Kaniv: The crisis through our Sister City’s eyes

(By Tarney Baldinger) Our friends in Kaniv feel acutely the irony that after peacefully seeking a just government, suddenly, they face war. The atmosphere is extremely tense. They again ask not to use their names.

They are proud of what they accomplished in the Maidan through months of patience, privation, and sacrifice. The number of dead is more likely three hundred than one hundred. Gruesome facts continue to surface. They are grieved and horrified.

One of our friends says “We changed our consciousness with Maidan. We changed our hearts, we changed our psychology. Anyone who even goes to the Maidan, their consciousness will be changed.” She adds, “And now we will be sending our young sons to die. It will be a war of partisans.”

People are not out enjoying early spring; they are glued to their televisions. They keep the radio on at work. A teacher who looks forward each spring to working in his fields is staying at home. “I am disheartened. I don’t dare be away from my TV for even a moment. From minute to minute I do not know what I might hear.” They fear the worst and hope against hope that the West will come forward with action that will stay Putin’s hand.

They appreciate the calm way the new government is approaching the myriad acute problems facing the country. Within a week, they faced their worst threat since World War II. They admire the government’s courage in letting Russia know that Ukraine will stand up to Putin, even as it appears that the West, their only real hope, is not helping them.

They are encouraged by the opposition in Russian cities to Putin’s land grab—100,000 on the streets in Moscow last Saturday despite repressive laws against demonstrations: “Putin Get Out.” “Hands off Ukraine.” They are encouraged by the Security Council vote not to recognize the forced referendum in Crimea and by China’s refusal to back Russia in this.

They are concerned for those in Crimea. Putin has seeded fear and hatred which did not exist before. Harassment of pro-Ukrainians has begun. The doors of the Tatar minority have been marked with X’s. And the Russian government has announced they are ‘nationalizing’ all Ukrainian state-owned property. That is, stealing it. 53

None of our friends feels unfriendly toward Russian speakers, ethnic Russians, or Russian citizens. “When we meet with our Russian friends, we speak Russian. We are sisters and brothers. Many of us have relatives in Russia. And now we will be killing each other. It is unbelievable.”

Young men from Kaniv are enlisting, and people are donating money to build up an army, but Russians tanks and troops are on the border right now, the forerunners of a massive, well-equipped army, which has been very active in the last decades, while Ukraine’s has had no need to be. There is terrifying potential for a bloodbath.

One friend suggests jokingly that Russia should protect Russian speakers in Alaska. What Putin is doing in Crimea is nearly as absurd. In an online survey one week before the supposed referendum, of the 40,000 Crimeans who participated, 15% (fifteen) voted to join Russia.

Everyone has pinned all hopes on help from the US and Europe. A poem appeared in the paper saying that the West has ‘felt anxiety,’ the West has ‘been worried,’ the West is ‘quite shocked,’ and meanwhile, ‘people are dying, dying, and we are waiting, waiting.’

For ways to help, see the Facebook page of a group of young people in San Francisco, ‘Maydansf’ where they post events, updated news, and opportunities to send financial support.

Thanks to a Sister Cities’ student exchange in 1991, Tarney Baldinger has been in Ukraine multiple times. This article is drawn entirely from recent conversations with Ukrainian friends.


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