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History of Ukraine sheds light on current unrest

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SALT LAKE CITY — Not only does the unrest in Ukraine grow more and more intense each day, but it also grows more confusing. Taking a look at history sheds light on questions raised about the current atmosphere.

Why does Russia have such interest in Ukraine, and why are the people of Crimea — which is part of Ukraine — saying they are Russians?

Today, the people in Crimea seem determined to secede, with some waving the old Soviet flag.

For decades before and after World War II, millions of Russians were transplanted by their government into Ukraine. They speak Russian, not Ukrainian, their children were and are educated in Russian schools, so many people in Crimea still consider themselves Russians.

Brent J. Steele, a political science professor at the University of Utah, said it was exactly 60 years ago that Russians were transplanted to Crimea.

"It (Crimea) was essentially given as a gift to the Ukrainians by Krushchev in the 1950s,” Steele said.

It appears that Russian transplants in Crimea want to be given back to Russia.

But after months of demonstrations in Independence Square, hundreds of Ukrainians gave their lives to oust their president, who was pro-Russian, to have the right to bond with the European Union.

But why do they want that right?

Most Ukrainians learn in school of the horrific man-made famine in the early 1930s. During that time, 3 to 8 million Ukrainians starved to death because the Soviets, under Joseph Stalin, confiscated their farms and their crops to feed people in what is now Russia.

"There are also generational experiences that can make folks, not just in Ukraine, but in Eastern and Central Europe more predisposed to being against Russians,” Steele said. “So, you have obviously the situation of the starvation and famine that was produced by a lot of the policies of Stalin."

Ukraine today is not just attractive to Russia because of its agricultural products, but because of its natural gas resources. And using ethnic Russians tied to their homeland is one way to ensure continued trade.

“Largely in the eastern part of Ukraine, you still see a lot of ethnic Russians,” Steele said. “As a result, Putin is almost redefining what is a Russian national interest.”

Will the people in Crimea vote to secede from Ukraine? Will U.S. sanctions against Russia help the Ukrainians? It appears, for now, there will only be more questions each day.


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