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

    Turkey, US Splits Deepen Over Support for Kurdish Militants

    Ankara summons American ambassador to protest remarks by State Department spokesman who said Washington does not consider Syria's Kurdish Democracy Union Party (PYD) a terrorist organization

    Obama Seeking $19 Billion for National Cybersecurity

    Move, touted as attempt to build broad, cohesive federal response to cyberthreats, calls for increase in cybersecurity spending across all government agencies

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire, who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen

    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.
    Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clownsi
    X
    February 09, 2016 8:04 PM
    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Middle East Affairs and national security.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.