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Crisis of the Ukraine

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A forum was held by RC faculty on Friday, March 14, to discuss the current crisis in the Ukrainian area of Crimea. The panel of professors consisted of Dr. Martha Kuchar of the English Department, Dr. Rob Willingham from the History Department, and Dr. Andrea Mihalache-O’Keef from the Public Affairs Department.  These teachers, with strong support from the international sector of the college also, felt that (in the words of Dr. Kuchar) “The forum was an ethical and moral obligation to bring this information [to] the college”.

The panel gathered in the hopes of sharing this information before the Ukrainian referendum on Sunday when Crimeans must decide either to join the Russian Federation or return to a former constitution and stay within the Ukraine. Students, faculty and other interested parties overflowed the forum room to the extent that people were standing in the doorway and hall or sitting on the floor, including RC’s own President Maxey.

Dr. Kuchar was the first speaker and she shared a basic history of recent events. The Ukraine has remained a relatively unknown country to the rest of the world because of the people’s desire to stay peaceful and simply endure through hardship.  Their long-suffering silence was broken November of 2013. President Yanukovych of the Ukraine had promised to sign a trade agreement with the U.N., however, instead of fulfilling this promise, he signed a treaty with President Putin of Russia.

In response to this, students peacefully protested, but riot police were sent to beat the students away from government buildings. The Ukrainian people rose to, “Protect the children of the Ukraine.” The government retaliated by passing restrictive laws upon the people included limiting freedom of speech and assembly.  Protests continued and events came to a head on February 18 when 100 Ukrainians were killed by a government sniper. President Yanukovych fled the Ukraine after this terrible act.

Dr. Willingham spoke directly about the importance of Crimea to Russia. Russia looks at Crimea and sees their ancient homeland as well as a prime tactical location. Russia has quenched Ukrainian nationalism and independence as a country in the past including the Great Famine of 1932 caused by Stalin in which 6 million Ukrainians died. Even so, Russia views Crimea as a nation under their control. Large portions of the people in Crimea speak Russian and every year tons of Russians vacation in the small, yet beautiful location.

Dr. O’Keef showed the Ukraine in the eyes of the international community and where the Ukraine stands in comparison to Russia. Although the Ukraine is a rather quiet country, they became a major nuclear power by 1994, but all this was taken away by a memorandum which Ukraine signed with the UK, U.S.A, and Russia detailing that Ukraine would give-up nuclear power for very vague promises of assistance from Western powers when needed. Lack of a long-standing democracy has prevented the country from joining the U.N.

The forum was then open to questions and discussion from the audience. A common concern was that Russian troops were moving into Crimea and surrounding territories to show their power. This reminded everyone that Russian military could swallow the small Ukrainian army if it ever came to a war. Dr. Kuchar said that the best thing to do would be to stay informed and suggested the Facebook pages: House of the Ukraine and also EuroNation.pr.

The forum ended with Ms. Munsey who teaches Russian at RC. She is from the Southeastern Ukraine and said, “We are all very concerned because our family and friends are still there. This invasion has brought us together, but we must stay together to get through this. A civil war is something easy to start, but difficult to finish. We don’t know what is coming next and we need support.”

On Sunday, March 16, Crimeans voted to join the Russian Federation. The legitimacy of this decision is currently being highly-debated by all surrounding nations.