March 4, 2014 9:58:43 AM
With Russia and Ukraine teetering on the brink of armed conflict, a local professor is speaking out about what is happening in his home country.
George Pinchuk, a native of Ukraine, teaches biology at Mississippi University for Women and his wife, Lesya Pinchuk, teaches at Mississippi State University. The two have been in the United States for nearly 25 years. While Pinchuk says he has a love of this country, his heart still lies in Ukraine along with his friends and family. As Russian troops line the borders of Crimea, Pinchuk worries about an impending third world war.
"There might be some blood, although I still believe things will turn the other way," he said. "It does look like there is a full-blown invasion from Russia to Ukraine, from the eastern side. The biggest armed force of Russia is in the Crimea Peninsula but they are slowly penetrating north to all the way along the eastern border of Ukraine. That's the most horrible thing. For some reason, Ukrainian authorities did not close the eastern border so basically any vehicle can cross freely and they are now smuggling literally thousands of people from Russia to Ukraine, thousands, and these people are hooligans, madmen, crooks, felons. Their task is just to stir things up, beat up people and then the Russian army comes to protect the Russian speaking Crimean community."
Pinchuk, who refers to Russian President Vladimir Putin as a "deranged madman" compared the president's actions to those of Hitler.
"It's the scenario that Hitler actually played in Czechoslovakia in 1939 except he was passionate about protecting ethnic Germans. From there, they just occupied the entire country.
Pinchuk, who lived in Moscow for three years while studying at Institute of Medical Genetics in what was the former USSR, said he has "hundreds" of Russian and Ukrainian friends who are closely watching Putin's actions.
"I have hundreds of friends in Ukraine and Russia and here in the United States who are from old Ukraine or immigrant families, so we are watching it together," he said. "I know a lot of Russians from Moscow. They're wonderful people. I can't imagine them voting for this crazy lunatic who is now in power there."
In addition to talking with friends and family who are still in Russia and Ukraine, Pinchuk watches YouTube videos to see what is not being broadcast on the news.
"I see a lot of videos from there, videos taken live, not staged," he said.
Pinchuk also belongs to an online civic organization, Go Maidan, which emerged during the Orange Revolution in response to the 2004 election of Viktor Yanukovych as the President of Ukraine in what many believed to be a rigged election staged by the Russians.
Ukraine was on the brink of civil war in February, as violent clashes led to the deaths of at least 77 protesters and 1,100 injuries to people. On Feb. 22, members of the Ukraine parliament found that the president was unable to fulfill his duties and set an election for May 25 to select his replacement. Yanukovych left the capital Feb. 21, fleeing to Crimea first, and further to southern Russia. A warrant for his arrest was issued on Feb. 24, accusing him of "mass killing of civilians."
Pinchuk said there is no reason Russian forces should be in Crimea.
"There was no one ever, there is no one, who wants to hurt ethnic Russians in Ukraine," he said. "There is no discrimination. There are (Ukrainian) parliament members who are ethnic Russians and Jews. We are all bilingual, we grow up speaking Ukrainian and Russian."
Thankfully, Pinchuk said, the tensions have not yet escalated to a full-fledged war.
"So far, there was no shooting," he said. "The Ukrainian army has an order not to use firearms so they're just standing their ground. Sometimes there are physical fist fights and Russian military throws stun grenades so that it's a lot of noise and tear gas but it's not bloody yet. It's a shouting match for both sides."
As for what the United State should do, Pinchuk said President Barack Obama should "listen to Ukrainians more and listen to Russians less. There are no sides to this conflict. There is only sane and insane."
If a war begins, Pinchuk estimates "a million or so will die on both sides. There will be a lot of blood shed. "
Throughout the crisis, Putin may have unintentionally united Ukraine, Pinchuk said.
"It might sound weird, but Putin has united Ukraine, more so than before," he said.
When asked what is the one thing that he wishes people knew about his home country, Pinchuk replied: "Ukraine is strong."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.
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