NOTE: I’ve promised all my friends and relatives that I will not go into harm’s way. This is an active and hot conflict, an all out war raging in Southeastern Ukraine between Russian forces, Separatists and Ukrainian National Army troops. As you’ll see, it includes jets, tanks, artillery and heavy weapons. All the following photos are by brave Press Photographers, some of whom have lost their lives, one of whom is pictured below. These photos range from February 2014 to July 2015, as in today! I honor those that have taken these photos and made them available to the public on Maidan Square and at the National War Memorial Museum in Kiev. I’m leaving today for Kharkov on the Russian boarder and just above the conflict to find out more. Please “Share” this in Facebook, Twitter and Linked In, I hope for a wide and diverse audience.
I need to pick up where I left off last summer. I’ve now been in Kiev for a week, talking, visiting, discussing, gathering and I’m ready to tell you what I know. The War is on in a big way, the future is uncertain in every way and the direction forward is unclear. Maybe the reason for blogs such as this one becoming increasingly popular is that the news in the US does not cover much other than what’s immediately important. The coverage of the Ukraine and the crisis here remains paltry at best and absent at the worst. The War is on. There is a crisis here in Eastern Europe of a level seldom seen since Bosnia. The images in this entry are current, as recent as within the last several months, and dire. It is a War carried out within and between the civilian population who cannot escape and have little except family to stay for. I need to include this in my blog as a backdrop for all else I’ll cover this year. It’s worth putting discussions of sustainable architecture and urban planning aside for a moment.
Here’s what I’ve learned. It’s very complicated. Very. The rifts are very old and very deep. The divisions are rooted in the fact that Ukraine has been part of Russia since the time of Peter the Great in the late 17th Century, and consolidated by his daughter Catherine the Great in the early 18th Century, around 100 years before our American Revolution! http://www.biography.com/people/peter-the-great-9542228 Yeah! Get it? That’s how deep this goes.
Ukraine got sick to death (literally) of the great Polish Empire running all over them for access to the Black Sea and their fertile lands. They allied with Russia and besides a brief stint of independence just before the Bolshevik Revolution, have been either directly allied or controlled by the Empire ever since the late 1600’s. Add to that, the living memories of millions of X Soviet citizens now in their twilight years, that remember Mother Russia and stewardship, and care, and support, through free education, guaranteed housing, food, cars in some cases, most of the basics, no matter how basic. All you had to do was work, work when you were sick, or tired, work 12 hour days, work a 6 or sometimes 7 day week, work if your kids were sick or if someone died, you worked. It was easy and guaranteed… Easy in a sense that is. The older generation remembers this, through all the conflagrations of the last 22 years of Ukrainian independence. Returning to Russia remains the only hope of solving this experimental Ukrainian puzzle.
I just toured the famous Kiev WWII War Memorial Museum. Amazing! Several facts are germane to defining this split between those that want Russia and those that want the EU. First the fight for Russia was mostly over by the time the allies got to Normandy and D Day. By then the Russians had been locked in an almost limitless 4 year battle for their lives. Stalingrad, Kiev, Kharkov, Leningrad and even Moscow were under constant siege and destruction. By the time D Day happened, the fight remained largely in the west of Russia, i.e. Ukraine and surrounding areas. Russia’s Red Army spent millions of lives defending Ukraine and western Russia from the Nazis and Germany. By D Day, over half the Russian Red Army was fighting in Ukraine and over 60% of that Army were Ukrainians. The history runs very very deep.
On the other side, and I mean the other side…are those that want the EU. There is no in between, no middle ground. I’ve watched fist fights and rumbles break out over shouting matches on the subject. Everyone here as in the US has some sort of access to the internet on laptops, computers, smart phones, they see the images of life in Western Europe and the US. It’s the Millennials, the Gen X’ers, the young people, those are the ones that want to be part of the EU! Everyone now make less than $300/month, with the 3 1/2 fold increase in the value of the dollar and the Euro and resultant skyrocketing cost of living and sees that every day on the internet. Those that believe in Ukrainian sovereignty and nationality remain currently in power. The cry, “Slava Ykraine” or “Honor to Ukraine” resounds around the large gatherings on Maidan Square, the chants spontaneously rising above the music played by street performers.
My friends that I’ve known for half a decade here in Kiev, long before the Revolution, all say, the current government is pissing off Russia and Russia is responding. The elections will not happen until the end of the decade, in 2019. This might be a long battle. The German Intelligence Agency estimates over 50,000 killed in this nasty little war, one we know almost nothing about. That number is slightly more than half the total casualties in the entire Bosnian/Croatian War and it’s still raging in the East. The Russian supporters say there are no people dying in Crimea, taken over a year ago; that people are dying only in the East, where Russia and the West are colliding. The EU supporters say it’s a question of National sovereignty, honor, pride and their very survival.
The Revolution on Kiev’s Maidan Square of a year and a half ago subsided last summer. President Viktor Yanukovych reputed in Putin’s hip pocket was the catalyst of it all. He ordered the massacre of the EU supporter civilians in the photos of this blog and on our news. He nixed an agreement for economic cooperation and opening with the West just days before the Revolution exploded. His overthrow and the rapid election of the EU and US backed Petro Poroshenko was a victory for moving towards the West, with dire life changing consequences. I encourage you to read at least the entry below from my last year’s visit, when the center of Kiev, Maidan Square was a military camp and I experienced a gun battle right outside my hotel where 4 soldiers were killed.
Why does any of this matter? Where to begin. Here’s a place, read this…
The claims are that there are strategic interests relating to the old Cold War and the sagging relationship between the US and Russia that are behind all this. Some of my friends say…”who cares”. It’s a chess game. Why care? Well, how about that it’s possible that the US is stirring the pot for greater political gain and 50,000 people have died. That sounds like something that Americans do care about!
Finally, this is a blog about “Sustainability and Resiliency” capitalized and in quotes as they now have become titles of many things. I’ve defined sustainability as the principles that drive stewardship in human development and resiliency as the result of those moves. The past and the future, the principles we’ve learned in the past to create resilient societies for the future. Simple, yet complex. Ukraine is an enigma in today’s world. Stuck between the past and the future, it becomes a living example of the schism between the two. Sustainability is not defined by our terms in the US here in Ukraine or much of the rest of the world for that matter. Our definition remains very narrow like a thin line to the future. Ukraine’s sustainability looks more like a patch-work-quilt to a questionable future. The real question here is, what can we learn from just such a past and how will it affect our own future?
All the following photos were taken by Ukrainian War Correspondents and are on display in the War Memorial Museum and Maidan Square in Kiev. This remains a real and very dangerous war, despite life as normal in Kiev.