Talk of War: War was the talk over many dinner tables this summer. Rumors and fears were heavy in the summertime air, tension and concern were evident. It was surreal in some ways to be in a country with civil war and speculation of a Russian invasion. We spoke often to friends and local people and heard their concerns and worry about draft notices, future prospects, a failing economy, worthless currency, and the dismemberment of Ukraine. People would speak openly about how with a house, farm, and family they have nowhere to go and they would not leave if a full scale war happened. Listening to people, over coffee, speak openly about neighbors being drafted into the army and wondering aloud who would be next to receive their draft notice made this conflict a personal reality. In a globalized, open border, post-Cold War Europe many seem to think war on European soil is an archaic idea, not possible in today’s modern technical world. An astute study of Eastern Europe history and human nature would tell a different story and should not leave one surprised by this current conflict. The words of Solomon ring true once again, that there is nothing new under the sun.
Daily life in Transcarpathia: Ukraine has been all over the news and headlines and many ask if it is safe in Ukraine and what is it like. Militarily speaking, all is quiet in western Ukraine. For us and the people we live with and work with, life goes on. All the villages and cities of western Ukraine are quite peaceful and quiet. We are thankful for this; in that regard the conflict in Ukraine seems as though it is a long distance away. Ukraine (233,000 square miles) is a big country; it is roughly the size of Texas (262,000 square miles). The two fighting hot spots are Donetsk (about 870 miles to the east from where we live in Ukraine) and Luhans’ka (about 945 miles from us). In comparison Cologne, in western Germany is 905 miles to the west and Luxemburg is 930 miles to the west. We are a long way from the action. This is not to say the effects of the war in the east cannot be felt in the western part of Ukraine. The most significant effects to western Ukraine have been economic. The Ukrainian Hryvnia (Ukrainian currency) fell 50% in value against the dollar and Euro last spring. It has leveled out, but it remains 50% below what it was last year. Because of the free falling currency, many people are spending their money as fast as they can before it becomes worthless. Some stores that sell expensive items such as appliances will only accept payment in the form of dollars. The unemployment rate was already high but now it is even higher as construction projects across the country have more or less come to a halt. Many people in western Ukraine travel to other parts of Ukraine for work. The local currency was freefalling and jobs are scarce, but yet natural gas coming from Russia and all other goods are increasing in price greatly. Combining all of these factors, people all over the country have great concern about the economy.
The Military Draft: The other big thing to affect western Ukraine is that many men are being drafted into the army. Currently the military is only drafting people who were in the army in the past; the draft age is 18-60. If Russia invades, I expect more people to be drafted. The Hungarians that we live among do not really feel as though this is their fight. They have no historical ties to Ukraine (they only became a part of Ukraine/USSR in 1945, many do not speak Ukrainian, and they do not relate to true Ukrainian culture. There have been wide scale protests against the war and the draft among Hungarian minorities in western Ukraine. Mothers and wives have been blocking roads and protesting the military draft all over Transcarpathia. Anti-war protests and war fatigue seem to be on the rise all over the country. There is great mistrust of the new Ukrainian government. Some believe that the war is only about protecting business and mining interests that Ukrainian leaders have in eastern Ukraine. Some even believe that there are those in the Ukraine government who are purposely trying to prolong the conflict because their business and factories are getting rich making weapons and military supplies.
Putin: Western Ukraine, as I mentioned, never belonged to the Russians until 1945, so most do not think a Russian invasion would include western Ukraine. Most believe Putin, if he invades, will only invade eastern Ukraine due to its historically Russian significance and culture. They do not believe that Putin has ambitions for western Ukraine which was never historically been part of the Russian sphere of influence. Western Ukraine was historically part of Hungary and Poland, and is today mostly populated by ethnic Ukrainians, most of whom are very nationalistic and anti- Russian. Interestingly, one prominent Russian politician sent a secret letter to the Polish, Romanian, and Hungarian governments offering to split up Ukraine so that everyone could have their piece of the pie back. It was declined, but people are worried about Ukraine getting carved up further.
Corrupt Politics: If the people living by us had to choose they would probably side with the Ukraine government and not the separatists. Their husbands and sons are fighting the Russian separatists, so I guess for that reason alone they are against the separatists. But there is a lot of mistrust of the new government. People say that all members of government are rich; they became rich through the black market, shady business deals and various illegal means. Corruption is rampant and all members of government seem to have advanced to where they are through corrupt means. We hope they are having genuine changes of heart, but most people believe nothing will change after the war and that corruption will continue to plague the country and the government and leaders will just continue to illegally enrich themselves at the expense of the people.
“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”