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Ukraine Conflict Divides Families, Friends

  • Daniel Schearf

The conflict in Ukraine may have galvanized those who support a united, independent country, but it has also sown divisions between them and neighbors, friends and family who lean toward Russia. The political tensions have severed relationships and even led some couples to seek divorce.

Lyudmila and Denis Sakhno married 17 years ago and expected to spend the rest of their lives together. But marital tensions spiked when Russia-backed rebels took advantage of a power vacuum in Kyiv to seize control of their town.

Lyudmila, an ethnic Ukrainian, said that while she was emotionally torn by the situation, her husband, who is half Russian, saw it differently.

"He thought it would turn into a new country with new possibilities, while my attitude was that it was an occupation and impeding on my rights," she said.

Subject is off-limits

Lyudmila, a restaurant manager, said they made a deal not to talk about politics at home. While she followed Ukrainian news online, Denis, a construction worker, received his information from Russian state television.

"I was always indifferent," he said. "If Ukraine, let it be Ukraine. If Russia, let it be Russia. We had some discussions and some arguments."

As the quarrels became a daily occurrence, the couple split up and then filed for divorce.

Yulia Parshina, who heads the Kramatorsk Marriage Registration Office, said that many couples have canceled wedding plans during the last year of fighting. Or, like Lyudmila and Denis, they split up because of political differences or when the men joined the rebellion.

"We don't usually ask why people divorce," Parshina said. "But, among my friends, relatives and acquaintances, I can say that a lot of families were broken because some were for a united Ukraine and some supported the DPR," or Donetsk People's Republic.

Views evolve

As the armed men in the streets pushed anti-Ukrainian attitudes and clashed with Ukrainian forces, Denis' views toward the rebels changed.

“It dawned on him what was happening," Lyudmila said. "He saw the process from inside. He understood and saw that they were not building something new but just destroying.”

Lyudmila, however, acknowledged that her view of Ukrainian authorities was also overly enthusiastic.

"We both understood in the wrong way," Denis said. "It was not only about me not understanding correctly. I have regrets, not only about our relations, but my main regret is that I was fooled."

Although they agreed to finalize the divorce on June 16, Denis and Lyudmila are on friendly terms, and Denis still holds out hope of saving their marriage.

Despite the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, they both see a better future. This is a war of politics, they agree, not a war of Ukrainians versus Russians.

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