In the summer of 2017, I visited a family who lived near the war zone in the eastern half of Ukraine. I had visited Eastern Ukraine and Donetsk for the last time in 2009 as a teenager, but this time nothing was recognizable. Street signs had bullet holes, windows were broken, apartments and even hospitals showed signs of rocket damage. Some members of my family did not survive the violence that occurred.
Since April 2014, more than 10,000 people were killed in Ukraine, while another 1.5 million have been displaced and many are now refugees. The war between Russia and Ukraine can seem very distant to most Americans, and many are surprised to learn that the violence of the war still continues today. However, many of us unwittingly support every time we buy products from online retail giant Amazon. While Russia is making an illegal invasion in Ukraine, Amazon is profiting from the symbols of this conflict, such as the banners representing proxy forces of Russia. The retail platform allows third parties to sell goods with images that represent the so-called "Donetsk People's Republic" (DPR). It is an interim regional government – established and financed by the Russian government – that is wreaking havoc in eastern Ukraine.
The DPR flag is a variation of the Novorossiya flag, which was used historically during the Russian Empire (1721-1917) to symbolize a "New Russia" – the forced invasion and subjugation of Ukraine. During the Russian Empire, and later under Russia's puppet republics, Russian troops marching under that flag brought indescribable destruction and terror to Ukraine – which continues today.
Amazon's official policy prohibits sellers from offering products that "promote or glorify hatred, violence, racial, sexual or religious intolerance or promote organizations with such views. "Despite this statement, products promoting DPR are available for sale on Amazon's website today. Meanwhile, DPR's counterpart, the People's Republic of Luhansk, a nearby Russian puppet state, voted in favor. imprison people convicted of being gay for two years and six months. The Republic's head of international relations also mentioned that "perverts (gays) must be treated in psychiatric hospitals". In the DNR, one of the Russian government activists tied a Ukrainian woman to a post on the tip of the gun to humiliate it. The Embassy of Ukraine in the U.S. urged Amazon to remove products with DPR symbols for more than a year, with no response from the company.
Ukrainians, like my family, are innocently caught up in the middle of this war and struggling to keep their lives together. For them, the puppet republic's flag symbolizes oppression, terror and death. Allowing products like DPR stickers to be sold on Amazon is tacit approval of the ongoing violent acts against the people of Ukraine. No person or company should profit from the victims of Russia's war against Ukraine. If ISIS stickers, for example, were available for purchase on the Amazon platform, what actions would have already been taken?
In the past, Amazon responded to the sale of violence by banning associated products. Examples include Nazi action figures and, more recently, Amazon removed holiday ornaments with images of Auschwitz. So why hasn't Amazon removed DPR goods six months ago since they went on sale? By keeping these products on sale, Amazon is supporting Russia's war against innocent people and is promoting a dangerous and hateful group. Ukraine is also currently suing the International Court of Justice Russia finance terrorism in Donbas, while Russian militants bombed civilian vehicles in Ukraine, attacking civilian neighborhoods and killing innocent civilians.
Whether direct or indirect support, Amazon needs to defend its own policy against assets that glorify hatred and violence. Amazon has banned controversial goods before, but the question remains: why isn't Amazon devoting more resources to removing Russia-funded breakaway propaganda products on its website?
We cannot expect to change the course of geopolitical events as individuals. However, we can stand up together and demand justice; this includes the platform that allows the promotion of odious symbols that celebrate the serious injustices committed against others.
- David Kirichenko is a Ukrainian-American civic activist and editor of Euromaidan Press.
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