The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Forty-Two, Crisis in Ukraine, by Misha Ignatenko with assistance from Marin Ekstrom

The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Forty-Two, Crisis in Ukraine, by Misha Ignatenko with assistance from Marin Ekstrom

Ukraine has always been the target of surrounding empires – the Ottomans, Poland-Lithuania, Austria-Hungary, Russia, France, Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Union – who have harbored ambitions to conquer and use its resources. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Ukraine, is right in pointing out that “in the history of the 20th century there is no place on earth where the soil is more blood-soaked than [in Ukraine].”

The newly established government, which is heavily supported by the northern and western regions of Ukraine, is viewed as pro-Ukrainian and pro-EU. In contrast, most of eastern and southern areas of Ukraine share pro-Russian views. Claiming that the new government might suppress the interests of ethnic Russians in Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, Russia sent troops to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. The new government fears that Russia might use the same reasoning for sending troops to the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine.

You can find a wide range of opinions on what is happening in Ukraine and who is to blame, but I think that the image on the left illustrates the situation well: most people are fighting against each other on minor issues (such as language) instead of focusing on larger issues (poverty, corruption) that everyone in Ukraine shares, regardless of ethnicity, language, religion, and political views.
People: “Hey! What are you doing?! This is our public money!”
Oligarchs/politicians: “You should first decide what language you want to receive an answer in and who is going to represent you.”
People: (fighting over language/politics)
Oligarchs/politicians: (escaping with public money)

Ukraine could take advantage of its unique position as a neutral zone between the European Union and Russia,  but those in power are pursuing their short-term goals of splitting the country into two hostile sides (Russian and Ukrainian), stealing as much as they can, and leaving piles of unsolved problems behind. As soon as I have a source of income, I want to invest in the people of my country who think beyond cheap politics and have a long-term vision of a peaceful and prosperous Ukraine where everyone is treated equally regardless of who they are. You’re welcome to join me on this “venture”.

For all of the North Star Project 2013-2014 Reports, see
For all of the North Star Project 2013 Summer Reports, see

The North Star Project 2013-2014 School Year Reports: The Middle Ground Journal’s collaborative outreach program with K-12 classes around the world. We gratefully acknowledge North Star Academy of Duluth, Minnesota as our inaugural partner school, and the flagship of our K-12 outreach program. We also warmly welcome Duluth East High School and Dodge Middle School to the North Star Project.

Under the leadership of our North Star host teachers and student interns, The North Star Project has flourished for two years. For a brief summary, please see a recent article in the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

Having re-tooled and re-designed the collaborative program, we are drawing on the experience of our veteran student interns, ideas from our host teachers, and new projects provided by our incoming student interns. This school year The Middle Ground Journal will share brief dispatches from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. As of the time of this report we have confirmed student interns who will be reporting from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world.  We will post their brief dispatches here, and report on their interactions with the North Star students and teachers throughout the school year.

Hong-Ming Liang, Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA, 2013-2014 School Year

(c) 2014 The Middle Ground Journal, Number 8, Spring, 2014. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal’s not-for-profit educational open-access policy.


Filed under Marin Ekstrom, North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

33 responses to “The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Forty-Two, Crisis in Ukraine, by Misha Ignatenko with assistance from Marin Ekstrom

    • Katy Goerke

      Investing in people with a productive vision for Ukraine’s future is a great long term goal. Though this recomendation does little to advise us on what we can do short term from in the US.

    • Austin

      Most of my current understanding of the conflict in Ukraine comes from western news outlets. You did a great job pointing out the larger issues rather than identity and language. Hopefully the situation and conflict does not spread to other neighboring nations.

  1. Bri Curtis

    What do you think the outcome of this situation will be? I enjoy the cartoon because it makes you think differently about the situation. Also, recently, they decided on electing a new president to take over for the remainder of these revolts, but if the people view the last president as part of the issue, then why would they decide to elect a new one? I am very curious to see what the end result of all of this will be.

  2. Chico Ortiz

    Why are the politicians making it difficult for the people of Ukraine? It’s breaking down the country. The end result should be interesting and I wonder what it how it will turn out.

  3. Maria O.

    I am not too well-versed in the details of the situation right now. As far as I know, there have been cessation efforts from Crimea in favor of the Russian government, but I’m wondering why the Russian government is intervening in the first place. After all, if this is a matter of sovereignty within a country, and we have similar protests elsewhere in the world (Tibet, Thailand, Venezuela…), why intervene that way in Ukraine only? Is it geographic? economic interests? Or is the language/culture/identity conflict big enough by itself to warrant such strong intervention on part of Russia?

  4. Jojo Jurgens

    All around the world the government tries to blind us from the real problems and makes us focus on things that are not the bigger problem. I have seen this happen in my country, Brazil, and in many others such as the United States and Ukraine. I believe it is our job to look for the truth and be able to take our blindfolds off. I hope the end result for Ukraine will be a positive one.

  5. Tayler

    A friend of mine is in the marines, and they have been following this news as well. He claims that the United States has no intentions of being involved, but I find this hard to believe. If things continue the way they do I predict it won’t be long before one of the parties involved will reach out to the U.S. Do you think this will cause more problems or help resolve the issue? I am torn between the two

  6. Ruby P.

    I think these people need to focus on things that are more important like poverty, as the article states they are fighting over language rather than poverty and politics. Or perhaps try to become at peace. It just seems governments everywhere are going downhill.

  7. As the situation sits now, Russia will not likely extend its incursion of Ukraine any farther than the south and west areas. Their argument is based upon the majority of the Russian-speaking Ukranian population wanting to cede from the rest of the country (as we can see from the referendum on Sunday).

    One problem lies in the interpretation of international law by Russia and many other nations (specifically U.S.A). Russia believes its incursion into the Crimean peninsula is legitimate, while others disagree. The international court should decide definitively. Even then, Russia will not likely acknowledge an international courts opinion if it is contrary to their own. My reasoning for that conclusion is based upon the idea that law is only as strong as its ability to enforce it, which the UN cannot in respect to Russia.

    I believe Ukraine needs to accept that the Crimean peninsula is lost to them. If they attempt to fight Russia, the result will not likely be in favor of the Ukraine. Unless, other countries get involved militarily, and then one can only guess at the outcome.

    The Crimean peninsula was given as a symbolic gift to the Ukraine in 1954 by the Soviet Union. Symbolic in that the date, February 19, 1954, marked the 300th anniversary that Ukraine was apart of the Russian/Soviet empire. For Russia to reclaim that makes sense, although it may not be fair. Russia has something quiteCrimea was given with the idea that Ukraine would retain close ties to the Russian empire. By ousting Yanukovich and declaring closer ties with the EU, Ukraine signaled to Russia that it wanted to dissolve from the empire. It is in this sense that Russia’s action are not unexpected. Ukraine is in a tough spot because time is against them on this issue.

  8. A note on U.S. Sanctions of Russia:
    They are paper tigers.

  9. Morgan Schmitz

    I think it is an interesting point you made about the problems that will be left in the wake of this situation. Does conflict ever solve anything? I am not an expert in what is happening nor can I even begin to identify with the people on either side. I get the sense that no matter what country one is a part of there will always be issues of poverty, language and identity. I think what is most important to people is maintaining an identity. Identity is what people live by, hold on to, and it shapes the way we view or world.

  10. The article does justice to describe the general situation in Ukraine. I don’t want to predict the potential outcome of this reality with how little I know about the country itself with its repetitive history but I won’t deny the hope I have towards a peaceful solution among the Ukrainians. I really appreciated how much the cartoon image contributed as the backbone to this article because opposition is always present in any given situation and the source of the problem is usually minimal in certain cases. Identity is always going to be one of the main factors that makes up the adversity in our lives. How we define ourselves will always stand in the way of our ability to communicate well to others. The image proves a good point that language is something that ends up being a barrier rather than a stepping stone for humans to be all on the same page. May the conflict of Ukraine end all conflicts of selfish ambitions.

  11. Kirsten Olsen

    I agree with the author in the sense that the people of Ukraine should stop focusing on the little things like language and start focusing on the bigger issues of corruption and poverty. I think that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if the country was divided because it seems to me after reading this article that Ukraine has an obvious division in influences. One being by the Russian which is supported by the southern half of Ukraine.The other being the western and northern sides of Ukraine who are pro-Ukrainian and support their own government not the influences of the surrounding countries.

  12. Part of me is amazed at how much is going on in Ukraine the situation is so complex, but that makes sense because humans are complex and never have just one motive. It also leads to other questions like, How much of the situation is still being covered up? I think it’s important to try and dig below the surface of one news article from one publisher in order to get a better understanding of the situation.

  13. Erin

    I agree with the fact that the people are fighting for the the wrong reasons. They seem to be looking at the superficial things on the surface rather than deeper issues. Poverty and politics should be the main focus of debate and resolution. I feel that if poverty and politics could be turned in the right direction than language and the petty issues will fall in place.

  14. Megan Hennen

    I agree that there are other issues at hand that extend to the country as a whole, but with that being said, I’m also aware that it’s not anywhere near as simple. The way we identify ourselves shapes us and our beliefs, so when one is attacked on the basis of their identity, how is that individual (or group) not supposed to take that personally? The ‘personal’ attacks, generally speaking, are going to transcend most (if not all) of the other issues.

  15. Joe Chell

    After the recent unsanctioned vote, and now Russia officially recognising Crimea as sovereign state do you think that even heavier sanctions need to be put down on Russia? however this made lead to serious implications and potentially result in a full scale war, so what kind of sanctions would you put in place to avoid this?

  16. Andy

    I hope that this ends with some sort of Ukrainian autonomy/neutrality agreement. I apologize for the lack of commitment.

  17. Zhiyu Yang

    My opinion is that at this point social disorder is the essence of Ukraine issue. The corruption among politicians, the separatism among each ethnic groups, the endless power struggle all obstruct Ukraine to go on a peaceful way. The most serious problem is that Ukraine is the intersection of western and eastern civilizations as it is near the Black Sea. The culture and ethnicity shock within the country cannot be ignored. Ukraine is just like a new-built building without any foundation, and the underground is full of sand layers. As a result, cracks will definitely appear on the wall.

  18. Brandon Torres

    I don’t think most people really ‘get’ or understand what it means to be Ukrainian or what the country is. You can see this when people refer to it as “The Ukraine,” an old soviet term referring to the landmass that is Ukraine. Additionally, it goes to show how cultures who’ve previously sought control over the country are now getting re-involved years later to aid them in their independence.

  19. Cheyenne Lemm

    I think that this article really helps get the whole picture. I like the cartoon, it is a really interesting way to make a point and get us to understand a major issue with the political scene in Ukraine. I think that Ukraine could really be a very prosperous country if only other countries would just leave it alone (Russia). Misha, I think it would be refreshing to get more of your opinion on the situation.

  20. I would like to respond to the “short-term goals” aspect to this conflict. I am concerned that the referendum held in Crimea (in which the people of Crimea overwhelmingly voted in favor of joining Russia) was based largely on emotions–a common theme among pure democratic votes. I can’t help but think that the attitudes of the voters might change and come to regret this sudden decision. Discussion among leaders, citizens, and even outside countries weighing in–although it would take longer–may be more lasting in the long term.

    Thank you for your perspective on “splitting the country into two hostile sides.” I have been thinking that parceling Ukraine into different, smaller nations would be for the best, but your entry has me looking at the issue differently. Thank you.

  21. Ada Moreno

    There have been many who have questioned just how fabricated and manipulated internal conflicts within regions can be. Similar to the war in Bosnia during the 90’s, where culutral differences between ethnic groups could be seen from an external point of view as minimal, were magnified by those who in the end would profit both ecomically and politically. The cartoon clearly addresses one of the main issues of the current situation in Ukraine, internal disnunity and discord will only benefit external sources.

  22. Samantha Frascone

    I just think it’s really sad corrupt Ukraine really is. I think focusing on the smaller problems instead of the problems that actually matter is a very common thing that the government does. It says in this article that Ukraine has the potential to become neutral between the European Union and Russia. Shouldn’t the government recognize this and strive towards this one goal? I just don’t see why they don’t think it would be important.

  23. Sam Yocum

    With Crimea having voted to become part of Russia, Ukraine is put in a hard spot. They have lost a major port, though there have been many arguments whether or not Crimea has the right to just vote to become part of Russia. As for US involvement, it is still being decided upon last I had heard. I hope that if we do get involved it will be to help Ukraine, instead of helping Russia to conquer it.

  24. Chris R.

    The issue of poverty and corruption are not exclusive to the Ukraine. These problems will be there whether oligarchs exist or not. The world (international community) is going to allow Crimea to be consumed by Russia and the world is not going to do much about it because it’s a world power. Just like the world has done nothing about Tibet, Taiwan, Okinawa, Hawaii, Panama etc. In a perfect world the Russians would just say, “OK Ukraine, you can have it back and we will respect your sovereignty”, but I don’t see that happening because this isn’t a perfect world and Russia wants Crimea. The U.S. and the EU have interests, but doesn’t have the leverage needed to do anything substantial.

  25. skier1234

    It seems strange that petty things in comparison to the larger picture seem to be the product of such violence and contestation between the people. This just goes to show that issues of language and proper representation, seem to be the Main issue, which may mean it has been a part of the growing cultural divide for several years. It is always easy for politicians to strike the chords that ring the loudest in people’s hearts, then in the chaos get out with what they want

  26. skier1234

    It seems issues such and language and proper representation may strike more of a chord in the hearts of people more than corrupt politics. It may be that politics just arent enough to make people more angry than cultural divides that have lasted for several decades.

  27. Catherine Kolar

    You mentioned the fact that the people of Ukraine tend to be focused on squabbling over the minor issues such as language instead of the major overlying issues such as poverty and corruption. I don’t know much at all about the ethnic and cultural background of Ukraine nor the stats on unemployment and government corruption, but I would be interested to see how the minor issues play into major issues.

  28. Matt Breeze

    How has this situations developed for good or bad in the time since this article was first written? Ukraine is undoubtedly an important region of the world where numerous empires have staked claims and fought for control and this makes it a place with an often violent history. As Ukraine has become more separated from within tensions between the great powers in the region have become more tense. The future of Ukraine is up in the air, but the Ukrainian people have the ability and support necessary to make it a bright future.

  29. Andrew Bailey

    Hello Misha & Marin, thank you for sharing this information. I must admit, I am not as well versed on the geopolitical happenings in Ukraine and its most recent relations with its neighbors, but it is something I have heard a lot about in the news. I also wonder in what ways the political landscape in Ukraine has evolved over the past four years since this article was written and submitted. It is quite disheartening to think that oligarchs and politicians would take advantage of the people they represent and govern (as the illustration you have attached demonstrates)… but then again, I have many friends who would argue that there are many elected officials in the United States who have done the same.

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