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National Public Radio reporter
David Stern said: “As Ukraine is a split society, there is always the danger
that there could be a civil war.”

Max
Fisher, writing for The Washington Post, referenced an “Ethno-Linguistic Map of
Ukraine,” which showed the regional division of the country into ethnic Ukrainians
and ethnic Russians, as well as showing the Ukrainian-Russian language divide.
Writing for Open Democracy, Ethan Burger goes as far as to suggest that Ukraine
should be partitioned into two countries: east and west.

The problem is
that much of the media’s referenced information is coming from the outdated
2010 presidential elections or even from 2004 Orange Revolution data. During
the past seven months, the picture has dramatically changed. As for the past
month, the harsh division is simply not there anymore.

Most of
Ukraine’s citizens who represent the nation’s cultural and intellectual society
have held a view directly opposite to mainstream Western media.

On Nov. 28,
Petro Poroshenko, a prominent pro-European Union politician and one of the likely
candidates for Ukraine’s presidency, said on BBC’s HARDTalk: “For these four
months the nation is united. . . . We have 58 percent [of the last opinion poll
provided by Deutsche Welle] of people supporting the European Union
integration. This is a national idea that unites the country.”

On Jan. 25, Svyatoslav Vakarchuk,
Ukraine’s most famous rock star, said during an interview on Hromadske TV:
“Today Ukraine is not divided into east and west, but Ukraine is divided into
ordinary people and government structures. . . .”

Ukrayinska Pravda, a prominent
Ukrainian news source, reported on Jan. 21 that 20.5 percent of Ukrainians
want to live under dictatorship while 51 percent support democracy as the
government rule of law.

Poroshenko,
Vakarchuk, and Ukrayinska Pravda are correct. In 1991, Ukraine experienced a
national referendum wherein 90 percent of Ukrainians voted for the nation’s
independence.

This means that from the very beginning, almost unanimously,
Ukraine has valued its independence from Russia.

Furthermore, Russian-Ukrainian
linguistic divisions within regions do not necessarily imply divisions of
political preference. Even though there seems to be a correlation between western regions being pro-EU and eastern regions being pro-Russian, the
relationship is weak. There are those who are pro-Russia in western regions and
there are those who are pro-EU in the east.

Also, the
regional divisions that much of Western media references usually do not take
into consideration demographic variables such as age. Most of Ukraine’s youth
is pro-E.U. According to Deutsche Welle, about 65 percent of the 18- to
29-year-old participants supported E.U. integration. Many of the committed Kyiv
EuroMaidan protesters are from Eastern and Southern regions.

The reality is
that Russia wants to engender tension in Ukraine so that the country will be
divided. The Economist’s Edward Lucas says: “It was that Putin [who] wanted
Yanukovych to ‘dip his hands in blood.’” Several weeks ago, Putin’s former
economic advisor Andrey Illarionov said during an interview on Hromadske TV
that Putin is ready to implement “operations” in Ukraine’s territory
during the 2014 Sochi Olympic games. Illarionov was only a week behind schedule
with his prediction. Today, Illarionov writes in his blog that Putin does not
want to go to war with Ukraine; instead, he wants a civil war in Ukraine –
between Russians, Ukrainians, and Tartars.

The more chaos
and inner turmoil in Ukraine, the more control Russia will be able to exert
over it. If the narrative of a divided Ukraine becomes reality, partial
annexation will be within Putin’s grasp. So far, Russia is puffing up its
“bullyism.” Russia will likely not employ overt force as it did in Georgia in
2008 because doing so would be too costly. While Georgia’s population is only 4
million, Ukraine’s is 46 million (roughly one-third the size of Russia’s
population). Rather, Russia will orchestrate Ukraine’s self-destruction; only
then will Russia intervene to “save” Russians from the “evil fascist Ukrainian
radicals.”

There are four
steps that Western media should take.

First, they should stop spreading the
outdated and inaccurate narrative of a divided Ukraine and should instead look
to—or even conduct—Ukrainian opinion polls.

Second, it should emphasize the
predominantly peaceful Ukrainian protests that have been occurring for the past
three months.

Third, the media should reveal the corrupt system created by
Ukraine’s kleptocrats.

Fourth, and most importantly, the media should continue
to expose the kleptocrats themselves and shame their unscrupulous businesses in
the West.

For instance, they could highlight the Omtron Limited USA case
involving Ukrainian multi-billionaire Oleg Bakhmatyuk in North Carolina—or the
Illinois-based Archer Daniels Midland case, wherein the agribusiness giant was
found guilty of bribing Ukrainian officials.

When Western
media spreads the message of a divided Ukraine, it actually strengthens the
discord that does in fact exist. And if enough Westerners believe that Ukraine
is truly divided, they might echo Ethan Burger’s question: “Why not Ukraine be
split after all?” The more people who buy this idea of division, the easier it
will be for Putin to steal part of our country.

The “divided
Ukraine” narrative is seductive in its simplicity and disastrous in its
ramifications. Sure, it’s easier to consume. But it’s also wrong—and it
contributes to Putin’s plan to bring catastrophe to a nation that is struggling
for democracy and human rights.

lya Timtchenko is an
undergraduate senior currently pursuing a double major in International Affairs
and Economics at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts. He is the main
organizer of the EuroMaidan in Boston

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