News & Events

UI Professor: 'Ukraine Has Always Been Divided'

As a Russian national who grew up in Moscow both before and after the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, University of Iowa associate professor Art Durnev said he has plenty of friends, relatives, and colleagues in Ukraine.

And Thursday, as the Eastern European nation spiraled further into a political crisis marked by extreme violence and death, Durnev witnessed the direct impact on Ukrainian citizens via his social media circle.

"The deficit (short supply) of the day: tetanus shots, bulletproof vests, and cash," one colleague wrote on Facebook, according to Durnev.

On Thursday, reportedly the deadliest day in the crisis so far, one of Durnev's former students wrote things like, "Security forces fired live ammunition" and "There are many injured … How to work? How to live?"

And a friend who earned a doctorate degree in the United States before returning to Ukraine to teach told Durnev that he lectures in the morning and then takes to the streets to help the opposition fight.

"Most people in Kiev in one way or another are involved," Durnev said. "Either in opposition fighting or they are involved in helping people and bringing them food."

Some are remaining indoors to stay safe, but others are grabbing weapons.

"That is the type of mentality right now, and it's extremely unfortunate," Durnev said. "The first thing they need to do is stop this violence. But, at this stage, that seems to me almost impossible to do."

The violence and bloodshed has developed out of a fiscal crisis and a decision by Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych in November to pull out of a trade agreement with the European Union and take a $15 billion bailout from Russia instead.

Peaceful protests followed those events, but they've grown increasingly violent and extreme, according to international news reports. The opposition now says it aims to oust Ukraine's "corrupt and brutal regime," according to NBC News, and opposition leadership said the only way Yanukovych can end the violence is by holding early presidential elections.

Ukraine's health ministry on Thursday confirmed 75 people have been killed since Tuesday, meaning at least 47 people died Thursday, according to Reuters. And opposition officials said more than 60 protestors were killed Thursday, according to NBC News.

Either way, the mounting casualties makes this the worst violence in Ukraine since it gained independence from the dissolved Soviet Union 22 years ago, according to Reuters.

Durnev, a UI associate professor in finance and economics, said the conflict might have started with a fiscal crisis, but it has devolved into more of a civil war between sides long separated by geography and religion.

"Let's face it," he said, "Ukraine has always been divided."

Economic strife and concerns over government corruption sparked the most recent turmoil erupting across the nation, Durnev said.

"But once they start killing each other, they start forgetting the original cause," he said. "It's like, 'You kill someone from my side, I'm going to kill you.'"

Government corruption or not, Durnev said, history has shown that this type of civil unrest doesn't benefit anything or anyone—especially a nation's economy and people.

"It's not going to help the economic and financial situation," he said. "It will have a direct effect on the value of the currency and the living standards."

Ukraine's government services have been shut down for days—schools are closed, employees aren't working, and transportation systems are idle. Some government leaders and forces, including Kiev's mayor, are leaving the ruling party in support of the opposition.

But opposition forces haven't outlined a clear path forward, Dunev said, and that has him concerned about Ukraine's future.

"It's not really clear who is in charge of the opposition side," he said. "And fair elections require some sort of order."

Durnev said it's difficult to know how or when the conflict might be resolved.

"But this type of violence never leads to any type of peaceful solution," he said. "Order needs to be restored. But how are we going to restore it when people are just shooting and killing each other?"

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