Editors Note- The author is a retired civil engineer who born in the Ukraine and spent much of his career in the USA where his family resides. He is currently living in Maldova and offers this perspective on the current political unrest in the Ukraine.
By Val Chodsky
You may not be aware of this, but the group that took over the Ukrainian government in a revolution in February is terrorizing the Russian population who live in Ukraine. The vast majority of those Russians are actually native to Ukraine. They were born and raised there and for most of them their ancestors go back many generations.
The new government regime has surrounded the small cities where most of the Russians live, with tanks and armored personnel carriers. The residents are subjected to artillery fire, strafing by military helicopters, sniper fire by professional killers, and machine gun fire by the troops. Innocent unarmed civilians are being killed every day. Although the majority of the victims are typically men, there have also been a multitude of casualties among women and children.
These horrors are taking place primarily in the Eastern part of the country where most of the Russians live, but they have recently been extended to Odessa, Ukraine’s third largest city. According to the Jerusalem Times, as result of these activities many of the jews who live in Odessa are preparing to flee the country, blaming the Nazi-like orientation of the current regime. And rightly so. A month ago the government announced that jews had to register before they could vote, something that is not required of other citizens. This sent chills throughout the country and the regulation was quietly removed, but the point was not lost.
If this activity of the government continues, it will historically be considered to be a genocide. For the moment, only a few hundred people have been killed, and a few thousand have been wounded, but water has now been turned off in many communities and delivery of food is being blocked by armed troops that surround the cities.
Why do I care? I care, not only because of the suffering of the Russian minority, but also because I am an American and America appears to have been the primary cause of this disaster. By taking a politically convenient stance of blaming Russia, and at the same time guiding and encouraging the rebel government to use military forces to implement punitive measures against peaceful residents, America managed to turn a democratic country into a terrorist state. That is not what America is all about.
The recent events in Ukraine developed swiftly: In February, a group of the followers of Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian political activist who during WW II was a sympathizer of the Nazi regime, took over the legitimately elected government and forced the president to flee the country. They then appointed an interim president and placed their followers in all the key positions in the country.
Shortly after the revolt, Crimea, which is on the Black sea and is primarily populated by Russians (some 58% of the population), elected to establish themselves as an independent region and leave Ukraine to become part of Russia. Historically, Crimea had been part of Russia for hundreds of years, until 1964 when Khrushchev, a Ukrainian, made it part of Ukraine. The Russian parliament adopted a law allowing Crimea to integrate into the Russian Federation if the people of Crimea so decide by a referendum. The referendum was held this month and a huge majority (something like 85%) voted to form an independent region and join Russia. That is what is being considered by America as an “invasion” of Ukraine by Putin.
You are not likely to have seen any of this on your local TV station, as most of the American news organizations do not consider this to be much of an issue. They simply invoke the Obama line that Russia, in some way, is at fault for what is happening in Ukraine. That’s totally absurd. I wish that our TV networks would send reporters into Ukraine to document what is really going on there. But I can’t really blame the reporters for not going. Recently a group of European press correspondents tried to visit some of the hot spots in Ukraine and were stopped by the Ukrainian military who threatened them with a show of arms and sent them packing. Calls by the correspondents to the authorities in Kiev who had authorized the visit, produced no results.
I happen to be a Russian who was born in Ukraine, which puts me in the category of people who are being subjected by their government to murder, torture, beatings, threats, and other indigneties. But I am fortunate to be in America where my family is safe from these persecutions.
I first wrote this letter to get things off my chest and sent it to friends. Here are some of their comments:
Curtis: I was completely unaware of the Ukrainian change of government in February. I am trying to understand the political events over there during the last few years and am confused and unable to comprehend the alliances and motivations of the various groups. The sense that I get is that Putin’s move into Crimea is like Hitler’s move into German majority areas of neighboring countries prior to World War II. And that Putin’s goal is to re-establish the Soviet Union.
My answer to Curtis: You did not know about the revolution in Ukraine because the US media has ignored the activities that led up to Crimea asking that Russia take it back to where they were before Khruschev redrew the map of the Soviet Union by shifting Crimea into Ukraine.
The revolution in Ukraine was very violent. Far right forces blocked the center of Kiev, the capital, burned the adjoining building, and took control of the democratically elected government. This was done primarily by Nazi-oriented groups that had been preparing for this revolt for some time. They were well organized and financed. Buses of their supporters were brought in from other parts of the country to participate in the revolt. The police was paid off so that it would overlook the presence of professional snipers who were planted on top of buildings and shot at select individuals in the crowd.
The new regime which took over the government did not appear out of nowhere. During the past few years they had been infiltrating the Ukrainian Parliament and eventually managed to get a number of laws passed that were repugnant to the Russian population of Ukraine. For example, the use of the Russian language, which had been the language of Ukraine for hundreds of years, was forbidden. So now all the government institutions had to conduct affairs only in Ukrainian.
Although all Ukrainians know Russian, very few Russians who live in Ukraine know Ukrainian. So suddenly millions of people (Russians) who had been residents of Ukraine for years, many from their birth, now had to learn what to them was a foreign language. And this was done overnight. There was no transition. For example, all schools had to conduct classes in Ukrainian with a bunch of kids sitting there with blank stares.
After the takeover of the legitimate Ukrainian government, Crimea, which is populated primarily by Russians (only 24% are Ukrainians) took advantage of the existing laws that allow it to become an autonomous region, decided to leave Ukraine and become part of Russia. No, Putin did not invade Crimea. So comparisons to Hitler are insulting to people who are aware of the true situation.
Jim: I too have been terribly confused about what is going on. I am afraid that I carried a bias against P. because of his KGB background. Some Czech friends of mine have shared their fears that all this is just the beginning of an effort to restore the Soviet Union.
My answer to Jim : As to bias of Putin, the KGB and CIA (remember Bush?) are pretty much the same thing. That was not the case during the Stalin regime when the KGB was a murderous organization that terrorized the population. This gave it a very bad name. But when Putin was part of it, he simply worked there. He was not even the head of the organization.
Putin’s plans are not likely to include the re-forming of a Soviet Union type of structure. That is highly unlikely. The Soviet Union was formed when the Bolsheviks took over Imperial Russia, which over many hundreds of years had acquired the vast territory of the empire. The Soviets simply split up Russia into 15 states, all of which were subject to the control of Moscow. I am not sure why this was done, but it turned out to be the Soviet Union’s undoing as the “Union” allowed for departure from it by individual states, which did take place in 1991.
Merrill: The confusing part for me is that Putin’s military appears to be moving into Ukraine uninvited, so to speak. If the Ukraine leaders were not duly elected by all of Ukraine (including Crimea and the Eastern Ukraine), how did the ‘Bandera people’ get into power? Election or a coup of sorts?
My answer to Merrill: Earlier this year, the followers of Bandera staged a revolt and took over the legitimate Ukrainian government. They then set up an interim government which is continuing the Nazi-like principles of Bandera. This includes the discrimination against Russians.
Most Americans are not aware of what is happening in Ukraine, which is an unknown part of the world to them. Personally, I don’t think its any of our business to get involved in local affairs of other countries. Not every country in the world can be as “perfect” as America. Do we really need to spend time and money to try and change the structure of countries that have existed for hundreds, and even thousands, of years longer than the US? We tried this in Vietnam, Lybia, Egypt, Afghanistan, Serbia, Syria, Iraq, etc, and all of our attempts to change these countries to the “American way” have failed! So now we want to punish Putin for dealing with a part of Ukraine? Give me a break.
Chris: From the news that is reaching us, first in Crimea and now in Donetsk, most of the masked instigators urging separating from Ukraine and joining the Russian Federation are in fact Russian troops. What is the story?
My answer to Chris : Other than perhaps in Crimea, I don’t believe that there has been much urging by Russia. The Russian residents of Donetsk, Slaviansk, Lugansk, Kharkov and Odessa are simply trying to isolate themselves from the current repressive regime. They did not elect this government and the forces now in charge are taking brutal steps to repress the efforts of the residents of these cities to democratically remove themselves from this repressive regime.
Other than Odessa and Kharkov, which are just too big, these cities are surrounded by military forces and para-military groups, that block traffic from going in or out of the cities. No food can be brought in and masked armed intruders shoot and kill indiscriminately people who are just driving by.
Odessa is a particularly bad case. On May 2d there was a monstrous event that took place in the center of the city. Masked intruders arrived in buses. They stormed the center of the city and used clubs on people who were simply walking by. Then they threw Molotov cocktails at buildings and shot, yes shot, people who tried to escape the fire. The intruders then went into the buildings and shot, or clubbed to death, the men and women who were there. A pregnant woman was strangled at her desk with a telephone cord.
But back to Crimea. This is really the only place that I see Russia taking a role in the current events. And I can’t say I blame them. In 1964, when Khrushchev gave Crimea to Ukraine, Russia got a long term lease on the port at the Crimean city of Sevastopol, where Russia maintains a major naval base. This lease was due to expire this or the next year, so two years ago Russia negotiated a deal with Ukraine to extend the lease and to pay rent by means of a reduction in the price of gas that Russia provides to Ukraine.
We are talking about a major reduction, something like 25% off the market price, which comes to several billion dollars per year! The bad part is that Ukraine has not been paying for the gas, even at the reduced rate, and Russia has served notice that, effective next month, they will not continue to provide gas to Ukraine unless its pre-paid. Good luck. Ukraine is broke and no country, certainly not the states, has come forward to help it
This is a very serious issue. Gas that Russia provides to Europe, passes through Ukraine, part of which Ukraine keeps. Russia can not cut off gas to Ukraine without cutting off the main source of gas for Europe. Stay tuned; this problem is just around the Ukrainian corner.