Ukraine in recent years is a country that is talked about a lot. Although geographically it seems far from Mediterranean Europe, the issues that concern it can affect economically the whole continent. As in any great geopolitical debate, here too there is a lot of confusion. We had the chance to talk to a Ukranian girl, Iryna Stepaniak. Let’s try to clarify some aspects together.
Good morning Iryna!
I ask you to introduce yourself; which side of Ukraine you come from; what do you study, and how did you get to know “Frammenti di Storia”.
My name is Iryna, and I’m a citizen of Lviv, the city located in the west of Ukraine. I’m twenty-one years old, and I’m in my fourth year of a Cultural studies program in university.
I got to know “Frammenti di Storia” by two weeks ago, thanks to his founder Pietro Buatier, that I met in an international project in Georgia.
Your country has been dealing with a climate of war since 2014. Specifically on the eastern sector, on the border with Russia (Donbass region). You live on the opposite side, because Lviv is near the polish border. How has the war been experienced in your areas over the years?
The question is quite difficult and probably different for each person/social group. I can say that my generation has experienced the conflict from the very start: from participating in the Revolution of Dignity (2013-2014) till volunteering and helping our soldiers with food/clothing/psychological support. The Western region was and is still the most sensitive to what is happening and you can see it not only from the number of volunteer soldiers coming to war from Western Ukraine (it’s a long story about mentality), but also the way art in our region is working with the topic of the conflict. Nonetheless, we risk trivializing the word “war” by hearing the news from the war front every day and getting used to people being killed.
Volodymyr Zelens’kyj, the current Ukrainian president, swept the last elections by beating Petro Poroshenko. His career began as an actor in a series called “Servant of the People”. Later this also became the name of his party. How do you explain his rapid rise to power?
I think it’s a post-democracy or postmodern state of traditional democracy. Critical thinking is powerless when people are servants of media, and somebody is usually taking advantage of it. Zelenskyi has created an idealistic and rather utopian image of a president, and people could not really see an actor in him but worshipped him as if he is indeed that person.
It is also a question of good political consciousness which refers to proper education. In Ukraine, unfortunately, the quality of education, especially in the political area, is not of right quality. The majority of people did not really know what are the obligations of a president while voting for him.
The third reason may be a general state of disappointment in governing class in Ukraine, especially corruption issues. Populism and loud slogans are the things people are tired of but these are also the things people are still being elected for. This is the case of Zelenskyi.
The Ukrainian issue involves Russia on the one hand and the EU on the other; what do the Ukrainian people say about this situation?
That’s actually one of the issues that divide Ukrainian people buy two parts and is directly connected to bilingualism problems. If we take real numbers, there are 11% of people who voted for a pro-Russian party in the parliamentary elections of 2019. But there may be more likeminded people as we don’t count those who haven’t participated. And there certainly were more before the conflict at the East. Among these there are believers in Soviet Union restoration. Nonetheless, the vast majority of people, especially youth, are highly oriented to the West. There are also those who think about EU integration critically because they see the risks Ukraine faces (related to traditional culture etc.). I am among these.
What was the underlying cause that triggered and continues to trigger tensions in your opinion?
We cannot really say there are some evident tensions between the two sides. We got used to living together and conflicts arise only when it comes to some crucial decisions (as the Law about the official language).
But we should look deeper in history to see why the two completely different worldviews are living on one territory and why, for instance, Western Ukraine can be considered the opposite of the Eastern part. Lviv, my city, was never a part of Russian empire and was way less time under the rule of Soviet Union compared to Eastern Ukraine. And these two empires were totally different from the Western world, so that was kind of clash of civilizations that took place somewhere in the middle of Ukraine and is still visible mentally.
How do you assess current relations between Ukraine and the EU?
Though it is said Ukraine is a priority partner for the European Union, the country still needs to fix a lot of troubles to continue the process of integration (ﬁght against corruption, lots of reforms in constitutional and electoral sector or improvement of the business climate etc.) In my view, the process is stagnated and will not renew until we are done with all the problems.
US President Donald Trump was threatened with impeachment because of the so-called “Kievgate”, which generated no small confusion. Can you explain what it is about and how Ukraine comes into it?
It is the first time I hear that term, but I guess that it may mean D.Trump’s efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate his political rival. An impeachment inquiry was made but there was still a debate about whether Mr Trump broke the law or not. It is a shame though that Zelenskyi has shown himself as a submissive person ready to help in everything to gasin some American support. Interestingly, some politologists claimed this scandal has its roots in Russia.
Naftogaz, Ukraine’s national oil and gas company, is one of the most important players in the region, competing with Russia’s Gazprom. The latter is involved in the construction of the Turkstream pipeline in the Black Sea, do you think it is somehow a rivalry to be taken into account?
The gas dispute between Ukraine and Russia exists for 14 years already, if I am not mistaken. As a result of another dispute on the price of gas, Russian Gazprom reduced gas flows to Ukraine and then cut off their gas fully. Obviously, it is a strong political move but at the same time it was intended to show Russian superiority over our state. The rivalry is rather not for money but for the country’s political self-esteem which may influence the Crimean issue and war at the East of Ukraine.
What do young Ukrainians envision and what do they ask for the future of their country?
My generation is full of energy and initiative. Many of them face difficulties while trying to accomplish their high goals in Ukraine so emigration is still a huge issue. But I can definitely say that those who stay are sure in their capabilities to make change and to develop the country. I do not want to sound banal, but all of us ask for peace as living in everyday anxiety about the conflict is destroying us as human beings. Ukraine has great potential and I love the people who surround me as I can see their willingness to participate in country’s life. Hopefully, these people will keep their spirit up.
Thank you Iryna!