Northland Residents with Ukraine Connections React to Russia Invasion

DULUTH, Minn. –

The events in Ukraine since late Wednesday evening have people who have connections to the country concerned about its future, and the current health and safety of people they know and love.

“(Wednesday) night it was horrible,” says Liliya Kacharova, a lab chemistry professor at the College of St. Scholastica and chemistry teacher at Lake Superior College, “because we all hoped that the war would never start, even that we knew that Russia was preparing, but we still have hope.  Like everyone was shocked.”

Kacharova has her parents, brothers, cousins, aunts, in-laws, and friends who live in the country.  After losing touch with them Wednesday night, she was able to hear from them Thursday and found out they are safe.  Their moods are mixed about how this will all end.  “Some people are really brave, that they are sure that Ukraine will win.  Some are trying to move, especially from big cities, to some smaller place or just move to Poland or Spain, somewhere.  No panic; everything is controlled. Government is working, so, so far it’s not the worst.”

Kacharova has heard from some of her Russian friends who have apologized for the actions taken by President Vladimir Putin.  “I just can see in the news the Russian people are starting to protest against the war with Ukraine, so at least they are doing something.  But (they say), I don’t know what to tell you so just stay with us because people are very thankful in Ukraine for all the support.  So that’s important for them.”

Natalie Belskydenzler, an assistance professor of history at UMD, says her parents and one grandparent are from Ukraine, and talked to them Thursday after the invasion began.  Overall, she and others are surprised the sabre rattling actually led to action.  “We’ve seen the aggression over the past weeks, and we would in some ways kind of prepared for it.  But even still seeing that footage (Wednesday) night people said ‘I thought I was ready.  I knew this was a possibility, but I didn’t think it would hit me quite so hard.’”

Belskydenzler says the justification Putin is using for the invasion has been in the works over the past decade as he tries to rewrite history, even literally writing essays to justify his beliefs about Ukraine.  “The fact that Putin does that tells us just how important he thinks it is to put forward this narrative of history, and this is something that he’s been doing for quite some time.” She sees two narratives:

The first is falsely claiming Russia created Ukraine when the USSR was formed back in the early 20th century, and thus Russia can end its existence by annexing it back.  Belskydenzler says while the two nations have similarities, Ukraine nationality that is different from Russia nationality has been around long before this and can justify having its own nation state.  “And it is also an extremely foreboding narrative if we think about the potential to expand that narrative to other parts of the post-Soviet space; if Putin is trying to recreate the borders of the Russian empire before the First World War”

The second is the claim that Russia is trying to de-Nazify Ukraine, believing that because several leaders back during World War Two supported the Nazi Party, the national government today is Nazi-like and needs to be eradicated.  “This is a very powerful tool in Russia,” says Belskydenzler, “where the legacy of the Second World War is very strong, and people derive a lot of pride from Russia’s role in the victory over Hitler.  And this is a powerful tool to kind of explain to people and to justify to people these aggressive actions on the part of the Russian regime.”

Overall, both professors are not sure what will happen next.  “It’s not clear what the end game is, and how this is going to play out” says Belskydenzler.  “It seems a huge risk on Putin’s part, and even though he is an aggressive and violent dictator, it seems poorly thought out and an irrational move, but that’s where we are at.”

Categories: Community, News – Latest News, Video