Tuesday, March 18, 2014


By Michael

Things in Ukraine have been surreal lately. I feel it most right before I go to sleep and right when I wake up. I'm often not sure if it is a dream or not. Is this really happening in the country I live in, I think? Looking out the bedroom window I can't tell. The honking geese on our quiet street continue to wake me every morning like they've been doing since we moved here in July. Daily life is as it always has been around here.

But according to our computer Russia really has invaded Ukraine. Conversations with other people confirm what I read on the screen.

I turn over the events in my head. It's just bizarre.

A couple weeks ago former members of Berkut riot police in Crimea forcefully took over the Crimean parliament and raised a Russian flag. OK. So the former Ukrainian government was essentially employing a fifth column? Did they not know about this or were they themselves part of that fifth column? Rhetorical questions. Of course they were a fifth column. I may not be a political consultant, but it might be a good idea for Ukraine to have actual supporters of the Ukrainian state working for the government in the future.

Recently, many Ukrainian news broadcasts have converted to the use of the Russian language at times. This, I assume, is to try and disseminate truthful information to Russians and Russian speakers who only have access to the propaganda and outright lies on Russian state TV. I support their efforts, though I must turn to other sources when they switch to Russian (I only know Ukrainian. Yulia knows both Russian and Ukrainian.).

But this is the kind of absurdity I've encountered. Last night I wanted to watch Hromadske TV. They were broadcasting in Russian. I switch to Channel 5. Also Russian. So I turn to an American radio show about Ukraine and a guest calls in and says that the Russian language has been outlawed in Ukraine. Dumbfounded.

If you have not heard the news, Crimea voted to become part of Russia yesterday. 123% of the population of Sevastopol voted yes. I'm not making a joke here. The falsification of the election was that sloppy.

The "referendum" was a sham to begin with though. One could not even select to keep Crimea part of Ukraine. The options were to join Russia or become autonomous.

However, there are things that revive me from the dream like state I feel I've been in. I sober up when I see things like this:

"Tartars get out of Crimea"

As residents of mainland Ukraine, we cannot say "good riddance" to the referendum. There is a population of people, the Crimean Tartars, who are indigenous to this area, and they are terrified of Russian rule. During the mid twentieth century they were deported from their ancestral home by Stalin and the Soviet government. About half the Tartar population lost their lives in the mass deportation and genocide. They once made up a majority of the population in Crimea. After their deportation and genocide there is now an ethnic Russian majority there. Seeing their Russian neighbors waving hammer and sickle flags must not be a welcome sight for the Tartars. If you want to know more about this group of people, I recommend this article from the New Yorker: "Who will protect the Crimean Tartars?"

Many Tartars have been fleeing Crimea since the Russian invasion. They are heading to Lviv. Our friend Taras has been taking part in finding housing for the refugees.

The irony is (and here we go back to the land of imagination), if you read the news, you would think that Lviv is the last place a small group of oppressed Muslims would want to go. According to Russian state TV and the occasional Western journalist, Lviv is a city of xenophobic fascists. Why are they coming to our city then? Because the world isn't the land of imagination.

Yulia and I may be biased because we are residents of Lviv, but we happen to think that Lviv, and Ukrainians in general, are quite tolerant people. We see outsiders welcomed here quite often. And we ourselves embrace other languages and cultures. Yulia plays American Indian, Latin American, Russian, and Ukrainian folk music at home for us, for example.

However, we also realize that no one will defend Ukraine and Ukrainian language and culture for us. So we must be its proponents and defenders. Yulia and I have been talking about this, and we plan to discuss that in an upcoming post.

Until next time!

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