Crisis In Ukraine
Three years ago this summer Katya and I met up in beautiful Ukraine, where neither her nor I required a visa. Katya is half-Ukrainian and has grandparents living there. Read my earlier post for details about that trip.
In the past month, as the world is aware, Ukraine has turned from a peaceful (but poor) place filled with culture and a magical sense of calm to a land at war with itself and threatened by its neighbor.
The Euro-Maidan, that is, the mass demonstrations and protests that happened in support of integration with the EU in the Maidan Square of Kiev, overthrew the corrupt pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych and saw former Prime-Minister Yulia Timoshenko released from imprisonment. A new interim leadership has been installed although all the same sitting Parliamentarians that were elected before the revolution are still there.
This revolution was a mass protest of the people, although certain elements of far-right groups, most notably the Right Sektor, were also involved.
Some things to know about Ukraine are:
1) Eastern Ukraine has a majority-Russian population, who speak Russian and identify with Russia. A lot of this land, particularly around Karkhov, Donetsk and the Donbas Region were "gifted" to Ukraine by the Soviet Union after the Second World War. At the time they were all part of the same country so it didn't matter. Today they are two completely separate autonomous nations, and the Russian half of the Ukraine has been longing to rejoin Russia for 20 years.
2) Western Ukraine is overwhelmingly Ukrainian. They speak Ukrainian and have a distinct culture and heritage, different from the eastern half of the country. The people in this half overwhelmingly want an independent Ukraine that is a member of the European Union. It was these people who overthrew Yanukovych back in March.
3) During the 1930's, under the brutal Soviet rule of Joseph Stalin, the western Ukraine was cordoned off, its farms collectivized and all its food stolen to feed the rest of the USSR. An estimated 7.5 million people died in what Ukrainians call the "Holodomor", the mass famine purposefully caused by Stalin to ethnically cleanse the western Ukraine.
4) Following on the heels of the Holodomor came the Second World War and the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. Western Ukrainians greeted the Germans as liberators, and cheered in the streets as German tanks rolled through, girls kissing German soldiers and people throwing flowers onto the marching columns. Many Ukrainians joined the German forces, particularly the SS where they were the main guards at the nazi death camps and during the mass shootings of Jews. The German occupation, however, was brutal and Hitler saw the Slavs of the east as nothing more than cheap labour to be exploited. Another mass starvation accompanied by firing squads and mass lootings and rapes by German soldiers ensued, so many Ukrainians joined the fight against the Nazis.
5) After the war, following the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany, many of the Ukrainians who had fought the Germans turned their guns on the Russians. The war didn't end in Ukraine until 1950, five years after the Second World War officially came to an end. To appease the angry and fed-up Ukrainian population, Nikita Kruschev, Premier of the Soviet Union after Stalin, granted territory to Ukraine in 1954, mainly the Crimea and the Donbas region including the cities of Karkhov and Donetsk.
Today we have a country with a split personality. The west is distinctly Ukrainian and eyes Russia with suspicion (understandable after so much terror and bloodshed), while the east feels disenfranchised and removed from their rightful motherland, Russia.
The Russian annexation of Crimea was nothing more than a chance for Vladimir Putin to exploit the situation following the chaos of the Euro-Maidan. The Kremlin in Moscow has agitated the people in the Russian-speaking areas of Ukraine by calling the small number of Right Sektor protestors in Kiev a giant mob of fascist revolutionaries who have siezed control of the government and now plan to exterminate all ethnic Russians. This is, of course, balderdash and very amateurish propaganda at the most. However, the fears and long-standing complaints of the ethnic Russians in the east proved to be fertile ground for provocation and now the most common-cited reason for joining Russia is "The fascists have seized power in Kiev".
I personally have in-laws in both Russia and Ukraine. My wife doesn't know which side to take, so we have decided that to keep the peace, we should not discuss it with each other.
My own opinion is that, in order to avoid war and bloodshed, eastern Ukraine should vote themselves back into the Russian Federation. The country of Ukraine would become smaller by nearly 40%, but it would be restored back to its original pre-World War Two borders, independent and able to join the EU or do whatever it wants.
Loss of territory, inhabited by people that overwhelmingly don't want to be there anyways, is much better than civil war, bloodshed, death and the generations of hate and fear that will cause for the future, not to mention the bigger threat of an outright showdown between Russia and Europe, again on the old battlefields of Ukraine.
Ukraine has already suffered generations of blood and tears. Let the east go back to Russia and the west can join Europe. I believe this is the only way forward for the ultimate goal: peace.