Project: The Colors of Revolution

Ukranians seek East, West balance
Political independence, trade sometimes at odds

by Thaddeus McCleary

A museum of Ukrainian history in Dnepropetrovsk.
A museum of Ukrainian history in Dnepropetrovsk.

During the political crisis in the 2004 presidential elections journalists were quick to establish a dichotomy between the two candidates by their western or eastern leanings. While the Ukrainian people saw differences between the two, they were much different than the international community found.

“Both candidates thought that European integration of business in Ukraine was necessary to our development and neither wanted to lose power by joining the European Union,” explained Dr. Anatolily Kovalev of the Odessa State Economics University. “Our candidates had different ideas as to interdependence with the European Union and Russia.”

While Ukraine relies heavily on both eastern and western nations for resources and trade, finding a balance between the two while remaining politically independent has become a major issue during elections. Ukraine’s growing cooperation with NATO was a point of division between the presidential candidates as Yushchenko supported further cooperation while Yanukovych saw too many concessions in the relationship.

Dr. Kovalev finds the issue very important to the future of Ukraine as the nations entry in NATO would “cause radical changes in the situation on post soviet space, redistribution of forces on the world arena, transformation determining changes in overall architecture of security and reevaluation of military priorities.”

A memorial to the Ukrainian citizens harmed by Joseph  Stalin’s forced famines in the Soviet Ukrainian Republic.
A memorial to the Ukrainian citizens harmed by Joseph
Stalin’s forced famines in the Soviet Ukrainian Republic. 

The history of Ukraine is marked by their acquisition by foreign empires, each repressing distinctive features of Ukrainian culture and imposing a false identity on the population. Ukraine’s involvement in the USSR led to the loss of distinction both at home and abroad. “The international community does not know that the baroque composers Berezovsky and Bortnyansky were Ukrainian…they were Russians, like all people living in the USSR,” writes Ostap Kryvdyk.

Since Ukraine’s independence Ukrainian nationalism has been reinstated and explored both institutionally and privately. Former Soviet memorials have been changed to reflect the involvement of Ukrainian citizens. A Ukrainian historical museum has been built in the eastern city of Dnepropetrovsk featuring artifacts from prehistory to modern history. One exhibit highlights Ukraine’s oppression during the Soviet Union, featuring pictures of all of the Ukrainian citizens who were executed without trial. In front of the Foreign Ministry building in Kyiv a memorial has been constructed to the tragedy of Joseph Stalin’s forced famines in Ukraine in the 1920’s and 30’s.

Ukraine’s deep folk art tradition is gaining public attention after being taken underground during the Soviet Union. One painter, Fedir Panko, has opened an old school house to showcase his art and also train young artists in the folk tradition of Petrykivka paiting. His works are distinctly Ukrainian, featuring symbols of “Mother Ukraine” and honoring the harvest that the land brings to the people of Ukraine. Other handmade items such as woodcarvings and pysanky (decorated eggs) can be found in homes and businesses throughout Ukraine.

While remaining open to the international community’s support in a better nation, Ukraine is trying to discover what ‘better’ means. Refusing to accept both Russia and the European Union’s plan is perhaps the greatest step Ukraine has taken to secure their own cultural, political, and economic identity after centuries of repression.