Revolution and Russian aggression: Karyna Balabtako

Gabriel Pogrund talks to the president of UCL’s unofficial Ukrainian society

interview politics ucl ukraine

The anti-protest laws of the Yanukovych presidency meant that UCL Economics and Geography student Karyna was forced to change her name for ‘safety reasons’. Since his removal from office, Ukraine has taken steps towards integration with Europe with elections planned for May this year.

In recent weeks Putin has pooh-poohed the party, however, as he seeks to incorporate the province of Crimea into the Russian Federation. This has unravelled into a worrying standoff between Russia and the West, which last week threatened war in 21st century Europe and remains unresolved. 

Karyna runs UCL’s unofficial Ukranian Society. I asked for her thoughts on the recent succession of events in Ukraine, and where she believes they’re likely headed.

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Tab: First things first – what’s your connection to Ukraine? 

KI was born in South Eastern Ukraine in a town called Zaporozye and then lived in Crimea for 5 years…after which I moved to Kiev. You can understand how strongly I feel that Ukraine should stay united, that its borders are indisputable and that talking about Crimea separating from Ukrainian state is unacceptable.

Tab: Describe the experience of watching a revolution unfolding at home. 

K: One word – unbearable. Why? Because it was so hard staying here in London and watching my fellow Ukrainians fighting for our rights and our freedom and realising that you can’t be there to support them…

Nevertheless, we felt so incredibly proud watching people of Ukraine staying united against the dictatorship. I realised how lucky I am to be part of the nation where people live by the well-famous motto ‘one for all, all for one’.As soon as I got back home for a christmas holiday I went straight to Maidan in order to bring some food supplies…it was one of those  little things me and millions of other Ukrainians could do to support the fighters for the future of the country.

( Flickr: Jedimentat44)

Putin’s actions have been widely condemned in the West ( Flickr: Jedimentat44)

Tab: How did you feel watching the government responding to the Euromaidan protests violently?

K: I remember that day when the first victim was killed: Ukrainians killing Ukrainians? I remember  crying as I was watched the live stream from Kiev. The only people I blame for those we have lost is the ex-government who should have put their ambitions away and left their positions. Instead, they let blood spill in the streets of the capital.

Tab: Is there a resolution to the Crimea crisis with Russia?

K: The tension between Russia and Ukraine is ridiculous. The main Russian news channels are being very aggressive towards Ukrainian activists calling them fascists and criminals who hate anything Russian. The information warfare might be a method to justify the Crimean invasion.  

I would like to send a message to any Russian who might be reading this: Ukrainians, love you with all our hearts and we are not blaming you for the actions of your government. Let’s resist helping the politicians trying to ignite a feud between the brother nations.

Tab: Is there any justification for the referendum on joining the Russian Federation being proposed in Crimean parliament?

I strongly believe that unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine is unacceptable. Russia is breaching many of the international law and  has shown no respect for Ukrainian sovereignty. Imagine Turkey invading Germany to protect the rights of its 3 millions Turks or Mexico invading Texas to defend Mexicans.

Moreover Russia is pretending to be protecting its citizens in Crimea but there is no threat to them in Crimea.

I still have a lot of friends living there who have confirmed that peninsula has been peaceful and quiet. Russian troops are unwelcomed by majority of Ukrainians and should leave immediately.