Ukraine has been the focus of intense international attention for the last couple weeks and the ground on which a tense game of geopolitical chess is being played out.
A nation about the size of France, not every corner of the country is filled with civil unrest nor with Russian troops awaiting orders from the Kremlin. Life in Slaviansk, a city about the size of Washington in the eastern part of Ukraine, proceeded in the midst of the crisis, according to Olga Shestopalova, even though its effects are widely felt.
Business continues there. “No one has shut down,” Shestopalova explained in an email message late Wednesday afternoon, but sales in stores were sliced in half, as jittery consumers hang tight to their hryvnias – the Ukrainian currency.
“No one knows what will (happen) tomorrow,” Shestopalova said.
Shestopalova writes for TV Plus, the newspaper in Slaviansk and a partner newspaper of the Observer-Reporter. Ukraine has been in turmoil since late last year, when President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign a trade deal with the European Union, infuriating Ukrainians who want the country to strengthen its ties to Europe. Protests in Kiev’s Independence Square turned violent last month when 77 protestors were killed and close to 600 were wounded. In the aftermath, Yanukovych fled. Russia, which saw the protests as an attempted coup, has since moved into Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, and the country’s 45 million remain divided on whether to look west toward Europe or east toward Moscow.
In Slaviansk, at least, most are for Russian expansion, Shestopalova explained.
“I know progressive people who don’t want Putin to step on our land.” Where people stand largely depends, in Shestopalova’s estimation, on how widely they traveled and how well-read they are. If their horizons are narrow, they “think Putin is grace and good. Most people are afraid of the EU and the U.S.A.”
She continued, “At the same time, there are people understanding that Putin is war and the symbol of misfortune. Thinking he is worse than Hitler. Those people are mostly with high education, (with) experience of visiting both Russia and the EU.”
Those who want Putin to butt out of Ukraine’s affairs are disappointed in the response of Europe and President Obama, Shestopalova said, and hope troops from NATO or the United Nations will eventually be committed. “My own opinion, as a citizen, is NATO has to show Putin he has no chances to continue Hitler’s attempts.”
Shestopalova said her great-grandfather and grandfather “defeated the fascist enemies” in World War II “not for Putin to play with our lives.”
Nonetheless, there is fear that Russia will attempt to annex Crimea, the country’s divisions will remain unhealed, and war will break out.
“There (is) a lot of uncertainty. We are afraid Crimea will be annexed because Putin is lavish with other people’s blood.”