More to Ukraine crisisthan sound bites, mobs

March 27, 2014

What is happening now in Ukraine is confusing enough, but the abbreviated information we get from television and radio about the crisis makes it more incomprehensible.

What we are hearing and seeing – usually following the speculation about what might have happened to the missing Malaysian jetliner – are the talking points of politicians, accusations and threats, propaganda and, again, speculation. What we don’t hear much of is explanation; it takes too long. Instead, we hear sound bites.

The editors of this newspaper decided earlier this year that a good way to better inform our readers about the crisis was to allow them to hear the voices of ordinary Ukrainians so deeply affected by the turmoil in their country. This was easy enough for the Observer-Reporter, which has since 2006 conducted exchange programs with newspapers in Melitopol and Slaviansk, both cities in eastern Ukraine, where the majority of the population is Russian-speaking and supportive of the Russian incursion into Crimea. Through our contacts in those cities and in the capital, Kiev, we began a blog – Dispatches from Ukraine – on Our correspondents have written about changes they witnessed, about their hopes and fears. In doing so, some have been courageous. It is understandable that some have asked to withhold their last names.

Neighbors have turned on each other, and the threat of deadly reprisal is real.

Julia, a human rights advocate living in Crimea, wrote the invasion of Russian troops was not so surprising, given a campaign to promote Russian nationalism was launched in the area several years before.

“I do not understand why people who live in Crimea so sincerely and strongly hate their country,” Julia, 35, wrote March 14. “I could never understand this. Now my friends and I are scared to go out, speak Ukrainian and carry the flag of my country. This happened due to the hatred of Ukraine and everything Ukrainian artificially implanted around here stronger and stronger every day.”

Olya Tymchak, 32, had been living in Crimea for five years before fleeing to her native western Ukraine. Her March 19 dispatch portrayed a people much different than the angry mobs seen on our television screens:

“The events of recent weeks have not been very pleasant for me, but as I look back I will remember my Simferopol not because of green men with guns who suddenly appeared on its streets, but primarily because of other, much nicer people whom I met there. I talked in Ukrainian, Russian, English and even in German and Polish (just a little bit). Language has never been a problem, and it seems to me I found a common ground with all of you pretty well. After all, the language of human heart and soul sounds the same for everyone and everywhere.”

Tuesday’s dispatch from Donetsk by Iryna offered an explanation for why residents of that city lean so far toward Russia:

“To fully understand this, it is important to note that the Donetsk region is dominated by heavy industries, such as machine building, steel production, coal mining and more. For centuries people have been working hard in factories, plants and coal mines. Their biggest fear is losing their jobs, which could happen if these companies lose their ability to export their products. Of course, the main market for exports is Russia and other countries that were part of the Soviet Union.”

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