How are Ukrainian Seniors Affected Right Now?

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As seniors age, their ties to family and culture become even more important. But when issues arise that threaten to sever those ties, such as what’s currently happening in Ukraine, seniors arrive at a crossroads where they have to decide: do they ignore increasing political strife and violence to hold onto what they’ve grown up with, or do they join the younger generation in fighting for something else?

Why is Ukraine so Violent Right Now?

Last November, the President, Viktor Yanukovych, broke a promise to sign a trade deal with the European Union, and instead signed with Russia. To get a sense of how strongly the citizens reacted to this, just remember President Obama’s promise to close Guantanamo Bay within a year and then reneging on that. Yanukovych’s actions were taken as a sign of broken trust and disregard for Ukrainians’ wishes, even though the details are more complicated than that (essentially, Yanukovych’s fear of Russian retaliation was stronger than his desire to move in a more modern direction with the EU.

Why is Russia So Interested in Ukraine?

Before 1991‐before the country gained independence—Ukraine was still a Soviet State, sort of like the opposite with American states joining in. It’s a fairly sizeable country by European standards (roughly the same size as Texas)—it’s actually the largest country in Europe—and has a population of about 46 million (more than any U.S. state). At one time, it was known as “The Bread Basket of Europe” for its abundance of wheat, and continues to be valued today for its size, location, and ally-ambivalence. It’s as vital as Scotland is to England: not terribly important out of context, but dangerous in the wrong hands.

How Do Ukrainians Feel?

The country can be divided into thirds to determine where loyalties lay: the east is tied to Russia, the west to Europe, and the center sort of up in the air, but leaning a bit to the west. Languages can also be divided like this, with Russian spoken in the east and Ukrainian in west, but there tends to be more Russian spoken in the center, even though it’s west-leaning.

In terms of demographics, seniors tend to be more aligned with the east and Russia, while younger Ukrainians head for points west. It’s this push-and-pull between history and modernity, young and old, and Russian and Ukrainian that’s contributed to a lot of tension. Seniors are hesitant to give up what they’ve always known, while the young generation aches for something different and new.

Possible Solutions?

Greatly simplifying the matter, there are three possible outcomes for Ukraine:

  • 1. Join Russia: Ukraine can keep going the way it is currently, and decide to strengthen its Soviet ties rather than slowly break them. This is an interesting possibility because a) Yanukovych‐who’s since fled the capital of Kyiv and has a warrant for his arrest out—was pursuing this option, b) it’s not very popular with the young men and women, especially since they’ve captured Independence Square away from the police, and c) Russia’s interest in Ukraine is much stronger than Obama’s interest in the EU gaining another country.
  • 2. Join the EU: This seems like the inevitable path, given how strongly the younger generation has been fighting for it. While seniors may be hesitant to give up the iron blanket of Russia in exchange for hard economic and energy reforms required by the EU.
  • 3. Split in Half: Like East and West Germany from the ’60s to the ’80s, Ukraine could theoretically be split in half, too. Germany’s a good analogy to use because like Ukraine, it—East Germany—had close ties to the Soviet Union. What ended up happening, and what could likely happen to Ukraine, is the east becomes oppressed by Russia, while the west is a more liberal haven where citizens flee to. Another problem with this scenario is there’s no neat geographical divide that could split the country in half the way Germany could.

Ukrainian seniors sacrificed a lot before independence in 1991 and understood that it would take several generations to build up the country to its potential. It also means the older generations have to suffer without seeing the effects of their efforts, while younger generations may not be as patient and might want to move elsewhere.