NEW YORK (PIX11) — Tensions may have risen to a boiling point this week, but they have been simmering for decades. The turmoil between Ukraine and Russia is long standing, with many Ukranian-Americans viewing the Kremlin’s actions as political oppression.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday boldly said Ukraine does not exist as its own country and, instead, is part of Russia
That infuriated Ukranians and Ukrainian-Americans, who have long viewed the country’s hard-fought independence as a crowning moment.
Andrij Dobriansky, the spokesperson for Ukranian Congress Committee of America, said the treatment is “disrespectful.”
“It hurts. Our people are a historically oppressed people in terms of our entire history,” Dobriansky said. “He knows exactly what he’s doing to insult the Ukrainian people.”
While Ukraine is steeped in hundreds of years of rich history, there have been several pivotal moments in the past few decades.
It was after the fall of Communism, when the Ukrainian people voted in 1991 to leave the Soviet Union and become independent, electing its first president, Leonid Kravchuk.
Dobriansky remembers being at Ukranian folk dance camp in the Catskills when an enormous celebration erupted.
“That moment in 1991 was something that I don’t think anyone expected it around the world,” said Dobriansky. “We had been working towards that in terms of making sure that people remembered what was our Ukrainian flag, what was our Ukrainian national anthem, but I don’t think people thought they would see it.” Russia-Ukraine: What to know about Europe’s security crisis
Julie George, a professor of political science at Queens College and the CUNY Graduate Center, has written a book on separatism in Russia and Georgia, as well as ethnic identity politics in the former USSR.
She said Putin thinks of Ukraine as the ancient home to the Russian people because the Russian state started in Kiev.
“The pathway for the full collapse of the Soviet Union was actually the moment of Ukrainian declaration of independence,” said George.
George added while Putin may not recognize Ukraine, others have.
Turbulence returned in 2014. Ukrainians who wanted to move toward the European Union and join NATO led to an uprising, with dozens killed over months of protests. The uprising ultimately led to the ousting of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovich.
“2014 was a turning point for a number of reasons,” George told PIX11 News. “One way of thinking of it is Ukrainians pushed out a Russian president, but he was also the democratically elected president of Ukraine, this is Putin’s argument.”
In February and March of 2014, on Putin’s orders, the Russian military invaded the Ukrainian region of the Crimean Peninsula and annexes the area, something that had never been done before.
The events of the past few weeks has stirred up memories for many Ukrainians, including Dobriansky.
“Our former oppressor, Russia, has colonized Ukraine, Russia has invaded Ukraine numerous times and as the Soviet Union, it has committed genocide against the Ukrainian people,” he said. “You may keep threatening Ukraine, but I’m going to keep being proud of being Ukrainian.”