In Kiev, A New Patriotism Cemented In Russia's Shadow

Sep 7, 2014
Originally published on September 7, 2014 9:51 am

A cease-fire in eastern Ukraine appears to be collapsing, with both the Ukrainian government and separatist forces accusing each other of violating it. That won't come as a surprise to the people of the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, who are deeply skeptical.

You might have thought that after five months of fighting, a decimated economy and an estimated 2,600 deaths, people would be ecstatic about a possible end to the fighting, but any relief was overshadowed by doubt. Maria Ischienko says Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is good, but the peace will fail because of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"I think Poroshenko does everything right," Ischienko says. "But there's the dark side, Russia, who will break these agreements."

The agreement provides for more autonomy for the eastern, breakaway provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk. Ischienko says they've become like a cancer on Ukraine.

"Maybe I shouldn't have said it this way, but I don't see anything else," she says. "So should you chop them off? Yes."

Ukrainians in Kiev say the conflict has been devastating, ripping their country apart. Yet at the same time they say it has helped forge a real sense of Ukrainian identity for the first time. When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, independence was handed to them. Now, Ukrainians say they're fighting for their country.

There are signs of that new patriotism all over Kiev: The Ukrainian flag flies from buildings and cars; giant banners proclaim glory to Ukraine and her heroes; brigades of young people paint the city's fences in the national colors of yellow and baby blue.

If it holds, Kievite Vadim Nabuev says the cease-fire is a good thing. "It will allow us to strengthen our army with new enforcements and press harder," he says.

When his wife Svetlana says no to more war, Vadim replies that Ukraine will only have peace when it drives the bandits out. The mistrust is enormous on both sides.

Sergei Kozak, a soldier injured in the last cease-fire, says it is up to Russian whether or not the current cease-fire holds.
Eleanor Beardsley / NPR

Speaking over the weekend, Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for Ukraine's national security and defense council, said he fully expected the separatists to try to provoke a reaction from the Ukrainian army.

If the country's future is hanging in the balance, you wouldn't know it on the streets of Kiev, where a sunny weekend brings out musicians and families licking ice cream cones.

But entering the gates of a military hospital is like stepping into another world. There are wounded Ukrainian soldiers out on stretchers enjoying the sun where family members have come to see them. It is a jolt from being out on the normal streets and brings home the fact that this country was at war.

Sergei Kozak fought with the Ukrainian army special forces. Now he sits in a wheelchair with his discolored left leg full of metal pins. Kozak says he got that wound during the last cease-fire.

Kozak says his units were up against bands of mercenaries from Russia, Chechnya and Afghanistan. He says the cease-fire doesn't really depend upon Ukraine; it depends on Russia and just how deeply they want to "get into our territory."

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.

A ceasefire in eastern Ukraine appears to be collapsing with both the Ukrainian government and separatist forces accusing each other of violating it. That won't come as a surprise to the people in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev who are deeply skeptical.

NPR's Eleanor Beardsley sent this report.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: You might have thought that after five months of fighting, a decimated economy, and an estimated 2,600 deaths, people would be ecstatic about a possible end to the war. But any relief was overshadowed by doubt. Marina Ischienko says Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is good but the peace will fail because of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

MARINA ISCHIENKO: (Through translator) But there is the dark side, Russia, who will break these agreements.

BEARDSLEY: The agreement provides for more autonomy for the eastern breakaway provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk. Ischienko says they've become like a cancer on Ukraine.

ISCHIENKO: (Through translator) Maybe I shouldn't have said it this way but I don't see anything else.

BEARDSLEY: So should you chop them off?

ISCHIENKO: Yes.

BEARDSLEY: Ukrainians in Kiev say the conflict has been devastating, ripping their country apart. Yet at the same time, they say it has helped forge a real sense of Ukrainian identity for the first time.

When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, independence was handed to them. Now, Ukrainians say, they're fighting for their country. There are signs of that new patriotism all over Kiev. The Ukrainian flag flies from buildings and cars, giant banners proclaim glory to Ukraine and her heroes, brigades of young people paint the city's fences in the national colors of yellow and baby blue.

Kievite Vadim Nabuev says the ceasefire is a good thing.

KIEVITE VADIM NABUEV: (Through translator) Because it will allow us to strengthen our army with new enforcements and press harder.

SVETLANA NABUEV: (Speaking Russian).

BEARDSLEY: When his wife, Svetlana, says no to more war, Vadim replies that Ukraine will only have peace when it drives the bandits out.

The mistrust on both sides is enormous.

ANDRY LYSENKO: (Speaking Russian).

BEARDSLEY: Speaking over the weekend, Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for Ukraine's National Security and Defense Counsel, said he fully expected the separatists to try to provoke a reaction from the Ukrainian Army.

(SOUNDBITE OF STREET PERFORMANCE)

BEARDSLEY: If the country's future is hanging in the balance, you wouldn't know it on the streets Kiev where a sunny weekend brings out musicians and families licking ice cream cones. But entering the gates of a military hospital is like stepping into another world, and it's a jolt.

And inside, on the vast grounds with the trees, there are wounded Ukrainian soldiers out on stretchers enjoying the sun where family members have come to see them. And this really brings home the fact that this country was at war.

Sergei Kozak fought with the Ukrainian Army Special Forces. Now he sits in a wheelchair with his discolored left leg full of metal pins.

SERGEI KOZAK: (Speaking Russian).

BEARDSLEY: Kozak says he got that wound during the last ceasefire. I ask if this war pitted brother against brother.

KOZAK: (Through translator) There are no brothers there. There are no brothers there.

BEARDSLEY: Kozak says his units were up against bands of mercenaries from Russia, Chechnya, and Afghanistan. He says the ceasefire doesn't really depend upon Ukraine. It depends on Russia, he says, and just how deeply it wants to get into our territory.

Eleanor Beardsley. NPR News, Kiev. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.