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Dhaka Tribune

Notes from Ukraine

Update : 24 May 2014, 07:58 PM

It is February 18. Municipal authorities close the subway. Kiev has around 3 million residents.

Around 4:30pm the head of my office authorises staff to leave early due to danger. I drive to pick up my brother, and on the way home we give rides to two women. Pavements are crowded with people walking home, including the elderly. 

The rest of the week is a blur. We “work from home.” I watch the news about the Maidan killings. One day, my friends and I make sandwiches for the protesters. It takes me two hours to get to the main square. The subway is still not operating. 

The next day I go to a church close to Maidan – a sorting centre for food, medicine, closing, linens, blankets, etc. The church area is like an anthill, with some people bringing staff and volunteers sorting, packing, loading, and transporting materials to the protesters. They work in an assembly line. I stay there to help for a while. As I see an old lady bringing used blankets and pillows and a young couple, most probably students, giving away old yoga mats, I recall the words of my father that Maidan protesters are paid by the West. 

My cousin from Saint Petersburg emails me periodically. She asks why we hate Russians so much. At first I laugh, and then I don’t.


Crimea is gone. They always wanted to be part of Russia. I remember scornful comments my friend’s mother made about Ukraine and Ukrainians in Sevastopol seven years ago. To each his own, as they say, but I am afraid Putin won’t stop. And I feel sorry for the Crimean Tatars. 


We expect a war, every night. Crimea was greatly subsidised from the state budget. Many Russians don’t know that. My cousin thinks Ukraine made that up. “Crimea is back” is like music to their ears, and they are deaf to any evidence-supported arguments. 

Meanwhile, as Russian armed forces are stationed along the border with Ukraine, men enroll in the army, some volunteer, some are called up for military services. Women gather funds to buy food, clothing and flak jackets for the army. The army is in ruins. It has been systematically destroyed in the past 5 years.

Meanwhile Donbas, an economically depressed area in the east of Ukraine, becomes another centre of conflict. During Soviet times there was a large wave of labour migration to Donbas from various parts of the Soviet Union, and now it is primarily populated by Russian-speaking people. Naturally, many show affection towards Russia. The influence of Russian TV channels is tremendous there.

Residents of Donbas represent a great share of voters who brought Yanukovych to power in 2010. And now many are not happy with the reshuffle. 

Dialogues are not easy nowadays. One day I call my aunt, a mine worker in a small village close to the border with Russia. She calls the protesters and the government in Kiev fascists. She says she has the right to speak Russian and no one will take it from her. I try to tell her about my personal experience, but she chooses to believe Russian mass media. She rebuffs all my arguments with intensely emotional responses.

It seems to me that there is a divide in the mentality of people in the East and the West. It is not even about the nationality. It is about the path they want to take and to what extent they are ready to leave their comfort zone to build the future they want. I also think that right now someone is skillfully using divergence and differences to create hatred and fear.   

May 2

Some 48 people die and 250 are injured during confrontations in Odessa, a major seaport along the coast of the Black Sea. The conflict begins as pro-Russian groups, with the police forces shielding them, open fire at pro-Ukrainian protesters. The fight ends with the burning down of a trade union building with pro-Russian groups in it.

Russian mass media immediately covers the event and focuses on the burning exclusively, accusing Ukraine before an official investigation is over. A Russian friend calls it a Holocaust arranged by the Ukrainian nationalists. Meanwhile, preliminary investigation reports show that in the burned down building, people died from chloroform poisoning. The question as to why chloroform was there remains unanswered. The city police head has fled the country. Ukraine is mourning. Tensions rise.

May 11

Donbas holds a “referendum” that has no legitimacy. Voters do not need to produce an ID. There are no accurate voter lists. There is no law on regional referendum. But one cannot be blind to the fact that some people still vote. I think Ukraine needs to acknowledge that some citizens are not happy with the government, and start a dialogue. Currently, there is an anti-terrorist operation under way in Donbas. An open question remains as to who supplies weapons to separatists.

May 21

Four days before election day. The country needs a legitimate president. This is that matters now. This is not an easy task with armed separatists occupying offices and intimidating election officials in Donbas. 

This is also just the beginning. Right now, Ukraine cannot win this unannounced war with Russia. This confrontation will continue as long as Russia and Europe-US have conflicting interests and influence. This is Ukraine’s chance to change things by becoming stronger, and we all hope that the new president will become the new leader of Ukraine’s consolidation and strengthening.

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