Tetyana Hanna’s concerns grow every time she calls friends in her native country, Ukraine.
Hanna, who spent half of her life growing up in Striy, calls and video chats with her friends who still live in Ukraine every other day. But the 28-year-old Killeen business owner doesn’t always like what she hears. Her friends tell her they’re living their lives in terror, taking their days hour by hour.
“They’re scared,” Hanna said earlier this week. “They don’t know what’s going to happen because they don’t know if they’re going to be invaded. In the morning, they wake up and it’s all going on, like war.”
About two weeks ago, Russian forces took control of Crimea, a peninsula on the Black Sea that once belonged to Ukraine. And Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed the strategically important territory.
“It has to do with economic development, the limitations of warm-water ports,” said Killeen Assistant City Manager Ann Farris, who was in Ukraine in 2004 teaching peacemaking and conflict resolution skills in Lugansk, a Russian-speaking southeastern city in Ukraine. “(Crimea) is a very valuable asset to Ukraine, and Ukraine is poor. When you go there, you look around and you think, ‘I don’t know if they have any natural resources,’ and Crimea provides a coastline for them that is one of their most important assets.”
While Farris was in Ukraine, she witnessed turmoil leading up to a reported fraudulent Ukrainian presidential election that year. Nearly a decade later, Farris is concerned again about turmoil in the country.
“If it were just Crimea, that would still be bad,” she said. “My bigger worry is that this is the beginning, the entry, the opening of the door or the window to go in and take over more.”
While in Ukraine, Farris said, the country was internally divided between citizens who wanted to be their own people and citizens who were knee-deep in traditions and scared of change.
“They were already kind of looking over their shoulder, not knowing what the future would bring, trying to figuring things out alone, knowing that Big Brother was literally within a rocks throw away,” Farris said. “They already had things to be afraid of and now I think this probably scares them to their very bones.”
Hanna said some Russians justify taking Crimea because many people in the region speak Russian. However, she made parallels to the U.S., saying it doesn’t work that way.
“I know (Crimea) belonged to Russia a long time ago, but didn’t California belong to Mexico? Didn’t Louisiana belong to France? It’s not like the other country is going to come in and say, ‘Hey, give me back Louisiana or give me back California.’ It’s not right,” Hanna said. “This is what was done, this is the law … (You can’t) come in and one day decide to invade everything.”
Hanna also said she sees parallels between what’s going on in Crimea to what happened in Georgia in 2008.
“Russia also invaded Georgia,” she said. “They were promising that life was going to get better once they were under Russia, but life didn’t get better. … There are a lot of towns destroyed now; everything is bombed and many people died and that’s it. And it stayed like that.
“And now these places are ruined and nobody’s going to return the lives of those people; those innocent people who died.”
As Ukraine’s atmosphere changes, Hanna said she hopes government relations and protests calm down in the next few months since she plans to show her husband and children her native country for the first time this summer.
But, she knows it might not happen. Her friends also told her quite a few boys from her town — younger than 20 — died in the protests.
“I didn’t know them, but my friends knew them,” Hanna said, holding back tears. “For nothing, they put their life down.
“A hundred people died for nothing. … Russia is not going to stop (with) Crimea. They’re going to continue.”