October 17, 2017

My take on embattled Ukraine. Finally.

By John Guy LaPlante

With 2 photos

I’ve been getting one e-mail after another: “John, what you think about Ukraine? What’s it all about?  How do you feel about it?”   Why those emails?  Because many of you know that I served my Peace Corps hitch–the full 27 months–in Ukraine. And that was barely four years ago.

I never dreamed this awesome historic event would happen.  That I’d see the Ukrainian protestors —revolutionaries, in fact–storm into Kiev and topple the government. See their hated president abandon his office and take off to Russia to save his life. See the revolutionaries take over their parliament, the Rada. And set the country on a new and so-longed-for course—toward affiliation with the West and the European Union!

But I understand why it did erupt.  One day as I read about the huge developments, I had an amazing thought.  “This is like Bunker Hill!  Like the American Revolution!”

Like these Ukrainian revolutionaries, the American patriots were fighting against the King and the Parliament back in England! They had had it! Didn’t want to take any more!  They were taking things into their own hands.  They wanted change, big time!

Magnificent Independence  Square in Kiev in peaceful times . I was there often. Never imagined it would the scene of the violent showdown that toppled the government,.

Magnificent Independence Square in Kiev in peaceful times. I was there often. Never imagined it would be the scene of the violent showdown that toppled the government,.

They had so much to resent.

I believe that over the years the Soviet world, meaning primarily Russia, took advantage of Ukrainians in the same way that we, the white society in the USA, have taken advantage of the blacks and the Mexicans, among otherses, I got to know a thing or two about Ukraine and its ways. Thank you for your email queries asking for my take on all this. I’ll fill you in the best I can.

I got to all those places that have been part of this crisis—to Kiev (Peace Corps spelled it Kyiv, by the way): to Lviv, where the revolt started; to  Crimea, so red-hot right now;  and to numerous other places, big and small across the land, of both camps– pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian.

First, it’s important that I give you some background about how I wound up in Ukraine, what I did there, why and how I got around as much as I did, and what I learned that’s relevant to all this.

As a rookie Volunteer, I flew right into Kiev, the capital, with my fellow rookies. Officially we were called Trainees.

Kiev was so impressive–such a fine and beautiful and peaceful, yes, peaceful city.  Now it has become a huge volcano exploding with hatred and anger and violence and bloodshed. As you know.

Our Peace Corps headquarters were in Kiev.  Arriving, we spent three days there—orientation!  Then went off for three months of training– three different groups of us in three different locales across the country.

Then, our training completed, we were the guests of honor at a proud and beautiful ceremony in Kiev and took the Peace Corps oath. That made us Volunteers officially.

Please notice, by the way: “Volunteers” is spelled with a capital V, not a small v, per Peace Corps.

Then we dispersed to our assignments throughout the country.  Sadly we hardly got to see one another again.

All of us got to go back to Kiev now and then on Peace Corps business, most often individually.  For those of us hundreds of miles away—16 or 18 hours by train, for instance—it was a rare and eagerly awaited trip.

But my city, Chernihiv, was only two hours away by road.  I went countless times to Kiev on business.  It turned out I had more business reasons to go than most of my colleagues.

In addition to our decreed assignments–I would be a university teacher–all of us were expected to find another serious project to get involved in.  Well, I developed three—and all related to Kiev in some way.

Impossible to tell you about all that now. It’s all in my Peace Corps book, which has more than 500 pages, by the way.

Every time I went to Kiev, I would make it a point to get to see a bit more than just our headquarters and its neighborhood.  Often I had to stay overnight.  That would give me the chance to extend myself farther in seeing the marvelous city.

So I got to see magnificent Independence Square—where all the protesting and fighting got focused—and much of the city’s heart.

Ukraine is big--second biggest in Europe. Notice Crimea, the peninsula at the bottom. Notice Kiev, the capita. And Chernihiv, my city, right above it.l

Ukraine is big–second biggest in Europe. Notice Crimea, the peninsula at the bottom–this very moment’s red-hot problem. Notice Kiev, the capital. And Chenihiv, my city, right above it. l got to travel widely in the country, more than I expected.

There were numerous Americans in the city.  For one thing, all the Americans who were part of our Embassy, the USAID delegation, and Peace Corps.

The Embassy and USAID were big! I couldn’t believe how big. And we had elaborate institutions like this in countries all over the world! We have no idea.

USAID, by the way, has the mission of distributing millions of $$$ in economic stimulus to various Ukraine programs and projects as stimuli.

And Peace Corps was a hefty operation, too.

In addition, Kiev harbored many American businessmen and professionals of various kinds.

There was even a Rotary Club there.  I was a Rotarian back home in Deep River.  I tried to join the Kiev Club. It didn’t work out.

Plus the city counted plenty of American expats there for one reason or another. Some for the beautiful Ukrainian gals. I’m serious.  And I became friends with several.

Mostly I went to Kiev to get to headquarters. But I also got to our Embassy and USAID in connection with my Peace Corps projects. Quite unusual for a Volunteer.

What an eye-opening experience all that exposure was for me.

A big thing I learned is that these three American efforts employed hundreds of Ukrainians in support jobs. Yes, many hundreds.

Consider Peace Corps. We were about 300 Volunteers—the largest group of the 78 deployed around he world, it turned out.

But what a large staff it took to run our Ukrainian Peace Corps effort! A couple of hundred, I recall.

And only the top three were Americans. All the others were Ukrainians, including experts in different fields, most in Kiev but others scattered throughout the country. They kept Peace Corps functioning smoothly.

It’s good to keep that in mind.  It shows how many Ukrainians got connected to us in what, by the way, were considered plum jobs over there.

And think of the multiplier effect of all that—to their families, friends, and so on.

Remember, too, that we Volunteers were serving in Ukraine because Ukraine had asked us to come.  It’s not Peace Corps in Washington that says to a country, “May we come and give you a hand?”

It works the other way.  The interested country does the asking. Well, that’s what we were told. Maybe there’s some fudging about that.

One important thing to tell you. While I was in service there, Vice-President Biden flew in for a friendly visit with the president of Ukraine.  That shows how close the two countries were back then.

And all of us in those three American programs, along with invited Ukrainian VIPs, got invited to meet Biden in a special meeting  just with us. It was a big deal!

Would you believe? I got to have a few words with him. Most people  never got beyond the crimson cordon that separated him from us. I wasted little time telling my family about that.  Wouldn’t you?

The next day I got photos of that from four people! Everybody at that reception had a camera and was using it.

Oh, most Volunteers were very young–in their 20s.  About 40 of us were “senior” Volunteers–50 or older.  We had a group. It was a club really.  I was elected the president.

We held meetings two or three times a year in different cities across the country. That made it easier for our members to attend.  Also it was fairer.  So I got to see cities and towns all over the country.

Plus on vacation time–we got two days a month/ 24 days a year–I traveled and I chose broadly. In Europe but a lot inside Ukraine,  too.

All Volunteers traveled. But for sure I got to do more of it in part because of my various projects, and got to see more and maybe absorb more.

I went three times to Crimea—to Sevastopol, Yalta, and other cities.  In largely Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, which abuts Russia and has heavy ethnic Russian populations, I got to Harkiv and Donets and Odessa and Poltava and other big centers. So, yes, I took in a lot.

I not only trained in Chernihiv, which is a big and attractive city in the north central part. I got assigned there. Most of my fellow Volunteers got sent off  to much smaller places, Some to opposite ends of the country.

When you join Peace Corps, you agree to go wherever it decides to send you and do what they tell you to do. You hope they’ll use some common sense. At first, I had some doubts.

It was months later that I found out why I, and other older ones also, got sent to Ukraine. It had better medical facilities, and Peace Corps liked that for older Volunteers.

Our training was intense, six days a week of classes plus hours of homework. About the country … its government … some history … but mostly language, language, language study.

In my case it was Russian.  I considered that strange because I knew that Ukraine’s only official language is Ukrainian.  But some sections of the country have a heavy Russian population, as you have been learning.

Chernihiv was not in eastern Ukraine or the Crimea. It was in north central Ukraine, nearly north of Kiev. Quite close to Russia. I didn’t go to Russia because I had been before and I didn’t want the hassle of procuring the necessary visa.

Chernihiv was bad news for me for special reasons. It was just a long hour or so from Chernobyl, site of the biggest nuclear melt-down in history. Radiation! Countless had died of radiation! Countless more were in sad condition as a result of that exposure. I saw such people time and again in Chernihiv.

No problem the radiation, Peace Corps assured us. “The wind was blowing the other way!” Maybe so, but I kept clear of Chernobyl though I had opportunities to go.

When my Chinese friend Wu Bin in Shanghai heard about my assignment to Chernihiv, he quickly e-mailed me. “John, drink lots of tea! Lots of tea!” I became a more serious tea drinker! Maybe he had inside knowledge.

You know, I was shocked when I got orders to Ukraine.  I expected to go to a country where France had been important.  Why? Because I can think, speak, and write  in French. There are numerous such countries.

When I got that news I’d go to Ukraine, many questions popped up in my mind.  Where was Ukraine exactly? Why was I being sent there? How many universities there? Please remember, I’d be teaching at one. Six or seven maybe? What was the climate like?

Surprise, Ukraine had many  universities, plus dozens of specialized and professional schools and institutes.

I found out Ukraine was not in the boondocks. Anything but. It has a history of more than one thousand years.  It is highly civilized—its literacy rate is as high as ours.

In fact, it was the most important republic in the USSR after Russia itself. One reason was its highly developed agriculture and manufacturing, And there were other reasons.

It boasted great numbers of eminent and famous people in many fields. Here are just a few.

Igor Sikorsky, the great aviation pioneer in both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters—for one thing, he invented the helicopter–was a Ukrainian, born in Kiev. Emigrating to the USA, he founded Sikorsky Helicopters, the world’s leader.

Also Ukrainian was Yuri Gagarin, the great Soviet cosmonaut who was the first man to fly in space.  His name is on boulevards and avenues all over that part of the world now, the way the names of Washington and Lincoln and Martin Luther King are in our country.

In fact, I took the trolley up and down Yuri Gagarin Avenue when I was with my first family.

The mighty Nikita Khrushchev—you know, the shoe-thumping Russian leader who faced us in that scary showdown over Cuba—was partly Ukrainian. At one point, he served as governor of Ukraine.

Ukraine’s climate? Its winters were harsher than ours in Connecticut.  That was awful news for me.  For 15 years I had been escaping from the cold and ice and snow of Connecticut!

Some of us had to study Ukrainian.  We were in Ukraine. So what could be more natural?

But some of us had to study Russian. So many use that as their main language. In fact, just recently there was a strong move to make Russian the second official language. It failed.

By the way, that reminded me of English and Spanish in our country.  We have remarkable language differences across the USA. For instance, Connecticut has just a few Spanish-speaking residents, although growing.  But our Southwest has millions of them, also growing

Why is it surprising to us that Mexicans among us think it’s okay for them to sneak into the USA? Well, they say to themselves, “Hey! This used to be part of Mexico! We were here long before the Gringos!”

I can understand their point of view. They are right—a big part of present California was called Alta California on their maps—“Upper California.”  Just as their territory south of San Diego in Mexico—from Tijuana on down—is now known to everybody as Baja California—“Lower California.”

It’s the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 between us and Mexico that changed everything.  That’s when California and its surrounding southwest states–a quarter of our country today–became part of us.

The history of Crimea is quite similar. It was long  considered a part of Russia and then of the USSR. But now it’s part of Ukraine officially.

So why wouldn’t  the present ethnic Russians there think, “Gosh, wouldn’t it be nice to be a real part of our motherland again!?” In that situation, wouldn’t you think that way?

But now, more about my getting to know Kiev. I mentioned I went every month or so, mostly on Peace Corps business. Sometimes for medical or dental reasons. Or on our Seniors Club business.  Or because it was such a vibrant and interesting place.

It boasted all kinds of cultural and entertainment possibilities, from the opera and symphonies to museums and ever the circus. The circus wasn’t in a tent. It had its own big, impressive building.  By the way, in that part of the world, circus performers are considered  true artists!

It’s a gorgeous city on the great and magnificent Dnipro River. At times, I felt in some neighborhoods I was back in Paris.

When milady Annabelle visited me half way through my service, I took her there.

And when she returned for three weeks at the end of my service (some nice au revoir festivities were planned for me in Chernihiv) –we went to Kiev for three days as a big treat. We stayed at the fine old Hotel Saint Petersburg as our base. And did the city justice.

I also visited other sections of the country. Covered it far and wide.  It’s big.  It’s the second largest country in Europe after Russia. Well, I managed to make it to many corners and many big cities,  including in Crimea — more details in a minute–and in other sectors, such as the cities of Ivano-Frankivsk and Poltava.

I also went all the way west to Lyiv, close to the Polish border. So much in the news right now. Lyiv is the big and intensely proud cultural capital of Ukraine.  Its language is Ukrainian.

Lyiv considers itself European, meaning emotionally linked to France and Germany and Italy and so on. In other words, the European Union. Just the opposite of the ethnic Russians in the west, close to Russia.

We had Volunteers working in Lyiv, of course.

I went to Lyiv four or five times. I found it that interesting and stimulating.  I also took Annabelle there on both her visits. She fell in love with it, too.

It is in Lyiv that the current uproar originated … that its leaders emerged … and that it gained monumental momentum.

We’ve been reading how the swelling contingent of rag-tag protesters and revolutionaries finally made it to Kiev to protest and hopefully negotiate.

And when that failed, how they began to do battle tooth and nail. And made the top news in newspapers and TV around the globe. Even bigger news when they suffered their first fatalities—more than a hundred or so—and horribly mounting casualties. (True, too, of the police force battling them.)

I have also become familiar with the main characters.

Yulia Timoshenko is one.  You know her by now—the Yulia with the long,\ signature braids of blond hair. She has been a power in Ukraine politics a long time.  She was the prime minister in my time.

She was a success in business before she entered politics, and she rose fast in politics.

I see her as a wily, determined, charismatic, and incredibly courageous woman.

She was from the western side, so she was Ukrainian rather than Russian in background and thinking.  She had a strong leaning toward the Europe of France, Spain, Italy, and so on.

She felt that being part of the European community would be terrific for Ukraine as it struggled to grow as a democracy and a capitalist economy.  So, she was eager to get the country into the European Community and she came very close.

She ran for president against Viktor Yanukovich. He won.  He considered her his arch enemy and his most threatening potential rival, and he hated her guts.

He framed her with what are widely believed to be trumped-up charges of corruption. And got her convicted to seven harsh years in prison. Had her put on ice, so to speak. Imagine that!  We’ve had spirited campaigns in the USA, too, but nothing like that!

The truth is that enormous corruption exists in Ukraine, at every level, right down to the cop checking traffic on the highway. It seems ingrained and even cultural, which is a terrible thing to say.

Even Yulia Timoshenko has been tainted, it is said. I’m not surprised. Overall, I believe that she is a true patriot, is well motivated in wanting to do a good job, and that if she took money for a “political favor,” it was minor compared to how many of the other politicos were on the take.

Hey, it’s a common belief that a seat in the Rada, their parliament, can be bought.  I went bonkers when I heard that. It seems so, so impossible.  Now I believe it.

But where, oh where, is there a national government in this world without corruption? Think of the exposés of some of our leaders at our national and state levels. Certainly we have had corrupt Senators and Congressmen. But Ukraine stinks with it.

All of us trainees  were given a subscription to the Kiev Post, published in English by true professional journalists.  Its circulation seems minor,  only 11,000—remember, but it’s in English. Nevertheless it’s very influential.

I continued to read it during my entire hitch. It’s a brave paper, exposing one scandal and misdeed after another. You’ve got to be crazy to agree to write  political news for it. You risk bad things.  I’m sure you wouldn’t be able to buy a life insurance policy.

And the Post has been continuing to cover this crisis with the same audacity and objectivity.

If interested, take a look at www.kyivpost.com. You’ll be impressed.  Do notice, by the way, that its title spells the city as Kyiv, not Kiev.

Anyway, imagine when the battling protesters in Kiev triumphed and within hours got Timoshenko sprung from prison! You probably saw that.

They rushed her to Independence Square to face the victorious crowd assembled there. She’s not old, but she had to be wheeled onto the stage.  She could not stand.  Looked haggard and weak. Everyone could see the ordeal she had been put through.

But she still had her famous braids. And she hadn’t lost any of her fire. She was still the exciting speaker of old. Again she spoke about getting Ukraine finally into the European Union. She congratulated them. The crowd cheered her.

And already she is taking steps—and being spoken of–as the president following the next general election.

The current president, Yanukovich, now cooling it out in Russia, has a public record that smells so bad that it’s hard to believe he ever got elected.

He has been known as the puppet of the country’s “oligarchs”—the super-rich businessmen of Russian sympathy in the eastern bloc.  He is widely considered as a corrupt man who would sell his soul to the highest bidder.

Yet he has supporters and followers, obviously.  The best explanation is that he got to the presidency because he could deliver the goods to those oligarchs and their buddies better than anybody else around.

We’ve read about the unbelievably lavish presidential residence that he had been luxuriating in. There were rumors of it, but no hard evidence.

How at the last minute he tried there to destroy all the  incriminating evidence of his huge and corrupt deals—in panic ditching hundreds of papers in the Dnipro flowing by his backyard.

How the protestors somehow discovered the soggy records, hundreds of them, and set them out to dry in the sunshine.  Already they are being studied, and it is said that what they show is as sordid as so many thought.

I know very little about the newly elected interim leader in the government, Arseny Yatsenyuk. The big fact is that he was a key leader of the protestors and as such looks forward to a Russian-free Ukraine aligned to us in the West. The fact that he got to be the new leader says something about his leadership and strategizing skills.

The big problem is that Ukraine has long been so vulnerable to Russia. Russia has so much muscle and uses it in numerous ways.

That’s what got Yanukovich into so much trouble just a few weeks ago. He had agreed reluctantly with the protestors to pursue a link with the West. Then Vladimir Putin up and offered him $15 billion of help for Ukraine.  The country had been in financial throes for a long time. He abandoned his agreement to join the West and jumped for the money.

That inflamed the revolutionaries. And we all know the startling result.

For years, Russia has been selling Ukraine most of the natural gas that is essential to it. Russia has plenty. Ukraine has little.  Gazprom has been the big Russian supplier. Controlled by Moscow, it’s a monopoly. So Ukraine had/has little choice.

Gazprom has been delivering the gas to Ukraine at a discount–to court it, remind it that it should be super nice to Russia, and keep it in its embrace. The gas goes to Ukraine through an all-important pipeline.

I saw how Russia used its muscle through Gazprom to get its way.

In Chernihiv, in fact all the cities of Ukraine, most people live in huge apartment blocks. They are all based on the same plain, spartan architectural plan in order to make the building easy and fast to build. They were erected quickly after World War II because millions needed decent housing overnight.

In fact, you can find them in all the countries that used to be in the USSR. Still habitable after decades of use.

The massive buildings come five stories high, nine stories, and fourteen.  I never found out why not five, ten, and fifteen, which would seem to make more sense.

I lived in two of them, with my second and third families. The apartments were very small and very basic but comfortable.

All those huge blocks in Chernhiv—hundreds of them—were connected to the same municipal gas supply, which came from Russia of course.  The gas fueled the people’s cook stoves, kept their water hot, and heated their small apartments.

To heat the apartments, the city turned on the gas on in all those blocks on a certain day in mid-October and then off in late March. In the whole city, mind you.

And that was the situation in the whole country.

Well, while I was there, Ukraine faced a heart-palpitating crisis.  Russia, though Gazprom,  announced a huge price jump.  It was politically related, of course. The gas was going to be turned off if Ukraine didn’t cough up. Yes, in the whole country. Imagine!

Ukraine is a very cold place come winter. I remember vividly how people were scared.  How would they get by without the gas? Hey, I worried, too.  I didn’t want to be cold! . wanted  hot meals. I wanted a hot shower.

Finally, after some wild bargaining and badly frayed nerves, a deal got worked out. Whew! But mostly in Russia’s favor, as usual.

It showed the power of Russia. And the hardball games it could play.

And in just the last few days, Russia has pulled that same stunt again. Gazprom stunned the country by announcing it can’t continue to send it gas unless it pays the nearly $2 billion it owes.

I haven’t heard whether it’s been settled. For sure Ukraine will get the short end of the deal.

Now Washington is discussing loosening its export limits for natural gas.  We could supply Ukraine some gas….

Now how about Vladimir Putin?  He follows in the tradition of the tough, single-minded, all-powerful  leaders of the USSR since its founding. With the notable exception of Mikhail Gorbachev.

It’s Gorbachev who stunned the world by announcing the Communist system wasn’t working and had to be abandoned.  And—unbelievable–that the republics of the Soviet Union should be allowed to break away and chart their own future. Well, they did go independent and that was the end of the USSR.

That historic year was 1991. Ukraine was one of the first to opt out. And, what was dramatic, it announced it aimed to be a genuine democratic country and to switch to a capitalist economy. Others took that same road. Others stuck to the old system.

By the way, Gorbachev was of Ukrainian-Russian lineage.

Not long afterward, Ukraine invited Peace Corps to come in.

After that fateful 1991, Russia itself took a huge fall–in its economy and influence and prestige at home and in the world at large. Slowly it is managing a comeback with Putin in the pilot’s seat.

Putin was thick in the old Soviet hierarchy. He was an operative in the hated and feared KBG. That was his springboard to the higher things that he attained.

It is clear that he dreams of a great Russia again, with as many of those now separated republics back in its fold. And considers himself the master architect and strongman to accomplish that. Believes he can pull it off.

He’s playing his cards with that in mind.  He decided that taking the Crimea would be a powerful start.

Well, we all know how he ordered his troops into the Crimea and how they staked out the most important elements of it. Though he denied he was doing that.

We all know how the new, struggling, untested government of the revolutionaries in Kiev panicked and pleaded with the free world for help.

How the European Union offered $15 billion in support.  How we expressed our sympathy and resolved to help.  How Obama tried to reason with Putin and still is, being careful not to start another war, thank God. We know how angry words flew back in forth.

We know how stock markets, which in the USA where heading toward an all-time high, took a beating. So did stock markets around the world.

How Secretary of State Kerry dropped everything and rushed to Kiev for talks with the new leaders. And tried to calm the populace with assurance that we would be a strong partner.

He told them we would provide emotional and, better still, financial support big time.  Nearly instantly we offered  $1 billion.

After Putin invaded Crimea and the huge outcry that followed, he angrily asserted that Russia did that for one reason– ethnic Russians in Crimea and even other parts of Ukraine felt threatened by the blood-thirsty revolutionaries.

We pooh-poohed that, calling it nonsense.  We insisted he was using that as an excuse.

I don’t quite agree. If I were one of those ethnic Russians, I’d certainly be fingering my prayer beads double-time.

Well, Putin seemed to blink. Though he kept up his swaggering bravado, he de-intensified the invasion. Yet he continued to surround Ukrainian military posts and TV stations and other important things in Crimea.

He’s not stopping to foment trouble. He just had an old Soviet warship sunk to block Ukrainian warships from getting out of their harbor.

It’s clear Russia is desperate to annex Crimea. It’s clear many Crimeans want to join Russia.

In fact, the Crimean regional government will hold a plebiscite in just a very few days about seceding and joining Russia.

And Russians in huge numbers in Moscow and throughout the country are inviting Crimea to switch allegiance.

They’re screaming, “Come back! Come home! We welcome You!” Which is heartening to the ethnic Russians and awfully dismaying to the Ukrainians now in power and to and the European Union.

But such things have been going on around the world for centuries, including our own country.

When I read about the revolutionaries risking their lives by fighting the armed might of the establishment in Kiev, I thought that was exactly what we had done at Bunker Hill and Lexington and Concord.

About Crimea seceding, isn’t that what we did when we broke off from England and launched the American Revolution?

Hey, Washington and Jefferson and Ben Franklin and the other signers of our Declaration of Independence knew they’d be hanged if our revolution failed. Yet they signed.

When we all  that incredibly vast real estate from France in the Louisiana Purchase, did we give much thought to the French and Spanish living down there? Heck, no.

Wasn’t it secession when the South broke off from the North and set up its Confederacy and launched the Civil War?

Think of how we annexed Texas. Which is what Russia is planning for Crimea.

How we muscled Mexico into that deal that got us the whole huge Southwest through that treaty of 1848.

Isn’t that what French Québec attempted just a few years ago—twice? To break away from Canada but failed narrowly.  Is still attempting. In fact, has a plebiscite of its own coming up in just a few weeks about that huge issue.

Isn’t Scotland planning to secede from Great Britain in two years?

Many are yelling that the successful revolution in Ukraine has been illegal…contrary to the Constitution…and therefore immoral and dishonest.

Time and again I have seen how any group of 51 percent or more can turn over any applecart.  Even when doing that is branded as unconstitutional and illegal.

The moves and countermoves between Russia and Ukraine and the European Union pop up every day.

Now the new Ukraine leaders in Kiev are flying to Washington to confer with Obama.

Now flights out of Sevastopol are allowed only to Russia. It’s hard to keep up with the developments.

I have no idea how this will play out. I doubt that it’s going to calm down.

I delayed publishing this because I hoped for resolution of the problem. Well, for sure the problem will go on a long time. Even if Crimea goes independent.

My sympathy is with the Ukrainian protesters.  I’m cheering for an independent, Russia-disconnected, European-allied Ukraine. Even if Crimea checks out. But I’m taking nothing for granted.

Now! I hope you don’t think I’ve lost my mind, but I think it wouldn’t be tragic if Ukraine lost Crimea.

Ukraine would then be a more Ukrainian country in genes, culture, and temperament.

It would still be one of the largest in Europe.  And linked finally to Western Europe.

And look around. Many countries much smaller than Ukraine are doing just fine—Sweden, the Netherlands, on and on, and probably best of all, Switzerland.  Smaller can be better.

By the way, our Peace Corps operation there got shut down during the crisis. All the Volunteers were evacuated out.  Not home to the USA. To some other country, but I’m not sure which, though I’ve tried to find out. No idea when it will go back. Surely it will quickly be invited back.

Time and again through this, I’ve thought of all the Ukrainians working at our headquarters, and with Volunteers throughout the country, including the troubled parts. What about them? I assume our Embassy and USAID are functioning.

And all the institutions across the country, of various kinds, which had important, ongoing programs with Peace Corps. Imagine the lurch they’re in.

Of course I thought of all the students that I worked with personally. And the members of the English Club that I started and ditto with my French Club. And of the three families I lived with and the neighbors I met, and the folks at the big Chernihiv Public Library and in other projects I got deep into.

So many of those folks thought of the USA as Paradise, though I made sure to tell them we were very good but not that good.

What about them in all this?

I have little idea.  My hunch is they’re distressed.  Alas!.

Some dreamed and struggled to get into our land of the free and the brave.  I saw that for myself.  Counseled more than one.  Very few succeeded. It’s so difficult.

And—I just thought of this after reviewing what I’ve written–if one or two of you have read all the way down to this final sentence, I’ll say, “Are you kidding me?”

Gosh, the  word count has stopped just short of 6,000!

P.S.

If you want still more background about Peace Corps in general and its mission in Ukraine–and some things about Peace Corps that troubled me– look up my Peace Corps book.

It is available as a print book and e-book at www.amazon.com.  It’s a fine book. I’m proud of it.  Check out its reviews at Amazon. That would be a good start at learning a few things.

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Comments

  1. Joan Perrone says:

    Hi John,

    I repeat that I am glad that you are still not in Ukraine during these terrible times. You had close relationships with some of its people, and I’m sure that you are worried about them and their safety.

    I have read your Peace Corps book, and would recommend it to anyone. It is interesting to read, and gave me a better understanding of Ukraine and its people. You wrote it from a personal viewpoint, not tainted by political or financial reasons.

    I pray for a quick end to these problems; but I agree, it will probably go on for a while. Thanks for giving us an update of your take on what is happening.

    Keep on trucking.

    Joan

  2. Hello Mr. LaPlante,

    It seems evident that one should also note that Russian forces have been in the Ukraine for years, have bases there and that many Russians who live there are very much attached to their former homeland and that, of course, Russia has her borders to protect. It is well known that a country which has lots of seacoast with deep water ports has more protection and strength than those who do not. She, Russia, is not going to play the game of the West, nor stratigically should she. Putin is a strategist, a tactician and very clever. I would hope that the U.S. and the E.U. get the point soon!

    More importantly, a coup has taken place against the legitimately elected president of Ukraine, albeit a rouge for sure, as was Timoshenko who would have forced Ukraine into the dying E.U., so billions of dollars held as a carrot have become the bartering tool, funds that will never get to the people. And, as usual, the funds usually go to supply rebels, not patriots, with military weapons (or snipers) bought and paid for to overthrow governments for the western banking interests.

    Just think of TARP and the STIMULUS plans here in the U.S. followed by $85 billion per month for years from the Fed to pump up the stock market, the main purchaser, to keep the American people believing that the U.S. is in recovery. Ridiculous !

    Having Biden visit the Ukraine officials does not mean they are friendly. I would consider that a business meeting for God only knows what. And Kerry, scary as he is, has the audacity to tell Putin and the rest of the world on national TV that Russia has no right to invade another country when the track record of the US has been nothing else since president Clinton started with Bosnia, continued thereafter by Mr. CIA himself GHWB and later his son and now the puppet in the W.H. having esclated invasions and occupations all over that part of the world. Oh wait, we now use drones to murder innocent people and cause mass destruction and loss of lives. For What ? More oil, natural gas, poppies, ore, copper, diamonds, gold ?

    As you are well aware that Ukraine has not only the agricultural belt you mentioned but huge natural resources, one in particular being natural gas which the west wants control of, just like the poppies in Afghanistan, I would suspect that Putin will protect his interests in his neighboring country as we would if the missiles were back in Cuba.

    Most particularly, the international banking cartel is enough to worry any country, as they have drastically ruined the E.U. countries, Japan, parts of Africa, the M.E. and suredly in the near future the U.S. And, any country which refuses to use the Petro Dollar as the internaltional currency of choice, well, they are called the “Axis of Evil” aren’t they and so must be invaded? When, Mr. LaPlante, will this all stop before the idiots start WWIII and make this world completely uninhabitable ?

    Lastly, speaking of Chernobyl, it is not the worst nuclear catastrophe on Earth in our lifetime. The Fukushima disaster of 2011 was and still is many times worse than the Chernobyl meltdown and is still spewing out massive amounts of radioactive material not only into the upper northern hemisphere with very high levels registered on our west coast, in cows milk in VT, in the snow that covered our nation all winter, but the Pacific Ocean, and every living creature in it are literally either sick or dying and no one, not one country is doing anything about this ongoing nightmare which is going to take the lives of millions of people in the years to come. Just contact some of the already ill teachers and students in the northwest coastal towns. If countries wish to do something good for mankind, they had better change their mindset and get organized to eradicate the continuous silent killing of everything on this planet from the Fukushima disaster.

    President Washington warned us to trade only but to NOT get entangled in other nations internal affairs. We have certainly not taken heed, have we? And, quite frankly, sir, the Constitution does not state that we are to loan or give funds to any other country but to take care of our own. Our infrastucture at home is falling apart and we are sending billions all over the world and entangled all over the world. I see the future not ending well for our beloved united States of America.

    Mel

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