The new millenium has seen a surge of revolutions. These include the terrorist-driven wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Georgian and Iranian uprisings (crushed by Russia and Iran respectively), and the long list of middle eastern countries whose positions of power changed hands in the so-called Arab Spring.
If things continue to devolve in Ukraine, the former Soviet state may soon follow (TNT 2/22).
Yet Ukraine’s story bears another look. Its present is not unlike our past – a fledgling nation continuing to struggle for independence from an oppressive colonial power – while its future may hold important lessons for us.
The social upheaval in Ukraine appears to hinge on whether the country slips back into orbit around Russia or else realigns itself with Europe. The people – especially the tens of thousands gathered in Kiev over the last few months – have made it clear they prefer the latter choice.
Their preference should be no surprise to those of us in Western Washington, a long time destination for immigrant Ukrainians. As a police officer, I have had many opportunities to learn their views on independence first hand.
My first contact came on a burglary call in my rookie year when the front door of a modest apartment was opened by a young girl. She ushered me inside to meet three generations of her family, all standing out of respect. I was introduced to the patriarch who welcomed me in a strange language I assumed was Russian.
“No Russian! Ukraine! Ukraine!” he roared back at the question.
Since it was the only English he knew, he deferred to his daughter, the aforementioned child who was fluent. She and I had a fruitful conversation which included, along with details of the burglary, one simple fact: We. Are. Ukrainian. Period.
I heard this same assertion repeated many times over the years by other Ukrainian emigres. I could not help but be reminded of my own family’s equally adamant refusal to identify with Great Britian.
Irish or Ukrainian, identity is a matter of national pride, then. I get that.
Besides this anecdotal observation, there is yet another, more troubling aspect to the Ukrainian uprising. If reports are true, the police officials sworn to protect and serve their fellow Ukrainians instead chose to target individual protesters for summary execution. Reports of snipers killing scores of people at the Maidan (aka Independence Square) in Kiev have led numerous countries to denounce President Viktor Yanukovych’s response to the protests. As well it should.
While some critics have complained about the heavy-handed tactics of U.S. law enforcement following the Occupy Wall Street rallies, the Ukrainian riot police crossed a fatal line. As snipers’ bullets struck, protesters, medics and journalists fell. With such arbitrary carnage, the police (who alleged that armed protesters were targeting them) lost any justification for their actions.
From here on, even if every opposition demand were met, it would not alter the fact that any fragile trust between police and citizens was shattered by a hail of gunfire. Ukrainian cops will face bitter resentment once this crisis has passed, and they will come to recognize the bitterly curious looks of passersby, all thinking similar questions:
Is he the one who killed my neighbor? Did he shoot my young son? My daughter?
Despite the extreme nature of Ukraine’s tragedy, it is a lesson for every American police officer as well. Be professional. Treat people with dignity. To these trite reminders one could add the cliche, “You reap what you sow.”
Good luck to the people of Ukraine.