Although the conflict is far from Boston, the crisis in Ukraine is close at heart to community members with ties to the country.
Ukraine has been in a state of chaos for close to a year. Protests over former president Victor Yanukovych’s rejection of a November 2013 trade agreement with the EU culminated in Kiev’s devastating February riots that left hundreds dead and the rest of the world shocked by the resulting apocalyptic images. Soon after, the Russian military seized control of Crimea, a Ukrainian-governed republic on the coast of the Black Sea that is home to many ethnic Russians and an important Russian naval base. Since then, Ukraine has been polarized into those who support Russia’s actions and those who don’t; for months now, pro-Russia separatists have been fighting the Ukrainian National Guard for control of cities along the Eastern seaboard.
“Ukraine has lost 1000 soldiers in five months,” said political scientist Dr. Taras Kuzio at a Harvard symposium on September 15th. “This is far more than an anti-terrorist campaign. This is an insurgency.” With innocent citizens falling victim to an unsuccessful ceasefire and Russia still denying its involvement in the fighting, it’s no wonder that Boston residents are worried about their loved ones.
Boston University junior Anna Veselovsky is a second generation Ukrainian from Chicago. Her parents emigrated from Ukraine in the 90s but still have family in Kiev and Dnipropetrovsk, a city about three and a half hours away from rebel-held Donetsk. For the most part, her Ukrainian family stays uninvolved in the conflict; “They try and keep their heads down and just go about their lives,” she said.
But her cousin Evgeny is staunchly anti-Russia. “[Evgeny] has very opinionated views about the situation,” she said. “He feels that what Russia is doing to the country is not right.” He participates in protests in the East, which makes her and her parents concerned for his safety. “He’s in the middle of all the action,” she said. “He isn’t violent, but he’s very much vocal [about being pro-Ukraine]. Knowing that he holds a view like this, that’s so extremist, just makes me very worried. My parents are also concerned but knowing him, there’s no changing his mind. All we can do is hope for the best.”
Another person concerned about the situation in Ukraine is Boston University senior Maxim Secor. Although he himself is not Ukrainian, he spent the past two summers working with a church group in Kiev. He speaks Russian almost fluently and has friends living in the capitol along with a girlfriend, Evgenia, whom he worries about in the midst of the country’s economic ruin. Being as the fighting has moved to the East, he worries more for her stability than her safety. “I’m not worried about her physical well being as much as her financial well being,” he said. “I’m worried about her finding a job. She just got a job but it’s more like ‘you can work here for free and in a couple months we can start paying you,’ which is very typical in Kiev.”
She doesn’t have a permanent residence however, so he does worry what would happen to her if fighting were to return to Kiev. “If the conflict did intensify to the point where there was military presence in Kiev, would she have someplace to go? I don’t know,” he said. But he admires her unwavering faith in her situation, regardless of its instability. “She’s constantly in the spirit of ‘whatever happens, God is real, and he’s going to take care of my life.’ To me, that’s an astonishing thing.”
Secor is also worried about his friends staying warm. Russia, which supplies 30% of Europe’s gas, threatened to cut off the Ukraine from gas supplies as part of a strategy for destabilization. According to Seton Hall professor Margarita Balmaceda, this supply cut is a real concern. “If nothing changes, Ukraine will undergo a natural experiment of unprecedented size: how to survive the winter with half the gas as usual,” she said at the symposium. Secor said his friends in Kiev recently received notice from their universities that school may be cancelled in the winter due to being unable to heat classrooms; “They say the average classroom temperature will be 45 degrees,” he says.
There’s no denying that the crisis in Ukraine has severely impacted the country. The economy is unstable, fighting is unceasingly violent, and citizens are unsure of what to expect in the coming months. For those removed from Ukraine, the hardest part of the situation is just watching their country fall apart. “Ultimately, my parents just want peace and for the country to be back to its old state,” Veselovsky said. “[They think] it’s very sad that it’s going down in this way.”
For those who experienced it firsthand, the situation is simply devastating. Crimean citizen Oleksiy Morozli recently came to Boston seeking political asylum. He attended the symposium and spoke heart wrenchingly about the Crimean annexation; “In Russian we have this word, печальная [pe-chal-nay-a], which is a kind of sad where you have lost something and have bad feelings about it,” he said. “My wife and I explain that [feeling] about our home; we have lost Crimea. Life as it was will not return.”