Crimea voted to join Russia on Sunday and cities in east Ukraine wish to follow in their footsteps. Pro-Russians in Donetsk and Kharkiv have staged many protests since parliament ousted Russia-backed president Viktor Yanukovych on February 22. Ethnic Russians in Luhansk are the latest to voice their wish to be a part of Russia.
Sixty-four-year-old Svitlana Kliuyeva told The Kyiv Post she did not want to be photographed with Ukrainian hero Taras Shevchenko in the background. She supported the Crimean referendum and wants to join Russia.
“I like Russia, it is close to me. I still think of Moscow as my capital,” she says.
When asked what Ukraine is to her, she replies: “Nothing.”
Ethnic Ukrainians edge out ethnic Russians for the majority by just a little in Luhansk.
In Luhansk, which is steadily losing population, 47 percent are ethnic Russians with ethnic Ukrainians holding a bare majority. Russian is the native language for 85 percent of the citizens. In the past weeks, the city’s natural sympathy for Russia, coupled with fear of western Ukrainians’ nationalism, led to powerful emotions that could spell trouble for Kyiv’s central government.
“I’m against war, but if the fascists from the Right Sector come here, I will take a gun and I will fight them,” says Oleksandr Syvolapov, 54, standing at the rally.
“Nationalism is the worst. I would sooner join Russia than fascistic Kyiv,” he said.
When asked if he was comfortable living with Ukrainian as the only state language, Syvolapov said: “I’m against it. I don’t speak the pigs’ language.”
Pro-Russians in Luhansk chose Alexander Kharitonov as their spokesman and leader to push for a referendum similar to the one in Crimea. He said the people in Luhansk do not recognize the government in Kyiv and consider them fascists, which is the way Russia views them. The West asked Russia several times to hold diplomatic talks with Kyiv, but Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said the government is illegitimate and no talks will be held until a real leader emerges.
The older generation wants the stability of the Soviet Union. Many in Crimea voted to join Russia for better jobs, better wages and economic freedom. Syvolapov said Luhansk does not have many jobs and most people do not earn much at the jobs they do have.
The younger generation in Luhansk feel closer to Russia, but do not feel hatred towards Ukraine. 21-year-old Olga Ayrapetyan, who attends college in a central Ukraine city, feels closer to Russia, but speaks Ukrainian and Russian. She reads news sources from both countries before she decides her stance on any issue.
“Of course I don’t believe these tales about fascists coming here,” she says, smiling. “We are all different, in the east and west and center of Ukraine. But we in Luhansk simply feel more bonded with Russia.”