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February 6, 2014

The Anyion: Far from home

I found out about the start of the Ukrainian protests from the BBC. During my daily phone conversation with my parents, we did not talk about our home country. My grandmother, who still lives in Ukraine, either deliberately or unconsciously avoided mentioning her hundreds of thousands of dissatisfied countrymen during our chats. I received no Skype call from the few friends I still have in Ukraine. The many family friends we have in Kiev were mum.

I was expecting this reluctance to share information; talking about politics in Ukraine is a ticking time bomb. Unlike in the U.S., the reluctance is more than just unwillingness to engage in a conversation that may turn into an uncomfortable disagreement. Discussing the government in Ukraine brings a sense of hopelessness, almost disgust. Corruption, vote rigging, inefficiency, and ignoring both democratic means and the people’s desires make for an unpleasant conversation for the Ukrainian people—one that they’re tired of. So I was expecting an aversion to the topic of the protests, but I was not expecting deafening silence.

Once the silence stopped being surprising, I resigned myself, somewhat shamefully, to reading CNN and BBC articles about my own home country. Once a subject of which I had an insider’s knowledge, I was now no better a source than anybody else. When one of my friends genuinely asked me what my family thinks of the protests, I felt embarrassed to reply generically and try and make it sound like my family and I had actually talked about the issue.

My lack of knowledge makes it difficult to figure out whom I truly support: the established, “Russia’s pet” government, or the protesters, who are an amalgamation of everybody from criminals to the greatest boxer-turned-political-activist in Ukraine. I think that I probably shouldn’t like the current government, but that’s because I’ve picked up some dissatisfied rumblings from my grandmother on the subject, not because I’ve done research, talked to people, and formed my own opinion about the matter. While I am glad that the protesters of Ukraine are forcefully standing up for something, I don’t know if that something is going to lead to anything but more turmoil, least of all an improved government, new pro-democratic laws, or a closer alliance with the E.U. Just because a group of people is against an effectively bad government doesn’t mean that the group’s methods or intentions will result in a Ukraine that’s more aligned with the people’s desires than the current one.

I’m sure that I’m not alone in my frustration. Anybody with family or friends in the world’s problem areas—Syria, South Sudan, Russia (yes, Russia), Mauritania, China (this list is not nearly comprehensive)—might be struggling with the same lack of information about the true mood and state of the people there. Government screw-ups, tragedies, protests, scandals, and violence are usually the first gossip amongst the people, the subjects that stir the blood most quickly. Not having access to that basic level of information is a distancing experience. For those struggling to know what’s going on in your own home countries, I wish you the very best of luck. Meanwhile, I will read the news and talk to my grandmother, all the while hoping my fellow Ukrainians forge themselves a better government and a better life.

Anya Marchenko is the blogger behind The Anyion. She is a first-year in the College. 

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