Regarding the April 9 Bloomberg article “U.S. labels some eastern Ukraine protesters as ‘paid provocateurs’”: As a Ukrainian now living in Tokyo with my Japanese wife, I have been following events back home since the protests late last year against a corrupt government and the subsequent ouster of the former president.

I was in Ukraine from November until early February and attended several weekend rallies in Kiev’s central square.

It was heartbreaking when Russian troops occupied Crimea and staged a referendum to justify a de facto annexation.

At this point, it might seem hard to bring a fresh view toward comprehending what has happened in Ukraine. But the first thought I would like to share is that given the deep cultural links between Ukraine and Russia, with many historians calling Kiev the wellspring of Russian culture, it should be understood that the two countries differ in the perception of their identity and values.

Ukrainian patriotism, represented by the fight for freedom, is presented in Russian propaganda as aggressive nationalism/fascism that could justify Russian intervention.

I believe that our neighbors, willingly or inadvertently, have dismissed the key elements that cement a national culture. It is not merely the language of the people but rather the social conscience and the aspirations for freedom. These elements have always brought Ukrainian people to a spiritual rebirth after periods of oppression and devastation.

My second thought is that after centuries of living under the rule of others, most recently the Soviet empire, Ukrainians have been led to believe that they should willingly accept the rule of those who know better what’s best for them.
That’s why our neighbors feel so confident now in “advising” us on how we should shape our state, suggesting that we might not have enough prowess to do it on our own. As a result, the revived political elite of opportunists and conformists in Ukraine — who have proved so destructive over the years — appears difficult to deconstruct.

Russia has come to believe that Ukraine might never become more than quasi-independent under the constant threat of economic as well as military retaliation if we dare do something our neighbors don’t like. The revolution and the air of radical change in Ukraine bring to life not only aspirations for freedom but also negative extremes.

Instead of obsessing over the negative aspects, a true friend would demonstrate friendship and support for Ukraine by helping it sort through its problems to come out clean.

In such difficult times, it’s encouraging to see strong support from the world community. It’s also regrettable to observe our closest neighbors’ persistence in rejecting our choices.

As a Russian proverb says, genuine friendship is tested in hard times. Perhaps our turn to European values is explained by Russia’s espousal of values that have lost their appeal to the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians who otherwise would support continued unity with their brothers in Russia.


The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.