Caught Between East and West
Redeemer faculty and alumni look at the crisis in Ukraine
3 min. read
March 25, 2014

The current tensions in the Crimean Peninsula have drawn the world’s attention and, in some cases, deep fear over what has happened and what might yet happen. Yet the roots of today’s turmoil can be found in part in the centuries of history that have led up to it. That was one of the observations made at an open discussion of the situation hosted at Redeemer by Dr. Jim Payton, professor of history, and Mira Ponomarenko-Postma ‘06 and Roman Golovchenko ’08, two Redeemer alumni from Ukraine. Nearly 100 people, many from the broader community, attended the event. Dr. Payton teaches and has written on Ukrainian history. He began with a brief history of Kievan Rus and Ukraine, emphasizing how old these conflicts are in Eastern Europe. Dr. Payton outlined how what is now Ukraine was split between Western and Russian orbits, the effects of the 2004 Orange Revolution of 2004, and how the Russia-leaning government gained power in 2010. Because the president of Ukraine in November signed an economic pact made with Russia rather than the one prepared for closer ties with the European Union, people began pouring into Independence Square (the Maidan), in the centre of Kiev, to protest. This eventually led to the overthrow of the government. Mira and Roman shared their experiences growing up in Ukraine. They pointed out that the Orange Revolution brought hope but later disappointment. They also noted that their homeland has always had to deal with the reality of Russia, and its military might, exerting its influence on Ukrainians. “Russia has always viewed Ukraine as a military buffer zone,” said Roman. “The word ‘Ukraine’ actually comes from a word meaning ‘borderland.’” Both Mira and Roman also have family in Ukraine. Mira noted that her family, based in Kiev, felt safe, from the start of the protests and through the overthrow of the government in February. Now, however, there is much more uncertainty. Many of the questions that followed explored some of the region’s recent history, including Nikita Krushchev’s “gift” of Crimea to Ukraine in 1954, the role of the Orthodox churches (Russian and Ukrainian), and the impact that this could have on the minority Muslim Tatar population. What does the future hold for Crimea and Ukraine as a result of these events? “Crimea is lost,” says Roman. “Best case, Ukraine keeps the status quo and rebuilds its economy, military and civil unity and Russia never crosses the border.” Mira agrees that it will take time to rebuild and make the constitutional reforms needed for Ukraine to become a strong, independent European nation. One of the questioners asked what can be done to support Ukraine. “Pray for peace, good leadership and for good heads to prevail,” noted Mira. She also supports Prime Minister Harper’s recent outspokenness in support of Ukraine. “Symbols matter; solidarity matters; affirmation matters. But you don’t want that solidarity to be hypocritical. You have to follow through.” Dr. Payton noted that Canada has a huge population of Ukrainians, so it is politically savvy for the Prime Minister to speak vigorously about supporting Ukraine. The event was pulled together relatively quickly, almost as fast as the situation is changing in Ukraine. But as Dr. Payton points out, “it shows how Redeemer is involved in reflecting on contemporary world events and engaging with pressing issues.”

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