Meet a broken family in Ukraine — divided by geography and blame

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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman and this is The World. Don’t know if you’ve seen any of the video footage out of eastern Ukraine--it’s ugly, homes shelled beyond repair, people surviving in ice cold basements with very little to eat. We’re going to check in now on the situation with a Ukrainian. Natalya Romanyuk is not in the east, she lives and works in Kiev where she produces television commercials, but her brother and mother are in eastern Ukraine, near Donetsk.


Natalya Romanyuk: I talked to my mom yesterday, they’re okay. They haven’t had any water for maybe four days already because their reservation was bombed and now it’s being repaired. But nobody knows how much time it will take because it’s full of snow and it’s -5 to -10 at night. It might take some time because one time when it was bombed, it took them three months to repair it, so they didn’t have any running water for three months.


Werman: I gather you haven’t spoken much with your brother in the past year. Why not?


Romanyuk: I haven’t because starting from the first of December last year, when people were beaten up in Maidan Square and the whole city revolted, I talked to him in the evening and he really shocked me by saying that the people who were beaten up were to blame. It’s not the police, it’s just them because they were not supposed to stay there, they were supposed to be in their homes sleeping. It really shocked me because my brother is quite a reasonable and wise guy--no, he’s not a guy anymore, he’s 31--but, you know, the whole attitude was so different. Then when it all started in Donbass, he kept blaming Ukrainians because he thinks that Maidan is the reason of what is going on now. For me, that’s just ridiculous.


Werman: Has this conflict divided you and your brother?


Romanyuk: I’m trying not to talk politics. He visited me last month and for the first day, we were okay, we were talking about life and stuff. But on the second day, still we couldn’t resist talking about politics and we quarreled again.


Werman: Tell me what your heritage is. How is it that your brother and mother are in eastern Ukraine and you’re in Kiev? Did you grow up in eastern Ukraine and then move?


Romanyuk: Yeah, I was born there and I was brought up there. I remember my first visit to western Ukraine, we were brought there when we were 15. We were afraid to speak Russian there because we were told that if we don’t speak Ukrainian, which we can speak but we don’t because in the Donbass region, everybody speaks Russian there.


Werman: And you did too, you grew up in eastern Ukraine speaking Russian?


Romanyuk: I’m speaking Russian now. I’m trying to speak more Ukrainian because it will take some time because I can’t think in Ukrainian, it’s not my native language. So, even when I was you and we were there, we didn’t want to speak Russian. But in a couple of days, we understood that western Ukrainians are so much more religious and kind, and my whole idea about what western Ukraine was was broken. But I always noticed that most people perceived western Ukrainians as different people, and maybe this was some button that was pushed a half a year ago by Russians.


Werman: So, those old friends of yours, classmates and so on in the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, do you still talk to them? Are you able to still talk with them?


Romanyuk: I’m not talking to anybody that is left there because my efforts ended up, in maybe the beginning of February of last year, when I was trying to tell people what Maidan about, what we were doing there, because they were told by Russian television--and most of them are watching only Russian television--that Maidan is some fascist area and things like that. When the war started in March, they started blaming me for Ukrainians bombing their cities, and that’s when we stopped talking because it was just impossible to prove them differently. I think that really there’s something in the water, because for some reason, people at some point, they stop thinking.


Werman: I really get a sense, from what you’re saying, just how split Ukraine is, almost like right down the middle. What hopes do you have for the future?


Romanyuk: I really hope that war stops. I think when Russia stops supporting it, it will all end really soon. But I don’t really know what to do with the people there because they are all confident now that we are their enemies, and that’s said.


Werman: That was TV producer Natalya Romanyuk speaking with me from Kiev.