Past predicts Future
For over 20 years of my life in the US, always answering “Ukraine” when asked where I came from, I’d heard, “Aah, Russia!” The home to 45.4 million people, Ukraine was little known—until bloodshed on the Maidan Square in Kyiv and continuing mayhem provoked by expert Putin-esque instigators brought it into headlines. The media opinions, however, often understate the situation, thus hurting all-American understanding—and standing—in this strategically important European country.
Critically, the second-largest (after Russia) military state in Europe, Ukraine surrendered its nuclear warheads in 1994, after the USA, Britain, and Russia had guaranteed the safety of its borders. Now, when Ukraine sees “Putin at the gate” and is torn apart by pro-Russian separatists, Ukrainians feel betrayed by the former guarantors. Senator McCain’s speaking on Seth Meyers’ show talked down Russia referring to it as “gas station run by a mafia masquerading as a country.” Take a closer look, Senator: this is mafia but it’s running the warheads! Their warheads can annihilate the world three times over, and this mafia stops at nothing—as the track-record from Chechnya and Georgia had proved. This is not to be downplayed! Unfortunately, our politicians appear unaware of President Putin’ strategy that was applauded at the Russian Duma 2 years ago: to reconstruct the USSR, in a smaller but stronger version—including Ukraine. This kind of the past conditions and predicts the future.
The history-and-culture prophesy
Despite their territories changing hands and enjoying only short-lived independence, 77.8% of population identifies themselves as Ukrainians – whether or not their mother-tongue is Ukrainian or Russian (which is often the case in Eastern Ukraine). Language issues notwithstanding, the growth of national consciousness began with the struggle for independent Ukrainian People’s Republic from 1917 to 1921. Stalin drowned it in blood, adding the man-made Famine-Genocide of 1932–3, the deportations of the so-called kulaks, the physical annihilation of the nationally conscious intelligentsia, plus general terror – and subdued the nation. The condescending “big brothers” habitually ridiculed Ukrainian nationalism (equated to narrow-mindedness) and even their love of borsch, a traditional food; everything Ukrainian was regarded as second-best, in comparison to Russian. Ukrainians kept a low profile. Not any more: multiple sources inside the country report the sharp rise of Ukrainian national consciousness—and even people who used to be indifferent to the issue favor Ukrainian unity over Russian re-colonization. This chronicle makes Putin’s takeover of Ukraine problematical and the chaos and civil war – never-ending.
Look at Ukrainian-Americans for heads-up
A believer in culture conditioning/predicting our success, I think that to grow US influence in this strategic geo-political region, we need to better understand the mindset of its people—because the culture prophesy is as steady as it gets in our ever-changing world. Look at 2 successful Ukrainian-Americans for head-ups on the Ukrainian character, culture, and contributions.
Oksana Baiul, from Ukraine – Queen of the Ice
Oksana Baiul, a retired Ukrainian figure skater, immigrated to America after becoming 1993 World Championship Gold Medalist, and 1994 Olympic Gold Medalist in Ladies Figure Skating. Orphaned early, Oksana lived with the wife of her coach, in Odessa, demonstrating talent and true grit on her way to becoming the Queen of the Ice. Her re-launched career in America went well; for example, she collaborated with renowned ballet dancer Saule Rachmedova to bring together Ice Theatre of New York and had many public appearances, including MTV‘s Total Request Live.
A passionate person, Oksana never forgot her roots: she supports the Tikva Children’s Home Charity, which aids the Jewish children of Odessa. It was natural for her to issue statement of support for protesters in the Kiev’s Maidan, “The people of the Ukraine are fighting a vicious battle against organized crime, corruption and the forces of evil,” she wrote. “While we shook the Soviet yoke in 1991, many of the corrupt, communist apparatchiks unfortunately managed to hold onto their positions. The crime and corruption continued but the Ukrainian people have finally had enough and are bravely making their stand.” Oksana’s been living in the US for years – but her national consciousness is strong and prompts her to voice her support for the better good of her former compatriots: she feels their pain.
Helen Schneider, Ph. D., from Ukraine – Happy Health Economist
Helen came to study Economics in America that gave the world most Nobel Prize economists. She proved to be flexible embracing American culture at the diverse culture spots where studies and career brought her: from Kent, OH to Agnes Scott College in Atlanta, GA; to Cornell University in Ithaca, NY; to post-doctorate at the UC at Berkeley, CA; to the Los Alamos Lab, NM; to the University of Texas in Austin—she absorbed the gamut of American regional cultures, thus becoming an all-American girl. Helen’s integration at each place was heart-felt: her family still remembers how her immersion in the Southern-US culture displayed: “Yankees are no good!” Today Helen is an all-inclusive patriot of Texas—because everything is “bigger-and-better” there. A passionate health economist, some of her articles made headlines in top professional journals and brought awards. Her cultural sensitivity helps in teaching diverse student population, and – she’s happy to do what she loves.
Helen stays in touch with her old friends in Ukraine and Russia, poised, graceful, and never taking sides when Russia-vs.-Ukraine opinions become polarized or even hostile—but she believes Ukraine deserves to be independent—not subservient to Russia—because of the specific culture.
Democracy is Difficult to Dose
Flexibility, survivability, talent, passion, and national consciousness of these—and many other—Ukrainian-Americans reflect the history-and-culture prophesies of their country of origin. Today the Ukrainians are a struggling nation. But God forbid America jumps the gun: we can extend support differently, while never underplaying Putin’s Russia track-record and warheads. Besides, in any country, democracy and fairness are difficult to judge, dose or dispense from the outside, especially when one knows as little of the country’s history and culture as our typical politicians.