Russia “Rushing” Ukraine


Regions of Ukraine photo via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons license

Annie Wang, Staff Writer

Recently, Ukraine has become the headline of news everywhere. From flipping through channels on TV to front-page articles in the newspaper, there are few who haven’t heard about the violence that is taking place in Ukraine.

In 2004, a politician named Viktor Yanukovych ran for president. Amidst all rumors and fraud, he lost. Later on in 2010, Yanukovych ran again and won. Since his election, many have viewed him with skepticism and suspicions of corruption.

In November, President Yanukovych chose not to a sign a major deal with the European Union (EU), which is an economic and political partnership between 28 European countries that cooperate with each other in order to create laws and share money. Instead, he accepted a $15 billion bailout and the promise of reduced gas prices from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In western areas of Ukraine, where support for Yanukovych has been lacking from the very beginning, people began protesting because many support the EU and European connections. In mid-January, the number of demonstrations grew, causing Yanukovych to sign “anti-protest laws” that restricted free speech and the media. This sparked further outrage, including in the east this time. Even when these laws were repealed, protests increased. As a result, the police became more violent in heir attempts to control the protesting.

Yanukovych released a statement saying, “on the streets of many cities of our country, extremism thrives” and “threats of bodily harm are thrown at me and my collaborators.” He goes on to ask for help from Russian authorities to ensure his personal safety from the “actions of extremists.”

Since then, he has been forced from power, along with a warrant for his arrest. He has fled to Russia, all the while vowing to continue fighting for Ukraine.

In his place, Olexander Turchynov currently resides as a temporary president, along with Arseniy Yatsenyuk as interim prime minister. A new cabinet was also formed and is expected to remain in power until elections are held on May 25.

However, the deep-rooted causes are within Ukraine’s personal identity crisis, simply rooted in language, which has caused a divide among the people as to what kind of country Ukraine should be.

Two hundred and fifty years ago, rulers such as Catherine the Great and Joseph Stalin aimed to “Russify” the eastern half of Ukraine, an area filled with abundant natural resources and fertile land for farming, by encouraging people to speak Russian instead of Ukrainian.

In the west, most people speak Ukrainian and remember brutal Russian rule. They would prefer Ukraine to be more European rather than Russian.

In the east, Ukrainians speak predominately Russian as a first language. This results in people with warmer thoughts and cultural and historical connections with Russia in the east, most notably in Crimea.

The division between the west and the east of Ukraine has created underlying fissures within the country, which are likely to become large cracks and breaks if problems aren’t solved.

Tensions rose in Crimea when several armed men took over government buildings while raising a Russian flag. The Ukrainian government took this action as a challenge to authority. This led to Russia’s parliament sending in troops to Crimea on February 28.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yatsenyuk said in response to the militarizing of the Crimea, “This is not a threat, this is actually a declaration of war to my country.”

John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State, and other European foreign ministers, have scheduled meetings in Kiev to discuss the unfolding of these events as Ukraine seeks international support.

Kerry urged Putin to withdraw “an incredible act of aggression.” However, there is no sign of this happening any time soon. Russia has already moved 6,000 troops into that area.

Kerry said the Obama administration is working alongside U.S. allies to impose economic penalties on Russia if it continues to encroach further upon Ukraine, adding that they “are prepared to go to the hilt in order to isolate Russia with respect to this invasion.”

According to a White House statement, President Obama conveyed concern over “Russia’s clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

However, Putin has made it clear that he wants troops in Ukraine “until the sociopolitical situation is normalized.”

Meanwhile, during a new conference, Yanukovych said he was “ashamed” of the fact that he was unable to maintain stability in his own country. He publicly apologized and said, “I want to apologize in front of everybody – to the veterans, to the Ukrainian people – that I did not have the strength to stop what is now taking place in the country from taking place.”

He added, “A normal way of life must be assured to the citizens of Ukraine, both in Kiev and in all regions of Ukraine.” Unfortunately, it may take a while for that to happen.