89.9 FM Live From The University Of New Mexico
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Russian aggression forces Ukrainians to reflect on previous generations' trauma

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We've been reporting here in Ukraine for the past week. And through all the conversations we've had with Ukrainians about the threat of more Russian aggression, one thing that stood out is how each generation absorbs the trauma of the one that came before. I want to tell you about this woman I met the other day when we were visiting the former mansion of Viktor Yanukovych. He's the Ukrainian president who was forced from office in 2014. The woman's name is Irina. And she and her friend were walking around the palace grounds, all bundled up in coats and snow pants. We got to chatting. And when I asked her what she thinks about all the Russian troops aligned on the border with Belarus, it only took a couple moments for Irina to get emotional.

IRINA: It's terrible. (Non-English language spoken).

MARTIN: "It's terrible, terrible. It hurts me," she says. "It's about my family."

IRINA: (Non-English language spoken).

MARTIN: She goes on to tell me as a child, her mother and family were kicked out of their home by the Soviets and forcefully resettled after World War II. "It all goes through my family history, the pain." And then in the same breath, Irina talks about the generation after her, the young people who protested at Independence Square in Kyiv in 2014.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: We begin with a dramatic turn in the crisis for control of Ukraine.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: See the flames burning through the night as government forces crack down on protesters in Kyiv's central square.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

MARTIN: And this is where it happened. I'm standing in the middle of Kiev in this city center, this Maidan, where there is a memorial to the protests of 2014. And I'm standing here with a woman who was there.

Do you mind introducing yourself to me?

DARIIA HIRNA: Yeah, my name is Dariia Hirna. I'm a journalist. So yeah, I took part in Revolution of Dignity in 2013 and '14. And it was really emotional and important for me personally.

MARTIN: It was called the Revolution of Dignity. Explain why.

HIRNA: Because people couldn't stand the lie and all of this corruption anymore. And as long as we expected of moving towards EU and NATO - and power decided to stop this future from us and to - yeah, it was basically young people. But also, our parents supported us, of course. But it got quite tense when riot police beat students. So it was really unexpected and brutal.

MARTIN: What are your memories of that violence? I mean, many people died.

HIRNA: Actually, I haven't witnessed this police action because this night, this first night police beat the students, I left to my hometown. And when I came home and read the news feed, I was shocked because there were still my friends. And it was really scary because we were unsecure. And we didn't have any weapons, any helmets on us. So yeah, it was really scary.

MARTIN: When you told me earlier that it was very emotional being here, can you describe one of those moments?

HIRNA: I remember that when we were standing here, it was really freezing. It was snow and freezing.

MARTIN: Just like now.

HIRNA: Yeah, just like now. And people take, like, warm clothes with them and share these clothes with each other. So it was, like, a atmosphere of unity. And when I saw, like, the December 1, it was the first meeting when, like, 1 million people came here to Maidan.

MARTIN: A million people were here in this square.

HIRNA: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It was really exciting, and it felt like we're invincible, and we can change our future, actually.

MARTIN: Then it wasn't very long when Russia annexed Crimea, Russian-backed backed separatists took Donetsk, Luhansk. And the fighting continues there. How does what happened here in Maidan - how do you think about it in relation to the ongoing cycle of aggression and violence from Russia?

HIRNA: So Ukraine paid a huge price for its freedom. It's obvious, but I think it was worth it. And we have lots of important changes in our country for the last eight years. But still, we had this constant feel of danger. And to be honest, I really exhausted of being stressed. Yeah.

MARTIN: Have you had conversations with your parents about this?

HIRNA: So, like, lots of my relatives came through these Soviet repressions. And they knew what Russia is and what is the Russian influence, yes? So, of course, they worry. My family worry about all of the things, but they still in Lviv. It's, like, western Ukraine. So it's - feel more safe there, yeah? But my husband's family - they live in the eastern part, and they all already left from the occupied territories. They lost their homes. So they now live in lesser chance. And they worry very much, I think, because they already lost their home, and they don't want to lose it again.

MARTIN: And that is part of the cycle Ukrainians are trapped in. They're carrying not just the trauma of their parents or grandparents who remember different chapters of Russian aggression. They're absorbing the current pain, the losses that those they love are suffering to this day. But standing here in the Maidan, Dariia talks about what has changed since the revolution of 2014.

HIRNA: We got our strong army that can protect us and other things. For example, the state became more open. The state opened all the archive documents of KGB and Communists' files, so now we can learn our history.

MARTIN: And knowing that history is a step towards making sure it stops repeating itself.

(SOUNDBITE OF SUBSETS' "ELLIPSE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Reena Advani is an editor for NPR's Morning Edition and NPR's news podcast Up First.