Pocono Update sat down with three Ukrainian citizens as they explained, in their own words, what led to the armed conflict, whose devastating effects have been felt around the world for the past several months.
The 2004 election year proved a time of political turmoil, accusations, and recovery from prior mistakes by earlier Ukrainian leaders. It marked the watering necessary to bring the seeds Kuchma had unknowingly planted in his term to blossom. We reached three Ukrainian women currently living as refugees in Poland. Each one was born within the country and personally witnessed the political turmoil of Ukraine during the hardest years of its existence. They have asked to remain anonymous. As such, we will refer to them as:
Angel is a 76-year-old Kyiv resident who fled to Poland on February 27th after a shelling killed her son in Mariupol. Beth is a 50-year-old former employee of the capital building in Kyiv who fled to Poland at the insistence of her mother shortly after the invasion began. And Amanda is a 32-year-old born in Mariupol who fled with her mother, father, and younger siblings within hours of the first shelling. After several solo interviews, the three women met up all at once on facetime to discuss their experiences. Here is the transcript:
Beth: This was a good time for us. We had made the human chain, you know to say we want to be free. It was a very strong emotional time to see all these people just as one. It was really something. Now you said you wanted to know about after Kuchma, right? Well, I can tell you it was a bad time. Yushchenko lost his second election, which was a shock because he was almost a sure fit for the win. When he would say that Yanukovych had used his Russian connections to influence the vote, I don’t think anyone really thought it wasn’t true, but when he got sick right after. Well, there was no question. I mean, he was given Dioxide. That’s not something you just come in contact with. Someone gave it to him, right? I mean, come on, it is the most active agent in Agent Orange!
Becca: Do you feel, if Yanukovych had won or rather kept the presidency then, would we be seeing what we are now? All the conflict?
Beth (shaking her head vigorously): No, Kuchma practically had handed us back to the Kremlin during the scandal. Everything we were doing, every policy that was being made, was in direct mirror of Russia or some suggestion previously issued to us by the Kremlin. We did not run Ukraine. We being the Ukrainian government, the president. Kuchma would present ideas as his own, but in the end, it was always at the insistence of another. If we had stayed on that path, the conflict would not be happening. But, we would also not be free. Not in any real sense. Above all else right now, we do have that. So, after the 2004 election, now we have an assassination attempt, an angry voter base, and cries of corruption. What else could we do? We pushed up the chain until another vote was called. Yushchenko wins, then the gas shortage begins.”
Angel: Total nonsense. Russia raised the price of gas to combat the new president. I think we should also mention that Yushchenko stood on an anti-corruption, anti-outsider campaign. So he basically ran on a campaign of “Let’s get Russia out of here.” I mean, it was never direct, but as a people, we knew that the goal was to ultimately be free of any influence, but most of all, any that had prior ties to the Soviet Union. We had done enough of that throughout all of history. Just look.
Amanda: “I was young during that time. I do remember my mother joining the Orange Party, though, and joining the protests when it came out that he had, in fact, been poisoned. What I remember most was my father being so worried about what Russia would do as soon as this young new elect started to push his way out of their hold. I do remember the gas shortage. I mean, I never heard more cursing in my life than my mother having to get my father ready for work in time to walk. He was not a morning person.”
Beth: Politically, after 2006, you can almost completely disregard Yushchenk’s time in office. *all three women laugh and smile for the first time since we met in our solo interviews, each nodding, and I now begin to just listen as they have become a group of chatting women at a tea party rather than the refugees who were forced from their homes mere months ago, and I don’t wish to disrupt this small blissful moment of peace*
Angel: That is very true. He did manage to get the gas situation squared away, but it doesn’t change that overall, his time in office was not very effective. Even his allies turned on him. That included Yulia Tymoshenko. She ran against him in 2010. He was just not a leader- a politician of somewhat good mind, yes, but not a leader. However, I do not think anyone expected her to lose to Yanukovych. I don’t think anyone at that time believed she had really lost. Yanukovych had already tried “allegedly” to influence an election, though he was never convicted. As I said, the sudden assassination attempt said more than any one person could. But she did not do anything. We did not do anything.
Beth: Well, since we agree on that, let’s do that. 2010 really marks the big changes anyway. When Yanukovych really did take office. GOD, the next three years were hell. I mean, for the everyday citizen, most of it was pretty above the pay grade stuff, but when he imprisoned Yulia, it really provided an insight into what kind of man we had allowed to be elected. She had been in politics. She was not new to it. Never in her terms had she been accused of any actions that were illegal, then as soon as he becomes president, she is found guilty of not only corruption but abuse of power? Come on. I do not think anyone needed a sign that said, “This is political corruption in action. This is what happens when you do not do as I say and what I tell you to say.” The west wasted no time addressing that either, if I remember right. Even the USA had made some kind of statement and I think sanctions had also been put in place. I can’t recall. I had quit as soon as he was announced as the winner. I had been there for his time as Prime Minister and I just knew I didn’t want to be part of his machine. I just knew it was not a good fit for me. I moved to a private banking firm.
Amanda: I do remember that. When she was thrown in prison, I remember thinking it was the fastest I had ever seen the system move before. My mother had totally stopped her part in any politics, and she was just shocked to see that he had done something so clearly self-motivated, without any real repercussions. Yulia Tymoshenko remained in prison under the false charges until 2014, when the Revolution of Dignity would ring in both the loss of Yanukovych and the beginning of a new age for the country. It would begin in 2013 with the refusal by the president to sign Ukraine’s EU agreement, formally declaring Ukraine an eternal and dedicated ally to Russia. The Ukrainian people would have no more of it or his biased politics. By February 2014, he had fled the country running from the protests to Russia. Soon a small civil war erupted, ending in the death of several civilians. The Supreme Court of Ukraine would have no choice but to solve the issue themselves, declaring that since Yanukovych had left the country and was in whereabouts unknown, he could not effectively lead. He was replaced by an interim government until Petro Poroshenko was voted in on May 25th, 2014.
Angel: He was a real disappointment in the long run. Haha, Petro. He was motivated. We can give him that, right?
*Beth & Amanda nod in agreement*
Angel: He did some good. The annexation of Crimea was a mess and he handled it as best he could. That is where this really started, all the conflict you see today. The world acts like it only started in February, but no, the truth is, it started the second we removed his pet president. He had Crimea invaded and annexed before the new president could even take office. It was that fast. -The Annexation of Crimea was the first outright breach of the Budapest Memorandum, with the Kremlin stating that Russians heavily populated the area and they had a right to independence from a government that would seek to break ties. The truth of it was as soon as the area was invaded, a pro-Russian parliament was established, a vote was held, and the area was officially no longer part of the Ukraine but Russian territory instead.-
Beth is almost squirming in her chair to speak, and Angel seems to notice*
Angel: Go ahead, dear I can see you about to fall out of the seat! *laughs*
Beth: Thank you! *laughs* Absolutely, I have something to say! Politically this move should have caused actions that would have prevented what we see now! The Budapest Memorandum, signed in 1994, outlined policies that were very specific to this kind of interaction. They had not adhered to proper guidelines laid out specifically about such things. They had breached the agreement, and in turn, the other powers involved, let’s say the USA and the UK, most definitely, while more indirectly, China and France had laid out much less defined terms in their own versions of the agreements… And the powers did nothing. They sanctioned, they said harsh things, but by that agreement, they were called to real action and took none. It was like seeing Ukraine in a life raft, and they are on a yacht, deciding not to stop and let us aboard. It was abysmal, and it is a direct carbon copy of the response we are now seeing today!”
Amanda: Be fair, though. I mean, I am young, but I do know the threat of nuclear retaliation has a lot of hands tied. We were the 3rd in the world before we allowed the denuclearization. We allowed ourselves to be disarmed, and now when under threat from a major nuclear power, we and those around us are helpless to do much else than fight through it. I know I don’t want a nuclear war. I don’t think anyone really does.”
Angel: I think Putin does. *All three go quiet*
Becca: So what, if any, actions do you think could have been taken to prevent what we are now seeing. Angel, are you okay? I can see you are crying.” *She wipes her eyes and pulls a picture we couldn’t see from her lap, it is a young boy holding a stick pony, beaming in his small blue boots and matching cowboy hat*
Angel: Myolka, my son when he was maybe 5-6. It is hard to remember sometimes at my age. When you asked, it made me think about how it could be different. He could still be here. To answer you, 2021 was our real failure. When we saw what was coming, and nobody did anything. The pandemic had so many stretched so thin, and it was so easy to just hope what the Russian government told us was true. But it was a lie.” *All three nod, Beth also claps one time as if to say, “Hit the nail on the head.”
Becca: What was a lie?
Amanda: The troops on the borders.
Becca: Troops on the borders?
Beth: Yes. Last year there was a huge movement of troops. Russian troops. They would approach the border, kind of cross in a strange pattern, then retreat back across. There was no hostility, though in my mind, just the act of crossing the border should have been viewed as hostile. I mean, you’re bringing armed troops and war machines into my country. I don’t care what your reason is. It is a threat, right? I would not let you walk into my home ready for combat!
Becca: Oh yes, I remember hearing about that. Russia had called it “readiness training” or something to that effect, I think?
Beth: Yeah, it was an egregious lie. I think we all can agree on that as well. They are bringing these units or whatever you want to term them as into Ukraine, then saying it is just to make sure they are ready for anything kind of thing. Then tell the whole world, understand that, and I don’t think many people do. The whole world! They said. “don’t panic. There are no hostile intentions.” Here we now sit. In Poland, running from our homes, watching our lives being destroyed every day, and the lives of those we love with them.
*Speaks to Angel by name*
I am so so sorry for your loss. I cannot imagine losing my son or husband like that. I cannot begin to say anything that will help. But I am damned sorry for you.” *silence as they seem to share a moment of mutual emotional quiet*
Amanda: My cousin was killed in Kharkiv. His mother and sister both survived, but both had been raped, then beaten. They told me the Russians laughed as they begged to be let go. They made them watch as they shot each man they pulled out of homes along the street, then the girls were dragged off somewhere. Only two or three have been found since the report, I guess. It is crazy to think such horrible primal things are being done in modern times by a civilization that is one of the oldest in the world. You would think all that time would have maybe made them better.
Beth: You can’t blame Russia as a whole. Nobody can. There has been and continues to be plenty of evidence that this war is not supported by a majority of the Russian people. News teams walking off-air, protestors being detained every single day. Even some of the richest in Russia, who have always supported the Kremlin as old blood who felt it was loyalty owed, have said they want no part in any of it. Donations are being made to the effort on our behalf. Sure some are swallowing the propaganda and believe everything is our fault, but if some didn’t swallow it, why would they keep feeding it to them? But I think we can all safely conclude that Ukraine did nothing to instigate this. We as a people value peace and wanted to prosper alongside every nation, including Russia, if they only would have allowed that dialogue and been less narrow in what they were willing to accept and discuss. It has always been and remains a well-known fact that Russia lies to Russians more than anybody else. They use the news. They use propaganda. They limit anything they feel is harmful from being available. It is almost like a lesser degree of the system we see active in North Korea. They may not totally control and suppress, but they absolutely do it when they feel it is necessary, and they will cover up anything, including dead military members who have families waiting back home, to maintain this illusion. It is heartbreaking as a mother to see mothers every day crying over their children or missing loved ones and picturing my son serving his government in a war built on lies and he dies. Then nobody tells me because they don’t want to smudge their figures on a death toll!
Angel: Now HOLD ON! We have gotten off track. Let’s not forget that there was the election of Zelenskyy in-between. Now, to be perfectly fair, he has not done much in his time in office, but we cannot forget he also had the pandemic almost on his back as soon as he was in there. However, he won the election by a massive vote because he was offering us something new. I may be old, but I do know the value of someone who knows technology nowadays, and here we have a candidate who is not only very smart in those things but has a whole history of entertainment. He is charismatic too, and that I think matters when choosing a leader.
Amanda: I voted for him. I was a fan too, but I really did vote for him beyond his celebrity. I think he is a celebrity now for sure, right? Half of the women in the world are in love with him right now, I read somewhere. *laughs* His wife must be very proud! Anyway, when he spoke about bringing us forward and his belief that corruption had held us back for too long, well, he was right. He was the option I felt had the newest approach, best chance at being something we had never seen. I think he has lived up to it. He is strong, he could evacuate as the President, and nobody would be able to say he was weak, but he didn’t. He is there. He is still there and not leaving. He is so strong. Angel: When my son was killed, he made sure we got some help, especially those of us who were too old to really do much for ourselves. We were not abandoned, some would have you think. When they could not help it was because there was no way to. Not without risking the many over the few. I cannot blame him for it. I only wish I understood why it happened, not the false reasons on the news, but what really? What plan do they have beyond Ukraine that they needed us for strategically first? Why did I have to lose my son, my life, my home? Who got to decide that? Because I know we didn’t. The Ukrainian Peoples, the Russian Peoples, we didn’t. *tears flow down her face steadily now* And I know, I know! This is not the way the world should work now! We are not back in the time of the SS or Stalin, we are not Nazis here as he claims, and any that are here are radicals, same as the separatists he funds. They are radicals, they are animals. Every country has its monsters. I have seen, a couple times, photos, videos of the Russian soldiers. They are boys, a lot of them. Barely old enough to marry nevertheless help destroy a country. And here they are, murdering, raping, looting, and even the honest ones are punished. Eating dogs, I heard in a lot of areas. I even heard that some had been forced to local plant life. They are starving. Some will, if they have not already, gotten ill. When is enough enough for the Kremlin? For the World?
Beth: I understand the political implications of involvement for many, but it doesn’t change that what we see happening now is in its own form. A war on everything we as a planet have chosen is acceptable, not as nations but as human beings. This is not just an attack on us. It is an attack on the Geneva Conventions. It is an attack on the word of every nation that said we would not allow anyone to bully you as long as you give us what we want, and we did that. It is a very solid view into just how easily disgruntled Putin truly is and the lack of true loyalty that the Kremlin places on their words. They have not once but twice breached the contract they signed that would see us denuclearized from our high position and now use the threat of nuclear war against the world to keep allies docile. And it is working is even worse. Yes, they send weapons. They send food and medicine, but we need help! We need those who are so willing to involve themselves normally to take a stand and choose a course of action. Inaction is just not acceptable.
Amanda: Nobody should have to die to help satisfy a crazy dictator and his political hysteria and power grab. I truly hope that we can resolve all of this before there is only one resolution left. Sadly, we can’t trust any agreements with the Kremlin through their own actions, so how do we do that?
All three women have given me ways of personal contact and promise to remain in touch. They ask that anyone who wishes to assist them to do so on a global level, contributing to one of the several charities available for families and children suffering during this crisis. I was moved by each of them and their courage, and I hope you were too. Let’s all keep them in our hearts and prayers. Much love to all who suffer now. We are with you as much as we can be! I hope both sides find a way to make peace, and those forced to fight for their respective nations get to return home safe and sound. Please remember, no matter how you see the struggle, not all have a choice
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