Wednesday, March 5, 2014

I Am Ukrainian

I am Ukrainian. I want to tell you what that personally means for me. It means my family was targeted and killed by the Soviets, either shot, poisoned, tortured, exiled, simply "disappeared," or worse.... The stories I heard about the atrocities committed are unspeakable in the literal meaning of word.... Needless to say, I never knew my grandparents.... Indeed, my grandfather is now being honored abroad in Ukraine as a "martyr" for his good deeds during the war.  

I grew up in this welcoming nation with this very sad legacy....  I don't know if this is something the ordinary American can imagine... I also grew up speaking a language that was officially banned in the Soviet Union. I also grew up during a time when Ukraine, the country my parents came from, did not even "officially" exist, except in my parents' memories. So much for Soviet plans to eradicate Ukrainian history....

Now for a bit of real history: 

Western Ukraine was a part of the Austria-Hungary Empire, and only came under Soviet rule after WWII. It has always had traditional European democratic values and a culture very much  influenced by the music and culture of Vienna. In Eastern Ukraine, a mass genocide ordered by Stalin during forced collectivization went famously unreported at the time by New York Times writer Walter Duranty. The area was then repopulated by Russians, which explains why mostly Russian is spoken in the Eastern part of the nation. 

Yes, Stalin killed more people than Hitler, but we never hear much about that .... 

I've been observing all the developments in Ukraine from afar, ever since the first demonstrators assembled in the capital city of Kiev's central square or "Maidan" in November, to protest their corrupt leader's breaking an agreement over a trade pact with the European Union, only to side with Russia. I was saw the movement spontaneously morph into an outright rejection of Russian dominance, and I saw those statues of Lenin (those lingering symbols of the Soviet era) finally being toppled after years of Ukraine's "independence." And next came the ouster of a thuggish leader (who, by the way, did not even speak the nation's language and who actually fired upon his own people), and with this, the prospect of an independent European Ukraine.

Ukraine has been a long-suffering nation with European values and has long yearned for democracy, for self determination, and for basic human rights. Espousing those values, Ukrainians are clearly more than fed up with Russian corruption, autocracy, terror, and violation of those basic human rights. Finally, they have made bid to distance themselves from Russia.

Such a scenario most predictably gave rise to the threats, propaganda, censorship, and violence emanating from Russia. As Vlad has shown, Russia will not let go of Ukraine easily, but would much prefer a return to Soviet times.There has been much misinformation and even outright lies disseminated by Russia, misinformation that resembles that of the Soviet era

Ukraine's situation has long been crying out for support from other democratic nations. I cannot understand why we have waited so long. Americans have an ethical imperative to be informed about history, to pay attention, as others European nations have already done, to try to intervene and assist, to support basic human rights in Ukraine. It seems to me that we Americans are a much too complacent people here, as we are so used to personal freedoms that other nations do not have. Such freedoms are very precious and we can never afford to take them for granted. 

I am drawing on those very freedoms in my speaking out about this situation. I am dearly hoping and praying that Ukrainians will finally get to live in  the civil society for which they have long yearned and that they will finally be granted the rights that all human beings deserve.

(c) Olya Thompson


  1. Olya, Thanks for airing this. Indeed, some very rich history has been suppressed in this region. Any estimate (by hand-me-down, family oral history stories, say) of the number Stalin killed? Russia obviously wants the Crimea; has apparently taken it; and I don't see the U.S. jumping into military plan in the Ukraine to get it back. Throwing the old war crimes against humanity up, at least as a detraction, might build some time for political support to come together for such an operation. Just an idea. But something like that will need documentation of some sorts.

  2. Hello Olya, I just saw this post you wrote. Thank you.
    You are right, things are crazy right now in Ukraine and so many have no idea the intense history this great nation endured. Some of the horror stories of real people, atrocities of families starved to death, families who fled their homeland to stay alive - do they have a voice? Yes they do, and we all need to tell the stories - let people understand how horribly wrong Russian politics are, and how our country needs to stand by Ukraine without any faltering. Ukrainians love freedom. Thank you for sharing. Будьте здорові!