When we decided to bid on Ukraine and make it our first choice post, we were excited about the possibility of getting to live in a semi-European country for 4 years. We expected little to no drama as we thought Ukraine was a relatively established country. And I must say, I have loved living here. We are downtown right near a metro. I have loved having restaurants nearby, parks, and cheap metro access to get around the city. I love looking at the architecture of the buildings and seeing the city bloom in spring.
But 3 months into our time here, the Euromaidan protests began. As an American bystander who lived less than a mile away from the protests, I understood where the protesters were coming from. This is a beautiful country with so much potential. They wanted to steer their country in a direction that would not only support their freedoms but would eventually transform their country into a modern European country.
As I watched the news reports of snipers taking out protesters in February, I (who am a non-violent person) found myself wanting the protesters to continue to fight violently back. Kill those bastards! This isn’t fair! Somebody come in and take those damn snipers down! The protesters were facing unfair odds, countless lives were lost, and all because they wanted their freedoms and the current regime wanted to live in the Russian way. I thought government was supposed to represent the people, to make decisions based on what the majority wanted. But, I guess that’s what you’re going to think when you’re born and raised in a country like America.
Several weeks ago when I was taking my youngest to school, he decided to wear his crazy pirate hat. During our commute – metro, funicular, and 15 minute walk – many small smiles appeared on people’s faces as they looked at my son and looked away. Others, mostly men, said something to us with big smiles on their faces. I have no idea what they said but the intent behind their words did not feel negative.
At first, I thought, “Great. We’re supposed to keep low profiles when we’re overseas. My son’s crazy hat (something you never see children outside of their houses here wearing) coupled with our English jabber say, ‘Americans right here!'” But during the course of our commute, I began to feel proud that we are American. I come from a country where we encourage our children to express themselves, to be bold, to try different things, to be themselves, whatever that may be. This is exactly what many people at Maidan were fighting for. Freedom of speech. Freedom of expression. While I actually know very few people here, I have shed countless tears for the people who have lost their lives. These are people we ride the metro with. People who give up their seats for my little one so he’s not thrown across the train when it jolts to a stop or suddenly takes off. These are people whom I see in the grocery store and shop with. And should Russia send their military into the country, how many of these brave Ukrainians will lose their lives to stop them when no one else will?
As things continue to unfold, the fate of Ukraine and of our time here looks bleak. I am sad to say that I have no faith that the western countries (my country included) will keep this poor, wonderful country from either being divided in half or completely taken over and declared as part of Russia. I get it though, I really do. No one wants a war. Wars are expensive and result in so many deaths. Implementing sanctions might be a good economic way to get a result without going into war. War should be a last resort.
Me being my non-violent self has never previously understood why we go into war for or with other countries. The lives lost just never seemed worth it. But for the first time in my life, I get it. And the first time in my life, I find myself wishing the West would militarily back Ukraine up. Show the world that bullies can’t just walk in and take other countries much less conquer the world. Show the world that we create alliances so we can stand united to prevent large countries from conquering others, because that’s really what Russia is doing. And sadly, I think in the end the West will let him.
Bullying has taken a forefront in American media since I’ve been gone. As a former victim of bullying in elementary and high school, I’m glad people are becoming more aware of it. I don’t know that there’s any way to stop it, but at the very least support needs to be given to the victims. It’s the support that will help them get through it and experience the adult lives that lay before them. And, giving the victims support sends the message to the bullies that others stand behind the victims and will help them through it so the bullies might as well wrap it up and take their issues elsewhere.
Do you see the parallels with Russia? This is exactly what is happening over here in Ukraine and Ukraine isn’t getting the support it needs to show that countries stand behind it and its sovereignty. Russia is a big bully. They previously took over smaller countries at their border and no one batted an eye. It opened the door for Russia (e.g. Putin) to say, “Hm. That was pretty easy. What’s the best way to get a bigger country? What if I just take a part of it? What will anyone do then?”
So, he did what I call a pilot test. He tested the waters to see what would happen. He made it look like local pro-Russian people in Crimea took over the government buildings and then said, “Russia we need your help militarily to protect these people who don’t want to be part of Ukraine.” Then they implemented their referendum which by the way gave no option to choose “Stay with Ukraine.” They didn’t allow independent observers to observe the voting and came out of the referendum saying, “Um see, 97% of the people here want to join us.” Was that 100% of the population voting? How many pretend votes did that include?
What was the result of this pilot test? Well, Russia now has a part of Ukraine and now knows what it needs to do take half or even all of the country. And that’s what it started doing yesterday in the eastern parts of Ukraine. “Pro-Russian” people take over government buildings, plant their flag, and say “Russia come send troops to protect us.” And he can do this because all he received was the equivalent of a slap on the hand for taking Crimea. The bully has tested the waters and found no one will stand up to him so he can do what he wants.
This strategy is similar to the foot-in-the-door technique in psychology where you make a successive small requests that eventually result in getting your larger goal. Granted, no one said, “Sure you can take Crimea”, but no one stopped him either. That’s the critical thing. Putin learned if he can take a small part of Ukraine without any major consequences, he can extend that strategy with the regions in eastern and southern Ukraine and likely receive little consequences. This is in part because the West has already set the precedent that they will not do anything major when he takes over part of the country. This will likely lead to Putin taking over the whole country once he has half of it.
I have no idea what will unfold in the next couple of months, but given what has happened in the last 2 it doesn’t look good. Our time here in Ukraine may come to a quick end. I know I will leave here a different person: one who will always remember the bravery and patriotism of the Ukrainian people. I am genuinely honored to have lived here even if it ends up being for a short amount of time.