Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Crisis in Ukraine: agony and apathy

Ukrainians, who comprise the second largest immigrant community in this country, have been viewing the ongoing crisis in their homeland with growing alarm, and also with some disappointment over a perceived lack of interest among the Portuguese people.
Tuesday’s face-to-face meeting between the Ukrainian and Russian presidents in the Belarusian capital of Minsk was the latest development in a fast-moving scenario that in February saw former President Yanukovych fleeing to Russia and the setting up of a pro-European government.
Russian forces helped separatists seize power in Crimea, which Russia formally annexed in March, prompting US and its European allies to impose sanctions on Russia.
Pro-Russian elements went on to stoke separatist sentiment that led to fatal clashes in eastern and south-west Ukraine.
A Malaysian airliner was shot down in rebel-held territory in July and in August Russia has sent hundreds of aid trucks to rebels across the border in what the Ukrainian government describes as a direct invasion.
Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko has now dissolved parliament in the capital Kiev and called for early elections in October as the battle against pro-Russian insurgency continues.
Most Ukrainians in Portugal have been supportive of the government in Kiev and have clearly displayed this in protest letters and at rallies outside the Russian, French and German Embassies in Lisbon
On the other hand, pro-Russian sentiments have been expressed by a minority of Ukrainians here and also by the Portuguese Communist Party.
Pavlo Sadokha, president of the biggest association representing Ukrainians in Portugal, told us that since the beginning of direct Russian aggression and the annexation of Crimea, Russian propaganda has radicalised the views of a small number of immigrants originating from the eastern regions of Ukraine.
“The Communist Party of Portugal and other related organisations have actively relayed the Russian propaganda. These promoters invited the rare but radicalised pro-Russian Ukrainians to witness‘rampant Nazism and fascism in Ukraine,’” he said.
Efforts by Mr Sadokha’s organisation to alert the Portuguese to Moscow’s aggression and explain that it will not stop in Ukraine have not brought the hoped-for results.
Portuguese political leaders have said little openly on the subject since Foreign Minister Rui Machete declared after a meeting with his counterparts in Brussels in March that the European Union was fully behind the Ukraine and that there should be no doubt as to its political and economic support over the Crimea dispute.
It took the shooting down of the Malaysian Airways plane with the killing of 298 people to overcome the general apathy among the Portuguese, said Mr Sadokha.
“Before the tragedy with the plane, the Ukrainian community planned rallies before the embassies of Germany and France in Lisbon. The Ukrainian community protested against an excessively mild position of the leaders of these countries towards the Kremlin aggression, and in the case of France against the sale of Mistral military ships to Putin's Russia, he said.
“The downed plane finally attracted considerable attention of the Portuguese towards these protests.”  
But since then the agony in Ukraine has worsened and while Portuguese national newspapers continue to run reports on the situation, most politicians and people here are firmly focused on the myriad economic and social problems at home.

* A Ukrainian protest outside the Russian Embassy in Lisbon

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