As Kyiv Mourns, Crimea Caught In the Crossfire


Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb 28, 2014– As of Friday February 28th, funeral processions continue to take place here in Kyiv. Orthodox priests carrying large crosses followed by friends and family members of the deceased wind their way down Institutskaya Street, through the barricades past piles of old tires, barbed wire, and an entire street adorned with flowers for the dead. They make their way to Independence Square where they continue their soulful mourning, chanting prayers for the heroes.

As the new government struggles with the Crimea crisis, thousands of people continue to fill the streets and stand in the barricades. There is no rejoicing in Kyiv over the ouster of Viktor Yanukovich. There is no sense of victory. In fact people wonder why so many had to die and pray that they did not die in vain. They are weary of placing too much hope in a flawed political system, and fed up with the same old faces of the politicians. In the midst of this mourning, turmoil, and resignation about what the future holds, Russian Special Forces invaded Crimea.

Crimea Caught In the Crossfire

Tuesday February 24th, ethnic Russian protesters took to the streets in Simferopol waving Russian flags. The next day on the 25th, Tatar protesters took to the streets in a counter demonstration. Thursday the 26th Special Forces arrived unannounced and took over the Parliament building. Friday the 27th they cut all communications and closed the airport. These are classic textbook invasion tactics. This was obviously much more than reinforcement of troops at the naval base. Western governments however watched in wonderment, not sure who those soldiers were in unmarked uniforms.

On Friday the 28th, Vladimir Putin stated that extra troops were needed to protect Russia’s Sevastopol naval base. “This is certainly allowed under Russia’s long standing agreement with Ukraine,” he said.

President Obama only responded with vague threats, making an official statement that, “there would be a cost to pay” if the Russian government had truly invaded Crimea. Well, we all know now that Crimea has been invaded, and that Putin has been authorized by Russian Parliament to occupy all of Ukraine if he deems it necessary.

Why Send Troops To Crimea?

Crimea belonged to the USSR and was “given” by Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschchev, a Ukrainian, to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954. At the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine became an independent country and Crimea belonged to them. Within a year, Crimea was granted a special designation as an autonomous republic with their own local parliament. The port of Sevastopol remained in Russian possession and home to its Black Sea Fleet.

Nikita KrushchevAbout 60% of the population in Crimea is ethnic Russian. Many of them still believe in a strong Russia and align themselves, often nostalgically, with their Soviet past. Despite their political differences, Russians, Ukrainians, Tatars and others have lived peaceably together for 23 years. The Russian television channels broadcast highly inflammatory information that the Kyiv government has been taken over illegally by radical Ukrainian thugs. They urged Crimean citizens to stand up to the Ukrainian extremists. Russia, using the media, have vigorously stoked the fires of ethnic and political dissent in Crimea.

The Maidan movement resulted in the surprising ouster of Yanukovich, which two weeks ago nobody suspected would happen. He was Putin’s man of choice, and now as a result, the Ukrainians are being shown the ease with which the Russian government can exert its power over them.

Putin has explained many times that Ukraine lies within Russia’s “sphere of influence.” In a larger sense, if he allows a revolution to take place in Kyiv, this could make him vulnerable in Moscow as well.

23 years after the break up of the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian people are waking up to the type of government and country they desire to have. That desire means they do not want to be dominated by the corruption and politics of the past. That includes living inside of Putin’s “sphere of influence.”

Crimea is caught in the crossfire. It appears Moscow will clearly use force to maintain their influence in the region. We pray for peace, and for Russia to withdraw their forces.

-Jeff Thompson