On February 24th of this year, the Russian military, under the command of President Vladimir Putin, invaded Ukraine. This attack on the largest democratic nation in Europe reverberates into Southern California, an area with some of the highest populations of both Ukrainians and Russian speakers in the United States. So Mike Ciriaco sat down with Alexey Tuzov and Victoria Shcherbak, residents of the heavily Russian-populated City of West Hollywood, to discuss how this war is affecting those in Ukraine, Russia, and here in SoCal.
Alexey and Victoria represent the overlapping nature of Ukrainian and Russian cultures. Alex was born in soviet Turkmenistan, but after the fall of the USSR he moved with his family to Russia, and his great grandmother was Ukrainian. Victoria is originally from Russia, but her father was from eastern Ukraine, where his sister currently resides. Since the invasion, he has regularly kept contact with Victoria’s aunt.
“My father, he called his sister pretty much every day,” said Victoria, speaking in a Russian accent, “to see if she has water, if she is safe, if she has food, how the situation is going.”
The couple also keeps regular contact with Victoria’s parents in Russia. To them, the situation in Ukraine is perceived less as an invasion and more as a civil war. Since 2014, the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine has been plagued by conflict between the Ukrainian government and Russian-speaking separatists backed by the Russian Federation’s military. Some in Russia believe the current conflict is about liberating their Slavic brethren from tyranny.
“My parents are not supporting Putin,” explained Victoria. “But they have [limited ways] to get information, mostly from those in Ukraine. They believe what happened in Ukraine is a civilian war, Ukrainians versus those who speak Russian. So they believe this is what happen, people from Ukraine who don’t speak Russian tried to kill all the Ukrainians that speak Russian.
“That’s what my parents believe,” she clarified. ““Me, I’m neutral. I don’t know who to believe, what is the truth. I think only the people doing the stuff know the truth. We have to just wait for the actions to show the real truth.”
Victoria’s skepticism is understandable in light of Russia’s aggressive propaganda campaigns. Putin actively disseminates a false narrative that Ukrainian forces are committing genocide against Russian speaking Ukrainians.
“I spoke with her parents and heard how they translate information,” said Alexey. “They spoke with words using propaganda about terrorism, separatism, and this 8 years of [killing] Russian people in Donbas. It’s the same thing that comes from Russian TV. Maybe they don’t watch TV but they get information from those who do.”
Book ending this anti-Ukrainian propaganda, Putin has actively smothered free speech, which ripples into Southern California. We’ll discuss this topic further with Ukrainian-American journalist Eugene Levin next Monday in part 2 of ‘To Ukraine with Love.’
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