Complicated Ukrainian situation discussed

Ian Morse

In the midst of the fast-developing crisis in the Ukraine, the Very Reverend Father Bazyl Zawierucha argues Ukraine’s problems lie in the country’s ever-present economic, political, and linguistic divides.

Zawierucha, currently provost and a professor of theology and church history at St. Sophia Seminary, came to Lafayette last Thursday to speak on the Ukrainian crisis, which has resulted in the deaths of over 80 people and a de facto Russian military invasion.

Ukraine, Zawierucha explained, has been independent since 1991, and is divided by three different social lines: economic, linguistic, and political. The southeastern part houses the most native Russian speakers, who also have a significantly higher monthly salary than the mostly Ukrainian-speaking Northwest. In Ukraine’s last election, the northwestern part of the country voted overwhelmingly against the now-ousted southeastern president, Viktor Yanukovych.

The divides also include religious differences. Orthodox Christianity is most predominant and divided into three distinct denominations: one under the Moscow Patriarchate, one representing the Ukrainian nationalist ideal, and an independent one that focuses abroad.

“You see, even within religion, and even within orthodoxy, there are these divides of language, identity and belonging,” Zawierucha said.

“The main stratification in contemporary Ukraine is by language that links people to ethnicity and its political form, nationalism,” Acting Chair of the Russian and Eastern European Studies Program Katalin Fabian wrote in an email.

Zawierucha was born in the Ukraine to a Ukrainian mother and a Soviet father who fought for Russia against Ukraine. When his mother remarried, his stepfather joined the German army, which attacked Ukraine from the west.

Analogous to the current forces pulling on Ukraine, Zawierucha’s family was confronted by both the European and Russian side.

“Both of these powers are deeply affecting Ukraine because it is connected to both the ‘west’ and the ‘east’ by historical and personal linkages and strong economic interests,” Fabian wrote.

Differences were exacerbated by wedge politics, Zawierucha said. Traveling all over the country, he noticed that families migrate all over Ukraine.

“I met people who travelled both east and west. There is no animus amongst the people,” he said.

Ukraine also lacks strong infrastructure, according to Zawierucha. Basic infrastructural systems, such as roads, lie in disrepair.

“It just looks as though the Luftwaffe had just strafed Ukraine last week,” he said.

Ukraine is linked strongly to Russia by not only culture but also trade, as most of Ukraine’s fuels and all of their natural gas come from Russia. The Russian-speaking East borders Russia and houses most of the industry of the country.

Zawierucha noted that there have been “great complaint[s] made about secret deals made in high places.” Enormous palaces have been built in secret for the Ukrainian oligarchs.

“You cannot travel through these countries without history popping up,” Zawierucha said. “History is seminal…the 20th Century is just a horror show. It’s absolutely tragic.”

One of the reasons a lot of these protests have unfolded, Zawierucha said, is Ukraine’s unfortunate location – its very name means ‘borderland.’ At one time during the Second World War, Zawierucha said his mother recalled that Germans, numerous Ukrainian groups, Bolsheviks, Poles, and Jewish partisans were vying over the country.

Amongst this conflict, “churches and clergy play the pacifying role,” Zawierucha said. “What Ukraine needs is a social healing, and the church has an important role to play.” Some orthodox churches have stopped their practice of praying for the government amongst the turmoil.

As of printing, the Russian army has invaded Ukraine. Russian President Putin justified the seizure of power by the Russian military in Crimea by claiming ethnic ties – only in Crimea is there a majority of Russians – and that the “unconstitutional coup” now threatened Ukraine’s Russians. Putin stated he does not intend to annex the Crimea.

Fabian disagrees with Putin’s sentiment that Russians’ wellbeing has been affected by the protests.

“There have been no incidents reported where ‘Russian citizens were threatened and harmed’ for which Russia ‘had to intervene’ to protect them,” Fabian wrote.

Secretary of State John Kerry claimed Putin’s telling of events lacked “a single piece of credible evidence.” Kerry also promised to deliver technical experts and $1 billion in aid to Ukraine, and the EU has promised to match Russia’s now rescinded offer of $15 billion.

As punishment and an act of deterrence, President Obama is advocating sanctions on Russia, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel favors more diplomatic solutions, such as direct talks. Both governments have opted out of the planned G8 summit this year.

“Russian action is unacceptable, but still not too late for peaceful resolution of the crisis,” Merkel’s spokesman said.

Katria Tomko ‘16 attended the talk and expressed her concerns with events in her country of heritage.

“Much of my family lives in the countryside, but those living in Lviv have not shied away from expressing their support of the protests and the new government,” she wrote in a text. “My primary concern is that Putin and the Kremlin will seize control of our neophyte democratic government and rid the nation of ‘the opposition’ (both political and cultural).”