As Russian troops mobilize for potential combat in Ukraine less than two weeks after the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, President Obama announced a suspension of all military engagements with Russia. In Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, anti-government protests have become increasingly violent as people clash over ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s rejection of a deal that would strengthen ties with the European Union.
For two hours last night, more than 4,800 miles from the center of the protests, a panel of historians, professors and a former ambassador to Ukraine educated students on Ukraine’s history and its relationship with Russia and shared opinions on the unfolding political unrest.
About 60 people gathered in Francis Scott Key Hall for the history department’s discussion, “What is a Maidan, and why are people protesting and getting shot there?”
Piotr Kosicki, a university history professor who helped organize the event, said the discussion’s purpose was to give the audience historical context for the recent crisis in Ukraine. The panel explored past conflicts between Russia and Ukraine as precursors to Ukraine’s social protests and Russia’s recent placement of troops in Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula.
“It’s not just one event that causes the revolution,” said Michael Wirtz, a junior government and politics major. “Instead it’s a combination of uprisings, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out and changes the country.”
Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Miller spoke first about his experiences working in Ukraine and explained U.S.-Ukraine relations in the 1990s.
Oksana Nesterenko, a Ukrainian law professor at Yaroslav the Wise Law Academy of Ukraine, focused on Ukraine’s future. She argued that a new constitution, especially one crafted by the country’s citizens, would give Ukraine more economic freedom and liberties. She said such a document is mandatory to the country’s success.
“When we change the constitution, we can change institution,” she said. “Then society can change.”
The lectures were followed by a question-and-answer session in which the panelists shared their opinions on how stakeholders were handling the situation. University government and politics professor Vladimir Tismaneanu said foreign intervention, such as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s apparent proposed Crimea occupation, is not an effective or appropriate means to end the violence.
“It is a shameless intervention,” he said. “[Putin] has no right to decide who is the legitimate or illegitimate leader of Ukraine.”
When asked about Ukraine’s importance to the U.S. or other European nations, Tismaneanu replied by referencing the opening epigraph of Ernest Hemingway’s novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, a quote from English poet John Donne about how even a stranger’s death affected the poet.