The War in Ukraine and How it Came to This
The war in Ukraine is at the forefront of everyone’s thoughts now. And it certainly should be. Since we live in Spain, some friends have asked us about how it is affecting us. Yet more than anything, we have been surprised to learn about the false information out there and the conclusions being drawn.
So we’ve asked a dear friend and fellow expat in Denia, Mickey Neeley, to share from his and his Ukrainian wife’s personal connections about the recent history that leads up to the war in Ukraine and what we can all do to help.
Just one year after first publishing this article was updated with an IG Live interview we did of Tetyana and Mickey. Click here to skip ahead to watch this.
A Personal Connection to the War in Ukraine
I’ve been Ukrainian by marriage since I married my wonderful wife Tetyana in 2002. I have made many trips to her home city of Kyiv since then. It is a big glorious European city of about 3 million people. It is filled with beautiful architecture, expansive parks, Orthodox and Catholic churches whose golden domes glisten in the sun and, it’s best asset, the Ukrainians.
Above Image – Mickey and Tetyana Neeley with their Ukrainian family.
The whole world knows about Ukrainians now. But unfortunately they don’t see them enjoying their parks, joyful gatherings with friends and family, amazing celebrations and concerts in the center of the city. The world sees them huddled in underground metro stations normally busy with commuters, but now converted to bomb shelters. They see ordinary people placing themselves in front of tanks trying to slow the advancing Russian army.
They see civilian volunteers taking up arms and creating stockpiles of Molotov cocktails preparing for the horror of urban combat. They see the outmanned and outgunned Ukrainian military putting up a ferocious defense and taking a heavy toll on the advancing Russian army. They see a man who was a comedian two years ago now inspiring the world as the courageous leader of a country that just wants to be free to decide their own future.
What has Led to the War in Ukraine?
Above Image – A beautiful view of the Lavra in Kyiv.
How in the world is this happening? In 2022 we have a World War II level invasion in Europe. This was supposed to be behind us. I’m not a historian or professional military analyst. But I have a very personal interest in Ukraine and read voraciously about what’s been happening since 2014. Some will quibble with my version of events but this is my take on it.
Like many people in Europe, Ukrainians have a long history of periods of independence followed by conquests by various empires. That’s one reason why modern day Ukraine has significant populations of ethnic Russians, Romanians, Hungarians, Poles, and Tatars. Ukraine was the second largest republic in the Soviet Union – second only to Russia itself. Modern Ukraine became independent in 1992 following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
As in many countries of the former Soviet Union the 1990’s were a period of economic turmoil as their worlds were turned upside down due to the transition from a centralized socialist economy to the new wild west of capitalism. During this period many savvy former officials and others were able to secure ownership of large state-owned companies and become what’s known as oligarchs. Oligarchs are people who have amassed a great fortune and have significant influence and control over governments – which tends to make them even richer.
The Struggle to Rid Ukraine of Corruption
By 2004, the Ukrainians were tired and frustrated with the oligarch system and the endemic corruption in every level of government. They had seen the success of neighboring countries like Poland that had reformed their systems in order to be accepted into the European Union. During a turbulent election in 2004, the pro-democracy candidate, Yushenko, was poisoned with dioxin and horribly disfigured. He survived but lost the election to the more pro-Russian candidate, Yanukovych. Due to reported widespread fraud the election was not accepted by the Ukrainians resulting in massive protests known as the Orange Revolution. The Ukrainian Supreme Court ordered a revote and Yushenko defeated Yanukovych by 7 points.
Unfortunately, the new government was not as effective as expected in reforming the government and the pro-Russian candidate won the next election in 2008. In late 2013, the president Yanukovych was to sign an association agreement with the EU that would require reforms to clean up the Ukrainian government in exchange for increased aid and trade with the EU.
The Russian government did not want Ukraine to have closer ties with the EU. President Putin pressured Yanukovych to instead sign an agreement to join a Russian led association in exchange for financial aid. This sudden change in direction from the EU to Russia led to massive protests in what is commonly known as the Euromaidan and which Ukrainians call their Revolution of Dignity.
This is Not the First War in Ukraine
The protests started in November of 2013 but exploded in size after the Yanukovych government tried to violently disperse protestors. The protests continued across the country until it culminated with several days of violence in late February of 2014, resulting in the death of over 100 protestors as they were shot by snipers and other security forces. Yanukovych fled to Russia and a new pro-EU government was formed with the May election of a new president, Poroshenko.
Shortly after Yanukovych fled to Russia, Putin had the Russian military seize the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, which hosted the headquarters and major ports of the Russian Black Sea fleet. Soon afterwards separatists (backed by the Russian government) in the eastern Ukrainian region known as the Donbas, declared their independence. War erupted as a Ukrainian military, weakened by corruption, attempted to establish control over the Donbas. Ukrainians suffered heavy losses after the Russian military directly intervened but the fighting continued. Cease fire agreements were reached in 2014 and then in 2015.
An Ongoing Attack Against Ukraine
Since that time, there has been on-going low-level fighting along lines of contact resulting in 1-2 Ukrainian deaths per month. Casualties on the separatists side are unknown. Additionally, the Ukrainians have suffered significant cyber attacks from the Russians that resulted in extensive shut downs of their power grid and other critical systems.
In the Spring of 2021, the Russian military began large build-ups of equipment and troops all along the Ukrainian border under the guise of military exercises. While there were some rotations the build-up continued until late 2021. Putin began making demands that Ukraine stop any effort to join the EU or NATO and that NATO pull it’s forces (which are quite small) out of former Soviet republics in eastern Europe. After Ukraine, the EU and NATO refused Putin’s demands. Then Russia used the 140,000+ troops it had massed to launch an all-out invasion of Ukraine on the 24th of February.
The Madman Behind the War in Ukraine
In a long and, to me, unhinged speech announcing the invasion, Putin made it clear this is about much more than NATO expansion. He does not recognize that Ukraine should exist as a country at all. He had made similar comments previously, as well as in an essay he published in the summer of 2021. He even spoke about denazifying Ukraine even though they have a Jewish president. He stated it all with such vitriol that it was unnerving. Yet we had not believed that he would actually launch a full-scale invasion and try to overturn the government. When we saw his speech we realized how wrong we were.
This is a man who wants nothing less than to once again subjugate the Ukrainian people to the control of Russia. This is why the eastern European countries were quick to make the reforms necessary to join the EU and NATO. They had similar historical experiences of independence and then Russian dominance. They knew it could happen again, as they feared it is happening again now to the Ukrainians.
What Ukraine Wants
Above Image – Mickey and Tetyana with their family and friends in the Ukraine.
The Ukrainian people have finally been making progress in ridding their country of corruption and creating an optimistic society that believes in a better future – a European future. That was too much of a threat to the kleptocratic authoritarian reign of Putin. So he made his move.
And now our family in Ukraine and many others are doing what they can to stay safe and help the government defend the country.
Please do whatever you can to support the Ukrainian people. They have earned it. Scroll further below for how to contact your representatives, donate your money and/or time. There is, and will be, much need.
How to Help End the War in Ukraine – #StandWithUkraine
Please use the links below to contact your Senator or Representative and request the following:
1. Increased financial sanctions on Russia to include:
– Removal from the SWIFT system
– Asset seizure, travel bans and immediate expulsion of Russian officials, oligarchs and their family members from western countries
2. Fully isolate Russia diplomatically and from international organizations.
3. Continued supply of weapons for Ukraine.
The links below take you to the contact information for your representatives. Having also lived in Colorado before moving to Spain, I called the offices of Senators Bennet and Hickenlooper in Denver and was able to speak to their staff immediately. They all have contact forms as well if you are not comfortable making a call. It really is easy. Thank you for your support!
Donate Your Money and/or Time
Visit Stand For Ukraine to learn of 20+ verified funds and charities you can donate to.
We also highly recommend United Help Ukraine who we have worked with for several years and continue to now. They are an amazing group of dedicated volunteers.
IG Live with Tetyana & Mickey
Just over one year later, I’ve updated this post to include an Instagram Live interview we did of Tetyana and Mickey. Watch it below to learn from them about the latest efforts to support the Ukrainians, how the war is affecting Europe, and what they know from their Ukrainian family who are still there.
Closing Note from Amalia and Eric
In addition to the efforts noted above, we encourage everyone to research and learn what you can about the war in Ukraine, being aware of what sources your information is coming from and choosing them wisely.
A Call to Choose Love
Most of all, it is time that humanity gives up war for love. We know… it may sound cheesy, but we believe it to be evident and true. Love is behind all that is good and what fuels us as humans to defend ourselves and protect and help others. It is at the heart of freedom and the most powerful energy in this world.
War is being brought to Ukraine by a totalitarian corrupt government that is furthering war in our world, even after all that you think we would learn from two World Wars in just the past century. If other countries of this world do not come together to aid Ukraine and stand up to such madness, what is to stop them from doing this to other countries? If you think that this war does not affect you, please realize that it absolutely does. This can be a turning point for the direction humanity takes for peace and love.
The Ukrainians are choosing love, not war, and as we can learn from the accounts of Mickey and others, they have been working to choose love for some years now. Love instead of corruption. Love instead of dominance. Love instead of fear. Love is spurring them on to defend themselves, to fight for their freedom, for their lives, and their country. With love, we can, and one day will, rise above this. Love and freedom to Ukraine, and to our world!
Written by Mickey Neeley
Mickey and Tetyana Neeley moved to Denia from Colorado in 2018 to start their new life in Spain. They are lifetime travelers and particularly enjoy hiking the beautiful trails in Spain. Tetyana is originally from Ukraine and Mickey from Illinois.