The world has heard the opinions of Ukrainians, either actively protesting in Kiev’s Majdan or supporting the movement of Ukraine towards the EU. There were interviews with Russians and footage of them protesting against what Vladimir Putin has called the current “fascist” government in Ukraine – those who overthrew president Viktor Yanukovych after his troops opened fire on unarmed demonstrators. But Ukrainian or Russian expat students living in Europe, such as Mykola Lysenko, Valentin Myakishev and Lilly Persina, see the conflict through a different prism.In the past months Ukraine as well as Europe has been witness to dramatic change as Ukrainians expressed their dissatisfaction with the Yanukovych government by continuous demonstrations, strikes and riots in the center of Kiev and other large cities. Soon after which came the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea and now an escalating conflict in eastern Ukraine.Lysenko, a Ukrainian student living and studying in Canterbury, UK, supports the pro EU government and wishes for a stronger and united Europe. Even though he “loves” Ukraine, he feels “more secure” in Europe and says, “I live here, my friends live here, the standard of living is much higher and justice actually works here.”Some 31 percent of all foreigners staying for over 90 days in the Czech Republic are Ukrainians, a figure that may show similar desires among Ukrainians for a better life.Russians, who are also a large minority in the European Union, are often portrayed in media as pro-annexation and sympathetic to the claim that Ukraine has been over-run by nationalists and fascists. But not all Russians are so susceptible to the propaganda machine.Europe in general is portrayed as corrupt and morally twisted in Putin’s rhetoric but Russian Lilly Persina’s opinion on the continent is that she enjoys living here “much more than in Russia.” She also believes that Russia should join the European Union in supporting free trade.
Even though this opinion is shared by a minority in Russia, she is hardly alone.
But the vast majority of Russians seem to support Putin’s actions with his popularity reaching to 80 percent in late March. The more common opinion is held by Valentin Myakishev, a Russian student who strongly supports the annexation of Crimea, and believes the descriptions of Ukraine’s current leaders as fascists. “I don’t see anything wrong about people choosing where they want to belong to,” he says.
Both pro-Russian and pro-European opinions are heard among Russians and Ukrainians as the situation escalates toward open conflict.
With the Ukrainian army recently moving east in anti-terrorist operations to regain control of eastern regions, the divide in beliefs will not be narrowing any time soon.