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Cardiff's Ukrainians fear for their country's future

Rodion Liashko from Odessa is currently studying in Cardiff

Rodion Liashko from Odessa is currently studying in Cardiff

Ukrainians are facing one of the biggest crises in their country since the fall of the Soviet Union.

After being hit by waves of protest, the government’s heavy-handed response – and its own subsequent disintegration – has seen Ukraine pushed into the spotlight, even here in Wales.

But what is it like being away from home when the rest of the world is talking about it?

Rodion Liashko is a postgraduate student at Cardiff who arrived from Odessa in September. He says people in his own town are divided – some fear the oppression of the police, others disagreed with the methods used by the opposition.

He believes the events could be a real opportunity for Ukraine.

He said: “It’s a chance to do something which the government failed to do after the so-called Orange Revolution in 2004 – to clean itself.”

Rodion has no plans to return home at the moment but while in Cardiff, has been following the events in the media.

“In general, the media approach is very balanced. Western media is biased against Russia but Ukraine is not Russia.

“This is not a conflict between Russia and the West. It is the internal conflict within Ukraine,” he said.

Nicholas Mataya, secretary at Cardiff’s Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, says his parishioners – many of whom are Ukrainian or have links to the country – have had a mixed reaction to the media’s coverage.

He believes the British media has been relatively fair and balanced, (although Ukrainians object to the spelling of their capital as Kiev).

Hanna Kholkina is determined to return to the UK

Hanna Kholkina is determined to return to the UK

But there are some sections of the conservative American media who have began to turn on the protesters.
“There is one group of protesters which is very nationalistic and some American media are saying there is a fascist element to the protests.”

Some parishioners – who mainly have links to Western Ukraine – have also objected to one report in a Catholic newspaper which blamed their own sect of the church.

It came as a surprise to parishioners who have been impressed by the united front of religious leaders in Ukraine.

“You saw it a lot during the protests when the heads of the churches in Ukraine – including our own – were in contact with each other.

“They even went to Washington together – this has never happened before.”
The same unity is present among the parishioners at his church.
“We have held special prayers, special fasts and we had one service for those who died in the protests.

“Here, there is a feeling of support for the protesters, concern, but above all, a sense of hope for a united Ukraine.”

But for the Ukrainians who have returned home, the fear of a split is very real.

Hanna Kholkina, a 27-year-old Cardiff University graduate who now lives in Odessa, is worried about recent developments.

She said: “The riots in Kyiv have stopped, the new government is being formed, however the chaos hasn’t completely ceased. Many activists from Maidan are now spreading across East and South to protest against the Russian government.

“People fear that Ukraine might be divided in half between West and East, and the East along with Crimea will go to Russia.”

The violent riots, which started earlier this month in the Ukrainian capital, sent waves of panic and fear across the nation.

“There is panic in Odessa as well,” she said.

“On February 20, I have witnessed many queues in banks as people were withdrawing money. They were driven by the rumour that banks are blocking debit and credit accounts, which turned out to be a lie. People were also buying petrol and the queues were horrendous, even though petrol stations reassured that they will not be increasing prices.

“We’ve had attempts from the extremists to attack our administration buildings in Odessa, but those protesters were quickly dispersed by the police and our citizens.”

Hannah back home in Ukraine

Hannah back home in Ukraine

Hanna, who graduated with MSc in genetics counselling last year, was refused a visa to work in the UK after she finished her studies. But following the escalation of violence in her country, she is more determined than ever to return.

“Right after the riots started, my parents suggested I come back to the UK sooner.

“I am planning to return on March 21st, but with each day of uncertainty and new protests, I might consider packing my things and leaving Ukraine earlier.

“I miss Cardiff because I made really great friends there with whom I still keep in touch.”

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