Following the Ukrainian Revolution, which culminated as rebels ousted President Viktor Yanukovych on February 22, a serious crisis developed in Crimea, a region of Ukraine that previously belonged to Russia. In early March, the Russian parliament approved President Vladimir Putin’s request to use military force in Crimea. It also issued an ultimatum forcing the Ukrainian troops in Crimea to withdraw from the area.
Two weeks later, on March 16, 97 percent of Crimean residents voted to rejoin Russia, according to Russian sources. The United States and other countries supporting Ukraine declared the referendum illegal, warning they would impose sanctions on Russia and provide economic support to the Ukrainian government if it was upheld. However, the sanctions did not effectively stop Putin from signing a bill on March 18 to absorb Crimea as part of Russia.
On March 24, Ukraine removed all of its military forces from Crimea. This withdrawal signaled their military surrender, although the conflict continues.
This dispute not only affects Crimeans, but also Deerfield students with connections to Russia and Ukraine. One such student, who wishes to remain anonymous, said, “the fact that more than 90% of the people living in Crimea voted to join Russia reveals a lot about the nature of the crisis. If we support democracy and self- determination in Tibet, we shouldn’t do the opposite to [the Crimean people] just because Russia is not on our side.”
Alex Patrylak ’15, an Ukrainian-American student, thinks differently. “The situation might be more complicated, as the voters have been heavily exposed to propaganda,” she explained.
Reflecting on these recent events, history teacher Mr. Thomas Heise said, “I’ve found myself thinking about the principle of national self- determination which, ever since Woodrow Wilson, we’ve tended to see as a reliable guide to the solution of international problems. But what happens if two nations exist within one country? Should we respect the wishes of the Russian majority in Crimea? Or should we pay more attention to majority opinion in Ukraine as a whole? One could make an argument in the name of democracy for either approach.”
He concluded, “The principle of national self-determination may provide us with less certainty than we hoped.”
In addition, many people question the United States’ involvement in the Crimea controversy. As philosophy and religion teacher Neil Jacobs ’69 summed it up, “Geographically we’re too far away and Russia is too close. We can’t put troops on the ground. We can’t bomb anyone. There’s not much we can do except appeal to a high moral standard.”