Crimea River: Caring About Ukraine

When I found out my ancestors were from Ukraine, I was shocked. Maybe a little embarrassed. We had always been told we were Polish. That was bad enough!Remember Dumb Polack jokes? It took like 100 Poles to change a lightbulb. How many Ukrainians did it take?


Later I learned the truth was even more frightening than being Polish or Ukrainian. We were actually from Galicia–a country that doesn’t exist anymore. The idea of being from Nowhere weakened my already poorly developing identity.

Being rootless is nothing new for a Jew, but I decided that I was curious enough about my ancestry to track down the exact town Sarah and Harry Kessler came from. The town is called Kolomyya, and no one knew how to spell it, or even where it was.

Google told me Galicia lasted from 1772 to 1918 and was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After the two world wars, Poland gobbled up the Western half of Galicia and the Ukraine took the Eastern half. That bit of confusion might be why we thought we were Polish. We were never Polish or Ukrainian, but that’s besides the point.

an old photo of Kolomyya

Josh and I made an epic trip out there. Starting in Gdansk, Poland, we made our way to tourist-friendly Krakow, the former capital of Western Galicia. Oh– Auschwitz, also in Galicia. Then we crossed the Polish-Ukrainian border near a town a friend of mine’s family was from (Przemyśl), and ended up in the former capital of Eastern Galicia, now a delightful Ukrainian town, Lviv. From Lviv, we headed to Kolomyya.



When Harry and Sarah lived there, half of Kolomyya’s population was Jewish. That’s right, half!
There is a living synagogue in Kolomyya now, but most traces of Jewish people—including my own–have been erased. Yet through this grim encounter with the past, I learned that Ukraine has a promising present. I came to learn about my family, and instead learned about a country that I had previously written off just like you probably have. I learned what it means to be Ukrainian. And because I came to love Ukraine, I came to care deeply about what is going on there now.


All that took place in the western half of Ukraine you might have heard about on the news—the part that hates Russia. But we also visited parts that were more Russian in character like the capital, Kiev, and charming Odessa, a town that has a vibrant Jewish community even now. And of course, the Crimean Peninsula.



You understand why I care about the Crimea personally, but you’re probably wondering why the Crimea matters to you. For one, Crimea is integral to the stability of the region, and stability in the world always affects you personally whether you realize it or not (butterfly effect). Ukraine needs Crimea. Its economy would falter without it, and this would suck for a lot of people. In fact, Khrushchev bequeathed the Crimea to the Ukraine specifically to boost the economy of the Ukraine. If Ukraine loses Crimea, it is highly likely Eastern Ukraine could be next. Soured relations with Russia could have several ramifications, including motivating Ukraine to foment tensions throughout the Caucasus in an attempt to balance power. Ukrainian annoyance with an overbearing Russia has already led to a strengthening of the racist far-right in Ukrainian politics, which will worsen if Crimea is lost.

Switching to strictly legal terms, the Crimea has belonged to the Ukraine since 1954 via contract with Russia.

I’ve heard it argued that Russians in Crimea want assistance and liberation. This is the most preposterous claim of all. The people who say this are so dumb and idiotic; they are making me resort to name calling because their claims defy all logic, reason, and intelligence. If there is anyone who has a legitimate political gripe in Crimea, it would be Ukrainians and Tatars. Crimea is the tyranny of the majority in action. The Russians are the people in power, socially, politically, and economically so this whole business about “helping” them is an outright farce. It’s a manufactured crisis.

We seem to have forgotten that right before this happened the Ukrainian Prime Minister came under fire for dissing the EU and instead pledging allegiance to Russia. The corruption scandal led to the deaths of nearly a hundred protesters. Ukrainian Prime Minister was forced to resign, and the Crimea thing is a response to that.

Russians are great at chess. In this case, they play to amass greater power and control in the region, and Russia knows the Crimea is a valuable strip of land. Just look at it on the map. It’s all about the water.

Russian military ships, Sebastopol

So let’s use an analogy. Quebec will likely have another separatist referendum soon. The Crimean peninsula operates autonomously just like Quebec does in Canada. The Russians in the Crimea are like the Francophone Quebecois. Using this analogy, France would be like Russia: the linguistic and cultural motherland of the separatists. Does this mean that France should send special forces into Quebec to aid the separatists? Can you imagine a Canada without Quebec? And what about the Quebecois that don’t vote PQ, don’t they count?

Please think twice if you are one of those who regard Russia’s actions as being legitimate in any way. If an ad hominem helps, just recall the fact that Russia is on Assad’s side.

The Crimea must remain part of the Ukraine for cultural, economic, and political reasons. I just hope the Russians will peacefully withdraw their claims, and that Ukraine can learn how to develop a stronger economy and national identity within the rubric of multiculturalism rather than extreme nationalism. If multiculturalism can become the nation’s strength, it can become a beacon of hope that other countries can follow.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. kundatrade says:

    A good heartfelt post but don't expect Russia to back down from their desire to keep them under its thumb. There's too much at stake to let them back away from this.
    It's a very complex situation which has no easy solutions…


  2. I don't expect them to, but I still hope.


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