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How Ukrainians View This Perilous Moment

The Daily

The New York Times

News, Daily News

4.597.8K Ratings

🗓️ 15 February 2022

⏱️ 34 minutes

🧾️ Download transcript


Officials in the United States say that Russia could invade Ukraine as early as this week, which raises the question: Should an attack come, how will the Ukrainian people respond? The answer may be complicated. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, there has been a real push and pull between Russia and the West inside Ukraine. We hear about how Ukrainians are viewing the threat. Guest: Michael Schwirtz, an investigative reporter with The New York Times.

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From the New York Times, I'm Sabrina Tavernici. This is The Daily.


Today, US officials say that Russia could invade Ukraine as early as this week.


My colleague, Michael Schwartz, traveled through Ukraine to understand how Ukrainians are making sense of this perilous moment.


It's Tuesday, February 15th.


So Mike, you've been in Ukraine for a couple of weeks now. Tell me what it looks like. What does it feel like there right now?


I arrived in Kiev at the beginning of January and there's all this noise about military build-up and planning for war.


And you get there and nothing is happening.


The streets were quiet. There's no military vehicles on the street, no soldiers. People weren't lined up at ATMs taking out money or stocking up on groceries.


And as I do when I arrive in a new place for a story, I went out and took a walk around town. One place you go when you arrive in Kiev and you want to take the pulse of what is going on in the city is independent square where everybody gathers.


Any time something big is going on in the country.


And when I got there, it was fairly empty, but I took a walk up the hill behind the square and I happened upon a small wooden chapel and there is this black steel and granite monument with these kind of spectral faces taken from real-life photos of individuals with their names, their ages, and the cities where they came from.


And this is the monument to what Ukrainians call the Heavenly Hundred. It's where individuals who were killed in a heavy shootout over several days in Kiev in 2014 during an uprising that the Ukrainians have come to refer as the Revolution of Dignity.


And what is the Revolution of Dignity? The Revolution of Dignity started actually in the fall of 2013. Ukraine was set to sign an association agreement with the European Union, a trade agreement that would have locked the country in to a kind of Western course.


But under pressure from Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, the president of Ukraine at the time, backed out of the deal. And on its face, it seemed like a pretty minor thing, but Ukrainians took this to be a major betrayal by Ukraine's Kremlin-backed government and poured into the streets to express their displeasure in what became a months-long occupation of this square independent square in central Kiev.


And so, after months of protest in which these protests refuse to leave the square in which the government is slowly losing its grip on the situation, the government ordered its riot police forces to open fire on the crowd to the effort to disperse them killing 100-plus people.


And this was really an inflection point in Ukraine's history because shortly after this, the protesters were able to drive the Kremlin-backed government out of Kiev and install a new government.


And this was a point that Ukrainians looked back on with a great deal of pride that they were able to do the force of numbers, through the force of their own will, overturn what seemed to be an inevitability that Moscow would continue to have a say over the affairs of the country, they were able to stand up and put a stop to it at the cost of these hundred lives.


So this memorial has become a pilgrimage site for people all around Ukraine. And as I came up to inspect this memorial, there were two elderly women there in headscarves cleaning up the site.


And I approached them and asked them to describe what it is that the memorial stood for. And one of them turned to me and said, well, this is a memorial for the heroes of Ukraine.


She is saying that every time one of the individuals who died during the uprising in 2014 has a birthday, she hangs their photos on a little holder here in rings of bell.


So Mike, it sounds like this is very much a wound that's still alive. This was a real moment in Ukrainian society, like it changed something.


I think it changed everything. It was such a shock for people to witness their own government firing on children and elderly people and their own citizens, these people who came out to express their dissatisfaction.


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