COLUMBIA —The Ukrainian crisis runs deeper than politics.
It includes conflicts in culture and language, said three MU graduate students from Ukraine who conducted a panel sponsored by the MU International Center, the Division of Applied Social Sciences and the Department of Geography.
The panelists Tuesday addressed the situation in Ukraine, a country they described as struggling with governmental corruption and deep, historical conflicts. Protests in Ukraine recently turned more violent, leading the president to leave the capital and parliament to remove him from power.
The panelists were from different hometowns and regions of Ukraine, according to the event website:
- Roman Kolgushev is an MU journalism graduate student originally from Donetsk, Ukraine, and previously worked in Ukrainian media.
- Vitaliy Yurkiv, originally from Kharkiv, Ukraine, is an MU graduate student and Fulbright scholar in educational leadership and policy analysis.
- Kateryna Goychuk is originally from Kiev, Ukraine. She is now a post-doctoral fellow at the MU Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute.
The panel was titled, "Ukraine: Past, Present and Possible Futures."
They referenced three possible futures for their country: a war between Russia and Ukraine, the deployment of observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the disintegration of Ukraine.
"Where you come from in Ukraine determines what you think about the events," Goychuk said.
She said Ukraine faces deep divisions because pieces of the country used to belong to Poland, the former Czechoslovakia, Romania and Russia. Goychuk cited an Economist article that calls the country "an artificial creation rather than a natural, coherent state." The panelists said these cultural divisions contribute to the conflict, as well as divisions between Russian and Ukrainian speakers.
"We want to show that the protests were very much anti-corruption, anti-cronyism, anti-oligarchs," Goychuk said. "But once the protests started, there was also these different moods and attitudes toward Russia."
Additionally, Yurkiv said, there remains a lack of strong leadership figures, a lack of coherence in government, and uneven representation in the new government.
Kolgushev addressed the divisions in Ukraine but said that he has seen some attitude shifts even within his own family. He said his grandfather in Ukraine is pro-Russia and anti-Ukraine. Kolgushev said his grandfather has become more receptive to the idea of the new Ukrainian government since he became aware of the extravagance of former President Viktor Yanukovych's estate and the luxuries he enjoyed.
"He said, 'You know what, I’m actually ready to listen to what the new government has to say and has to offer. I think I’m going to change my mind,'" Kolgushev said. "Though there is a huge gap, it’s a lot about what people see and what people are being told."
William Meyers — director of international programs in the College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources — moderated the panel. Meyers has visited Ukraine a number of times, most recently for work on a U.S. Agency for International Development-funded policy analysis project. He said the project's goal is to provide Ukraine with information and experiences about how other countries deal with similar agriculture issues.
Meyers said in an interview after the event that the voices of Ukrainian scholars in the panel were important sources of information.
"It’s better to hear from people who know the situation very well and come from the country itself," Meyers said.
Protests in Ukraine began in November, when Yanukovych backed out of a deal with the European Union. Since then, the panelists said, protests have grown and brutality between protesters and police has escalated. Yanukovych left Kiev on Feb. 22, and a parliamentary vote officially removed him from power. Elections for his replacement are set for May 25.
"My suggestion would be to watch everybody," Kolgushev said of possible presidential candidates. "I know there are a lot of people, but (Vitali) Klitschko is certainly one of the most interesting politicians to watch. First of all, as a matter of fact, his ratings are around 60 percent right now in any kind of situation, any presidential election."
Klitschko is a former professional boxer and is a leader of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform, one of the parties opposed to Yanukovuch's government.
Kolgushev said Yulia Tymoshenko is another person to watch. Tymoshenko was a businesswoman and former prime minister. She was a prominent figure in Ukraine's last revolution and was recently released from prison after charges against her were dropped. In 2011, she had been sentenced to seven years in prison for abuse of power.
Kolgushev also said he thought it would be good to give the new government a chance.
"Despite there being a lot of questions for the current government, I couldn't have imagined a more difficult situation for them," Kolgushev said. "I would actually take the liberty of giving them a chance to prove themselves."
Supervising editor is Edward Hart.