Ultimately, Kavsar was not allowed to fight because of his lack of military experience. But with his journey to Ukraine his point had been made.
by Kok Bayraq
There is probably no greater test in the world than adventures that may lead to death. The reasons for adventures as daring as going onto a battlefield can vary. In addition to conscious motives, there are also the subconscious ones. Therefore, I was skeptical of the reasons given by Kavsar for going to Ukraine during the arguments between him and his mother, a family friend.
“My dear child, what can you do for Ukrainians, as you are still a student?” He resolutely stated, “I may not be able to do too much for them, but I can do great things for myself. I can put my conscience at rest. I can sleep peacefully.”
His mother felt as if she had reached the middle of a journey, and her face lit up. She finally replied, “My brave child, I love you. You are fine, but don’t tell me that you will stay for three weeks. Come back after one week as long as you have been to the place where you feel obliged to go.”
The boy’s name is Kavsar Kurash. He will be 24 this year. He is a Swedish citizen, a U.S. resident, and he graduated from Yorktown High School in Arlington, VA. He left the U.S. four years ago to attend college in Sweden. He did not have to go to Ukraine, but he had applied to be enlisted in the foreign fighters for Ukraine when the war began. He was refused because of his lack of military experience.
He went anyway, and arrived in the Ukrainian city of Lviv on April 1, with the idea that “If I can carry a wounded man out of a building that explodes or I can carry a bowl of food to a refugee, that is enough.” He was staying in a downtown motel with foreigners who shared the same goals and ideas. Every day, they went to the National Art Gallery in Potocki Palace, which is currently being used as a refugee relief center. Distributing foreign aid was a major daily task for him.
His mother was convinced that her son had gone to Ukraine so that he could sleep peacefully having performed what he perceived as his duty. I felt that this was only one of his reasons. I asked Kavsar’s mother whether he had found a girlfriend recently, and she said no, so I decided to call the boy myself and take another approach.
“Of course, we do support you to help others, but in international affairs, we Uyghurs are not obliged to do so.” I tried to remind him that our homeland is under the occupation of China. He responded, “Since we are a people waiting for help from the international community, I think that if we help people who share the same destiny, help will come from God if it does not come from within or from the international community.”
“Do you know that there are people in the world who are in an even worse situation than the Ukrainians?” I asked. “Of course, I know,” he said. “I was born too late to fight for my motherland (he was born in 1998, and our homeland of East Turkestan became occupied in 1949), and I grew up far away from the battlefield, so I decided to come to Ukraine, which is in a similar situation to that of East Turkestan.”
“Russia is our neighbor. We have historical political ties …,” I said, but he interrupted. “Putin is an ally of Xi Jinping—a dictator who has defended China on the issue of the Uyghur genocide. Putin’s win is Xi Jinping’s win. It may encourage Xi Jinping to shed more blood in East Turkestan and Taiwan, so I think I’m not on the wrong side.”
When he made this point, I discovered that he had more reasons for helping Uyghurs than Ukrainians to support his presence on the Ukrainian battlefield. These included his eagerness to gain freedom for his motherland, East Turkestan, which he had never seen but had heard so many stories about, to draw attention to it, and to find international allies for the Uyghur cause.
Even though I did not disagree with his ideas, I still could not encourage him to be there, and I urged him to return to school. However, neither I nor his mother could change his mind. He stayed four days longer than his original plan and returned to Sweden safely on April 25.
“I couldn’t do anything to be proud of,” he said on the phone from Stockholm. “All I could do,” he continued, “was to let somewhere between 10 and 100 Ukrainians know that they were not alone in this war.”
“What is your most unforgettable memory from Ukraine?” I asked. “I saw a Patigul Ghulam in Ukraine,” he answered. Patigul Ghulam is an iconic mother among Uyghurs who was jailed for searching for her son, who disappeared on July 5, 2009, in the Urumqi Incident.
He continued, “She lost her son during an explosion. I can still hear her voice. This was my first experience hearing the wail of pure grief. But she is luckier than some; she might be able to get her son’s corpse and mourn him properly.” “Then, did you compare the Ukrainians’ situation to that of Uyghurs while you were there?” his mother and I asked. “Not once, but hundreds of times, even before arriving to Ukraine,“ he said solemnly. “The fundamental difference is that they have the chance to die with honor in the war, which is incomparable to the situation of millions of Uyghurs disappearing and being held in jails and labor camps.”
He may have thought that we were asking what he did for his own people. He continued, “I believe and hope that if Uyghurs in the concentration camps could hear of my presence in Ukraine, they would hopefully believe that, when the time comes, they will have sons and daughters willing to sacrifice their lives for them.”
Despite his physical presence in Ukraine, in the spiritual sense, he has carried the suffering of Uyghurs, weaponized his anger against China, and perhaps stared at some future battlefield in East Turkestan.
At this point, I saw his unspoken motive for going to Ukraine. We can call it a subconscious motive that took him on this dangerous journey—to continue his father’s legacy.
Kavsar’s father, the late Kurash Kusan, was a well-known fighter for the Uyghur Independence Movement, a talented singer, and a human rights activist. He died at age 46 of a heart attack as a refugee in Sweden.
Kavsar has never referred to his father when talking about his journey to Ukraine, but the perspective he expressed, the feelings he posed, and the strength and goals he shared demonstrated that he was just like his father—my colleague and fellow countryman Kurash Kusan.
Kavsar’s journey to Ukraine confirmed that he was the son of Kurash Kusan spiritually as well. I know he will complete this journey to continue his father’s fight because, in my view, heading to a war zone has already tested his courage to fight for freedom, and demonstrated his devotion to the truth. The rest is a matter of chance.