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Afghan-Born Ukrainian Legislator Warns of Russian Takeover

FILE - Mustafa Nayyem at Voice of America.
FILE - Mustafa Nayyem at Voice of America.

Like many other members of Ukraine’s parliament, Mustafa Nayyem doubts the cease-fire in his government’s battle with Russia-backed separatists will last, given what he sees as Russia’s lack of good faith.

But Nayyem speaks from a unique perspective: He was born in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation and went on in his adoptive country of Ukraine to become a key player in events that led to the ouster of its Russia-backed president, Viktor Yanukovych.

Now, he contends, Russia is targeting Ukraine for a complete takeover.

Nayyem is credited with sparking the wave of protests against Yanukovych that eventually forced him from power: On Nov. 21, 2013, he posted an appeal on Facebook calling on people to come to Kyiv’s Independence Square to protest the then-president’s decision not to sign an association agreement with the European Union. Exactly three months later, Yanukovych fled Kyiv and soon afterward sought refuge in Russia.

Yanukovych’s departure was followed by Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and the outbreak of a pro-Russia separatist rebellion in the eastern part of the country. Another cease-fire agreement has now gone into effect in the war-torn region, after a truce deal signed last September failed to stem the violence, which has claimed more than 5,000 lives.

The White House hailed the new cease-fire agreement as “a potentially significant step toward a peaceful resolution of the conflict and the restoration of Ukraine’s sovereignty.”

In an interview with VOA's Afghanistan service, Nayyem agreed with the U.S. administration’s assessment of the accord, but he voiced reservations about its viability.

“I think the Minsk agreement is a great step and significant step, meaning that we are not losing our soldiers every day anymore,” Nayyem said. “This cease-fire, and any cease-fire, is a good idea. But from the other side, as I know the situation on our front lines, and [from] what I see ... of what Russia does, I do not believe that they are going fulfill or implement this agreement.”

Before winning a seat in Ukraine’s parliament last October, Nayyem was a journalist known for probing high-level corruption, and he was also an activist who worked against censorship and xenophobia. Last year, he co-founded an Internet TV station that provided live coverage of the protests against Yanukovych.

In his interview with VOA, Nayyem noted that his father was his same age, 33, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Today, he said, Russia is engaged in a similar occupation of Ukraine.

Calling Russia’s annexation of Crimea “just the start,” Nayyem warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin is planning to take over Ukraine in its entirety.