This last week started out seeming like it would mark the beginning of a time of rebuilding Ukraine. Yanukovich was stripped of his powers as president, a presidential election date was set, Parliament formed a new interim government, elected a Prime Minister and an interim President, and passed several laws to begin to stabilize things in Ukraine.
There was much talk in Western media (and Russian media) about big problems in south eastern Ukraine. By the way things were reported one would think that nobody in the south east of Ukraine wanted to have anything to do with the new government and just wanted Yanukovich back so they could keep speaking Russian and being ethnically Russian. However the situation is much different. Most people don’t care too much about the language thing (they’d prefer if Russian was allowed as a secondary language), identify as Ukrainian not Russian, want a unified Ukraine, and want less corruption in government. Russia played up the drama of ethnic Russians in Ukraine not trusting the new government, being afraid of violence from the radical extremists who took over the government, and of the few politicians who called on Russia to help maintain order.
By Thursday most of the drama was centered around events in Crimea where a newly appointed pro-Russia leader started talking about setting a vote before the citizens of Crimea on whether or not to stay part of Ukraine, become their own state, or join Russia. There were also calls for Russia to come and help them to safeguard the interests of Russian citizens in Ukraine. It was starting to look like Russia’s goal was to get Ukrainians to ask them to come to keep the peace and restore Yanukovich to power.
But what was not clear from media reports was that there was generally peace in Ukraine. Police resumed their posts (often accompanied by “people’s defense” volunteers who were there to keep Ukrainians who might be angry at the police from any violence against the police), life began to go back to normal, and the only unrest was reported from the southeast where nobody was really sure what was happening and who was doing what. Was it Ukrainians protesting the new government or titushki provoking reactions or Russian citizens living in Ukraine advocating for Russia? Everything was happening so quickly it was hard to say and hard to get a reliable report as Russian and southeastern news sources almost always directly contradict the facts that we see.
Early Friday morning we drove to Vinnytsia with 3 other couples from our church to take part in a seminar hosted by Operation Mobilization. We didn’t have internet access but by the end of Friday everyone was talking about Russian troops taking over the Crimean peninsula. By the time we got home on Saturday and were able to read what was going on, Russia had invaded Crimea using troops with no badges but dressed like Russian military and using Russian military weapons. Crimea was blockaded with no one allowed in or out. The two airports were shut down. And with the world not really knowing what was actually happening: Russia had sent its army into Ukraine and was demanding local police and military surrender their arms and bases. Later Russia’s Parliament voted to allow use of military force to guard its citizens in Ukraine which would be the equivalent of the US Congress voting to declare war.
People’s reactions in Ukraine vary. Some aren’t worried as they think this is all political and Russia will never actually fight with Ukrainians. A former colonel that we know thinks that this is a desperate of attempt by a president trying to build an empire but losing his hold at the same time. Many ethnic Russian Ukrainians have written on Facebook and sent open letters to Russia that they do not want Russian intervening and don’t need saving because there is no threat to them. The Crimean Tartars are afraid for their safety as they have had bad experiences with Russian rule (forced relocation to Siberia of an entire people group during soviet times) and have called upon Turkey to come to their aid. Ukrainians are volunteering for the army to stand up to Russia. There is a lot of disinformation being spread throughout the south east meant to divide Ukraine, cause confusion, turn people against the government in Kyiv. Over the weekend hundreds of protestors in Moscow and St. Petersburg were arrested for protesting Russia’s involvement in Ukraine.
We don’t know what to think. Putin doesn’t act logically and has out-maneuvered the West before. This time though he broke a treaty with the US and UK to be a protector of Ukraine. That treaty gave Ukraine the safety net needed to give up its nuclear arms. That makes this move by Putin much more bold and scary than anything he has done yet.
The West may not be willing to get involved in a war in Ukraine, they may not be willing to cut off economic ties with Russia, and they may not be willing to hold them to the terms of the treaty they signed. But if the west is unwilling to do those things it will send a clear sign to North Korea and Iran that treaties are meaningless, the west is weak and can’t be trusted, and nuclear arms are needed to keep your country safe.
The big question in the next week is how far is Putin willing to go and how far is the west willing to go to stop him. So far all we have seen from the US is rhetoric and the EU has hesitated at every step. This scenario happened before in Europe in the 1930’s and it looks like history is getting ready to repeat itself. We pray it does not.
Right now we are safe. Kaharlyk is a long way away from Crimea and Donetsk. If war does break out we will be far from the fighting and have time to take measures for our safety.