The crisis in the Ukraine lies deep in regional and ethnic divisions between its Ukrainian and Russian populations. International political powers have also contributed to intensifying the crisis. Conditioned by history, combined with the geographical location of the country, many Ukrainians are deeply divided by their loyalty to Russia and Europe. Much of western Ukraine advocates for closer ties with the European Union, while the eastern and southern regions where people have strong economic and family ties through mixed Russian-Ukrainian marriages look to Russia for support. Ukraine is a country divided, by different languages, histories and values.
As part of my research at the University of Sydney I have interviewed Ukrainians who have immigrated to Australia following independence in the Ukraine. Their views differ vastly depending upon the region they come from.
Ukrainians from the west are more supportive of the former opposition lead by Arseniy Yatsenyuk, now in power. Their opposition to Russia led them to try to "save the Ukrainian language" by restricting regional usage of Russian in their first days in power, a move that provoked further tensions between west and southeast Ukraine. The populations in the east and south look to Russia for protection and support. In their minds, the Crimean Peninsular cannot be part of the newly established “radical regime” and they seek support in Russia. It is a well-known fact that Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is stationed in Crimea and more than 60 per cent of Crimea's residents identify as Russian. Their support for Russia has placed Ukraine in a dangerous pre-war position. Given Putin’s uncontrollable appetite for a small victorious war to strengthen the rouble and his own – almost unlimited – power, the situation is likely to intensify.
Many conflicts now exist between the opposing groups camped in Maidan, the central square in Kiev. They have come to be known as the Maidan and Anti-Maidan factions. These conflicts significantly decrease the chances of the regional integration of the “Ukrainian nation”. At the start of the riots, people from east and west Ukraine banded together to rebel against the oligarchy-controlled state and against political authoritarianism. However, both the Maidan and Anti-Maidan factions were easily manipulated by the oligarchy clans who wanted to prevent a proper democratic revolution in the Ukraine. The revolution has a possibility of winning if the Maidan faction introduced solid welfare and employment agendas. Then the force of the revolution would expand and there would be a chance to unite the country.
Ukraine finds itself on the brink of war because of external political interference from Russia and the West and internal division between Ukrainian political parties and leaders. Ukrainian political leaders have never distanced themselves from the ultra-right movements who keep destroying the country by not accepting its multicultural and multilingual realities.
As we all know, revolutionary changes are very unstable. For my fellow countrymen I hope that the Ukrainian case will be the exception and result in significant democratic change.
I am very concerned with the situation in my homeland. I am concerned not only about the situation in Maidan Square and Crimea, but also about how this situation will influence other post-Soviet Eastern European states and how the turbulence will affect the rest of the world. Unfortunately, Ukraine has become a battlefield for economic and political dominance between Russia and the US..
Greed for power and wealth of the ruling political elite, corruption and nepotism have overwhelmed Ukraine in the 23 years since independence. Given the already poor living standards and low wages, Ukrainians are now questioning how to survive or to adapt to these new conflict conditions.
I still have family living in Kiev. They give me insights beyond what is reported in Ukrainian, Russian and Western media. The last time I spoke to them they told me that the atmosphere is distressing and depressing. The army is mobilising, the government has no control over the chaos, and Russian troops are at the border. There is growing inflation and panic-buying. Some banks have frozen all deposits and withdrawal. For the sake of my family, friends and fellow Ukrainians I hope for a quick and peaceful resolution to the crisis.
I hope for an economically prosperous, stable and multicultural Ukraine, with a strong and democratic establishment.
Olga Oleinikova is a PhD Researcher at the University of Sydney’s Department of Sociology and Social Policy.