By Julia Kukoba.A man extinguishes a fire of a private house in a suburb of Donetsk after a shelling on August 17, 2014. Ukrainian forces battled into a key rebel bastion as fresh claims that rocket launchers had crossed over from Russia stoked tensions on August 17 ahead of talks between Kiev and Moscow’s top diplomats. AFP PHOTO / Max Vetrov. © AFP.
When some Westerners considered the former Soviet Union, they thought of Russia. When they thought of Ukraine, if at all, many thought of it as a part of Russia. Recognition of Ukraine as independent nation, which it has been for 23 years, has been slow in coming.
The misperceptions are fueled by the likes of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has never accepted the breakup of the Soviet Union, as well as Russophiles among Ukraine’s 45 million people.
Ever since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March and its proxy war in Ukraine’s east since April, many people have learned a lot more about Ukraine and its history, including its tremendous sacrifices in World War II and its struggle for independence.
While Russia has vastly more resources to fight the information and propaganda war, discerning people who want to know the truth are finding it.
Here are impressions from people of different countries about how their attitudes to Ukraine have changed since the Russian invasion of Crimea on Feb 27:
Oscar M. Cordero, Arizona, USA
It is embarrassing to admit that before the fall of 2013, I was completely ignorant of Ukraine. As a result of the recent events and the media covering Ukraine non-stop, my curiosity was awakened. The idea of a potential second Cold War, the fact that so many nations got absorbed by what started as a domestic political issue made me want to learn more.
I first started watching RT (Russia Today) and compared it to American mainstream networks and the difference could not be bigger between the information presented.
So I became curious about what Ukrainians’ point of view was. Therefore, I turned to a social network and the internet, which led me find a window to what Ukraine really is. I remember asking a Ukrainian citizen why they didn’t just re-join Russia, after all (in my mind) what difference would it make?….
Well, I am lucky this girl did not slap me. Rather, she had the patience to explain what was happening, earning my respect and appreciation. So, I decided to dig even deeper into Ukraine. Just to find out that it was much more than just a former Soviet Union state. In my mind it was sharing Russian culture, language, traditions and a vision for the future. How wrong I was.
Now, I know what the Ukrainian flag looks like, what its color mean, I know I can find it on a map. Currently I am not only following the events in the eastern part of the country, but I am learning about Ukrainian culture. Today I know that Ukraine has beautiful, warm people who share more things in common with me than I initially thought. I can now recognize some amazing traditional dresses. Nothing like what I had imagined to see. I can’t wait for this whole mess to be over so I can visit and enjoy beautiful Ukraine.”
Dan Arian, Ottawa, Canada
My relationship with Ukraine: It all started with becoming friend with a lady, whose husband worked for the Ukrainian Embassy in Ottawa. A couple of years later, they moved back to their city, Kyiv. I got an invitation to spend the Christmas and New Year with them in 2000. My stay in Kyiv and Crimea was one of the highlights of my life.
In Western countries, the old Soviet Union was demonized to the level, that most people thought that they would be in grave danger, if they would travel there. And I was no exception for having doubts to travel to the old Soviet region! Once I was there, I was greeted by my friend and her family and her husband. People were extremely nice and friendly. It was a warm and fuzzy feeling thru out the trip. I fell in love with people’s kindness and hospitality. I met some people, whom didn’t have much, but they had a lot of love to give. I always remember my trips to Ukraine with great happiness and warmth! Canada has a large concentrated population of Ukrainians.
News about Ukraine is always one the main ones, when it comes to world news. We were witnessing the Ukrainian revolution through our TV news and also the social networks, mainly Facebook and Twitter.
The mood in here regarding the news was somewhat divided. For us, not knowing the internal politics of Ukraine, made it hard to understand what is actually happening and for what reason! It was heartbreaking to see the violence on the streets of Kyiv. To most North American people, Ukraine was part of Russia or at least influenced greatly by the Russians. More and more we saw the violence and arrests, more we got drawn to the events, which was taking place on a daily bases in Kyiv and some other cities in Ukraine. I think if this didn’t happen, we would have still believe that Ukraine is in fact just another puppet of Russia. And the Russian government don’t have a good reception in North America, in general. Once the people kicked the president out of office and screamed to the world and showed what is actually going on, the picture got more clear for us.
But it didn’t take long to see that Russian occupied a piece of Ukrainian land, while they were down! That move by the Russians, made us very mad and sad, same time. We couldn’t believe our eyes that in the 21st century, you can just grab another country’s land, without having any fear or shame. As we saw, no one wants a war with Russia. To many, it will be the end of the world because of the nuclear weapons. We all fear a ruthless Russia would not come short of using their nuclear weapons, if they have to. So we all watch in horror and see how Ukraine was going to respond. We all know that Russia has a huge influence in Ukrainian military. To us was no doubt that the high-ranking officers were cooperating with the Russians.
Fast forward, we saw many Pro-Russians, in the eastern Ukraine reflected the outcry by some Russians, who live in Ukraine.
As a visitor, I saw the inequalities in the society. The previous governments did not care much about people’s life and well being. Security was a big question and country was in a fast decay.
Many people looking at fast growing economy in Russia and Western Europe. I think it was just matter of time for a revolution to take place, regardless who was in pose.
Since eastern Ukraine is next to Russia, no doubt people in there want more or perhaps the same. So I think it would be natural to think that people want to join Russia. If the situation in Ukraine was much better than Russia, I don’t think that eastern Ukrainians would even move a finger to join Russia.
On the other hand, the violence in Odessa, where a lot of pro-Russians burnt alive in a government building, was a big black line for the freedom movement. In West, we understand why revolutions happen, but when actions become crime, we tend to think twice.
After the presidential election, we thought some stability will come back to Ukraine, but that proved to be wrong.
To my opinion, Ukraine’s whole government needs an overhaul. The way I see it, Ukraine needs a solid plan for its economy. Independence from Russian military and government and respect its people. Ethnic Russians ( and other ethnic groups), need to be recognized and rights given.
We also understand that this conflict will not end any time soon. West and East are back to the Cold War mentality again.
With the events in Middle East and the fight over northern resources, I predict more conflict will arise, not just in Eastern Block, but perhaps will get into Western and Northern Europe.
But time will tell.
Leonel Santos, Lisbon, Portugal
The first time I arived to Kyiv was in March 2010. Before that, there wasn’t much I knew about the city or Ukraine.
We lay on opposite corners on Europe and Portugal was always more interested and aware about the Atlantic than the continent. Adding that to the fact that I truly believe that, during the Cold War, propaganda worked better on this side. Even if on my Christmas, when I was 13 years old, and got as gift a book about Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika…
It wasn’t my first trip to Eastern Europe, six months before, I already been in Bucharest. From Ukraine, we knew Chornobyl, some football teams, like Dynamo and that’s it. Even having an extensive Ukrainian community living in Portugal.
On my case, I studied a little bit before my trip. I was aware of the business environment, about the efforts in 2004 to build a more European society and how that dream was thrown away. Language was a barrier, mostly as out of business community and away from city center was really hard to find someone who could speak English.
But the most vivid memory I hold from those first readings was how present corruption was on every level of relationships, how dense laws were and imposible to be understood. The general feeling was that we could be welcome to do business, but only under “certain conditions.” All that it was easy to confirm, from the very first approach. Fortunately, I never confirmed another warning I received: Kyiv isn’t a dangerous city.
Aytunc Ronnie Guler, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
“I didn’t have prior information about Ukraine before these events so much except for what I have studied from ottoman history. I do know that it gained independence from the soviets and that a lot of the Ukrainians I met were really nationalistic about not being confused with Russians.
My attitude towards Russia didn’t really change so much because I knew that they were a pretty aggressive state that doesn’t care so much about their international image. I was surprised when the riots in Ukraine began because I thought it was a more stable country. I didn’t know the people were that divided.”
(Kyiv Post staff writer Julia Kukoba can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Julia Kukoba: Kyiv Post.