Watching from afar as a country protests

Born and raised in Ukraine, Dalhousie researcher watches his country divide from a distance.

By Nick Holland

As tensions in Ukraine rise, all Denys Khaperskyy can do is watch from a distance as the people of his home country divide.

The researcher at Dalhousie University grew up in Ukraine and has been living in Halifax for almost 10 years.

He has been checking the news everyday to see what will happen next between Ukraine and Russia.

“Right now it’s a mess. It used to be a good mess. We got rid of a dictator but now it’s a bad mess because of Russia intervening,” Khaperskyy said.

The tensions were caused as the people of Ukraine divided.

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Back in November, the country’s leader rejected an extensive agreement with the European Union in favour of closer ties with Russia. Thousands of people took to the streets in a peaceful protest, outraged that a long-standing goal for integration with Europe was abruptly abandoned.

That leader, Viktor Yanukovich, was ousted on Feb. 22 as president by parliament. On Feb. 28, Ukraine declared its southern peninsula, Crimea, was invaded by Russian forces.

Now the people in Crimea are going head-to-head with each other as the southern peninsula will go to a referendum vote, on Sunday, to decide whether they will stay part of Ukraine or to join Russia. However, reports say the ballots will offer two options, both inevitably lead to joining Russia.

Khaperskyy said, “(Vladimir) Putin, of course, decided he wouldn’t allow us to break from Russian influence. We still don’t know what he wants, but there’s a pretty good idea.”

He said he believes Putin wants to become a more powerful figure on the world stage.

And now Khaperskyy can’t keep his eye off what’s happening halfway around the world. His parents are still in the central region of Ukraine.

“It mostly interferes with my leisure time, which is now largely dedicated to watching news, discussing things with family and friends, and thinking what would I do, what our role here in Canada should be,” he said.

He said he thinks a lot of people in Halifax are generally interested in the situation, but don’t know what it’s like until they’ve experienced it first-hand.

“When you have family there and friends there, and various parts of Ukraine, you have an investment in the situation. It definitely feels much, much more raw,” he said.

This crisis is something Khaperskyy said he thought he would never see in his lifetime.

He said, “I would never (have) imagined that scale of lies and deception and disregard for international law, but somewhere in the back of my mind I never doubted that this would happen.

“Unfortunately there is a support for that kind of policy in Russia, but it’s clearly not all Russia. There are still a lot of Russian people who are well aware that Putin is not the best solution to the problem.”

And Denis Kozlov, an associate professor in Russian studies, and history at Dalhousie University, is one example. He grew up in St. Petersburg and has lived in Canada for 15 years.

He thinks Putin holds complete responsibility for the military force in the Crimea region of Ukraine, calling it “unwarranted.”

He said, “I’m convinced that Russia is going down the wrong path, politically.

“This is a very unfortunate development. Instead of building a political democracy, which it seemed, to me, it was doing for a long time, it has descended on a path of dictatorship.”

Kozlov said Russia has, for a long time, hurt its credibility as a reliable partner on the world stage, along with its political stability.

He said most Russians living in the Western Hemisphere would support Ukraine, rather than Putin’s regime.

“What gives me hope, still, is that Russians, themselves, are still quite vocal about their government’s actions. There is a very vocal opposition in Russia to Putin’s regime,” Kozlov said.

He said he hopes for the Russian military to go back to Russia, for Crimea to remain part of Ukraine and for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

“I want the situation go back to, more or less, normal. Now if you ask me how likely this is, I don’t think this is very likely given how far the crisis has gone,” he added.