Thursday, October 09, 2014

Ukraine Conflict Causes Bitter Family Feuds

DONETSK, Ukraine -- Anna and Wladislaw Rychenko's marriage ended because of irreconcilable differences.

Anna Rychenko and her son Wolodja stay in their adopted home of Kiev.

She is a Ukraine nationalist; he favors a separate Russian-aligned state for this eastern region.

The couple met in 2005 and fell in love despite conflicting political views.

"Turn that trash off," Anna would shout at Wladislaw when the Russian news channel was on.

Tensions continued to grow, and by the time war broke out in eastern Ukraine six months ago, the couple had split.

Such family feuds are not unique.

The conflict has divided regions, dissolved marriages, pitted siblings against each other and estranged children from their parents.

"Many people in Donbass who were previously not paying attention to politics suddenly became radicalized when this conflict started," said Maksym Butchenko, 37, using the local name for the eastern Ukraine region that includes the rebel stronghold of Donetsk.

A fragile truce is holding – barely.

Last week, each side blamed the other for shelling that hit a school and nearby van, killing at least 10.

Clashes continue at the airport and in nearby towns as the death toll from the fighting has grown beyond 3,600.

As Ukrainians work to deepen the peace, the ruptures in society and within families are going to be harder to heal.

Butchenko knows this well – he hasn't spoken with his father in months.

Two years ago, Butchenko left Rovenki, a miners' town in eastern Ukraine and moved to Ukraine's capital, Kiev.

He had always gotten along well with his parents and brother, who stayed in the east.

But a few months ago, the family relationship turned sour when his father called him a "fascist" in the midst of a heated political discussion.

Butchenko recalls that he used to disagree with his parents' support of pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia in January in the face of mass protests, but the arguments did not become intense until more recently.

Butchenko said his younger brother, with whom he had always been close, called in August to say he had joined the insurgents "to protect his land" against the Ukrainian army.

His parents, a miner and a schoolteacher, were also anti-Ukrainian and suddenly saw him as a "fascist" enemy of the region.

"They irrationally hate everything Ukrainian," he said.

"I don't understand how I could become a 'fascist' so quickly."

Vitalii Dzivoroniuk, 30, says he learned in May that his father in Severodonetsk in the east voted for the independence referendum held by the rebels.

He couldn't believe his ears.

"I was shocked because all the people that I ever learned anything from, all the people I respect – they all are pro-Ukrainian," he said.

"And suddenly my own parents turned out to have anti-Ukrainian views."

Dzivoroniuk is sure that his parents' pro-Russian views can be attributed to the fact that they haven't seen the world.

In the past 10 years, they have stayed within Ukraine and Russia.

That is typical in this region.

A poll conducted by Kiev-based Research and Branding Group in 2012 found that 77% of Ukrainians had never been abroad and that 36% had never traveled outside their home region.

Dzivoroniuk left Severodonetsk after high school, studying in Kiev and France for two years, an experience he said broadened his views and put him at odds with his family.

As a result, he said, he avoids any political discussions with his parents.

"It isn't easy, and I have to be very careful," he said. "

Any topic can accidentally slide into the discussion of the ongoing events, and I try to not let that happen."

Butchenko said the divisions run so deep that many families and neighbors will be unable to reconcile for a long time, whether the region becomes independent or resumes closer ties with Kiev.

"This all went too far," Butchenko said.

"I don't think we will be able to settle it and go back to how it was before – not in this generation."

Source: USA Today

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