Echoes of anarchy reach across Atlantic for Wildcat transplant
On the eastern edge of Europe and the western wing of Russia, Ukraine, a former member of the Soviet Union, teeters on the abyss of war between nationalities. Two camps are at the heart of the conflict, a pro-European group and a pro-Russian sect. Ukraine legislators were pushing the country towards becoming a member of the European Union (EU). However, a drastic measure halted the progress.
“Four months ago, Ukrainian President Yanukovych stopped the [Ukrainian] movement towards the European Union,” said social studies teacher, Paul Stellpflug.
On December 1, 300,000 protesters stormed the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, where police brutally attacked the Ukrainian youth. Protests raged on in Kiev for three months, obtaining the release of imprisoned former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko as well as the resignation of many pro-Russian members of Parliament. With these few pro-European successes, the fatality count was at 95 as of March 3. Sasha Shymanko, a foreign exchange student from Ukraine, believes the protesters were well within their limits.
“They came with peaceful protests,” he said. They didn’t do anything wrong.”
Although some protesters came armed only with strong feelings, the police fought back with more than just words; rioters’ voices were muffled by police use of tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber bullets. Nevertheless, the dissidents were thirsty to see the ousting of President Yanukovych, no matter what measures were necessary. Stellpflug views a different event as the peak of the Ukraine-only tensions.
“The culminating point [was when] Yanukovych bailed and went to Russia,” he said.
However, the crisis in the region did not dissipate with the ousting of the pro-Russian government. The tensions in the country have shifted the spotlight from Kiev to the southern Crimean Peninsula. Russia has been using these ports as their main areas for shipping when their own northern ports are frozen. This has resulted in a mixed Ukrainian-Russian culture, with 60% of the population speaking Russian as their first language. The sway of alliances has grown into a battle for control of the Peninsula.
The people of Crimea voted on a March 16 on a referendum to decide the fate of the peninsula. If the Russian population won the majority, the Crimean Peninsula would leave Ukraine and secede to Russia. The world held its breath awaiting the results. Stellpflug worried over the repercussions of Russia winning the peninsula.
“If Russia gets its way, it’s a very scary precedence,” he said.
Shymanko has faith in the nationalism in the citizens of his homeland.
“The Ukrainian people will do everything to protect their freedom,” he said.
Protecting their freedom, in this case, may include going to war over the secession of the Crimean Peninsula. Crimea breaking away from Ukraine is a blatant disregard of the Ukrainian constitution according to Ukraine and its western supporters, including the United States. The possibility for warfare lies in Russia’s belief that the referendum is in the full right of the Ukrainian people. Russian President Vladimir Putin is at odds with other world leaders on the United Nations (UN) Security Council. Both Russia and the United States possess a veto power, causing the UN to be incapacitated in this standoff. Stellpflug is doubtful over any reasonable, peaceful resolutions.
“Putin’s not rational; he’s a classic autocratic dictator in the most beautiful Russian form,” he said.
Despite the lack of military bullets, Shymanko does see a different type of warfare occurring.
“Warfare is going not with troops and tanks, but with economy,” he said. “The Russian economy isn’t very good.”
Shymanko believes that if tensions rise to a military-involved level, the United States and other European Union members could easily stop the violence through economic sanctions against Russia.
“Every person that can stop it would stop it,” he said.
However, he is hopeful for the near future as it will have a ripple effect on his long term goals.
“After we have elections on May 25 for a new president, things will stop,” he said. “I would like to live in a free country.”
By: Logan Anderson