On March 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin completed his country’s annexation of Crimea. To many students, the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine seems far away, but to some, the political tensions are very close to home.
Kseniia Yelisieieva, an international student from Dzhamkoy Crimea, said that she sometimes gets frustrated about being so far away from home at this time.
“Of course, at this point in time, I wish I could be home so I can figure it out, and I can actually understand what’s going on,” she said. “I hear so many opinions. I don’t see with my own eyes what’s going on, so I cannot tell.”
Even thousands of miles from Crimea, different opinions have arisen regarding the United States’ appropriate response.
“There have to be economic sanctions, and there has to be diplomatic isolation,” junior Lesyk Voznyuk said.
Though he has lived in Sioux Falls for the last 14 years, Voznyuk was born in Ukraine and continues to have strong opinions regarding Ukranian and Russian relations, particularly about the recent Crimean annexation.
“It’s completely illegal,” he said. “There’s no foundation for it whatsoever.”
Earlier this month, an overwhelming majority of Crimean people voted in favor of a referendum electing to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. According to Voznyuk, questions have been raised about the legitimacy of the referendum vote.
“It’s a bit suspicious to say the least,” he said. “Not to mention that it was done with no preparation and in the presence of an occupying army.”
According to Yelisieieva, many Crimeans she knows are “really happy” about the results of the referendum and the move to Russia.
“I know that in the capital of Crimea, they had a huge celebration,” she said.
While many Crimeans may be happy about the results, others remain skeptical of the circumstances surrounding the referendum.
“At some level, Russians in Crimea clearly wanted to go back to Russia,” government professor Joseph Dondelinger said. “But it was a referendum that nonetheless was done under the threat of a gun … so it clearly violated the rights of that country to maintain its territorial integrity. And that’s a very dangerous precedent to set.”
In order to fully comprehend the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, one must first understand the history of the Soviet Union and Putin’s political goals of reunification.
“Putin operates in a manner and in a world that these people [European politicians/elites and President Obama] could not understand, and now they’re faced with the reality of the consequences if Putin continues to get his way,” Dondelinger said.
Even students as far away geographically from Russia as Sioux Falls recognize the gravity of possible effects resulting from the current unrest.
“The things that are at stake are nuclear peace in the world, the U.S. diplomatic reputation [and] the strength of our word on the world stage,” Voznyuk said. “This is a lot bigger than just Russia taking over part of Ukraine.”