IDS Alumna Olga Kravets on Maidan and the Crisis in Ukraine

Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from and what are your interests in development?

IDS Alumna Olga Kravets

IDS Alumna Olga Kravets

I was born and raised in Vinnitsa, Ukraine (home of the largest floating fountain in Europe). At the age of 12, I moved to Rochester, NY where I lived for the majority of my young adulthood years. My greatest interest lies in economic and private sector development. Growing up in post-Soviet Ukraine during a time of economic hardship and moving to a prosperous country at a young age exposed me to a striking contrast in living standards. This left a deep impression on my young mind and induced an interest in business and economics. The idealist in me envisioned a future where I somehow assisted in Ukraine’s transition to a more prosperous and democratic country. This vision began to materialize during my most recent trip to Kyiv with Creative Associates International!

Could you do a quick run-down on what is happening in Ukraine?

Maidan in Kyiv

Maidan in Kyiv

In the aftermath of EuroMaidan and Russia’s annexation of Crimea, a crisis ensued in Eastern Ukraine. Kremlin-backed separatists took over administrative buildings, tele-towers and an airport in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, and held illegal referendums on ‘self-rule’. In the meantime, up to 40,000 Russian troops have been stationed at the border to conduct ‘training exercises’. A slow response from the interim government and an under capacitated Ukrainian army allowed the crisis to escalate to a point where the interim President admitted he had no control over the situation. The oversimplified portrayal of the crisis in the international media as a division between ethnic Ukrainian and Russian speakers in the region masks a heavy Russian influence. The crisis is fueled by an informational war between pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian media, and strong financial and military backing of the separatists by Russia.

The last remnant of Maidan

The last remnant of Maidan

In the midst of this turbulent crisis, Ukraine managed to hold presidential elections on May 25th. Over half of the voters elected Petro Poroshenko (AKA the Chocolate King) as Ukraine’s next president. He immediately promised to hold parliamentary elections to continue the formation of a new government. Once in office, Poroshenko offered the citizens of Donbass (Donetsk and Lugansk) decentralization of power, security assurances, and guarantees that they will be able to freely use the Russian language. The situation in East Ukraine is very fluid, changing on an almost daily basis. Despite their late start and lack of resources, Anti-Terrorist Operations (ATO) are being conductedin Donbass to reclaim what has been taken over by the separatists. Clashes between ATO fighters and separatists have ravaged Donbass and displaced many people from their homes, creating a humanitarian crisis. Meanwhile in Kyiv, the former world heavyweight boxing champion and recently elected mayor, Vitaliy Klitchko, has successfully led the cleanup of Maidan, dismantling the barricades and makeshift tents. On the economic front, Ukraine is also struggling badly right now. A massive bailout package from the IMF, as well as, loan guarantees and aid from the US and Europe will help prop the economy up in the near future, but a painful road to recovery lies ahead. The resolution of simultaneous crises and the healing of a society scarred by violence represent some of the greatest challenges faced by Ukraine’s new leadership. Luckily, they can capitalize on the spirit of change generated by Maidan and leverage the energy and talent of a growing CSO sector in accomplishing these arduous tasks.

What was it like being in the U.S. while all the events (Euromaidan, Crimea, Donetsk People’s Republic) were happening? What were your thoughts and emotions?

Olga with colleagues from Creative Associates in Ukraine.

Olga with colleagues from Creative Associates in Ukraine.

The unpredictability and violent nature of the events that took place was extremely stressful. During Maidan, it was angering to watch Ukrainians (Berkut) shooting other Ukrainians (protesters). Central Kyiv was practically transformed into a war zone, so it was unbelievable to see dead bodies lying on the streets I walked down only months ago. Frequent calls with family members in Kyiv helped diffuse some of my worrying. At the same time, being stuck behind a computer screen, passively watching the events unfold before my eyes was very frustrating because I was infused with the desire to get involved and take action, but felt so far away! Apart from participating in efforts to lobby the American government to take some form of action and donating money, there wasn’t much else I could do to help from DC. Still, going to rallies in support of Maidan made me feel like I was doing my small part and engendered a sense of solidarity with the protesters and other Ukrainians, which was echoed by the diaspora around the world. As saddening as it was to learn about the deaths of the Maidan protesters, I have great admiration for their courage and the courage of those who fought alongside them or repeatedly came out to protest in the bitter cold winter temperatures. They helped topple a corrupt regime, proving the true power of the people.

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