Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Russia has Only Itself to Blame for Break with Ukraine, Shtepa Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 26 – Ukrainians taking part in the Maidan last year wanted to overthrow a corrupt president and move toward Europe; they were not focused on breaking with Russia. The current divide between Ukrainians and Russians is thus the result of Russian not Ukrainian actions, according to Vadim Shtepa.


            On the basis of a visit to Ukraine in October, the Russian regionalist gave an interview to Natalya Zakharchuk, editor of Karelia’s “Stolitsa na Onego,” but she was not able to publish it there and so he has posted it on Novy Region 2 (


            Shtepa, who travelled to Kyiv as a journalist accredited by the Lithuanian Russian-language portal RU.DELFI.LT, met with various Ukrainians including those compiling the new Ukrainian encyclopedia for which he and other Karelian authors are cooperating with articles on their home republic.


            Having last been in the Ukrainian capital at the time of the Maidan, Shtepa notes that Ukrainians have changed under the impact of those events and what has happened since. On the one hand, they very much regret the losses they have suffered. But on the other, they are optimistically looking to a future in which Ukraine will be part of Europe.


            Ukrainian attitudes toward ordinary Russians and Russian speakers have not gotten worse, although not surprisingly, Shtepa says, Ukrainians are furious at what the Russian state has done to their country and view its leaders as their enemies.


            Those in the Maidan, he continues, had no plans “to make Russia into an enemy. The Maidan’s main ideas were rapprochement with Europe and the overthrow of Yanukovich’s thieving regime. No one was thinking about breaking relations with Russia.” The idea that [his] overthrow was “something anti-Russian” is an invention of Moscow propaganda.


             Of course, Shtepa says, “after Crimea and the Donbas, attitudes toward Russia as a state changed for the worse. But this was not because the Ukrainians themselves wanted this. It was connected exclusively with the policy which Russia has been conducting toward Ukraine. Russia, unfortunately, has destroyed the myth of ‘fraternal peoples.’”


            One can easily understand how that happened and why. “Can a brother annex territory from a brother? Or to take another analogy so that the position of Ukrainians will be clear to readers. Imagine that you have an enormous eastern neighbor – for Russia, this is China. And this neighbor suddenly seizes from your country its far eastern regions under the pretext that they are ‘Chinese from time immemorial.’” No Russian would be happy with China in that event.


            Shtepa says that he spoke Russian with all of his Kyivan acquaintances. “They spoke perfectly without an accent and at times even better than certain Russians. Kyiv in general is traditionally a bilingual city. No one is going to say anything bad if he or she hears you speaking Russian.”


            According to Shtepa, one doesn’t constantly feel in Kyiv that Ukraine is a country at war.  At the same time, Kyivans are worried. They are not very far from “an enormous nuclear power which is hostile to Ukraine … but, on the hand, Kyivans have a great many of the positive attitudes typical of a South Slavic people.”


             Russian media claims that Ukrainians are afraid of being called into the army are 180 degrees off, Shtepa says. “Many of those with whom [he] spoke were not against going into the army and even wanted to do so … In Russia, everyone is trying to avoid serving in the army,” and that was the case in Ukraine too “until recently.”


            Now, however, “the Ukrainian army is becoming ever more like the armies of Israel, Switzerland or our neighbor Finland. People joint them willingly,” Shtepa says. “No one tries to avoid service.”


            Russian “propaganda presents almost all Ukrainians today as fascists. But in the end, things have turned out just the reverse: it has transformed Russians into fascists and unleashed in Russia a wild national hatred to ‘the Yukes.’” When he was in Kyiv, Shtepa says, he saw nothing like that among Ukrainians regarding Russians.


            Obviously, the situation in southeastern Ukraine is different than in Kyiv. In the Donbas, there is real suffering and a real “humanitarian disaster” not because of what the Ukrainians are doing but because of what Russian forces are.  Among the results has been an outflow of refugees. But it is important to recognize that this flow consists of two parts.


            There are those who have fled to Russia, people whom Shtepa says he would call “’Soviet refugees’” who were never Ukrainians and who are running away from that country. But there are many more real “’Ukrainian refugees,’”  he adds. They are fleeing from the Russian violence into the rest of Ukraine. And Kyiv is doing what it can to help them.






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