Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Posts tagged ‘Ukraine’

Crimea, from a Brit who lives there

When I arrived in Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula, my friends and family didn’t really know where it was. Now, everyone does.

Over the past two weeks it has become the focus of intense media attention as troops have surrounded key strategic sites, ships have blockaded Sevastopol Bay, and politicians in Europe, America and Russia have played power games. I’ve written about my reactions to these events in another post.

The soldiers

From within, it doesn’t feel like an invasion. I don’t know what an invasion should feel like.

The troops (whatever you may call them) have arrived gradually, and have focussed on military bases and strategic points. One student (in his 40s) told me that it’s not an invasion because the troops were already here, and the land is rightfully Russian, and he’s not the only one who’s said this to me. He didn’t mention the agreement which gives the Russian military permission to be here, requiring them to confirm troop movements before they are made. He did say that it was inevitable that the peninsula would become Russian again sooner or later.

This view was echoed by two older ladies from Simferopol in my compartment on the train back from Kiev, who took time to patiently explain (in Russian) that ‘Crimea has always been and will always be part of Russia’ to the younger woman from Sevastopol who was in the same compartment.

Another student described the fears of his Jewish wife, who had heard about a rise in anti-Semitism in other parts of Ukraine, including attacks on Jews. They were so worried that they spent two days at Simferopol airport trying to leave the country. As more troops arrived in Crimea, they decided that they didn’t need to leave any more, as they were now safe from attacks from the rest of Ukraine. This is what the Jerusalem Post has to say about claims of potential anti-Semitism in Crimea.

He’s not the only one who has told me that the presence of the troops makes them feel safe. There are examples of it in the media too. Here’s a retired actor who lives in Crimea, and is old enough to remember the Second World War:

So what did he think when Russian soldiers suddenly appeared last week on the streets of the regional capital city, a silent, heavily armed presence that surrounded the local parliament and deployed around Ukrainian military bases?

He was relieved. “If the Russians weren’t here, the government of Ukraine would come and occupy us,” said Vladimir Sukhenko, a retired stage actor. “They would make us speak Ukrainian.”

From The Washington Times

Of course, all of the people I’ve spoken to have been in Sevastopol, so I imagine this is not reflected across all communities and across the peninsula. In fact, I would be very surprised if it is.

The soldiers on both sides, Ukrainian and Russian, have remained admirably calm, and I put the fact that there has been no outright violence down to their control.

Maybe it is obvious, but it is worth stressing, that despite the movement of Nato hardware on Europe’s borders, no-one sensible is talking about military action. Indeed, it is striking that not even stupid people are talking about military action.

From Mark Mardell on the BBC

Kiev

When I told my students in Sevastopol that I was planning to leave the city for Kiev, many of them told me it would be more dangerous there. This echoes what Ann Loseva (who lives in Russia) said in a comment on a previous post of mine:

It was only yesterday that in a family conversation (very tense too) I told my parents about your situation, and they were a bit shocked about the decision to go to Kiev. From what we/they get from the news, Kiev seems to be a far more dangerous place to be staying at…

There seems to be a feeling that Kiev is a city of anarchy, and this is not even close to what I saw when I was there last week.

Shevchenko park, Kiev

As in Sevastopol, life is continuing as normal away from Maidan (where the main protests took place), and even on Maidan there was a very subdued atmosphere. Even when I was out at night with my friend, I felt safe.

This mirrors the fears of those outside Sevastopol about the situation here.

As far as my opinions on the government in Kiev go, while I now wouldn’t go so far as to say they’re illegitimate (which I did originally think, but have now reconsidered), I do believe that they do not truly represent the people of Ukraine. Therefore, they should not sign long-lasting agreements like those with the EU, and I am not happy that the EU is letting them do this, and (maybe) even encouraging them to. That should only be done by an elected government, as there are many in the country who do not want closer ties with Europe. They should instead focus on the internal problems of the country, and working towards far-reaching reform. The interim government clearly have a lot of work to do to rescue the country, and as the prime minister stated, the changes they have to make will be difficult to swallow:

“We are to undertake extremely unpopular steps as the previous government and previous president were so corrupted that the country is in a desperate financial plight,” Mr Yatsenyuk told BBC Ukrainian.

From the BBC

Stop fascism!

When the government first changed hands in Kiev, some people told me they were worried about how the interim government was made up. There was condemnation of the fact that members of far-right parties were included. It was not uncommon to hear the words ‘neo-Nazi’ and ‘fascist’ to describe the government as a whole.

Since I came back to Sevastopol on Monday it’s difficult to miss this interpretation of the ‘threat’ to Crimea. It’s on billboards all over the city:

'Stop fascism' billboard

‘Stop fascism’, ‘Everyone go to the referendum’, ‘Pravy Sektor’ (a far-right party, crossed out)

This is one of about six (maybe more) different billboards I’ve seen which are intensely pro-Russian, many of which use the word ‘fascism’. The one which I particularly dislike is shown in this article from NBC news, and an example of it has appeared outside my window. I would be very interested to know who’s paying for all of these billboards.

The pro-Ukrainian/pro-autonomy billboards are conspicuous by their absence.

The role of the media

This is all part of the information war going on between Ukraine and Russia, with both sides laying on the propaganda very thick.

There has been a lot of coverage of the way the state-controlled Russian media has been used to support what is happening in Crimea. Here are articles about it from the BBC, CTV news (Canada), The Daily Beast and The Guardian newspaper (UK). Mediaite have collected examples of the stories being shared in some Russian media. I have heard some of these media claims repeated by various people I know, for example about the spread of fascism if Crimea is not protected, that the overthrow of Yanukovych was somehow masterminded by the West/Americans, and that those manning the road-blocks into Crimea and around cities like Sevastopol are protecting the local people.

The Russian media also discuss the propaganda put out by Western media. There is also a new radio station in Sevastopol, set up to broadcast the ‘truth’ about the situation. As a Westerner, lucky enough to grow up in the country of the BBC, which I believe is as balanced and neutral as possible, it’s hard for me to take these claims seriously. That’s not to say that the Western media aren’t choosing to cast events in a certain way to play to their audience, but bias and propaganda are not the same thing. It is important to read everything critically, however much you may trust the source.

The Ukrainian media is not completely blameless here either, and I’m surprised that it is not being analysed just as much as the Russian media. While I was in Kiev I was informed that:

Putin said if the West don’t want World War Three, they’ll give him Crimea.

This was hot off the Ukrainian TV station the speaker was watching, but was not reproduced anywhere in the media sources I read. I also found it very interesting that last week two different ultimatums were reported by Ukrainian sources, then denied by Russian ones, and never followed through. This was the first, and the second was quoted in one of the BBC live feeds during the week, but I can’t find it again now.

The referendum

On March 6th, 78 MPs from the Crimean Parliament voted to become part of Russia, with 8 abstaining. A referendum was scheduled for 16th March 2014, four days from today. It has been moved forward from the original dates of 25th May, then 30th March.

The council of Sevastopol, a city which has a special administrative status and is not officially part of Crimea, also voted to become part of Russia, and the people of Sevastopol will be able to vote in the referendum too.

The questions will be presented in three languages: Russian, Ukrainian, and Crimean Tatar. Voters will be asked to choose between becoming a federal state of Russia or remaining as part of Ukraine but with greater autonomy.

It has been widely condemned as being illegal for various reasons, not least of which is the military occupation of the peninsula. This article clearly explains why what Russia appears to have done in the run-up to the referendum is illegal.

Regardless of how the outside world has reacted, it looks like the referendum will still take place. It’s undeniable that the people of Crimea need to be given the chance to decide on their own fate, rather than having it decided by politicians and then having to suffer the consequences.

16 March billboard

The least militaristic of the billboards here: ’16th March: We choose our future!’ (although the colours are still those of Russia…)

Will it be fair?

As far as I’m concerned, there are a lot of issues with the referendum.

The speed at which it has been planned.
Although I doubt it will change anyone’s minds, there should be an appropriate period in which people can be informed about the benefits and drawbacks of both choices they could make in the referendum. This is what has been happening in the UK in the the run-up to the Scottish referendum.

The fact that the decision has been made before the people have voted.
The Crimean Parliament started off  by declaring that Crimea is now part of Russia, then set the date for the referendum. As John Simpson reports, the referendum may make no difference at all.

The way the world has reacted to it.
There has been outright condemnation of the referendum, with no offer of another date/time/strategy for Crimeans to decide their own fate. By saying ‘no’ but providing no alternative, it is difficult for people to back out of. Perhaps if the Ukrainian government had offered more support for the idea of a referendum they would be more respected here. (entirely my own impression, and not something I’ve discussed with anyone else)

Whether it will be overseen by international observers.
If neutral observers are allowed to observe the referendum, then it will be clear whether the vote really reflects the will of the people, or whether they are being forced to vote one way or the other on the day. There is also the question of ballot-rigging, and whether there will be a fair count of the votes cast.

What will happen when the result is declared.
If the result clearly shows that Crimeans want to be part of Russia, it will be a lot harder for the West to deny them that chance. If the result goes against Russia, how can the West draw back from its statements about the illegality of the vote? What will Russia do?

Russia or Ukraine?

The outcome of the referendum is really not clear, but the more people I talk to and the more propaganda I see (it’s difficult to call it anything else when Ukraine is not represented on the billboards at all), the more likely I think it is that the vote will go in Russia’s favour.

I’ve noticed a clear generational divide, with only one or two exceptions, between those who want Russia (mostly over 35/40) and those who would prefer autonomy within Ukraine (younger, under 35, maybe under 30). The BBC and the New York Times have both interviewed people across the peninsula, and it’s obvious that opinion is divided. I think it’s also visible in the photos and videos of those at pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian rallies, where the average age looks considerably higher at pro-Russian rallies.

If that’s really true, it would make the voting pool much more pro-Russian, because the older age-group outnumbers the younger, and many young people are also off studying or working in other places, or have decided to leave Crimea because they anticipate a Russian victory. I have students who have left temporarily, others who are considering leaving permanently, and still others who have sent away family members just in case. Two students are related to notaries, and they said that the number of people getting notarised permission for one parent to take children out of the country alone has increased dramatically over the last few weeks.

What complicates the outcome further is that Crimean Tatars do not want to participate and some pro-Ukrainians are also planning to abstain because of the ‘illegality’ of the referendum, which will obviously sway the final results.

Me (!)

I really have no idea which country I’ll be ‘officially’ living in this time next week, and how much a potential change to becoming part of Russia will actually affect me, the people I work with, the school, and the city.

I decided to come back to Sevastopol, rather than stay in Kiev. I am now registered with the FCO Overseas Crisis Service, at the suggestion of someone at the British Embassy. I don’t really think it will be necessary, but better to be safe than sorry. As I’ve said before and will say again, I would never willingly put myself in a dangerous situation.

It’s now just a question of wait and see…

Maidan, 8th March 2014

Today I had a tour of Kiev.

Outside the bell tower of Saint Sophia’s Cathedral, I saw my first memorial to those who died during the protests on Maidan.

Flowers and candles for those who died on Maidan

I got my first views of Maidan from the top of the tower.

Maidan from Saint Sophia's Cathedral

Maidan from Saint Sofia's Cathedral

Burnt-out building on Maidan

It was strange to think that this was the same place I had seen burning on TV, and where people had had to jump out to try and save their lives.

I saw my first barricade outside St. Michael’s Cathedral. Students had fled into the complex to escape from the police at the beginning of the protests in November 2013.

Barricade

There were also tents outside St. Michael’s Cathedral, which I didn’t realise, as I thought all of the protesters were living on Maidan.

Protestors outside St. Michael's Cathedral

After the tour, I went around Maidan with a woman who had been there on the worst day, the day when the Trade Unions building was burnt. She told me about her experiences, and those of her son and daughter. I cried. It was eerily quiet considering the number of people there. Night fell while we walked around.

From now on, whenever I smell woodsmoke, I will remember Maidan.

When I see red carnations, I will remember Maidan.

The people will not leave until they are sure those who run their country are doing it right. The people who came from all over Ukraine to fight for their rights, people from Kiev, Kharkiv, Crimea, Lvov, and many other places. Politicians will no longer be allowed to line their pockets at the expense of the people. And the people who died in the square will not have died in vain.

These are a selection of the photos I took on the square.

Tyres at the entrance to Maidan

Photos of those who died

Photos of those who died – I was told the black faces represent those who are still unknown, although I wonder if they belong to policemen

Photos of those who died

Bridge in the square

The slogans say things like ‘End the corteges’ (‘cortege’ is like a motorcade) and ‘Heavenly hundred’ (the people who died)

Trade Unions building

Trade Unions building

Flowers and barricades

 

The stage

 

Statues holding Ukraine flags

 

Flowers

Flowers Protesters' tent Clock

Long live the heroes

Long live the heroes

Kid's drawings

Bridge and Trade Unions building

Flowers and candles

Tyres beyond the bridge

Ukraine peace cranes  Barricades and the Trades Union building

Ash covered the square

Ash covered the square

Sack barricades  Flowers  Trade Unions Building behind the barricades  Banners and the Hotel Ukraine

Christmas tree flags

Christmas tree flowers  Stage in the twilight  Christmas tree, column, and the Hotel Ukraine  Remembering the dead  Remembering the dead

Paving stones which had been torn up

Paving stones which had been torn up

Tents and the square

Exit

Exit – the camp was very well organised

Paving stones which had been torn up  Tyre barricades  Tyre barricades

Souvenir sellers are already on the square

Souvenir sellers are already on the square

An interesting sculpture  Flowers and candles  Street barricadeThe clean-up job has already started. Some of the stones that were ripped up have been replaced. Some of the rubbish is being taken away. There is a long way to go until the square returns to normal.

There is a long way to go until Ukraine becomes a 21st-century democracy.

But the first steps have been taken.

 

The last 3 weeks, and my response

I never thought I really cared about politics, and I never really thought they would matter to me. I always voted, but there didn’t seem much to choose from between the people I was voting for, and I never really felt like anything would actually change.

In the last three weeks, I’ve learnt that it does matter.

It changes lives. It changes borders. And it’s all a game.*

The background

I moved to Sevastopol in September 2013 to start a new job at a language school here. I’ve fallen in love with the city, and what little of the surrounding area I’ve managed to see so far.

Cape Fiolent

Cape Fiolent, 15 minutes south of Sevastopol. There is a military base on the point.

Before I came, I deliberately avoided reading up on the city and the country. I like to get to know my new homes first-hand, without preconceived notions. I  was surprised to find out that most people here speak Russian, as I always thought most people spoke Ukrainian. I also knew that the Russian and Ukrainian Black Sea Fleets were based in the city, and that it was quite common to see soldiers and sailors in the street. Little did I know how important these two facts would become.

Sailors in Sevastopol

Sailors on the street in Sevastopol, October 2013

When the protests in Kiev were at their most violent, just three weeks ago, I watched in disbelief at what was happening to the country I had chosen to live in. But it was worlds away, and it didn’t feel like it would affect me.

On Saturday 22nd February, I went to school for a seminar. Before I left at 10:00 I checked the news, and it seemed things might be coming to their conclusion with the signing of a deal by Yanukovych and the opposition the day before. When I got back at 16:00, the situation had changed completely, and events that take months in other places happened over a single day.

With Yanukovych gone, it was time for Ukraine to wipe the slate clean. An interim government was presented to those at Maidan on February 26th, presidential elections were announced for May 25th and it was time to mourn for those lost in the protests and move on with building a new country.

The situation started to affect me a little, with the exchange rate reaching a 10-year low, but apart from that, life continued as normal.

A change of focus

February 24th saw mass protests in Sevastopol, against what were seen as ‘fascists’ in Ukraine. This prompted my first post about the situation, in which I highlighted that without the internet, I would never have known about the protests.

On February 28th, the situation changed again, with armed men appearing at Simferopol and Sevastopol airports and in the Crimean Parliament. This time, it was closer to home. These armed men wore no insignia, but all the signs seemed to point to them being Russian. I started to get messages from friends and family telling me to stay safe, worried at seeing Sevastopol and Crimea mentioned in the news. This is what I posted on facebook at the time, in response to news sent to me that Sevastopol Belbek had been taken over:

Just saw it on BBC. It’s a military airport to the north of the city, not near where I live at all. Didn’t even know it existed until about 15 minutes ago! Keeping up-to-date with the news, and watching carefully to see what happens, but still feels safe for me at the moment.

On the same day, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office changed their travel advice, urging British citizens to leave Crimea.

Emotional tension

I really am grateful to the people around the world who have sent me messages through social media, emails and my blog. I have been online as much as possible, following the news and trying to make an informed decision about staying in Sevastopol, as well as keeping people up-to-date with my views.

I blogged again on 2nd March, describing the situation as I saw it and what I thought should happen next. I had decided to stay after a very emotional day. My decision seemed reasonable to me, but the messages from people in other places was making me doubt myself. One friend phoned me and pointed out that if I left, it would put a lot of people’s minds at rest. This was true, and it made me cry because I hate how much worry I am causing people, but there still seemed no reason to leave, despite having seen my first evidence of unusual naval deployment.

Military ship off the Sevastopol coast

Military ship out to sea, 2nd March 2014

The next day, Monday 3rd March, I received another call. Having come to peace with my decision again that morning, I was remaking it every time I read the news and saw that more forces were arriving, and every time I got a new message from someone. The words used in the call were completely reasonable, and the caller had a responsibility towards me which they fulfilled by strongly requesting that I left Sevastopol, in line with the FCO advice. I know the person who phoned me had no desire to force me into anything, but it tipped me over the edge. I decided I would leave, not because I wanted to, but because I couldn’t keep making the decision to stay over and over again. I couldn’t stand the tension any more.

A few days in Kiev

I arrived in Kiev on Wednesday 5th, and have spent my time here so far learning about how our sister school works. It’s been a productive few days, and I’ve particularly enjoyed seeing all the flowers for International Women’s Day, but I’m still spending every available moment looking at the news and trying to work out how the situation is developing.

Buying flowers

Men buying flowers to give to women to celebrate International Women’s Day, Kiev, 7th March 2014

Yesterday, the big news was that the Crimean Parliament had voted for Crimea to become part of Russia and had announced a referendum on the issue for the 16th March. I now need to adjust to the idea that in 10 days I might be living in Russia.

This afternoon I attended the British Embassy briefing on the situation in Ukraine. The ambassador updated us on how law and order is being restored in Kiev, and spoke about Crimea. The ex-pats in the room clearly want to support Ukraine in making a fresh start, by offering their expertise to the government in an advisory capacity if it will help.

During the briefing, my ex-colleague, whose (long-planned) move from Sevastopol to Kiev happened last Friday, and I talked about the situation in Sevastopol as we saw it. Interestingly, we have both formed different impressions of the mood of the people in Sevastopol. I believe that a referendum would show that greater autonomy is the preference, whereas he thinks people want to be part of Russia.

What’s my next move?

Tomorrow I hope to go to Maidan (not alone) to see where it all started, and to add that experience to the list of things I never wanted to see or do or have to think about, but know I have to if I want to have as full a picture of the situation as possible. (I know how that makes me sound, but as I said before, I never really cared about politics.)

On Sunday I have a ticket to go back to Sevastopol. I know that for many people, this may seem like a stupid decision since my government is advising me not to be there.  When I spoke to the ambassador today I was very clear that I planned to return and he didn’t try to dissuade me at all. Apparently there are probably only about 25 Brits in the whole of Crimea. The FCO advice is precautionary, and they have to say that, but I don’t think there is any danger for me in Sevastopol. In fact, I feel safer there than in Kiev, because at least I can be out alone at night there!

I’m going to share here a slightly edited excerpt from an email I sent (to the 3rd March caller) earlier today:

My decision to go back to Sevastopol is completely my own, and I am clearly stating now (for future reference if need be – I hope need doesn’t be) it is on my own head. I have considered it very carefully, because I know that if the worst came to the worst and anything did happen to me, it could [cause other problems] as well, and I would never want that to happen either. I know that wouldn’t be your first reaction, but it is something you have to consider too. I truly believe that there is no danger for me there, and that if the situation changes I will be able to deal with it. I definitely do not court danger, and in fact, go out of my way to avoid potentially dangerous situations. […] I am sorry to go against your advice, but I have to follow my gut feeling in this.

It is 23:00 on Friday now. I have about 42 hours until my train leaves Kiev. As we’ve seen over the last 3 weeks, a lot can change in that time. I fully intend to be on that train, but will only go if I continue to believe that the situation is safe.

I’ll leave you with a link to live webcams of Sevastopol, so you can see for yourself what the city is like. Click on the links below the video window to move between them, and if one doesn’t work, click pause and play a few times. As you’ll see, I hope, life is going on as normal there, and I have no good reason to stay away.

*P.S. The post I thought I would write is very different from the one I ended up writing, but it’s too late now to write the other one too. Hopefully in the next day or two I’ll have time to share my interpretation of the situation, rather than just a list of events.

Kiev brick mosaic

The brick mosaic at the end of the building I’m staying in, Kiev, March 2014

Sevastopol, 2nd March 2014

Last night our school had a quiz which happened as normal, although there were only about 12 students there. The pub was near the main square where people have been gathering here. At 5pm, when I went past, there were knots of people, and a couple of Russian flags, but not many. An article on the BBC talks about a relaxed atmosphere and a kind of Saturday stroll in Sevastopol, and this is how it felt to me for all of the five minutes I was outside walking from the bus stop to the pub.
After the quiz, I went to a friend’s house to play a game and try to forget about the situation for a few hours for the first time in a couple of days. This worked until he got a message saying “We’re at war.” I deliberately didn’t look at the media until this morning, and when I did I discovered that about twenty minutes after I last checked it yesterday, the whole situation had changed again, or at least crystallised. Obama’s veiled threats to Putin on Friday have become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Looking out of my window this morning, everything is normal. It’s 8am on Sunday and the streets are just beginning to wake up. I’m not going to put myself into dangerous situations, and even if there is an invasion, they aren’t going to start randomly picking off civilians in the streets. It will be focussed on key strategic points, which I’m not anywhere near. I sincerely hope that Putin and the Ukrainian government are sensible enough to stop before it gets to the stage of violence.
Part of the frustration is the comparison between the fighting at Maidan two weeks ago, which was seen as in some way acceptable because it was fighting for the ‘right’ reasons, and the pro-Russian protests, considerably less violent in most cases, which are apparently seen negatively by the media.
The rise in tension and associated violence (for example in Kharkiv yesterday) seems to be happening because of the lack of reasoned dialogue. Instead it’s a case of hot-headed people standing off against each other, with none of them really wiling to talk and to come to a compromise over the situation. The Crimean parliament is led by a man who nobody has elected, and who has taken control of most areas of the government without any real authority, including taking it upon himself to ask Putin for support and protection. This worries me, because they are playing with the lives of thousands of people. However, the Ukrainian government is in exactly the same position: nobody has elected them either. The help they are asking for may be mostly financial, but they are still following the same path of making large-scale decisions which potentially alienate sections of the population and could have important repurcussions for the future of Ukraine. Agreements for closer ties with the EU fall into this category, and I don’t think anything like that should be signed by an interim government, because there will always be an argument that people did not elect them, and therefore they do not have the right to speak for the country.
The BBC have interviewed four people from Crimea and this seems to be a fairly representative spread of opinions to me. It also shows the kind of information people are drawing on to form their opinions.
I would like to see representatives from all of the affected groups gathered together and discussing exactly what it is they want, listening to each other, coming to a compromise and working out how best to achieve the stability and security Ukraine and Crimea need so much right now. For me, this discussion should include the current Ukrainian president and prime minister, and representatives of each of the main political parties from Kiev, the Crimean leader, representatives of the pro-Russians, Tartars and any other large groups from Crimea, Putin, and an EU representative. The last two should be there as outsiders to be consulted with as they are likely to be the closest economic partners in any Ukrainian/Crimean future, but Ukraine/Crimea should not need their approval for any decisions. I don’t believe that Obama has any place in the discussion unless America are willing to offer financial help. The restrictions associated with any economic aid, wherever it comes from, should be realistic and should not place additional burdens on the country, and I can’t help feeling that they should be tied to economic and not political requirements. I also don’t see what use visits by random international politicians, like William Hague, can actually do on the ground, apart from distracting politicians here from doing the work they need to.
Everything I’ve said in this post are my personal opinions. They are an idealistic view of what politics should be designed to achieve, and of a sensible, patient group of people who are willing to cooperate to achieve the best for this country. Unfortunately, this is not what I can see at the moment, with those concerned sitting in their isolated castles posturing at each other, and all trying to be the strongest man in the situation, with a general air of distrust and accusations and rumour flying all over the place.
I have no idea what will happen next. I’ve been asked whether I’m going to leave Crimea, as advised by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. At the moment the answer is no, because I don’t think it would help. In my daily life, I feel completely safe. I actually see fewer soldiers, sailors and military units on a day-to-day basis than I did before the whole situation began. I’m constantly thinking about whether my decision to stay is the right one, but leaving would cause problems for the school I work for, would leave me with nothing to do for an indeterminate period of time, and would leave behind people I care about and worry about, people who don’t have the same luxury of being able to drop everything and leave. No matter what I’m doing, the situation is always at the back of my mind, even when I try to forget about it. I just hope it can be resolved soon, and without any more violence.

The entrance to Balaklava Bay (photo by Sandy Millin)

Sevastopol, right now

For those of you who have seen Sevastopol in the news over the last 24 hours, and have seen the protests, I’d like to let you know my perspective.
If I hadn’t had messages from people, social media, internet news, and chats with the people I worked with, I would have had no idea they were happening. There are people in one square in the centre, but my friend, who lives in another of the squares there, said he hasn’t seen any sign of the protests either. So while the photos may seem very dramatic, in most of Sevastopol daily life is continuing.
People are, however, worried about the new government not being any better than the old one, and about the potentially fascist/anti-semitic (mostly in the form of the extreme right-wing Svoboda party) elements of the opposition, who now have the chance for power.
The change in the law affecting the use of Russian seems like the worst move of the government so far. It may seem like a minor thing from outside the country, but from inside, I feel like it was a very stupid alteration. I have no idea what prompted it, unless the powers that be were trying to find a sure-fire to rile up the substantial Russian-speaking population in the country. Linguistic politics are never a good idea – it is definitely an area where I think governments should just let people continue speaking their language of choice, since they will anyway.
There is an air of nervousness here, as noone knows what will happen next. Rest assured that if I think I will be in danger, I will get out, but my friends here do not have that liberty. I really enjoy living in Sevastopol, and would like to be able to live here for a long time to come. I really hope the political situation doesn’t force me to change that plan, and even more, that it doesn’t cause more violence and upset to a place where most people just want to get on with their lives. Sevastopol is a beautiful place, which has seen more conflict in its 230 years than any city deserves. I hope that this is not the start of more.

(I originally wrote this as a facebook status update, but it’s so long, it’s probably better as a blogpost. Disclaimer: I have no political background, and everything I know about Ukrainian politics, I’ve learnt since I moved to Sevaeetopol in September, and most of that in the last week. It’s hard to believe it’s only been 7 days since this whole thing started. I hope that this time next week I’ll be saying it’s hard to believe that there was this much uncertainty 7 days ago…)

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