West Reopens Old Sores in Ukraine

By Graham L. Wilson

An edited version of this piece will be carried in the August 1-31, 2014 issue of Canada's People's Voice.

Copyright (c) 2014 Graham L. Wilson. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.3 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included at this link: see my profile page.


As the cease fire ended, and the peace process falters further, Ukraine descends further into bloodshed. Previous reports that fighters from Chechnya have joined the rebels in Eastern Ukraine, alongside the long-standing reports of Right Sector militants being brought in from Western Ukraine on the side of the Ukrainian military (as well as private American mercenaries), shows ever more worrying signs that the country will continue to be roiled by long-standing ethnic conflict. The worse fears of a fractured society born from the February coup seem to be rapidly becoming realized. By deposing an elected president and forcing a polarizing, definite shift either to east or west, the nation's unity now seems irreconcilably broken, and as fighters from all around continue to pour in, the European continent is increasingly seeing violence unheard of since the the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. As has happened in Iraq, Libya and now Syria, the West seems to care little about the chaos that ensues in the aftermath of its attempts at regime change.

Following a drastic up-tick in violence following the May 25th presidential election, which the West had portrayed as the turning point towards stability but was largely boycotted in the restive east, the clashes between rebels and security forces have continued to rise sharply, as the Ukrainian military turned to large scale bombardment against both rebels and populated civilian areas. It seems that both sides have now firmly entrenched themselves, and that the hopes for peace are slipping even further away after President Poroshenko's "peace plan" proved to be cynically ineffective. To anyone with a long memory, this all seems too terribly familiar. The aftermath of the First World War, with the collapse of both the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires, left an environment that continued to be bloody long after 1918. Nationalist sentiments created new nations, who fought for territory under the guise of long simmering racial hatreds, as the remnants of the old guard struggled to re-emerge.

And of course, the threat of a new large scale war was never far from anyone's minds, which brings us to the larger geopolitical duel between Russia and the West. Even without a large scale confrontation, the renewal of ethnic and religious skirmishes and insurgencies is worrisome enough. For me, this all strikes a particularly personal note when I consider my own family history. My ancestors on my maternal grandfather's side were stuck right in the middle of the morass, ethnic Ukrainians on the eastern edge between Austria-Hungary and Russia. My great baba was hauled off to work as a slave in a German dairy, while my great gido was sent to fight for the Hapsburgs. He eventually surrendered to the Russians, was held as a POW, escaped during the revolution, and made the long trek on foot back to his home village, which was now within Poland. My great baba survived through secretly suckling the cows she tended, and eventually was allowed home.

My great-grandparents met, married and set out to have a family. My great baba however was a very astute woman, and sensed the coming of the next great war and eventually convinced my great gido of the necessity to emigrate away to the New World. His family, the Warchomikas, were comparatively well to do in the region, and it had required some sizable persuasion from his wife, who came from the lower class Ference family. This class difference was further illustrated by two different experiences: a relative from the Warchomikas who fought alongside the Nazis for the fascist Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, a group now publicly extolled by the far-right groups that frighteningly still remain in key positions among the new Ukrainian authorities, and another from the Ferences who fought against and successfully escaped twice from Nazi imprisonment, rejoining with the Red Army from Stalingrad to Berlin. My immediate relatives however, had managed their escape over a decade earlier in 1929, allowing their descendants to live in peace at last.

There is a common thread of immigration to Canada in order to escape never-ending war among many immigrant groups. This helps to show how hollow are the attempts by the Canadian government to depict Canada's sizable Ukrainian community as absolute in their support for the new Ukrainian authorities, even to the point of encouraging an increasingly brutal civil war. Ukraine deserves the right to determine its destiny free from political domination from either east or west, and to reject either the economic control of Russia's corrupt oligarchs or the devastation of IMF imposed theft and austerity. Its diverse regions deserve fair representation within a decentralized federal system, but most of all, Ukraine deserves peace, dialogue and reconciliation, and the rejection of the fascist nationalism that has sparked violence in the west and east of the country. The alternative seems little more than the continuation of the centuries old cycle of violence. A grim prospect indeed.

July 4, 2014