But Crimea is more than a far-off place in the news for Yaroslava Krypak and Inna Kucherenko, both of Poltava, and Iurii Kyrychenko of Kiev. It is a beloved vacation spot they consider part of their country, and where they treasure friends and fond memories.
The situation in Crimea occupies much of their thoughts and conversations, as well as the times when they are visiting with their friends and families in Ukraine over the Internet.
Kucherenko, 20, said her parents both feel it was wrong for Russia to take Crimea. “They don’t support it,” and they are upset, she said.
Krypak, 18, said she feels the Crimean Peninsula was stolen from the Ukraine.
“The Russian president just came and said it was part of Russia, so he wanted to take Crimea. Now it’s a part of Russia, and I don’t like it,” Krypak said. “People from Crimea now have to become Russians or move to another part of Ukraine if they still want to be from Ukraine. It is not good for them.”
Kyrychenko said events of the recent past dominate his thoughts.
“I’ve been dreaming for the last month to get up and don’t check the news from the country,” he said. “Even in my country, a lot of people go to psychologists because it’s a huge stress for everyone living in Ukraine and Ukrainians all over the world.”
Kyrychenko, 30, came to Powell from Kiev, Ukraine’s capital city. He previously earned a degree in veterinary science from a Ukrainian university. He enrolled at Northwest in August 2012 to improve his English, which will help him meet his career goals.
Kyrychenko said Russia’s annexation of Crimea took place just as Ukraine has become secure in its identity as a democratic country whose residents value their freedom.
“If you want to understand what is happening in Ukraine, you need to have a deep background about the history and cultural integrity between the two countries,” he said.
Historically, Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, dominated by Russia, before the Soviet Union dissolved in the 1980s.
“Just a few weeks ago, (Russian President Vladimir) Putin gave an interview to the mass media,” Kyrychenko said. “He told them he believes that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the biggest tragedy of the 20th century.
“Not the first world war. Not the genocide of nations, of Jews or Ukrainians. Not the second world war,” he said. “He believes, for Russia, the collapse of the Soviet Union was the biggest tragedy. He’s really sincere about that.”
Kyrychenko said Putin cites statistics showing that more than 80 percent of the people support Russia.
“They want to reunite a new empire … even if it will lead to more poverty in their country,” he said.
But Ukrainians don’t dream of being part of an empire, Kyrychenko said.
“Ukrainians just want to live a happy life in their country,” he said. “For Russians, they want to be great. Ukrainians don’t want to be great. … They want to be happy.”
They demonstrated that desire in 1994 by signing a memorandum with Russia, the United States and Great Britain agreeing to disarm nuclear weapons in Ukraine. Until then, “we had the third (largest) nuclear potential in the world, after the United States and Russia.”
In exchange for Ukraine getting rid of its nuclear weapons, Russia, the United States and Great Britain all agreed to protect Ukraine, Kyrychenko said.
Now, Russia — which signed the agreement to protect Ukraine — instead has acted aggressively by annexing Crimea, and it has amassed a huge army along the Ukrainian border.
Consequently, he said, “you will never convince any country to get rid of any nuclear weapons, like Iran or North Korea. It would be really hard to convince the people of those countries that their safety can be provided by big countries because of the example of the Ukraine. We’re talking about the political stability of the whole world in the 21st century.”
Kyrychenko said he believes Putin is worried “that Ukraine will show the whole of Russia the way to democratic values and prosperity in the modern world.”
But Russians still have a hard time envisioning that concept, he said.
“For them, they’re really afraid that the people can throw even the president, the first man in the country, from office,” Kyrychenko said. “For them, it’s unbelievable. They can’t understand how people can rule a country. They still live in the Soviet Union.
“I believe that slavery of the mind, it’s the issue that we got rid of. We believe that in Russia, people (eventually) will understand that.”
Kyrychenko said “Heaven’s Battalion,” the approximately 100 people who died Feb. 23 during the hottest part of the confrontation, are heroes to Ukrainians.
“These people were not armed, and with wooden shields they (stood) up against the bullets, and they died in the streets,” he said.
They gave their lives while demonstrating that Ukrainians are willing to stand up for their country and for their freedom, he said.
Kyrychenko said he believes politicians in the United States and the European Union know what is happening.
“They have a deep understanding that we’re going the democratic way, and we’re on the road to the western world,” even as “Russia is becoming more and more isolated from the countries in the western world.”
While the students mourn events in Crimea, hope is not lost, Kyrychenko said.
“Every day, we are praying for the good,” he said. “We remain optimistic, and Ukrainians are looking forward to the flourishing future in the European family of nations.”