burmese officers travel for decades to train in Russia. The bombs falling on Mariupol might come from the same factory than the ones falling on Loikaw, the capital of Karenni state at the Thai-Burma border, that was emptied out of most of its inhabitants in a matter of days in January 2022. 

Hundreds of thousands of Burmese people have been on the run to escape airstrikes in half of the country’s regions and are surviving in makeshift jungle camps with no aid coming their way as the regime is blocking all humanitarian organizations from operating. More than a year after the coup, the mass terror that has gripped Myanmar has caused more than 1700 confirmed deaths and more than 10 000 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).

Dozens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians and soldiers as well as Russian soldiers have lost their lives since the invasion. More than four million women and children have escaped Ukraine and are trying to resettle elsewhere. Some Eastern Europeans also expressed their solidarity for Myanmar. On March 1st, 2022, a group of Ukrainian citizens in Bangkok gathered in front of the Russian embassy at Santipap street (“Peace” in Thai language) to demand an end to the Russian invasion of their country. Among them, Christina Krugliak, a Ukrainian originally from Kyiv: “I don’t know any Burmese personally but I share my deepest sympathies with these people. Nowadays, there is aggression everywhere. I’m not the kind of person who’s into politics but I think people should stand up and stop war. We should build, not destroy.”

Thai citizen Pornipa Ngambang, 78-year-old, is a regular visitor of protests in front of foreign embassies. Since the coup d’Etat in 2014 by General Prayut Chan-ocha, Pornipa has been calling for a new free and fair election in her country. When the coup d’Etat happened in Nay Pyi Daw on February 1st, 2021, she came in front of the Myanmar embassy to show solidarity with the Burmese people protesting against the loss of their rights. She had just been informed of the charges against her at the police station nearby for her participation in a pro-democracy demonstration when she chose to join the Ukrainian people in front of the Russian embassy in Bangkok.

“It’s chaotic everywhere, Thailand, Myanmar or in the West. You see today, the Ukrainian are suffering and speaking up. We are suffering. They are suffering too, so that is why I am here with them.” she said while showing her red wristband with the flaming up word ‘Free Burma’, a gift from Burmese friends.