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Stateside Podcast: Michiganders fear for Ukraine's future

A group of people in coats is gathered in a parking lot. Some hold a large ukranian flag, others hold signs that say "help ukraine" and other slogans. Many also hold smaller Ukranian flags.
Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio
Ukrainian Americans gathered in Warren on Thursday for a demonstration against the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

After decades of rising tensions, Russia waged war on Ukraine by launching a full-scale invasion early Thursday, February 24.

The invasion began with early-morning explosions, followed by a three-pronged ground Russian attack from the north, east, and south. Russian troops later seized control of Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, and now has its sights set on the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.

While some Ukrainian civilians are fleeing the country in search of refuge, others are staying to defend their homeland, culture, and democracy. U.S. officials believe that the Kremlin's ultimate goal is to “decapitate” the current Ukrainian government and install pro-Russia leadership.

“This is a democratic society, and these are people like us,” Eugene Bondarenko said of Ukraine. A Kyiv native, he teaches Ukrainian and Russian cultures and languages at the University of Michigan. He has friends and family currently living in Ukraine — some of whom have been drafted and are fighting for their country.

“These are people that support us. These are people that look to us for a model on which to build their country. They're not asking us to send ground troops; they're not asking us to fight for them. They are fighting and dying to the last man if necessary. But, we must help them.”

While direct intervention from outside countries has yet to happen, the U.S. and countries around the world have firmly condemned Russia’s actions and issued strong sanctions against Russia’s economy.

“You know, like the problem with all of this — and I think the problem with most wars, right? — there are political games people play where regular human beings, just like me and you, suffer at the end of it. So people need to just really understand: This is humanity we're talking about,” Jenny Feterovich said.

Feterovich is a Russian-American filmmaker (producer of the 2018 documentary The Russian Five) and metro Detroit resident. She moved to America at 14 years old and later married a native Ukrainian, who she met while working on a film together. “I was representing the American side, and she was representing the Ukrainian side,” Feterovich said.

“Being a person that often visited Russia and Ukraine, having friends and colleagues in both countries, you know, the difference was really vivid as they started to go their separate ways as countries.”

In 2014, Russian-backed separatists overtook two territories in Ukraine, Donetsk and Luhansk, and declared their independence, which has not been recognized by Ukraine and the international community.

Feterovich said she recently spoke with Ukrainian media professionals and asked them what the Ukrainian people are feeling. They told her:

“There's 30% of the population that's very pro-Russian. They feel like, if Russia comes in here, you know, and they're going to give us all this money and support, then we're going to have all [these things], so we're in. There's about 20% of the population that is extremely indifferent, and they just want the war to end. There's 50% of the population that's extremely proud of their heritage, their homeland, and they're going to defend it with everything that they have.”

Currently, the conflict is confined to Ukraine, but to Feterovich, it is already a global matter. Many observers, including her, fear that Putin is eyeing the Baltic states as well as Ukraine.

“This is going to be everybody's problem because there is no stopping, right? What's next? Putin to Crimea in 2014, we really didn't do anything about it, minus some sanctions. And that was just the beginning of what he was plotting to do, which is the direct result of what we're seeing right now. He's taking over another sovereign nation. And what is next?”

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April Van Buren is a producer for <i>Stateside</i>. She produces interviews for air as well as web and social media content for the show.
Lucas is a senior at Michigan State University studying professional and public writing. He has previously worked as a co-director of editing for VIM, an MSU fashion magazine. An aspiring music journalist, Lucas dreams of getting paid to go to concerts. He is also a screenwriter. When he’s not working, he can be found walking around aimlessly, listening to either punk rock or Kacey Musgraves.