Ukrainians are not Russians

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I turned to a Ukrainian friend to ask her what we, the Americans, need to understand about the conflict. Olha’s response came down to this: Ukrainians are not Russians. They have their own history, their own language, their own culture, their own country. But Russian leader Vladimir Putin has predicated his war on a rewritten history, in which the Ukraine is the little brother to Russia, and the people there are just Russians with a dialect.  The stakes can’t be higher for the people of Ukraine, as their lives and very identity stand to be lost. I really appreciated this talk, the personal stories Olha shared of the Orange Revolution in 2004, the quest for independence, and the never-dying belief that Ukraine can be i’s own place, and the Ukrainians, their own people.

Season 2, Episode 2: Ukrainians are not Russians with Ohla Bilobran

Below is a transcript of our conversation. I use an automated transcription service, so refer to the audio to clear up any confusion.

Wilson:
I am here with my friend Ohla and Ohla can you introduce yourself, and tell you, tell us all where you’re from?

Ohla:
Sure. hi Adam. So my name is Olha Bilobran and originally I am from the town of Busk which is, is, which is in Western part of Ukraine.

Wilson:
Great. And how did, how did you come … We met together here in Western Washington. Tell me about how you found yourself out here.

Ohla:
Sure. I came here to get my master’s degree and after, after my studies, I stayed here, got job. And that’s how you and I met.

Wilson:
Right. Got it. Okay. I mean, so obviously there are many events going on in the world today around Ukraine, but I guess let’s start with like, just how do, how you process this. Like we were talking just yesterday when I was asking, if you could you know do the show with me, you know, like, how do you explain this to kids? Like what, what, what are you, what are you thinking right now, I guess where I’m going with this? Like, what, what’s your first take on the situation in Ukraine right now?

Ohla:
Well what’s going on is, it’s absolutely unbelievable. It’s horrible because you know, it, it should have never, ever happened. And just to realize that all these worst predictions, all these nightmares, they just became true and everybody is angry very angry. I, I mean, in in, in my family, in our community because it’s it, it, it’s it’s not the very beginning because the war basically started eight years ago. It has the next stage, and nobody can predict what will happen next.

Wilson:
I am. I totally hear you on the being unbelievable because this is it’s interesting to me how shocking it is given that, as you said, that this started a long time ago and that even this most recent, like this is a, a full scale attack on Ukraine by Russia. And that itself was forecast very explicitly for over a month, I think. But it’s, do you feel like the people of Ukraine or the folks there saw are also shocked or did this see, or is it just sort of us on the outside can’t understand how real the situation was becoming?

Ohla:
No, I think everybody’s shock back at home as well. And I, I know, I know there were predictions. I know there were warnings, but you still cannot you know, I, I think people still have this belief in and hope in common sense in human nature kind, human nature. That’s why it’s difficult to believe. And when trying to understand myself, I was I, I was wondering why you know, despite all these warnings, people were still thinking like, no, that, that cannot happen. And I what I came up with is, you know, when COVID hit, what was the reaction of the world? Everybody is like, it will be here like, well, two months at most, in two months, we are all in the offices, we’ll have our own back our life. We can go two years past. We are still not with it.

Wilson:
Yes. That is an amazingly good example of assuming the best.

Ohla:
Yeah. Is it, is it human nature? Is it how our psychology works, that you are kind of trying to protect yourself? And it’s hard to believe that this nightmare can happen? I, I dunno,

Wilson:
It’s, it’s I think you’re definitely onto something there that it’s we are used to people talking about the bad things that might happen, but when they, you know, especially in this case where it seems very intentional I mean what, well, here’s the thing. Okay. Let’s back up. I like most Americans only have a vague understanding of Ukraine. And I think that most of us like know that it’s somewhere between what we thought was Europe. Right. I think Americans were raised with this idea that Europe stopped somewhere about the middle of Germany. And then there was just Russia. And now we’re, I I’m sure there are folks like myself who are trying to wrap their minds around the politics of Belarus and Ukraine and Romania and those places. So can you give a sense just like for those of us who are, are just trying to understand what’s going on here? What, what is the historical background when we say there’s been an eight year war, well, how did we get to a war that lasted eight years? How did we get to a Ukraine and not just, you know, part of the USSR

Ohla:
Yeah. And that’s that’s something that’s always you know, especially when coming here and let singing to the movies and how everything and everybody from the Soviet union just called any country is just called Russia. Any nation nation is called Russia. And to me, it’s like, I, it always, I produces a reaction in me. It’s like, it’s not Soviet union com was comprised of 15 nations, 15 countries. We are not Russians. It’s, it’s like, it’s all different. You, you cannot like, you know, the Commonwealth of great Britain, you cannot call in like disregard India and or Canada and just call them great written. They are not right. So the same here. And as, as for his, like, to give a bit of historical background, especially given the statements that Putin made a few days ago. So Ukraine is located in Eastern Europe. It it borders on Russia in the east and Northeast on the north, it borders on Bera on the west. You have countries like PO and Romania Slovakia, and in the south, you have Moldova and it’s also washed by the black sea and the sea of Zo. And is the country in Europe.

Wilson:
Hmm.

Ohla:
That’s interesting by territory, if you com, if you try to kind of still wrap up your mind, it is about the size of Texas.

Wilson:
Okay. Wow.

Ohla:

It, it is the biggest country and it’s it has ancient history, the in about nine ninth century the population in, on the entire of Ukraine, like the, the web of different settlements for a long time. Sure. But in the ninth century, Swedish weekends, they VI story. They came by the river into the territory, which is Ukraine. Now they captured K U. That is the capital of Ukraine.

Wilson:
Ah, okay.

Ohla:
Okay. At that time there was living there, SL people. And from that time that the, the territory that the country that was organized there, and now Ukraine, it was called KRA and K was the capital.

Wilson:
Ah, okay. And so, yes,

Ohla:
And, and in 1988 Ukraine was converted to Christianity and it was it occupied territory all the way to the bolt, to the current Bolty countries. So that’s what is bill RA now? Okay. And at that time, Mosco was not founded. So you cannot say that the territory of Ukraine is as they always claim, you know, it’s Russia, it’s not, it, it preexisted what, whatever is rational.

Wilson:
That’s fascinating. That’s fascinating. And

Ohla:
Only because of the, when trips, so to say of Mongols some population started moving north from Kyo and that’s how Moscow was created. And all these histories started being populated.

Wilson:
Okay. So

Ohla:
That, that’s why no Lang did not create Russia.

Wilson:
That’s fascinating. You know, it’s, isn’t it interesting to see,

Ohla:
Sorry, let create Ukraine. Sorry.

Wilson:
Right. Yes. I I’m with you. Isn’t it fascinating how we always kind of weaponize history. Right. I think that’s what we’re, you’re talking about is that that Putin and his regime are spinning the tale of that. This is traditional Russian ground and that the Ukrainians are Russians and they need to be, I, I, I think the actual argument was like, they need to be kept safe. We have to keep the civilian safe. And I give me a sense of like are there a lot of different ethnic religion groups in Ukraine? Is there some sort of like a faction that he’s he’s working on there is there,

Ohla:
Yeah. So before world Wari Ukraine has always been a multinational country. But even more so before world war II, where we had a lot of German Germans, a lot of Jewish people, a lot of Polish people of course, Ukrainians crem, TAs, and even in my hometown at the beginning of 20th century the biggest pop Jewish was the biggest population. Second was Polish and Ukrainians were only third

Wilson:
Really? Oh, wow.

Ohla:
Yes. So Ukraine, again, it’s a separate country. It has its own Ukrainian language. So that’s why don’t, don’t assume that every Ukrainian speaks Russian and start addressing in Russian, they do, there are some Ukrainians who speak Russian. There are some Russians who live in Ukraine, but official language is Ukrainian.

Wilson:
So it is, they have a, their own language. It is a UK. They speak Ukrainian. Okay. Yes, this is good to,

Ohla:
We speak. We speak Ukrainian. And even you know, when I was in college, one of my professors, he attended many international conferences. He was a langu linguist himself. So he said that among langu, among those people who dedicate their life to developing different or researching different languages, there is like a joke going around. So if you want to speak to God, you need to address him in Spanish. If you want to speak to angels, you need to address them in Italian. But if you want to talk to a woman and tell her about your life, you need it to use Ukrainian.

Wilson:
Cause

Ohla:
Ukrainian is such a melodic, such a beautiful based on the sounds language. And also if, to assume that Ukrainian is the same as Russian or like Russians, like to climb, it’s the dialect. It is not, it, it is part of a SL languages family. Sure. We have, we have Ukrainian, we have Russian, we have Polish, we have bill Russians. It’s, it’s the same as to assume that French and Spanish is the same language or one is the dialect of another, because we bill onto the same family or that English and German are the same or dialect of one of another, because they belong to the same language family, but we know very well, those are different.

Wilson:
Right, right. Yes, absolutely. And it is, I think what you’re getting to too is that there is a good under even in the United States, which is famous for being sort of insulated where we are, but they, that there’s differences between ethnic and regional groups and language groups that may seem minor to, I don’t know, to someone from Southeast Asia, the difference between French and Italian and Spanish may seem small, but it’s very important to the people who live there and to their way of life and they’re distinct cultures. But I think that we are struggling to do that with Eastern Europe that we don’t really understand as you know, as Americans it’s, we are not very familiar with those differences. So it’s, it’s perhaps an easier sell for folks like Putin who want to just say, well, it’s, you know, they were part of the, the Soviet state and now they need to be again. And I think that the one conversation going on in the United States right now is like, well, what do we care? It’s so far away, it doesn’t affect us. Why would we get involved with something, especially that Russia has strong feelings about? I mean, what do you, what do you make of that? Go ahead. Yeah.

Ohla:
Russia has, has had strong feelings about Ukraine for century is, but why should Americans care? Because in so Ukraine became independent in 1991 after the collapse of Soviet union besides the government proclaiming that, okay, we, we want to be independent. And in August of 1991 in December, they also held a referendum to kind of solidify this choice where people had questioned basically are confer. Are you confirming the green? That Ukraine should be independent and 90% of the popul and confirmed that, oh, wow. Expressing that will to be independent from Ukraine. And yesterday I pulled up some numbers. So dun bus during that referendum in dun bus 80 almost 84% people said, yes, we want to be in Ukraine, independent from the Soviet union in the, in Ang was the same percentage andreia 57% of population said they want to be independent. They want to be independent from the USSR as part of Ukraine. And so when Ukraine became independent, it inherited third largest arsenal of nuclear weapons. You had Russia, you had us and Ukraine was the third one. Wow. In the whole world. Wow. So that here comes 1994. And on leaders talking, there is a decision made that Ukraine will give up its nuclear power and in return great Britain, us and Russia, as as countries with the world nuclear power will agree to.

Ohla:
And let me read it will commit to respect the independence and sovereign entity and the existing borders of Ukraine.

Wilson:
Wow.

Ohla:
In 1994, that’s why it, so, and this was confirmed with Budapest memorandums. So these three countries signed it to guarantee independence and borders of Ukraine. Right. And I remember till today, my history class in my high school, when our teacher was explaining to us, this is such a huge win because you have most powerful countries, us and Russia protecting us, agreeing to respect our board forever. Russians will never, ever invite us again.

Wilson:
Yeah. That is. And that’s, it’s, that’s a very human story, right? Like, are you lay down your arms? You stop. We don’t want you to be a threat. We don’t, you don’t need all this armament. And then we will never, we won’t cross you. And then exactly a generation later folks have forgotten, or maybe they didn’t forget. And they’re just willfully ignoring that. But now you, that that’s just tragic in re in looking at today’s circumstances. Right. Because there’s no scenario in which Russia would invade a nuclear or armed Ukraine. I mean, I, I can’t imagine that. So, wow. But what happens after that? So that this is the nineties. I mean I remember this as this whole, like reproachment period where the USS, the USS R and the us and great Britain, we were all getting along fairly well. You know, in the nineties, there was this like realignment for the new world order, but that, that has clearly changed. So what, what, what’s your memory of what, how things tipped from being like, look, everyone’s agreed to respect us to now there’s there’s there’s format and, and threats again.

Ohla:
Well, it’s been, I, if I can call it a project in no, it’s been a project for years, but also I, I still need to go back in history to kinda, so people understand where the roots are coming from. So this, this current project it’s been in the works for years, but I think it’s been in the works for centuries. So again, when Ukraine became a part of SSR in in the last century what happened was that in 1933, Stalin created an artificial famine. Ukraine is famous for its soil, black soil. It’s called the breast bread basket of of the world because it, the soil is so can grow so much wheat. And it’s one of the biggest importers of wheat in the world. And right now the prices for wheat is skyrocketing because of the war. Right. So Stalin created this artificial famine were all the wheat was con sophisticated and people starved to death. And with estimations of seven or 10 million people died from famine.

Wilson:
Wow.

Ohla:
In Eastern Ukraine,

Wilson:
Seven or 10 million.

Ohla:
Yes. And Ukraine been fighting for a long time for it to be recognized as the same level as Holocaust is. But of course we have Russia always have vetos everywhere and was not letting that happen. And also playing it down. That that was, you know, those were difficult times, you know, 1933, it was a difficult time for everybody in the world, right. It was for body, but no other nation had seven to 10 million people die from ation,

Wilson:
Insane

Ohla:
With such huge resources, natural resources. So you have as I said, so many people die. What do you do with this empty land? When all these empty houses they brought rations?

Wilson:
Ah, yes.

Ohla:
You’re at the houses, go live, go educate people about all the benefits of communism, how, how wonderful it’s going to be. Then you have world war II. And in 1944 during world war II, Stalin packs, all CRE TAs on the planes and sends them to Kazakhstan. What do you do with empty houses and the empty land in Cree, right. And Russians, And you claim it. You know, I it’s been the territory. It was conquered by Russians in 18th century. I agree with that. But again, the biggest population, the native population was CRE and TAs.

Wilson:
Interesting.

Ohla:
Okay. So that, that’s why now all those people, they now have kids, they know how grandkids course they speak Russian, especially given again that this, the same family grew. You know, nobody like if you speak Russian to me, I will understand you. I can speak Russian as well, but so they can understand Ukrainian. But again, so that’s why you have that’s why you have majority of population in the east who speaks Russian and P population who lives in cream, speaks Russian.

Wilson:
That’s fascinating. I did not know that. And that is, it’s terrible. That, that, isn’t a known part of like what I say I guess in north America that is not part of European history. Right. That’s yep. You know, it’s sounds very comparable to like the Irish potato famine, which was exacerbated by British policies and the Irish had food, but it was being exported while people starved to death. And exactly. We, at least those of us who care to know Irish history, know all about that, but I had not heard of a, a very similar situation. It sounds like in Ukraine. And that would explain why you end up with large Russian speaking populations in like Cree, because you’ve essentially emptied out the, the populous and replaced them. Okay. All right.

Ohla:
And, and then after you know, things were not so smooth in Soviet union, I believe, you know, at the end of eighties, I think premium started coming back and they wanted to reclaim back the land houses and stuff like that. So they, of course now with the Russians there, again, they are arrested, they had deported and things of horrible again, but so that’s, that’s why I’m saying this, the project of destroying Ukrainians of you know, capturing the land it’s been for centuries. And so now going back to more recent history in 2004, when we had the presidential elections, and again, it was direct election and the pro and candidate won and the pro-European candidate was poisoned. As you may recall.

Wilson:
I do remember that. Yes. Yeah.

Ohla:
Ukrainians took it to the streets like whats going on. That’s not what we waled for. That’s I, I participated in that orange revolution as well. So they had to recalculate the results distribution could, did become the president, but Russia didn’t give up here. We have another election in, in a few years. And then the same candidate, Russian candidate does become the president. And when he decides to cut ties with European union and be develop title close the tights with Russia, that’s when Ukrainians took it on the streets again. And that’s one of the things to keep in mind, even despite of all the odds, Russia, Ukrainians are fighters, they will not give up.

Wilson:
That is it’s impressive. I mean, so, you know, if we, we’re talking about like, how do we get here? It sounds like, you know, when you put it in this context, we’ve watched just in our lifetimes, a couple attempts for the, by the Russians to take control of the, the political apparatus, right. To like, we’ll get our candidate elected president in Ukraine, and then we’ll just bring them into the orbit, which I think is what happened to be Russ, I think because they were also more of a Western style democracy, and I think they fell into the Russian orbit, but the Ukrainians have resisted that, like, as you said, you were, tell me about that. Tell me about being part of the orange revolution. I, I did not know you were revolutionary. Oh yeah. This is new information for me.

Ohla:
I, I, I, I am. Yes. and here before orange revolution, I want to make kind of like give you another piece of old history. So during the world war II, you know, Ukraines were, especially in Western Ukraine, they were fighting two Frances. They were fighting Russians, the Soviet union, and they were fighting Germans. They wanted to be Ukraine. Like they were one United Ukraine. Like they were after the world war I

Wilson:
Okay.

Ohla:
Of course, you know, that didn’t happen. But so, I mean, I mean, they, they were not able to create independent Ukraine from the Soviet union, but the fight continued until 1954 or 55. You have, and keep in mind, worldwide two was over in 1945. You have still stalling in power, but Ukrainians keep fighting even after Stallings death in 53. So we are fighters with orange revolution when you know, when we heard that Russian candidate got more points and nobody believed that because you know, everybody, like, it’s not that secret. It’s more secret. You might be in us where you don’t talk whom you want it for. You know, like it’s not custom to talk about things over there. It’s like whom that you support. That’s who people are very open. So the results don’t make sense. And I remember I was, at that time, I worked in CA and you hear the results and it’s like, I cannot believe it.

Ohla:
We don’t want to go to Russia. We don’t want to go. Like you don’t, you don’t have to, you don’t want to recreate, again, those connections. You don’t want to be again, creating some kind of Soviet union. So I remember my coworker and I walked to downtown. It was not far from our work. And it is, it’s unbelievable. It’s like scenes from the movies from world war II, where you have a speaker on the light pole that talks to people, you know, and people started just taking to the streets. Just nobody like was organizing. Nobody was paying us, go, you know, protest, right. People just talk to the streets. You know, we disagree. This is not right. We need to recount the we need to recount the ballots and so on. And people just brought their tents to, to make it like, you know, 24, 7 protest people from all over Ukraine started coming protest.

Ohla:
And, and what you experienced there, it’s, it’s incredible, never, ever in my life. I have felt this unity. You have main square. My done in cave of packed with people. And even beyond my done all like surrounding street eats with tents where people live, you have citizens of tea, you bringing hot food during the whole night. Like my managers, they come to work and they like, I didn’t sleep much. So maybe I’ll go from work, you know, leave earlier. Cause I was making sandwiches and hot coffee, hot tea delivering. Right. And you, and then you had, we had politicians, musicians come and kind of talk to people and organize like some some kind of support with, so people were helping each other, whatever they can, money singing, entertained, just kind like who lift the spirits up. And I remember even at one point I was standing in my dance with my colleagues it’s evening. And we don’t know, what’s go, you know, we don’t know what’s going to happen. And I remember my mom calling me as like, where are you home?

Ohla:
Yeah. Right. And she’s like, for sure, like, yes. And she says well just in case you are not at home yet, just very close walking to home. I want to let you know that on the radio, they said that, you know, they’ve weaponized criminals in prison and they let people from two prisons go to what, to be people in my Don, just, just so you know, I’m like, yeah, worry. I’m at home. You know, I hang up and I’m like to my colleagues and it’s like, Hey, this is what they’re saying. I am scared. I am, I am not hid this. I’m like, you guys think we should start. Like we should go away before they reach. The, and I remember my colleagues, like, no, don’t worry. I, I was standing, I was looking where in case I would run, you know, looking for exits, but, and I, they hear people, you know, start picking up phones. So, so people did get probably similar messages, but nobody left.

Speaker 4:
Well, that’s amazing. That’s amazing.

Ohla:
And like, again, this, this support even, you know, there is some barrier you want to cross it. And from out of nowhere, there shows up immense like, Hey, let me give you a hand. You know, here’s my hand. Cause it’s, it’s, like I said, I have now experienced such unity. And we did, you know, with those peaceful protests, we did achieve our goal where ballots were counted and people you know, got the true, got the true results. And that’s you know, and we also been saying, you know, declare that we got our country Ukraine from U Sr, we got it kind like in a peaceful man, both countries, there were some suppressions, there were live loss. And we were so happy it was done peacefully. And so in 2004 during orange revolution, nobody died. So you, you couldn’t have even imagined that something can happen.

Ohla:
So when in, in 2013, when inov decided, you know, at ties with European union and become closer with Russia and, and people again took it to the streets, took it to my dad. And then in February of 2014, when Russian forces were brought in and they started shooting at people at my, on, nobody could believe it. I woke up and there were a few dead. And I’m like, I, I, I couldn’t believe I’m calling my family here. My friends it’s like, is it for real? How can it happen in Ukraine? How can it happen in this century? Yeah. And so at the time they killed hundred, a hundred people in hundred protestors in Madan. And that was that’s a huge tragedy. But again it’s fascinating when they started shooting people. Of course, some people started running. And so, so you understand there is downtown key, there is Myan. Okay. And Dan, like, that’s

Wilson:
The main square, right? That’s

Ohla:
Yes, yes. And then streets go up kinda like sunrise, you know, go up okay. From Myan and they lead you. Some of them lead you to two most ancient C three in Ukraine. Like one of them is more than thousand years old and stuff. Wow. So people started banging on the doors of those cathedrals monks opened. Okay. And like kind of to protect people and to give them shelter. And at the same time, how do you let people know? You know, there is something going on. Yeah. So they use it and it’s, again, it’s like you are thrown a thousand years ago. So one moon climbs the tower and starts banning on church bells,

Wilson:
Church bells. Wow.

Ohla:
Wow. You wake up people in cave that there is something going on. So, and I have to correct myself. So that was even before those shootings, that’s where the, that were initial attempt to disperse people from protesting. Wow. And it throws me to those times when, you know, TAs were attacking K people in K R in that, you know, that I was just telling you, that’s how there were no cell phones. Right. That’s how people were warning about what’s going on. You would use church bells and, and here we are a thousand years. And, and so people were waking up, you know, started calling and instead of running, like, you know, yes, some people ran away, but the rest is like what? And they had more people coming

Wilson:
Really thats

Ohla:
To support those. Who’ve been treated badly, you know, who been, who been treat

Wilson:
They’re coming. And so to you.

Ohla:
Exactly, exactly. And so now after those a hundred people were killed, you know, people that’s that’s when you heard them probably saw images, people start just digging out the cobblestone from the road, throwing into police, throwing into those snipers and burning. Right.

Wilson:
Gosh, anything they could, you know, rocks in the streets. Yeah. Anything. Yeah.

Ohla:
It’s, I, I couldn’t believe watching from here, my dad, I would walk, spend so much time people use whatever they can to protect themselves, to defend others.

Wilson:
Wow. Yeah. That’s, it’s remarkable. And it, it sounds, you know, it’s like a, a constant refrain as we’ve been talking like over and over again, it’s left to the Ukrainians to try and defend themselves against invaders people coming to get them, or, or interfere with their politics. And yeah. Wow. And that’s 2013, there,

Ohla:
There that, that was 2013. 2014. Yes.

Wilson:
Right. And then that’s when you had sort of, there was an attempt by, right. It was a Yanakovich who is (correct), who was trying to severage with Europe and NATO and direct attention to Russia. And we have another, you know, again, the Ukrainian people kind of unite together and demand some kind of independence. And is that that’s about when the, the Russians moved into Crimea, right? Is that

Ohla:
Exactly so, yes. So like I said, those people in Madan those first 100, they were, we call them heavenly 100. Now they were killed in February. And after that, like I was describing people started, you know, even started fighting more and in the college, they got scared and here ran away to Russia. And that’s when the new president Hanco was in elected. And because he has pro pro Western views that’s why they started saying he is pro and all other rhetoric that they have. And and then that’s when they invited Russia. And no, sorry. That’s when they invited I here in I believe in March, 2014 and Luhan and the Knight God list.

Wilson:
Right. Okay. Well, it’s just I don’t know if we want to jump over the, the whole period there, but that, that started fighting that essentially never ended. Am I right there, like the, exactly. Once, not that it was like what we’re talking about right now at this moment, but they Russians stepped their foot into Crimea and cut it off. And then they have ever, since two varying degrees been supplying and arming and helping the, what we would call set separatists in the, in the east of Ukraine. Now, when I say, quote, unquote separatists, because I, I feel like at one point, right, there were like Russian soldiers doing that fighting without uniforms. I remember that, like, there was like, wait, wait a minute. These aren’t actually Ukrainians. These are Russian. These are Russian military people who just took off the uniform at the border and were, so the idea that I mean, it was a pretty shotty artificial, right?

Wilson:
Like, you know, how, how does this psychological part work? You’re you’re here in the us, what do you make of that? There’s this constant and I, for when I’m impressed by the Russians, cuz there’s this constant fog of what’s true. And it is, it’s psychologically hard for me to be like, well, they say that the sun came up over in the west actually and you have to like think, can that be true? Did it do it, do that? And they have things like, oh, well it’s a, what was the argument? You know, the, the Nazi modification is really fascinating to me cuz you’re pulling on this a, the for Americans, the mirror side of history to us, we fought the Nazis and they’re gone now. And Germany is one of the good guys. But I can understand from the Russian perspective who are not, who had to do a lot more fighting and dying than we did to prevent the, the Nazis from actually like capturing Russia, I can understand like from their perspective, like, oh, well, if Ukraine is going to be friends with Europe, that’s friends with the old invaders, the Nazis.

Wilson:
But so how do, what do you make of this sort of like constant fog of half truths and distortions and rewriting of history? Do you, do you think that’s, how much has that played into where we are today? Like how did we that get us to this like open warfare?

Ohla:
It’s not surprising. That’s that’s the common behavior. And I remember at those times you know, when, when people would say like Ukraine would say like, you cannot believe them, they are lying or like you can never trust them. And other international community was like, you know, like, oh, maybe it’s possible. Maybe we should check it. Right. Right. Some, somehow something changed. And I remember that the president, one of the BTIC countries says like, no, you have to trust us because like Ukraine, multi countries fall, we’ve been dealing with them for centuries. We know them. You have to listen to us. Right.

Wilson:
Yeah. You’ve had had the experience.

Ohla:
Exactly. And so you have to put you, you have to put trust, you know, like it’s and at the same time they say, we call them like green man that occupied creamier, because they were wearing green uniform without any identification later, they launched, they were Russians and the same, the same Eastern Ukraine. And another thing is also, you know, Eastern Ukraine. They didn’t have this military equipment where from like, right. They didn’t. And there was a point in in that fight where Ukrainian forces almost took all, like took the territories back from those separatists. But the separatist got a sudden influx of military weapon, right. To fight, to fight Ukrainians from Russia. Had they not had that? We would have a claimed back the territory.

Wilson:
Sure.

Ohla:
Absolutely. But the fight, the fight was so fierce and it was it’s also part of history now in the nets airport, it was for, for months, people were, Theyre fighting Ukrainians, protecting it. And like they people say it’s not the people, it’s the concrete that dead and couldn’t stand anymore and fall down. Wow. And, and then because of that powerful weapon that was delivered to them, Ukrainians had to retreat and those separatist supported by Russians. They agreed that Ukrainian troops can peacefully go back. They will not fight, but just let them go back. Okay. And guess what happened? Tell they lied. They surrounded them. And they started shooting.

Wilson:
Mm.

Ohla:
The surrounded soldiers who were just retrieving back.

Wilson:
Wow,

Ohla:
You, you, you just, you just cannot trust them. I just cannot trust anything. They say

Wilson:
It’s, it is. I, you know, it kind of takes us back to where we started, where like you, as a human, you want to believe people. You want to think that they’re going to do what they say they’re going to do. But that is in the hands of in the hands of someone who’s very committed or a people who’s very committed to something it’s a weapon because it’s a constant, like you’re constantly taking advantage of people’s. Good assumptions, I guess, is the theme here. Right? You constantly take advantage of their good assumptions. And you’re, I totally hear you on that. Is this I don’t know. I don’t know where we are in the, this situation, but the I’ve been seen this enough times where the us is, is trying to deal with a political situation that becomes a military situation.

Wilson:
And as one of those, as you say, you know, Ukraine is there trying to express its own independence as a, as a culture and a people. And then there are these huge big countries, right? They, there are as the us and the USSR and China and the, the, the, these countries have a totally different calculation, but because they have the resources and the technology they can totally interfere with, or depending on your point of view, tip the balance or help out. But by Russia saying, we’re going to give these folks advanced weaponry and the Ukraine in the military, I presume is not like I definitely not in 2014 was not like on the same page as the Russian military, it was totally changes the equation. So tell me a little bit about, I guess, where going there is like, I don’t know if we should be talking about military stuff now, is this a, is this, do you think this is a war now and it’s about weapons and ammunition and food? Or is it still a political or I guess it’s not like one or the other, but what, how much of this is still like a political fight where Russia’s testing Ukraine resolve or, or do you think it’s just right now your impression it’s just like a military battle?

Ohla:
I, I don’t, I think it’s both, it’s it just in, in the mind of Russians again, and it’s been for centuries that we are the same. We are just a, a younger brother as they call us. And it’s not as language. It just Russian dialect. We are not the same. We are not, we have never been the same. We are different, different country, different thinking, different language. And that’s what they’ve been trying to always do to bring us back and make a part of Russia. And nobody want, there are, there are people like I, like I said, there, there are some who like Putin, who, who want to be, nobody’s keeping you as we have this expression, here is your suitcase. Here is railway station. And here is Russia. Go back and go, right? Why I do crying for Putin, but still living in Ukraine. You love him so much. You want to be a part of Russia. There is a country called Russia. Go there.

Wilson:
Yes. I like that.

Ohla:
Otherwise, yes. Otherwise this is Ukraine. This is, you have to respect the borders. You have to respect the language. You have to respect the history. You have to respect the people.

Wilson:
Right.

Ohla:
That’s always put like, like I said, on the, a biggest scale goal of Russia, especially now putting with his ambitions, he wants it back.

Wilson:
Right.

Ohla:
And it’s, it’s been it’s been the war. It just now became on the biggest scale.

Wilson:
Yeah.

Ohla:
And I also I also want to share the words of one of the Polish presidents, I believe who said back in 2008, when Russia invited Georgia, he said today, it’s Georgia in the morning. It’s Ukraine in the afternoon. It’s both countries and tomorrow it might be us. Right. So again about the whole thinking of Eastern Europe and where things may, may go and what’s been going on there for past few decades.

Wilson:
Oh, it’s, it’s scary to contemplate. What, what is your, what, what would you say the best scenario is right now? What would be the best outcomes to starting today from, from where we are to some sort of you know, like ideal state for Ukraine, what do you think that looks like

Ohla:
Independent Ukraine within its borders that were within the borders that were proclaimed in 1991, when Ukraine proclaimed its independence,

Wilson:
There you go.

Ohla:
Russia leaves leave us alone.

Wilson:
That is, do you foresee Ukraine being able to do that? As it stands now, I guess the way that the situation is set up now, it looks like Russia is going to do all it hand to bring Ukraine under its control and the European nations and the west, you know, including the us. And I think Japan and South Korea are like, well, we oppose that and we will help Ukraine, but help stops at railroad cars. Right. It stops at sending them things or, or money, but we are not going to go in there and, and put our insert ourselves, literally like our lives won’t be on the line. So given that, do you think that’s enough? Or do you feel like it’s enough right now to get you to that independent Ukraine?

Ohla:
I think well, first of all, I we are thankful for all the help we’ve been getting for you know, military help for all the weaponry, for support for, you know, that countries that might unanimous statements. We are really grateful, but it is not enough. It’s not enough. We like, I’ve been telling you, we are fighters. We will be fighting. Even if we lose, it’s no way in hell people will surrender and they will the Russian direction. And they will, there is, I just cannot see that,

Wilson:
Right.

Ohla:
No one will. And we, we do need help. We do need more weapon. We do need sanctions and they need to be now why to way to impose them against footing. What our else are you waiting for? I don’t understand. Right. Nobody understand

Wilson:
What else could he do, right. Yeah.

Ohla:
What else do you need to see? He, yesterday they got Cherno. They got control of Cherno nuclear power. Again. Cherno is on the territory of Ukraine. It’s not some Sr it’s in Ukraine. Why, why do you need it?

Wilson:
Yeah. Why

Ohla:
Would, what is going? What, what, what does he have? What, what, what’s his plan?

Wilson:
That is a very good question. And I do not understand, you know? Yeah. Why would you go in there and seize a disaster site that the SS R I mean, I guess they had a hand in creating that horrible disaster, but it’s a dangerous situation.

Ohla:
Hmm. And then if, if you, you know, like if like Biden is suggesting to cut Russia from fifth, but you have Hungary, you have Germany, you have Italy, you have Cypress though, I’m not surprised because you know of their again, how they’ve been behaving this country, especially Germany and Hungary with their Russian government. It’s don’t, don’t play us. Don’t, don’t play Ukraine. You will pay way bigger, a price later. Right. And, but you are in the whole world.

Wilson:
It’s a, cause

Ohla:
You, you dunno why it can lead. And again, Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons. How can you now with a straight face, talk to Iran, talk to North Korea, talk to anybody. What argument do you have

Wilson:
That

Ohla:
Is encourage them from developing, having countries. How can you even talk to us and tell us, like, don’t do it guys.

Wilson:
It’s a, it is an excellent point. It is an excellent point. Wow.

Ohla:
Well, and again, as the Polish government officials said, it’s Georgia, then it’s Ukraine. Yes. And both countries and PO and who knows? No, nobody knows. I, no, nobody can predict N N none. No, there is no intelligence that can predict what he can do, what he’s thinking about.

Wilson:
Right? Yeah, no, I totally agree. And I, you know, I do not want to like exaggerate historical comparisons here cause it’s always dangerous. But we have seen before in Europe where folks claim that they’re only taking back their ancestral lands or free people who speak the same language as them. And that, that is a a slippery slope is the wrong way to call it. But it accelerates quickly. Right. you know, if he had failed in, if Russia had had more trouble in Georgia, we wouldn’t be having this problem now in Ukraine. And if they don’t have a lot of trouble in Ukraine, I totally agree that then why would they not move beyond there if the, if the price isn’t steep.

Ohla:
And before, before you say next, and I, I want to comment on something you just said you know, people claiming that ancestors land, but it’s like, how far do we go? Right. And I go 1000 back when Ukraine will, like I told you all the way to the BTIC crashes and start climbing those lands. Right? Yeah. Europe has been recrafted so many times if somebody else decides like, okay, like 300 years ago, it was my land, but what about 500? How far do you go? Where do you put, like, how do you decide where the, you, that benchmark, that, that base is,

Wilson:
Right. Absolutely. Humans move around. They always have, and that you can, you know, exactly. Always make claims about somebody was here first, or it really belongs to us. And it is a dangerous game to play, to justify, you know, war to justify violence. It’s. Hmm. But I, I, I know we only had like an hour, but I do want to ask you, like, what do you I don’t know if this is a positive note, but what do you think about growing up in Ukraine? What has that given you and what do you think that like you know, it it’s added to your life and do you think it it’s, what’s the upside, I guess, of having this experience and, and knowing that your people are still in there and, and hanging in, and that you’re doing you, how do I wanna put this? You are an example of the, the surviving spirit, right? Like you, you’re still Ukrainian here. So what does that give you? How do you think about it?

Ohla:
Well, I am, I am very proud to be Ukrainian, to be born there. I want to tell it’s beautiful country country, where there are very hardworking people. And about three years ago I took my family there, my husband and my kids. And they’ve been asking to go back since then. And we were, we are still planning to go there in summer, but yeah, everything right now is up in the air. And on the way to Ukraine, we stopped in Vienna, in Austria. And we spent a few days there. And when we came to Ukraine and spent a few weeks there, then my hu, I asked my husband, cause for him, it was the first time’s like, what do you think? And he said like, wow, I liked it more than Vienna. So it is, it is beautiful, very kind in intelligent, smart people. And we are fighters. We will not give up and, you know, growing there, I Besides pride for my people, it also gave me, you know, love, love to work, love about people and appreciation about everything that everything good that people can contribute to the world. And

Ohla:
No matter what we will prevent, no matter what the outcome we will, we’ll just not give up, but we’ll pay the heavy, heavy rice. And another thing is also and yesterday, when I talked to my friend, the tragedy is the best at dying. You have now, besides, you know, being man, especially being obligated to go serving the arm, me, you have thousands of volunteers signing up and ready to fight. Right. And you know, tons of them are young people. And the question is, the tragedy for me is no matter what the outcome who is left, who is going to create families, have kids and keep it going.

Wilson:
That is a tragedy to, to contemplate a lost and you know, generation, the whole generation is now imperil.

Ohla:
Yes. And I’m not talking about, you know, all the material, physical consequences of war and psychological.

Wilson:
Hmm.

Ohla:
It’s a, and my question is, is also like Russian citizens. What have you been doing now? You started yesterday first protest, but it’s a little bit too late.

Wilson:
Right?

Ohla:
And you are afraid. You are, you know, you are afraid to protest. We were not a, you know, we were like, I was describing you. We were short at, we were killed at, we was still protesting. You are afraid. But what about our kids who are afraid who have been bombarded it, waking up bombs and with tears in their eyes, what do their parents have to say?

Wilson:
It is reality for some people and for the, of us, it’s a concept it’s. Yeah. And if you’re afraid that’s yeah, go ahead. No,

Ohla:
You are afraid there. Then. What about all over the world? There are so many you of you in different countries. What are you doing? Like he cannot get you, there are all your protests. What have you been doing till now? What have you been doing for all these past year, eight years,

Wilson:
Right? Where is it? Well, what do you, I don’t want to like, get us on the total side track, but like, what do you there’s always like a difference between the people and the government. And Putin is clearly an authoritarian leader. But do you, do you have a sense that if Russia had continued down the path of a Western style, a liberal democracy, I think is the actual term for it, as it had a long time ago before Putin, do you think that this would be happening now? Is it, or I just, I don’t know, given like the long, long cultural history here, if it would’ve made a difference, but what do you think?

Ohla:
I, I don’t I don’t, I don’t want to think that would be the case. I, I don’t if, and, and also to talking to some of the, like, I, I cut my ties. As soon as the war began in 2014, I don’t talk to basically any of them here anymore. But before that, it’s surprising how even people, my age, how brainwashed they are.

Wilson:
Mm.

Ohla:
How, you know, there is no Ukraine, there is no language. And it justing for you are a young person you’ve been trying, you live here and you still make these statements again. It’s, it’s, it didn’t happen overnight. It’s been a project for centuries. And it, this project been intensified for past few decades, again.

Wilson:
Yes.

Ohla:
And all these centuries, all these years, the SA the same message. Leave us alone. We don’t want to do, to have anything to do with you. Leave us alone. We are different. We are not the same.

Wilson:
It’s a, well, I, that it has a, it improves, I guess, all we can hope, right. That the trajectory, which has clearly been going in the wrong direction for 20 years, at least turns around that the Ukrainians have done it before. So I hope that there’s some way for them to beat the odds. Again,

Ohla:
I, I do hope, but like I said, we do need help and we need it now. Otherwise, Bryce, for yourself, it’s, you you’ll never know who will be the next or what will happen next.

Wilson:
Well, thank you Olha it was great to talk to you and, and to get some personal knowledge on something that’s so far away for so many of us. So I appreciate you sharing. And yeah.

Ohla:
Thank you, Adam. Thank you for reaching out and thank you for giving me a chance to speak.

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