Tuesday

17th Jan 2017

Western Ukrainians debunk fears of national split

  • Orthodox priest at the Maidan: The Ukrainian Orthodox Church tried to shield protesters from violence (Photo: Jordi Bernabeu)

People who came to St. Mikolaj’s, in the village of Staryj Sambir, near the Polish-Ukrainian border, on Sunday (23 February) to bury their hero listened to an appeal for national unity from the pulpit.

Bohdan Solchanyk, a 29-year-old academic, was shot in Kiev last week.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The crowd of 1,500 or so chanted revolutionary slogans as it carried his open casket through a throng of blue and gold Ukrainian flags and Ukrainian Orthodox Church banners to the hilltop church. But it fell silent as it entered St. Mikolaj’s, where Solchanyk’s embalmed face, with its short beard, recalled the icons on the walls.

The local priest, Father Myhailo, noted in his homily that the "Maidan," the Ukrainian uprising, is an event of European importance.

“People came from all over Ukraine, but also from France, from Germany, from Poland, from Belgium, to stand up for human dignity,” he said.

He urged people not to “sell” their vote in the new elections in May.

He ended by calling on “all Ukrainians to come together to hold hands in a living chain, from Lviv to Donetsk, from Sevastopol to Kiev, and from Ivano-Frankivsk to Lutsk, so that no enemy can ever divide our country in two.”

Under the circumstances, his homily could have been different.

Solchanyk is believed to have been shot by a sniper from Russophone and Russian Orthodox east Ukraine.

During the unrest, Viktor Yanukovych, the former president, brought special police from the east to Kiev because they were more willing to use violence against the, mostly western, protesters.

Yanukovych, and most of his ousted government, come from the eastern Donbas region, where he is thought to have fled after his fall from power on Saturday.

Ukraine’s divisions have also been a big topic in Russian and in Ukrainian state propaganda.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has warned several times the Maidan will cause a civil war. Yanukovych himself said again on Saturday: “I will do everything to protect my country from breakup, to stop bloodshed.”

The warnings, which conjure up memories of the 1990s Balkan conflicts, are being taken seriously by EU countries.

On Sunday, the German foreign ministry said Chancellor Angela Merkel phoned Russian President Vladimir Putin to tell him “the territorial integrity of Ukraine must be preserved.”

One EU foreign minister, speaking off the record, told EUobserver the Union had hoped Yanukovych would sign the EU’s association and free trade treaty last year “because he is from the east.”

“It would have been better than if it is signed by a western Ukrainian politician, because it would show that eastern Ukraine also supports Euro-integration. It would have been better for the unity of the country,” the minister said.

For many Ukrainians, the only risk of conflict is if Yanukovych or Putin try to orchestrate one from above, however.

Oleksandr Sushko, an analyst at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Co-operation, a think tank in Kiev, noted: “There is turbulence and there are differences between the regions but not to a great extent. In sociological terms, there is absolutely no grounds for a split.”

“The only region where the idea of secession is more or less popular is Crimea, because it’s the only region where ethnic Russians are in the majority,” he added.

“But even here the risk is fully connected to the potential behaviour of some major political groups.”

Ordinary western Ukrainians agree.

Svitlana, 23, a civil society activist in Lviv, western Ukraine, has for the past five years invited young people from eastern cities to spend Christmas with families in Lviv.

She acknowledged there are barriers.

“They feel like they are coming to a foreign country. Some of them are scared to speak Russian on the street in case they get a bad reaction,“ she said.

But she added: “They quickly realise that none of this is true. They go back home with a totally different attitude.”

Igor, 51, a Lviv truck driver who has criss-crossed Ukraine, said eastern Ukrainians do not swallow everything they see on TV.

He noted that Russian media have made much of Stepan Bandera, a World War II-era western Ukrainian nationalist, who is associated with the red and black flag used by some Maidan militants.

“They keep telling them [eastern Ukrainians] that if the Maidan wins, then ‘Banderists’ from the west will come and steal their lands,” he said.

"Nobody believes this rubbish."

Meanwhile, father Myhailo’s appeal was echoed in Kiev over the weekend, when each member of Ukraine’s caretaker government pledged in parliament to work on behalf of “all Ukrainians.”

For his part, Zinowiy Dobriansky, a 58-year-old construction site manager from Staryj Sambir and a lifelong friend of Solchanyk’s father, has more reason than most to bear a grudge.

He remembers Solchanyk as a schoolboy. He described him as “the light” of Staryj Sambor because of his academic career, which saw him leave the village to teach modern history at Lviv university and to win a scholarship to study in Poland.

Like father Myhailo, Dobriansky also said Solchanyk died so that "everybody" in Ukraine can have a better life, however

He said eastern Ukrainians are “educated people.”

With the Maidan, in part, an uprising in support of closer EU-Ukraine ties, he told EUobserver: “They know what it means to become part of Russia. Millions of them have been to Russia, but millions of them have also been to Poland, or Germany. They can see that Europe is not paradise. But they see that people have much easier lives in Europe, that they have many more opportunities.”

“Ukraine will not be split,” he said.

Malta raises alarm on Russia in Libya

A Russian-backed warlord could start a “civil war” in Libya, increasing refugee flows to Europe, Malta, the new EU presidency, has said.

Trump team asked which EU state is next to exit

The outgoing US ambassador to the EU, Anthony L Gardner, says Trump's transitional team had placed a call to officials at the EU institutions asking which member state would be next to leave the European Union.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Caritas EuropaEU States to Join Pope Francis’s Appeal to Care for Migrant Children
  2. UNICEFNumber of Unaccompanied Children Arriving by sea to Italy Doubles in 2016
  3. Nordic Council of Ministers"Nordic Matters" Help Forge Closer Bonds Between the UK and the Nordic Region
  4. Computers, Privacy & Data ProtectionThe age of Intelligent Machines: join the Conference on 25-27 January 2017
  5. Martens CentreNo Better way to Lift Your Monday Blues Than to Gloss Over our Political Cartoons
  6. Dialogue PlatformThe Gulen Movement: An Islamic Response to Terror as a Global Challenge
  7. European Free AllianceMinority Rights and Autonomy are a European Normality
  8. Swedish EnterprisesHow to Create EU Competitiveness Post-Brexit? Seminar on January 24th
  9. European Jewish CongressSchulz to be Awarded the European Medal for Tolerance for his Stand Against Populism
  10. Nordic Council of Ministers"Adventures in Moominland" Kick Off Nordic Matters Festival in London
  11. PLATO15 Fully-Funded PhDs Across Europe on the Post-Crisis Legitimacy of the EU - Apply Now!
  12. Dialogue PlatformInterview: Fethullah Gulen Condemns Assassination of Russian Ambassador to Turkey

Latest News

  1. Are you forgetful? Outsource your memory to the cloud
  2. EU counter-terrorism laws "stripping rights", says Amnesty
  3. Gulen did not order Turkey coup, EU spies say
  4. Theresa May outlines 'hard Brexit'
  5. Liberals and centre-right unite in EU parliament
  6. UK economy faring better than expected, says IMF
  7. Theresa May: UK cannot be 'half-in, half-out' of EU
  8. Dutch PM: coalition with Wilders 'not going to happen'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Zero Waste EuropePublic Support Needed to Promote Zero Waste in More Municipalities
  2. Belgrade Security ForumEU Cannot Afford to Ignore the Western Balkans as Populism Surges
  3. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen Calls for an Investigation on the Assassination of Russian Ambassador to Turkey
  4. World VisionAmid EU Talks on Migration, Children on the Move Remain Forgotten and Unprotected
  5. Centre Maurits CoppietersAlex Salmond Receives Coppieters Award for His Service to Scotland and Europe
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsStrong Support for Hamburg Declaration on Human Rights Defenders
  7. Swedish EnterprisesHow to Use Bioenergy Coming From Forests in a Sustainable Way?
  8. Counter BalanceReport Reveals Corrupt but Legal Practices in Development Finance
  9. Swedish EnterprisesMEPs and Business Representatives Debate on the Future of the EU at Winter Mingle
  10. ACCAFifty Key Factors in the Public Sector Accountants Need to Prepare for
  11. UNICEFSchool “as Vital as Food and Medicine” for Children Caught up in Conflict
  12. European Jewish CongressEJC President Breathes Sigh of Relief Over Result of Austrian Presidential Election