By Brad Terrace
Oxford- The students at Miami University’s Oxford campus had the unique opportunity to listen to two journalists living and working in the Ukraine and their thoughts about the past, current, and future affairs of Ukraine. Isaac Webb and Dan Peleschuk are two American journalists living in Kiev, Ukraine and they have been reporting on a variety of topics.
Webb began with his recent piece about how Ukraine has reacted to Donald Trump and the policy expectations that the Trump Administration will have toward Ukraine. Although Webb stated that Donald Trump was not a daily conversation peace in Ukraine, he did tell the students a story about how some people brought it up to him once they knew that he was American. Peleschuk, in his intro, talked about the changing of the political and social environments in Ukraine after the 2014 Euromaidan Revolution. One of the most discussed changes was the pride and identity that people have in their work and in being Ukrainian.
The conversation then shifted to the ongoing fighting in eastern Ukraine. Peleschuk was critical of the Ukrainian government because he believed they were not providing the services that the people needed after the heavy destruction of human lives and infrastructure in the region. The people in eastern Ukraine have had their lives greatly affected and are now living in “occupied territories” and becoming more of a part of Russia. Many in the West see this as a problem, because they want Ukraine to become more European, but the Russians are supplying the people with coal and other supplies for survival. The Ukrainian government likes the focus on the war in eastern Ukraine because it prevents them from having to focus on real reforms, something that Peleschuk and Webb both argued. Many Ukrainians now are looking for reforms in healthcare, agriculture, and pension reform in the near future, but the jury is still out on whether the government will oblige.
An interesting topic about the current state of affairs in Ukraine was NABU, which stands for the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine. Corruption has been a problem in Ukraine for many years and Peleschuk discussed how the bureau was set-up to be independent of the government and tasked with eliminating corruption. A very interesting point was made about the importance of the judicial system. The bureau could be independent and try to bring down corrupt politicians, but if the judicial system was corrupt or unwilling to convict then the entire process would be for naught.
Since many students attending the event are taking Dr. Stephen Norris’ history class on the 1917 Russian Revolution, Dr. Norris asked the two journalists what they had seen or heard so far in 2017, the 100th anniversary. Both Webb and Peleschuk told the audience that they had not seen anything about the anniversary in Kiev and that 1917 is not really discussed. However, they did talk about how Ukrainian historical memory is either focused on more recent events, such as World War II, or deeper memories such as Ukraine in the 19th century. These points are interesting, but consistent with the focus of Ukrainians on their own history and their own identity.
Many students were interested in the conversation on the vyshyvanka, an embroidered shirt that symbolizes Ukrainian culture and what it means to be proud of being Ukrainian. Peleschuk wrote a piece in the Calvert Journal about the vyshyvanka and its power as a symbol for a grassroots movement of fashion in Ukraine. These shirts are a symbol of Ukraine moving into a new period, one that is different from Russia. An interesting quote from Webb is that the country seems to be “getting rid of a Soviet past, understanding a Ukrainian past to come up with a Ukrainian future.”
Ukraine has an interesting future, it will most likely turn to a future in Europe, but there are still a lot of questions with government corruption and the war in eastern Ukraine. However, Ukraine is out to prove that the Ukrainian identity is as strong as ever as they find their path in the 21st century.
Brad Terrace is a senior majoring in diplomacy and global politics at Miami.