My name is Anna and I am from Ukraine. Yes, that Ukraine that you have most likely seen or heard of in the news: the one that had a Revolution followed by the annexation of Crimea and war in the East; the one where MH-17 crashed; or the one that has just elected a comedian as its future president. An entertaining country to observe I believe, although not so entertaining to live in.
I view myself as Ukrainian. I was born as one and I don’t think I would give it up for something else in the future. However, in the past few weeks I have questioned the idea of my citizenship more than I have throughout the rest of my life.
Recent developments, in the form of presidential elections and Russian foreign policy make me pose a dreadful question, that I would be afraid to ask out loud:
By the time I get back, will I have a home to return to?
To an outsider it might seem that I’m simply exaggerating. Democratic change of a political power is something that many states can only dream about, and Russia is known for intimidating others—nothing new for now.
First of all, in about a month my country is going to be headed by Volodymyr Zelensky — Ukraine’s number one comedian and a person whose main experience in politics is playing the fictional President of Ukraine. When I first heard that he was running for office, I thought to myself that at least these elections will be fun. But very soon I found out how wrong I was to assume so.
Zelensky’s campaign was never clearly explained to the public. During the presidential debate, the time which could have been used to present his future aims and goals, was instead spent attacking his rival candidate: the current president. Accusations of not being able to handle the situation in the Eastern Ukraine, of causing many casualties and mismanaging the economic crisis bombarded the incumbent. In times like this, Zelensky should be reminded who our real enemy is.
Later, the comedian spoke to his supporters’ emotions by kneeling on stage as a sign of respect for the deceased soldiers and their families:
“I am now ready to kneel in front of every single mother, that never got to see her son again. I am ready to kneel in front of every single child, that never got to see his or her father again. I am ready to kneel right this moment in front of every wife, that never got to see her husband again. And I urge you to do so too.”
Moreover, he failed to respond to why he hid from military conscription, adding to the atmosphere of an extravagant show, rather than a political debate of substance.
His approach, which got him so many votes, is based on the idea that he is a new face in politics. On one hand it is praiseworthy, as Ukrainians are tired of seeing the same candidates from the previous regime on the ballots. However, it also means that despite having no experience whatsoever, Zelensky is aiming for the highest ruling position.
In a country where war has been going on for about 5 years, with a currency vulnerable to outside investments and loans, and currently in the process of European integration constantly being disturbed by one not so friendly neighbour: people decided to choose a person least qualified to handle the situation. And the most outrageous part of all of this is that Zelensky said that he would learn how to be a president during his term. Like the pilot of a plane that you boarded telling you that he will learn how to land whilst flying.
As a counter argument, a lot of voters compare him to Ronald Reagan, a former Hollywood actor, who became the President of the United States in the 1980s. If he could be a president, why can’t Zelensky?
People overlook the fact that Reagan actually served as a governor of California years before he became the president and had a well-established Republican party behind him, with senior MPs ready to provide their expertise.
Zelensky’s party, ‘Servant of the People’, has only been officially registered since March 2018. Even after the elections, the general public has no clue about the full list of proposed candidates or even what its leader looks like (we have his name, but even details like his face have not been revealed to the public). There is no proper image of the head of the party which is predicted to win over half of the seats in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
So apart from having a future president with an unclear campaign, we are also electing a Parliament of don’t know who’s. If we take into account Zelensky’s approach that officials in the upcoming government should be new to politics, we could assume that this also applies to the members of Parliament. Imagine your country being led by a force of unprepared, unexperienced, brand new politicians, learning as they go.
In the created political uncertainty, one actor decided to take a chance. Two weeks ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that residents of the occupied Donbas region in the East of Ukraine would be able to get Russian passports under a simplified procedure.
This is the red siren, pleading for Zelensky and his team to take proper action or at least be prepared to react, because the chain reaction that could follow Putin’s decree might be fatal. It has already alarmed many influential Ukrainians, pushing them to publish on social media in an attempt to spread awareness and demonstrate the implications of such actions.
To put it simply, granting Russian citizenship to people in the self-proclaimed republics is a way to legitimize an open military intervention in Donbas. The logic behind this assumption is very straight-forward: the government has the obligation to protect its own citizens, and if those citizens are being threatened, it must take proper actions. Hence, an accidental (or even not so accidental) death of a newly Russian citizen in the occupied territory of Ukraine would be a handy excuse for officially crossing the border to ‘protect the infringed Russian minority’.
This would be the annexation of Crimea 2.0. Having seen Russia get away with invading and occupying indefinitely part of a foreign country on the basis of a clearly falsified and unconstitutional referendum, it would not be a surprise if a scenario more acceptable on the international level would unfold in the Donbas region, under the guise of defending individuals with Russian passports.
What is going to happen in the next few months? I hope that my future president will prove my fears wrong, but I feel uneasy thinking about these questions.
Will I have a home to return to?