Why Have So Many Ukrainians Fled to Russia?
Journalist Vladislav Gulevich says that many of the 730,000 Ukrainian refugees in Russia see the Ukrainian military as the main threat to their lives
ANTON WORONCZUK, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Anton Woronczuk in Baltimore.
About 730,000 Ukrainians have fled to Russia and over 1,300 have died since fighting began in April between Kiev and rebels in the eastern regions of Ukraine, according to the United Nations. The UN is also warning that the deterioration of water, power, and health supplies in the East will impact about 4 million Ukrainians as the fighting continues. NATO has issued another warning regarding a potential outbreak of conflict as 20,000 Russian troops remain near the border with Ukraine. And this comes as Russia announced a yearlong ban of various food imports from the U.S. and E.U. in response to sanctions imposed on them by the U.S. and E.U.
Joining us now to discuss this is Vladislav Gulevich. He is a political analyst and publicist from Ukraine and the author of many articles on geopolitical and philosophical issues. He is also a refugee living in Russia.
Thanks for joining us, Vladislav.
VLADISLAV GULEVICH, EXPERT ON EUROPEAN AFFAIRS, INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS MAGAZINE: Hello. Thank you.
WORONCZUK: So let’s start off. Tell us, what are the conditions of the Ukrainian refugees living in Russia? Where are they living, how are they living, and does it look like they’ll return to Ukraine once the fighting subsides?
GULEVICH: Well, the refugees here are held by Russian authorities, and it’s very good because they are run of food, run of clothes, run of everything [incompr.] they had in Ukrainian supplies. In some regions of Russia adjacent to Ukrainian territory, there is a very hard situation with the refugees, because the influx is very numerous. And people leave in different conditions. Some are camps some, in some hotels, or trying to find relatives to stay in with them.
And right now, the refugees, the influx of the refugees from Eastern Ukraine reaches even far east, Russian Far East. It’s very far away from the Ukrainian-Russian border. For example, as for myself, I am living now in Siberia, and its 4,000 kilometers from here to Ukraine. And right now we have here more than 5,000 refugees from Ukraine. It’s very strange to hear from here that there is no refugees. If you remember, Kiev authorities said, we have no refugees in Russia; all the refugees go in the inner regions of Ukraine. But it’s not true, because in the deep regions of Ukraine, there were just a little of refugees, not so much, not so many as they go here in the deeper regions of Russia.
WORONCZUK: The statistics that I’ve heard, something about a hundred thousand Ukrainians have been displaced within Ukraine, but as I mentioned before, the UN says it’s hundreds of thousands. Why have the majority of Ukrainian refugees fled to Russia and not to the more western regions of Ukraine?
GULEVICH: Because these refugees see the Ukrainian army as the main threat to their life, because Ukrainian army indiscriminately and with no scruples shells civilians, bombs civilians, and there are a lot of victims–I mean civilians–of these shellings. That’s why the majority of the refugees try to escape, to save their life, trying to escape to Russia, and they see Russia as the sister country, as the nearest friend, and they seek their shelter and food.
WORONCZUK: Okay. And what are the conditions for the residents who remain in Donetsk and Lugansk, which are the principal cities in which there is a rebel stronghold?
GULEVICH: I see. You know, it’s a real humanitarian catastrophe. The situation is a very dreadful, because the inhabitants are out of water, out of power supplies, out of clothes. Ukraine doesn’t care, and the Ukrainian authorities don’t provide them with their own necessities. And the people are all the time shelled. They’re bombed by aviation. They’re shelled by heavy artillery mortars. The victims toll is all the time enhanced. Every day, more and more people are dead, among them women, among them elderly people, among them even kids. Sometimes it occurs so that a mother and a kid are killed together. You know, it’s very touching and the situation is very bad.
All the people actually there hope Russia will come, but nobody knows what happens, whether it comes or not.
WORONCZUK: Okay. And let’s turn to some of the domestic politics within Ukraine. From what I understand, at the end of July there was an attempt to ban the Communist Party of Ukraine. Can you talk about that?
GULEVICH: Yeah. This ban was initialized by Ukrainian nationalistic parties. After Euromaidan, which was depicted in Western media as the victory of democracy, actually it was the victory of the most hideous ideology, the ideology of Ukrainian nationalism, which stands very close to neo-Naziism. And right now, Ukrainian parliament consists of many, many, many politicians whose views can be characterized as ultranationalistic, [externistic?], or even neo-Naziism. That’s why the majority of our parliamentarians don’t want to cooperate with the Communist Party and they oust the Communists from the parliament. Why do they do–why do they [incompr.] Because [incompr.] our communists are acute critics of the war in Eastern Ukraine. The Communist parliamentarians, they talk directly and outspokenly in the parliament calling the war in East Ukraine manslaughter, disaster, and trying to persuade Ukrainian government not to call East Ukrainians terrorist or separatist, just remember that they are the same citizens of Ukraine as the west part of the country.
WORONCZUK: Okay. And is there wide public support or is there a significant sort of left opposition like the Communist Party to the more nationalistic and fascistic elements of the key of government?
GULEVICH: Yes. The Communist Party enjoys constant support, and [early?] it had more support, I should say so. For example, in the ’90s the Communists were the second during the elections, presidential elections; later, then start little to lose this support because they have no such revenues, they have no such plans to keep the ideological work as nationalistic parties do, because our nationalistic parties, they enjoy support of the West. They get financial support from Canada, from the United States, from other countries. And the Communists, they don’t get such support and they should rely on themselves. That’s why the Communists start to lose a little bit support. But they’re still rather popular. And if you know all the [incompr.] initiatives of our society, they’re always supported by the Communists.
WORONCZUK: Okay. And what does the situation look like on the border between Russia and Ukraine in regards to the warning issued by NATO that it looks like there could be a possible, if not imminent, outbreak of violence between Russia and Ukraine?
GULEVICH: It’s rather probable, but actually it will be the outbreak of the war between Russia and the collective West, because the conflict in Ukraine has a geopolitical character. It means that right now Russia is a countries that are ex-U.S.S.R. republics, Eurasian states. Russia is able to form geopolitical power alternative to that of the United States. United States tries to prevent it. They try to prevent the consolidation of ex-U.S.S.R. republic, and they try all the integration process in this space. That’s why Ukrainian authorities are so well supported by Western governments of different countries. And, of course, if Russia tries to go further, trying to defend its interests in Ukraine, of course NATO will react too, because from the beginning this conflict was doomed to get more scary, you know, to be more aggressive, to be more bloody, to be very disastrous not only for Ukraine but also for Russia. And here Russia was the main target of this Euromaidan.
WORONCZUK: Okay. And much reporting in the U.S. has discussed how decisive the Russian support, in terms of armaments and supplies to the rebels, how decisive this is for perpetuating the violence in the eastern Ukraine. But the same kind of analysis, or at least emphasis, is not really put on, I think, the United States or the E.U. for its military, economic, and political support for what Kiev calls and antiterrorist operation in Eastern Ukraine. I’m wondering, what’s your take on how decisive this support has been for the conflict in the eastern regions of Ukraine?
GULEVICH: There is much exaggeration, because actually Russia doesn’t help at high scale. If Russia really helps at high scale, the rebels in East Ukraine would have heavy weapons, heavy missiles, and they wouldn’t retreat their territory as they do now. Kiev also exaggerates the the Russian help.
Of course Russia should help to some extent, because ethnic Russians suffer from Ukrainian bombs, Ukrainian aviation. And here we should talk about Russian-speaking people in East Ukraine. Actually, not all of them are ethnic Russians, but all of them belong to a Russian culture, to Russian political culture, philosophical culture, religious one. That’s why they lean to Russia. And Russia cannot stay indifferent to them.
But as for military help, it’s exaggerated, it’s much exaggerated. And I cannot say that about NATO help to Kiev, because NATO, and exactly the United States most of all, they help Kiev with information, they help Kiev with finance, they help Kiev with their advices, they help Kiev politically, diplomatically. That’s why Kiev feels itself so certain.
WORONCZUK: Alright. Vladislav Gulevich, thank you so much for joining us.
GULEVICH: Thank you.
WORONCZUK: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.