Skip to main content

Opinion: A divided Ukraine? Think again

By Maia Mikhaluk, Special to CNN
updated 5:04 AM EST, Tue March 4, 2014
Ukrainian children in Kiev show off a sign they made in response to the Crimea referendum. Ukrainian children in Kiev show off a sign they made in response to the Crimea referendum.
HIDE CAPTION
Ukraine crisis: One woman's story
Ukraine crisis: One woman's story
Ukraine crisis: One woman's story
Ukraine crisis: One woman's story
Ukraine crisis: One woman's story
Ukraine crisis: One woman's story
Ukraine crisis: One woman's story
Ukraine crisis: One woman's story
Ukraine crisis: One woman's story
Ukraine crisis: One woman's story
Ukraine crisis: One woman's story
Ukraine crisis: One woman's story
Ukraine crisis: One woman's story
Ukraine crisis: One woman's story
Ukraine crisis: One woman's story
Ukraine crisis: One woman's story
Ukraine crisis: One woman's story
Ukraine crisis: One woman's story
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ukrainian Maia Mikhaluk has been documenting the unrest in her country
  • She says the situation in Kiev is tense as Russia moves its troops to the Crimean Peninsula
  • She wrote a passionate essay in response to Russia's military intervention in Ukraine

Editor's note: Maia Mikhaluk is a freelance photographer and Christian ministry worker in Ukraine. She has been participating in protests in the country ever since former President Viktor Yanukovych reversed a decision to sign a trade deal with the European Union and instead turned toward Russia, a move that sparked mass demonstrations in the country's capital, Kiev. Her essay first appeared on CNN iReport and has been edited for length and clarity.

(CNN) -- I am a Russian-speaking Ukrainian. I am ethnically half-Russian, as my father was born in Siberia. I spent much of my life in Donetsk, a Russian-speaking area of Ukraine. Now I live in Kiev.

My kids speak Ukrainian in school and with many of their friends, and we speak Russian at home. When my son's fourth-grade teacher talks to me, she speaks Ukrainian. I respond in Russian. We don't even notice that our conversation is in two languages.

I understand Ukrainian but don't speak it as easily as I speak English. I just never had any pressure to learn it. In Lviv, in the western part of Ukraine, most speak primarily Ukrainian, but even there, I never had anybody look down on me for my Russian. In the eastern and southern regions, many people speak Russian, and there is absolutely no forced "Ukraineization."

You might be asking what all this fuss is about in Crimea, the autonomous region of eastern Ukraine with strong ties to Russia. Why are thousands coming to the streets with Russian flags? It's easy to explain.

Tracking the crisis in Ukraine as it unfolds

Many people in Crimea and eastern Ukraine don't want the protection of Russian President Vladimir Putin. But there are some who are afraid of forced Ukraineization because they have been fed propaganda by Russian TV channels for years. The purpose is to convince Ukrainians that we are divided, not one country, and that the safest course of action for Russian-speaking areas is to break away and join Russia.

EXCLUSIVE: Tymoshenko speaks to Amanpour

These ideas have been cultivated since I was a child. I remember when I lived in Donetsk in the '90s, how scared we were that a candidate from western Ukraine would win an election and force us to speak Ukrainian. But when I moved out of the area of aggressive Russian information, I quickly realized I can speak Russian in Kiev or Lviv and no one will ever be upset with me!

Obama: Russia can't violate principles

Over our 22 years of Ukrainian independence, fears of language or ethnic persecution have never come true. But they were kept alive by Russian propaganda. We understand that Putin is trying to escalate tension and provoke civil war in Ukraine right now. He can't afford for a free Ukraine to succeed: His own people might get an idea that it's possible to overthrow a tyrant and build a prosperous country.

Russia: Our actions are 'appropriate'

U.N. Security Council meets to discuss Ukraine crisis

Putin won't succeed. Ukrainians are wiser than that and won't kill each other over the nonexistent problem of language. To demonstrate that, last week, people in Lviv (traditionally Ukrainian-speaking) spoke only Russian all day, and in response, those in Donetsk (traditionally Russian-speaking) spoke Ukrainian!

No civil war in Ukraine, Mr. Putin! It must be getting harder to justify the presence of military force to "protect" people when nobody is in danger.

I just talked to my friends in Crimea.

Yuri in Simferopol told me that it's a handful of pro-Russian extremists in the streets trying to make a scene for Russian video cameras -- they are showing that these are the Russians who request protection!

Meanwhile, the rest of the city is terrified by the presence of Russian military forces and are evacuating their families to central or western Ukraine.

I got a similar report from Luda in Kharkov. She said that a large group of Russians were brought across the border by buses, and they were the ones inspiring and instigating unrest that resulted in putting a Russian flag on a municipal building.

The amount of propaganda Russia has poured onto Ukraine is hard to comprehend. Putting troops on Ukrainian land is going to bring the very opposite result from what Putin expected: I believe it's uniting Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Russia and Putin are getting into deeper isolation from the world as more and more countries are recalling their ambassadors from Russia and condemning the government's actions.

Good job, Mr. Putin! Thank you from all of us Ukrainians (Russian and Ukrainian-speaking) for uniting Ukraine against your military aggression.

Are you in Ukraine? Have you witnessed the unrest there? Share your stories with CNN iReport, but please stay safe.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Maia Mikhaluk.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Photos illustrate the ongoing crisis in Ukraine as fighting continues to flare in the region.
updated 7:12 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
A 20-minute drive from Kiev takes you to a neighborhood that feels more like Beverly Hills than central Ukraine.
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Nearly six months since popular protests toppled Yanukovych, fighting between Ukraine's military and pro-Russia rebels continues.
updated 8:34 AM EDT, Thu August 7, 2014
Western leaders stepped up sanctions, but the Russian President shows no sign of backing down.
updated 8:36 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Europe's deteriorating relationship with Russia has hit its growth, even before food sanctions begin to bite.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon August 4, 2014
Despite mortar fire echoing in the distance, the international team combed through the wreckage of MH17.
updated 7:08 AM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
The road isn't easy -- past shelling and eerie separatist checkpoints. But where it leads is harder still.
updated 12:31 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Future imports, exports between the EU and Russia are now banned -- but existing contracts continue.
updated 8:26 PM EDT, Mon August 4, 2014
The Cold War aerial games of chicken portrayed in "Top Gun" are happening in real life again nearly 30 years later.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
More Russian aggression in Ukraine. More U.S. and European sanctions imposed on Moscow.
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Air accident investigators normally reach crash sites soon after a plane has gone down, what does the delay in reaching MH17 mean?
updated 8:01 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Deadly violence, ongoing tensions and the deliberate downing of a passenger airplane. Why should Americans worry?
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
The shooting down of MH17 may finally alert Washington and Europe to the danger of the conflict in Ukraine.
updated 7:04 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The United States and its allies are angrier at Russia now over Ukraine, but will they do anything more about it?
The U.S. releases satellite images it says shows the Russian military has fired across its border with Ukraine.
updated 11:40 AM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Some contend that larger weapons have come into Ukraine from Russia.
updated 4:37 PM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
Information about Ukraine, the second-largest European country in area after Russia.
updated 1:25 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Ukraine's Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin on securing the MH17 crash site and negotiating with the separatists.
Learn more about the victims, ongoing investigation and the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
updated 3:00 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
When passengers boarded Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 last week, they couldn't have known they were about to fly over a battlefield.
updated 5:25 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
The downing Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 put the pro-Russia rebels operating in Ukraine's eastern region center stage.
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Increased fighting around the MH17 crash scene blocks international investigators. CNN's Kyung Lah reports.
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
In the tangled aftermath of the disaster, two narratives emerge -- one from most of the world subscribes to, and another from Russia.
ADVERTISEMENT