Sunday, March 2, 2014

Russian invasion of Ukraine

If you are somewhere outside of Ukraine, watching and reading about the Russian invasion of Ukraine on the news, you probably feel a lot like Yulia and me.

These are eerie sights for us indeed.

But we feel distant from the invasion. Unlike Euromaidan, not much is happening in western Ukraine. The currency is devaluing, of course, but it was devaluing before the invasion. During the past three months we had a very good feel for what was happening in Ukraine. We live here and completely understand the protesters. We were the protesters on many occasions. But what Putin and the Russian government are thinking is now totally beyond us. We certainly don't have the same kind of feel of the situation. Unlike Euromaidan, this is being imposed on Ukraine.

Some people may point to the residents in Crimea and eastern Ukraine and say that they are for being a part of Russia, but this is suspect. It seems that many pro-Russia protesters are actually just Russian citizens visiting Ukraine. For example, the man who put the Russian flag up on the regional government building in Kharkiv was from Moscow.

No doubt there are some pro-Russian Ukrainians. But their numbers are distorted by Russians pretending to be Ukrainians.

There is a massive disinformation campaign being waged. Timothy Snyder does a good job addressing it in his article titled, "Ukraine: The Haze of Propaganda." If you have not read it yet, please do. Snyder accomplishes many things in one article. He summarizes the situation, giving a comprehensive overview of the events in Ukraine. He talks about the wide diversity of people involved in Euromaidan and the new government. A Ukrainian of Afghani descent first called for people to take to the streets in November, starting Euromaidan. The first protester killed was Armenian. The second was Belorussian. Not everybody's ethnic Ukrainian and Christian, but they are all for Ukrainian democracy. He addresses the propaganda being disseminated by the Kremlin and former president Viktor Yanukovych, and takes on American and Western misperceptions of Ukraine:

The Russian press presented the protest as part of a larger gay conspiracy. The Ukrainian regime instructed its riot police that the opposition was led by a larger Jewish conspiracy. Meanwhile, both regimes informed the outside world that the protestors were Nazis. Almost nobody in the West seemed to notice this contradiction.
Yulia and I moved to Ukraine from the United States, and we know about the sheer ignorance related to anything Ukrainian. When we were buying seeds in California last year, the cashier asked where we were going to be planting our garden. We said Ukraine. She said, "So, a South American climate?"

Yulia had to live with this more than I had to, of course. In America I am just another white guy. Yulia has told me stories how people insist that Ukraine has no cities. It is a country made up entirely of villages they tell her. A coworker once told my father in law that the Soviet Union was just like the United States. Ukraine was just another state like Virginia or Arizona. It does not have a separate identity, language, religion, or culture.

My family is from Ukraine and no one in my lineage has ever lived under Russian domination. My grandparents left before western Ukraine became part of the Soviet Union. When they lived here this was part of Poland, and before World War One this was part of Austria for 300 years. My grandparents are all from Ukraine, but none of them spoke Russian.

During World War Two the Poles asked if anyone in Yulia's grandparents' village spoke Russian. They needed a translator. Someone told Yulia's great grandfather that Russian is the same as Ukrainian. Since he spoke Ukrainian, he said he could translate Russian. When the time came for him to translate, he had no idea what the Russians were saying.

Yulia's grandmother is from Cherkasy (which is pretty far east of here), and she never spoke Russian before the Soviet Union.

For us personally, ties with Russia are new and tenuous. Any ties are due to what we consider to be the Soviet occupation of Ukraine. Please keep this in mind when you hear people say that Ukraine and Russia have deep connections with each other or are the same nation. In some cases this is true, but in other ways it is not.

Either way, what is happening now has the distinct feel of a foreign invasion. We're not cool with it, and we do not welcome the Russian army.


  1. One sixth of Russian military personnel and two airmobile brigades. Oh my word.

  2. I posted my comment before I had finished reading your post. The link is simply to support the point there.

    My Russian is quite poor. I am somewhat fluent in Ukrainian, despite shaky spelling due to little practice. I did learn a bit of Russian in situations when there was no other way of communicating with people. I've practiced quite a bit too over the past few months while following Maidan and issues around it. I use Google Translate quite a bit for help.

    My family, Ukrainian on both sides, was in Halycina during the war and suffered countless losses. No affinity for Russians whatsoever. Most of my people were lucky enough to be able to escape, but others stayed and lived under Soviet rule. Their lives were hard.

    I am wondering what the feelings are of people in Kharkiv, Donetsk, and surroundings. I realize that the propaganda is thick.

    Also, I am wondering what the new leadership in Ukraine was thinking when they thought up the Ukrainian only rule. Poor timing.

    I read somewhere that Russian soldiers were provided with maps of Kyiv. Oy! I hope this was misleading information or propaganda.

    In fact, I hope all this is neanderthal chest-thumping, but it's not looking good. No not at all.

    Stay safe. Be well.

  3. Thank you for your note and suggestions, Michael. I will take a look.

    Like probably everyone else, I have been reading up in various sources, but mostly I am on standby, just watching and hoping for the best for all concerned. I don't really have much to say at the moment.

    I came across Bohdan Yaremko's post, former Ukrainian Consul to Turkey who was called back and let go by Yanukovych after criticism of regime force against Maidan.
    Thought you may find this to be of interest.

    Even when it is plain occupation and nothing is ever simple or straightforward, we cannot allow losing the ability for coherent reasoning. In fact, this ability is needed more than ever.
    The situation in Crimea is not at all about status or autonomy rights.
    If Crimea were experiencing ethnic conflicts or failed basic economy, we could have been looking for causes in laws or actions of Ukrainian government. However, in reality Crimea is not plagued with these disasters.
    During recent four years Ukraine was ruled by the government which was not just loyal to Russia, loyal to everything Russian and composed of former Russians, but in fact it was made up of the vanguard of Russian FSB and other special intelligence agencies. All and any manifestations of Ukrainian phobia were allowed and even encouraged in Crimea, whereas expressions of Russian identity or Russian patriotism were commonplace. No calls for extension of the Crimean autonomy have been ever noticeable which speaks of absence of public demand for this. Thus, it is not the matter of status.
    The point is that exploiting existing historical preconditions (vast enclave of former and current USSR and RF military personnel) and presence of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Crimea with ancillary special and security services, the Russian Federation government, with explicit and ill-minded connivance of the Ukrainian leaders and security forces, have designed a scenario for destabilization, provocations and occupation which they now are attempting to implement.
    Thus, the top priority task right now is to disrupt these Russian schemes, drive away the occupants and this in itself will bring stability and create environment for a normal, civilized public discussion. It needs to be spotlighted that no such dialogue will take place in case of continuing occupation by Russia, as it is common knowledge that for a long time already the only form of public dialogue in Russia has been Putin’s talk with the press.

  4. (Continued here as there was a letter/character limit)

    In is obvious that under no circumstances will Ukraine or the rest of the civilized world recognize any plebiscite held under occupation regime. Only after the situation in Crimea has been stabilized, would it be possible to return to the question about its territory status. We must not deceive ourselves – this question is much more complicated than overcoming imaginary fright at “bandera followers” and their diverse breed (all differently labeled pseudo-groups hatred to which has been extensively cultivated by the Russian media). In my opinion, the most poignant question in the matter of Crimean status is the assurance of the Crimean Tartars’ rights.
    Crimean Tartars have neither Moscow nor Kyiv whereto they could flee theoretically in case of conflict. They will not be able to receive sufficient rights in Turkey either, where protection of ethnic minorities’ rights is only emerging. And most importantly, why should Crimean Tartars flee or ask for protection?
    Creating an environment enabling all Crimean Tartars to feel they are masters in their own land is a matter of honour (and maybe even survival) for Ukrainian democracy and Ukrainian political nationalism.
    It is essential to have the rights of the Majlis codified in law. It is important to ensure that the Crimean Tartars have the ‘blocking equity holding’ in legislative and executive authorities of Crimea.
    I believe that the future of Crimea (and it is more a reality rather than projections) is not about bi- or trilinguism, but about multiculturalism.
    As for issues of economic preferences and rights, these should be address comprehensively in the totality of a wider national administrative and territorial reform framework. The adopted approach should be not granting different degrees of autonomy or rights to individual regions (it is a Russian fallacy) but taking a fundamental decision on building and fostering real local self-governance.
    Дякую за переклад Inna Derkach.

  5. Thank you for our perspective on the situation. Here in the US we hear only what the press wants us to hear and often it is distorted and inaccurate. Regards!