News / Europe

    New Generation in Ukraine Forges a New National Identity

    The girl is painting a slogan that reads "Putin you can kill us but you can't take away our freedom" in Kyiv's Independence Square, Ukraine, Mar. 8, 2014. (Jamie Dettmer/VOA)
    The girl is painting a slogan that reads "Putin you can kill us but you can't take away our freedom" in Kyiv's Independence Square, Ukraine, Mar. 8, 2014. (Jamie Dettmer/VOA)
    As the confrontation between the West and Russia over Russia’s actions in Crimea unfolds Ukraine’s acting foreign minister has reiterated that while his country wants a peaceful resolution to the standoff with Russia, Ukrainians are unwilling to be held hostage to the “old Soviet-style” of threat and intimidation.

    Comparing the Crimea quarrel with Russia to the three-month confrontation in Kyiv’s Maidan between protesters and the now ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a Russian ally, Andrii Deshchytsia told a packed news conference on Saturday that Ukraine has changed in this revolution, the country’s fourth in nearly a century, and that it is moving on from the past and is carving out a true sense of national independence.

    “All that happened in Ukraine is difficult to put in some patterns known from previous revolutions,” he said. “What is very promising here is that we are now using the creativity of a young Ukrainian generation, which is a strong weapon against the old Soviet-style pattern.”

    The country’s top diplomat isn’t alone in identifying a new sense of national purpose and identity emerging in post-Yanukovych Ukraine—a country Russia’s Vladimir Putin once quipped wasn’t a real country.

    • A woman places some flowers and reads the notes on flowers to the dead already laid in Kyiv's Independence Square, Ukraine, Mar. 8, 2014. (Jamie Dettmer/VOA)
    • People look at flowers placed in Kyiv's Independence Square in memory of anti-government protesters killed during recent clashes, Mar. 8. 2014. (Jamie Dettmer/VOA)
    • The girl is painting a slogan that reads "Putin you can kill us but you can't take away our freedom" in Kyiv's Independence Square, Ukraine, Mar. 8, 2014. (Jamie Dettmer/VOA)
    • One of the shrines to those who were killed during clashes in the Independence Square in Kyiv, Ukrine, Mar. 8, 2014. (Jamie Dettmer/VOA)
    • A general view of Kyiv's Independence in Ukraine, Mar. 8, 2014 (Jamie Dettmer/VOA)

    A generational change

    While international support for Ukraine in the tense and highly dangerous standoff over Crimea is helping to instill confidence in the country about a new, more West-aligned future, some analysts, as well as Ukrainians, say Ukraine is going through a generational change. That change is seeing the formation of a unifying post-Soviet Ukrainian national identity that is subsuming traditional linguistic splits between the country’s ethnic Russians and Ukrainians, they say.

    “Can you notice now that the Ukrainian nation starts to speak with one voice, no matter whether people are from the left or right of the political spectrum,” says Petro Poroshenko, a lawmaker and business oligarch known as the “Chocolate King” for his confectionary empire.

    Tipped as a possible candidate in the presidential elections slated for May, the 48-year-old Poroshenko was quick to throw in his lot with the Independence Square protesters who ousted Yanukovych following his decision not to sign a trade pact with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.  “The top priority for all Ukrainians is national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Poroshenko says.

    He argues that Russia’s strong-armed tactics in Crimea are having a quickening effect on the coalescing of Ukrainians. He acknowledges there is some restiveness in a handful of Ukrainian regions. But he insists ethnic Russian fears fomented by “fifth-columnists and agent provocateurs are proving less and less successful.”

    Some Ukraine watchers say Putin may be surprised by the firm response among Ukrainians to his approach to Ukraine and the reaction his land-grab in Crimea, which has an ethnic Russian majority, has provoked. 

    Michael Willard, an American advertising executive and owner of a public relations agency in Kyiv, thinks the Russian leader views Ukraine through a Soviet-type prism, seeing the country as an offshoot of Russia. He argues Putin has misread Ukraine and missed the fact that since the break-up of the Soviet Union, Ukraine has started to develop along very separate lines.

    “I have been in Ukraine for 20 years now and this whole country has totally changed over that period,” Willard says. “It is just like the old advert goes: it is not your father’s Oldsmobile, it is not Brezhnev’s Ukraine.” He says the young – those born since the collapse of Communism—are the drivers behind the shift.

    East-west ethnic divide a fiction

    Writing in America’s New Republic magazine, Julia Ioffe, a commentator on Russia and Ukraine, also pinpoints the shift away from Russia as originating with those born since 1991. She dismisses the “conventional wisdom” of looking at Ukraine as a country divided between a Europe-tilted Ukrainian-speaking West and a Moscow-favoring Russian-speaking East, noting that the east-west axis of ethnicity is a false one. The different ethnicities are more mixed.

    “It would take a very talented surgeon to carve the two languages apart—or a charlatan to claim it can be done,” she wrote.  “The real split is generational,” she argues.

    Ukrainian military remains united

    That may go some way to explain why there appears to be no ferment or apparent divisions inside the Ukrainian military.

    Aside from the early defection of Ukraine’s navy chief Denys Berezovky, who swore allegiance to pro-Russian leaders in Crimea the day after he had been appointed as head of the navy by Kyiv authorities, the Ukrainian military has remained loyal to the interim Ukrainian government.

    Russian appeals to Ukrainian navy and army personnel in Crimea to switch sides have fallen on deaf ears, even when military installations have been overrun.

    Lt. Col. Olexandr Lomako, a deputy commander of an anti-aircraft regiment stationed 60 miles northeast of Sevastopol, told the Los Angeles Times: “The Russians captured our base and disarmed us only because they took us by surprise and because we didn’t want to start a big war by armed resistance.”

    Ukrainian lawmaker Lesya Orobets (Jamie Dettmer/VOA)Ukrainian lawmaker Lesya Orobets (Jamie Dettmer/VOA)
    x
    Ukrainian lawmaker Lesya Orobets (Jamie Dettmer/VOA)
    Ukrainian lawmaker Lesya Orobets (Jamie Dettmer/VOA)
    “I am shocked: I could never have imagined we would have such a loyal army,” says Lesya Orobets, an opposition politician and one of the leaders of the Maidan revolution. She says that is especially surprising since solders are poorly paid and the army was mismanaged under Yanukovych.

    “All these days of crisis we have seen loyalty and rebuffs of Russian surrender demands,” she says. “When I saw news video of a group of Ukrainian soldiers marching towards armed Russian troops just waving our flag, I started crying.”

    Orobets argues that the battlefield of the Maidan and the resistance to Yanukovych has acted as a forge for the shaping of a new Ukrainian national identity – it is one that has some way to go for completion, she says.

    But everyday now in Kyiv the memory of the three-month struggle against Yanukovych is being remembered and honored. On the Maidan Ukrainians – old as well as young, in small and large groups – pick their through what was once a battlefield, adding more multi-colored flowers to the piles already placed where young revolutionaries fell to sniper bullets.

    You May Like

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Before burial at overflowing cemeteries, unidentified dead being swapped for DNA, in case some day relatives come to learn their fate

    Russian Opposition Leader Sues Putin for Conflict of Interest

    Alexei Navalny tells VOA in exclusive interview why transfer of $2 billion from country’s wealth fund to company with ties to President Putin’s son-in-law triggered lawsuit

    How Diversity Has Changed America

    Over the past four decades, the level of diversity in the United States has increased most in these four states

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: John Haberstroh from: Qatar
    March 09, 2014 6:27 AM
    The coup-installed government consists of the losers of the 2010 and 2012 elections, i.e., Tymoshenko's oligarchs, plus the far-right and neo-Nazi militias who provided the violence essential to the coup's success. The new generation in Ukraine is not a post-democratic generation, and it is not a pro-Tymoshenko generation.

    By the way, are my U.S. tax dollars paying for VOA's pro-coup propaganda?

    by: linda from: usa
    March 08, 2014 4:46 PM
    Your nationality does not decide the person or country you are. We have all nationalities and each one has their own traditions, however we all are free citizens of the United States of America
    In Response

    by: David Kessel
    March 09, 2014 11:16 PM
    Legally, I would not agree with you, Linda. Unless a person is a dual national, he is just a holder of American nationality. Such is the international law. Americans like saying " I'm Irish, I'm Italian, I'm Polish" but this designates heritage, not nationality. Nationality is American for all. Unless one is not a US citizen.
    In Response

    by: Peter from: Turkey
    March 09, 2014 5:57 AM
    Linda: who are you talking about? Neither Ukrainians nor Russians are citizens of the US. Many might wish to be, but it's extremely difficult, often impossible, even to get a work visa to the US, much less citizenship. I have a Bulgarian friend who tried for 12 years to get an American visa. Finally he moved to Germany instead, which is grnerally much more welcoming of foreigners.

    by: Anonymous
    March 08, 2014 4:38 PM
    it says 'Putin, you can lie to your country, degrade my ...'
    In Response

    by: Anonymous
    March 08, 2014 9:53 PM
    you're right...the person did not translate what the girl is painting in the picture correctly...

    by: monica from: lake havasu city az
    March 08, 2014 4:37 PM
    My husbands Jewish grandparents left Ukraine in 1903 for freedom from Czarist Russia and I am sure they would be proud of todays Ukrainians. Don't let Russia threaten you!!

    by: Anonymous
    March 08, 2014 4:34 PM
    that's not what it says

    by: Svetlana M. from: Russia
    March 08, 2014 11:06 AM
    "New Generation in Ukraine Forges a New National Identity...??"
    if you think you could "forge" a new national identity by writing slogans on a cardboard - than you are sillier than we thought you are. Look at the "Philistines" - they have been trying to "forge" an identity... but Arabs are Arabs.. and the forgery is apparent and silly... its derided everywhere it was tried.
    In Response

    by: David Kessel
    March 09, 2014 11:21 PM
    In the Arab world, people divide themselves by citizenship regardless of the fact that all speak Arabic. Any native-Arabic speaking person is an Arab regardless of religion or ancestry, but Arab designates culture only, not nationality. That's why Palestinians are forging a new identity-- they are trying to be on equal footing with Syrians, Lebanese, Moroccans, etc. That's how things are among Arabs. There's no such race or nationality as " Arab". You can be an Arab, too. Just speak Arabic fluently.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Filli
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 11, 2016 8:01 PM
    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.