I’ve been thinking about Ukrainians I have known and learned from. I went to Ukraine to report near the end of 2019. I wanted to ask a question (among others): How does it feel to be swept up in an American political drama? President Trump was on the verge of his first impeachment, for his dealings with the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, and his statements on the matter. Most of the Ukrainians I talked with had one response: Frankly, we have problems of our own — trying to fend off Putin’s Russia, which is making war against us in the east. About 13,000 people have been killed so far. We need help. Our country is in danger, and so is the region, more broadly.
(For the report I wrote — “Ukraine and Us” — go here.)
In recent weeks, I have talked with Myroslava Luzina, a political analyst and consultant in Kyiv. I have also talked with Kateryna Yushchenko (and written a profile of her, too). She is a former first lady of Ukraine, and an alumna of the Reagan White House. Her husband, Viktor Yushchenko, survived a murder attempt by Russian agents.
I would now like to go back to 2016, however — when I talked with Myroslava Gongadze. At the time, she was head of the Ukrainian service of the Voice of America. Today she is VOA’s Eastern Europe chief.
“Mrs. Gongadze,” I wrote, “was born Myroslava Petryshyn in 1972. Her birthplace was Berezhany, in western Ukraine.” Let me quote some more.
In due course, she met Georgiy Gongadze, a muckraking journalist and filmmaker. As his name suggests, his father was Georgian. His mother was Ukrainian. He and Myroslava worked together, and they married in 1995. They were a beautiful, admirable couple. In 1997, twin girls came along.
Georgiy investigated the corrupt regime of Ukraine’s president, Leonid Kuchma. Kuchma did not like this very much. Georgiy was being hounded by the secret police.
Eventually, they murdered him.
In the course of my conversation with Myroslava Gongadze, I asked her, “What do you think of Putin?”
At this, she gives me her quizzical look. And then laughs a little. “He’s a criminal. He’s an international criminal. It’s not even my opinion. It’s a fact.” She then gives a brief history of Putin since 2000 or so.
Moreover, she says that America and the West are deluding themselves — deluding themselves if they think that Putin will ever be a partner for them.
“Should Ukraine be in NATO?” I ask. “Absolutely,” Myroslava answers, immediately. “It should be in NATO yesterday.”
In the European Union too, she said.
I had another question — a terrible one: “Will Ukraine survive as an independent country?” Myroslava answered, “I cannot even think about its not surviving. I cannot even let myself question that.”
Today, Ukrainians at large are fighting for the survival of their nation, on the frontlines — as they have been since 2014 — of a more general, mainly cold, war. It is not a war that anyone in the West chose. It’s a war that Vladimir Putin and his allies chose.