By MARILIS DUGAS ’16
The ongoing situation in Ukraine has garnered a lot of attention worldwide, and students at Wellesley have been active in the conversation. During the weeks of Feb. 23 and March 2, Wellesley students closely followed the international media coverage of the unfolding events. Wellesley has been engaged in the conversation about Ukraine.
Wellesley’s Russian Area Studies department, chaired by Professor Nina Tumarkin, organized a lecture titled “Ukraine! What Next?” The talk highlighted the issue of Ukraine’s internal unrest and conflict in the midst of media coverage that has split from this narrative. Western-based media outlets have turned the conversation to American foreign policy rather than to the core issue of Ukraine’s domestic turmoil. As we continue to follow the events in Ukraine, we must remember to look at the whole picture, not just the role and response of Western nations.
The Russian Area Studies panel brought in fellows from the Harvard Davis Center, Professor Serhii Plokhii and Dr. Nadiya Kravets. The speakers, Ukrainians themselves, focused on different issues as they spoke to a crowd of over 100 students. Plokhii focused on the domestic situation within Ukraine, which has received minimal media coverage since the military crisis in Crimea began in late February. Kravets focused on the foreign policy side of the situation, speaking about Russian motivations and possible future actions by both Ukraine and Russia.
However, both panelists began by stating that they wanted to bring the discussion on Ukraine back to Ukraine itself. They acknowledged that media coverage has been disproportionately centered on the United States, focusing on U.S. responses and who is to “blame.” The media coverage, the panelists argued, skirts around the actual situation in Ukraine and impedes Western understanding of the unfolding situation.
Plokhii and Kravets are absolutely right in their assessment of media coverage of Ukraine. U.S. news outlets, after the immediate factual updates on the situation, have run articles about the United States’ response (or lack thereof), facilitated debates about President Obama’s foreign policy and speculated about how 2016 presidential candidates will deal with Russia.
These issues have dominated the media, and although they are valid conversations, they mar the realities and negatively impact international understanding of the events in Ukraine. The Maidan protests that triggered the escalation of events in Ukraine were primarily domestic, yet Western media has failed to make its primary coverage on Ukraine itself.
The population of the former Soviet republic is, as Kravets said at the Wellesley panel, far more complicated than Russian-speaking versus non Russian-speaking, or ethnic Russian versus ethnic Ukrainian.
Western media has oversimplified the issue, giving more room to discussions centered around the United States. In reality, the media should focus on the domestic Ukrainian situation, which is far from solved. Russian military involvement has not ended Ukranian protests on Maidan nor has it solved the domestic governmental problems.
During the Russian Area Studies panel, Plokhii only mentioned the West in terms of the European Union’s proposed “Association Agreement” that triggered the protests on Maidan. Kravets only referred to the West and the United States when she spoke about Russian oil interests in the Black Sea that overlap with the those of the United States. Both panelists focused on the country where the crisis originated, Ukraine, and the country that has become heavily involved, Russia.
The media should refocus its attention to current circumsatnces in Ukraine in order to enhance readers’ understanding of the issue. This situation has hundreds of years of history behind it and debating whether or not President Obama’s foreign policy “provoked” the Russian involvement in Crimea is not conducive to understanding the core of the issue.
In the coming weeks, Wellesley students should continue to follow the developing situation in Ukraine closely. Media attention is returning to Ukraine, with the Crimean referendum showing overwhelming support for Crimea to join the Russian Federation. Just hours after the referendum occured, top stories turned to theories on how Western nations will retaliate. However, as this conversation unfolds, Wellesley students should be aware of the dimensions of this issue. The referendum is a symptom of severe internal turmoil within Ukraine, not of the United States’ foreign policy.