The European headlines currently are filled with the turmoil in Ukraine. Every day there is new developments in the East of the country with the “pro-Russian separatists” taking control of an increasing number of official buildings and strategic positions. We read about the resurrection of an already buried Cold War rhetoric. The Western alliance gathers together to impose sanctions and condemn the violence and the disregarding of rule of law. Still, both the EU’s citizens and political leaders seem somehow overwhelmed by the events. Checks & Balances interviewed Anastasia Melnyk, a student of political science at Kyiv Mohyla Academy and free journalist. How does she, as a young and politically active Ukrainian see the developments in her country?
The changes in Ukraine started with protests on Kiev’s central Maidan Square. Anastasia remembers that during the revolutionary weeks there was a large pro-European sentiment and even excitement. The people felt confident to oust a president, who reminded them too much of Soviet Times, she says. However, there has always continued normal everyday life and the Western media only portrayed the violence of the revolution. What she finds even more important, though, is that people have become interested and aware of politics! Now the Ukrainian people are much more conscious of politics in their country, question it and go to the street to express their opinion. This is the largest outcome and impact of the past chain of events.
Now, Anastasia tells, people feel exhausted. After months of political conflict and large uncertainty there is a desire to return to the usual business. Especially in Eastern Ukraine people are scared. They are scared because of the tensions with Russia, but also scared of a government in Kiev they do not know. “On May 1 people normally take a trip, but this year it is different,” the young journalist says. Because of a fear of drastic changes most stay at home.
Indeed, Melnyk shares the dominant Ukrainian position that there are Russian special forces in the East, against which the Ukrainian military is helpless. “Russia does what it wants. Putin put everything on the table,” she tells. It would be a lie that the mayor of Slavyansk is not in contact with Moscow as he claims. When asked about Crimea she answers diplomatically that there is two sides: if they want to belong to Russia it shall be so. On the other hand it was simply an illegal act to secede and it should be viewed that way. This contrast represents the incoherent narrative of the conflict also in Ukraine itself.
The real conflict, however, is within the country. Anastasia talks of an “information war”, where one and the same image is framed and portrayed differently. Footage of an armed man, for instance, has been used for both the Russian friendly side and the Ukrainian nationalists. On a personal level she feels that the differences between Ukrainians widen. She has been called a fascist by friends for being on Maidan Square. On the other hand Eastern Ukrainians are portrayed and prejudiced for being stupid and alcoholics. These discrepancies in a conflict where communication is the biggest weapon are worrying.
The real conflict takes place within the country, there is an information war.
What will the future look like? The next step are the presidential elections on 25th of May. Anastasia expects Julia Timoshenko and Petro Poroshenko to decide this post between them. However she paints a dark picture that tensions will not decrease. There is too much pressure of the West and Russia. And the president holds only limited power. It is interesting times for journalism in Ukraine and difficult not to become misled. For now we continue watching the headlines.