Linda Smith, Staff Writer
Dr. Irina Rodriguez cannot be there herself and it’s difficult to get dependable news from the Ukraine about the violent protests that have left an unknown number of citizens dead and the country’s leadership in shambles. She does rely on conversations with her mother and stepfather, Olga and Oleg Valentinovna and various media outlets to learn of the rapidly changing events in her Ukrainian homeland.
“I’m very upset about all the violence because Ukraine was always a peaceful country and I was always proud of that,” Rodriguez said. “I just feel like I combined both cultures and I definitely feel Ukraine is my home but we were able to resolve problems peacefully and now it’s a scary thing.”
Rodriguez, who teaches Spanish and Italian at UD, arrived in the United States in the ‘90s for post-graduate studies at Kansas University. That’s where she met her husband, Robert. Her homeland is not the one she left years ago.
The long-simmering conflict among various factions in the Ukraine boiled over when the government rejected overtures from U.S. and European interests to help the country deal with a financial crises. President Viktor Yanukovych decided to accept a loan from Russia, a decision that caused nationalist Ukrainians with western leanings to take to the streets in the capital city of Kiev to protest the agreement.
At the outset the protests in Kiev were for the most part limited in scope and in January Rodriguez said her parents traveled from their home in Kharkiv to the Caves Lavra monastery in Kiev to venerate the gifts of the Maji, which were on a tour of monasteries in Eastern Europe. The monastery in Kiev is close to Independence Square, where the protests were under way.
“While in Kiev they said that on the streets you didn’t really see anything, just one center of resistance, which was unsafe,” Rodriguez said. “But they came pretty close to kind of see (the unrest), so I was surprised that they were so adventurous. They said it was not as bad as it looks on the news.”
She said news reports focused directly on a small section of the protests but move away from the center of the demonstrators and it wasn’t too bad. “But they were concerned, obviously, because they are more Russian,” Rodriguez said of her parents.
The Ukrainian Nationalist Party is the main extremist group involved in the protests.
“It doesn’t come out in the news that this party is extremist, and sometimes they’re shouting things like ‘Death to Jews!,’ ‘Death to Moskal!’ (a derogatory term for Russian, used to indicate the arrogance of the Moscow citizens),” Rodriguez said. “It’s very close to fascism, neo-Nazism, because they’re very nationalistic, against everything that is not Ukrainian. And some of the people there are young guys who really just want to spill out their aggressiveness, and they’re being pretty violent, so that’s concerning.”
A 2005 New York Times article details the 17-day Orange Revolution in which then Prime Minister Yanukovych defeated incumbent President Viktor Yuschenko. While corruption was evident in the election and resentment continued afterward, Rodriguez, who was there, said it was a peaceful time without tension.
“The Orange Revolution was great,” she said. “People felt that they could really achieve change, people felt inspired. I felt very happy. But that was the biggest disappointment, that nothing really changed.”
Rodriguez said the protestors of today may be confused about how to restore order to the government. Corruption is widespread and well known. “Nobody approves of the government,” she said. “Nobody has any doubts that it’s corrupt. But, I think they just prefer that, and they think that’s the option that can ensure order, even though that’s not the case.”
Yanukovych fled to Rodriguez’s hometown of Kharkiv last Saturday, which “extremely distressed” her.
“Everybody fears growing violence and the possibility of serious conflict,” Rodriguez said. “People in my part of the country fear revenge and violence from the right-wing groups who obey no one. Besides, the economic situation is going out of control: people cannot get money from ATMs and the salaries are not being paid on time – my parents are afraid they won’t be paid at all since they work for the public university.”
Rodriguez said she feels helpless because she can only watch as events unfold in her homeland.
“The best thing would be for the president to resign, and unfortunately, he just really holds on to power,” Rodriguez said. “We all hope for the best, of course.”