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Comments on Our February ’23 Coffee Hour: Our Ukraine Discussion

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7 comments to Ukraine Discussion

  • Frederick Appell

    I’m impressed on the level of information and discussion of the group. So much so that I hesitate to participate.

    However, I noticed a lack of coverage in some major areas, probably because it seems like all the participants are informed by and buy the USA news reporting and political position

    Living in Mexico where many educated people are informed by non-American news reports (foreign propaganda) I see intelligent people siding sympathetically with Putin. So if the central goal of the discussion is “how do we get out of this” perhaps we should hear from those who are not drinking the same koolaid.

    Irrespective of the military and geo-political issues, it occurs to me that the UN or other third parties could find areas where the Russians and Ukrainians have a common interest. The prediction is that many Africans will survive this year without Ukrainian agricultural exports. Both Russians and Ukrainians share the danger of a nuclear plant meltdown, There is always the issue of saving lives of combatants in both sides. My view is that discussions can include promoting common interests

    Then there are the USA economic issues; who is benefiting from this war? Talk of the USA military industrial complex was only tangentially mentioned whereas it is forefront in discussions outside the USA. In what other ways does the United States benefit from this war? And is one suspected of being un-American if one mentions these interests

    Much of Africa sides with Putin. China and India are on the fence uncommitted. Is every one but the USA and NATO naive or wrong-thinking?

    If Putin needs Ukraine to not feel threatened by military invasion, what other countries which share a border will be next? And who has explored exactly what neutrality means to Putin?

    Jay thanks for setting up the ZOOM.
    Now I wonder if there would be any appetite for further discussion in texting. [continuing the discussion]

    Yours truly, Frederick Appell, 612 804 5000

  • Barry Smoler

    Due to an unavoidable all day medical appointment I was unable to participate in the live discussion but I tuned in the recording as soon as it was posted. I was very impressed with the breadth and depth and sophistication of the comments, and how many participants were so knowledgeable of Ukrainian history. I would like to thank the organizers for recording the event and making it possible. I would also like to thank them for providing the link to Prof. Snyder’s hour long presentation at the Yale British Art Museum, which I found extremely interesting. My father’s parents emigrated to the US from small villages, Xodorkov and Pavelich, located about 20 miles west of Kyev. My grandfather left (at the bottom of a hay wagon) in December of 1905, after the pogrom in his village. Inasmuch as his family were middle class Jewish businessmen (lumber), had he not left he surely would have been killed by either Stalin or Hitler. Until the recent invasion I did not know that there was a separate Ukrainian language. My grandfather had a very heavy accent but I’m not sure now if he spoke Russian or Ukrainian, probably both. The language at home would have been Yiddish. When I read Khrushchev’s autobiography many years ago (basically a stream of spoken stories transcribed into a book), I was struck by how much he and my grandfather had the same sense of humor. I had always assumed that my grandfather’s sense of humor was a Jewish sense of humor, but on further reflection perhaps it was really a Ukrainian sense of humor.

  • Tim Hall

    Hi, Barry and Frederick,

    Thanks so much for these wonderful, thought-provoking perspectives, based on your own experiences. It’s really refreshing to reframe the issues in ways like this, to get beyond the tedium of the daily news cycle and one’s favorite news platforms.

    And it seems to me that there would be appetite in the class for further discussion.

    Thanks again for making these contributions.

  • Barry Smoler

    Thanks Tim, I was trying to be concise but with your encouragement I will fill in more details. My paternal grandfather, Morris, belonged to the Jewish branch of what I believe was Kerensky’s Social Democratic party, and the Jews armed themselves. The Jews in Xodorkov got along well with the other people in the village — the pogrom of December 1905 was carried out by
    strangers from a neighboring village. In 1965 my Uncle Irwin tape recorded my grandfather’s account of the events of that day. A shot was fired, but he doesn’t say who fired it or whether it hit or injured or killed anyone. In the background of the tape recording you can hear my grandmother trying to get Morris to shut up lest the Tsar’s police track him down in his apartment in the Bronx 60 years after the shot was fired. In any event, the neighbor next door to my grandfather had a son on the village police force who told her that my grandfather’s name was on a list of people to be arrested, and to tell my grandfather’s mother to get Morris out of town immediately. That is why Morris, age 18, left town that night in a wagon covered with hay. He resurfaced in April of 1906 in Chicago, where he had an uncle living. No one knows why Morris’ uncle ended up in Chicago. My paternal grandmother, Rose, left Pavelich with her family in 1908, and also ended up in Chicago, where she met and married Morris. Morris eventually brought over his parents and five sisters and Rose’s parents. They lived in a tough ethnic neighborhood on the west side of Chicago. The 1910 census taker’s enumeration lists the country of origin of all these people as “Hebrew”. Some 40 years later there did emerge a country thousands of miles away and using a different name whose people spoke Hebrew, but there was no such country in 1910. The 1920 census enumeration was more politically correct, identifying the country of origin of all of these same people as “Russia”. Nowhere is there any mention of Ukraine, and none of these people ever mentioned Ukraine to me. There was some mention of the Cossacks as being nasty people to be avoided. All of these people regarded themselves not as Russians or Ukrainians but as Jews living in Russia who moved to America. My grandfather was very proud of fleeing Russia for political reasons that resonated with American principles of freedom of religion. (My last name, Smoler, is derived from the Russian word for pitch or resin, used in shipbuilding. I once saw an exhibit of needle work done by a holocaust survivor in which one of the needleworks portrayed peasants extracting resin from trees.) By contrast, my maternal grandfather, Joe Baker, had a Polish last name, Pisarcik, that is literally the Polish word for baker — apparently whoever on Ellis Island recorded his family’s last name was somewhat fluent in Polish. Poland did not exist at that time, and there were Polish speaking people living in what is now Poland, Belarus, and even far western Ukraine, but my maternal grandparents refused to discuss where they came from other than to say it was a lousy place for Jews to live and they were happy they left. At various times Joe identified his country of origin as either Russia or Poland, depending on which was the more politically correct at the time. Apparently my paternal grandfather Morris got a good education from the Jewish school in Xodorkov, particularly in math and languages. He began as a street peddler in Chicago but was able to get a job as a fabric cutter at Hart, Shaffner and Marx, eventually working his way up to foreman and then going into business sewing and selling shirtwaists (the women in the family did the sewing). When my father completed high school there was no money to send him to college so he got a job selling shirts at the Marshall Field department store. Eventually he and Morris, his father, went into business together and on their third try made a success of it, eventually making WWII women’s uniforms for the US Navy female auxiliary Waves. (Four of my uncles served in WWII, two in Europe and two in the Pacific.) They successfully dragged everyone in the family into the middle class, such that I and all my cousins grew up in leafy suburbs and had ample opportunity to attend colleges. I was born in Chicago but eventually grew up in the now famous suburb of Highland Park. Highland Park High School is four blocks down the street from the site of the recent massacre, and in my era was rated one of the best 50 high schools in the US. I attended Brown for two years and then transferred to Yale in order to be able to major in Chinese studies, including Chinese language courses. As widely discussed in the press last year, Highland Park is a very wealthy community. Social status among its inhabitants vis-a-vis each other cannot be measured by money, but it can be measured in terms of whose children attended which colleges. Thus, graduating from Yale, and topping it off with a subsequent law degree from Harvard, represented not only getting a good education that equipped me to pursue a career, but also, at age 25, the culmination of a 60 year journey through three generations from Xodorkov and Pavelich.

  • Barry Smoler

    PS — Some years ago a distant relative of mine who works for the World Bank had a business trip to Kyev during which he rented a car and drove out to Xodorkov and Pavelich. People are still living there. The only structures that survived the German and Soviet armies blasting their way through it are the roads and the cemetaries. The horse drawn wooden carts now have rubber tires instead of wooden wheels.

  • Ken Merkey

    There may not have ever been a war in Ukraine if we had had competent leadership in the White House. Putin waited until Trump left. The feeble old fool who succeeded Trump approved Putin’s pipeline while killing pipelines and fossil fuel production in the USA. He refused any form of military aid until after the invasion. If the Defense Dept. spent less time chasing “white supremacists” in the military and more time focused on what really matters, Putin may not have been so emboldened. And, of course, that wonderful performance with the withdrawal from Afghanistan did nothing to impress our adversaries. And Putin must be really impressed with our shooting down those weather balloons.

  • Bob Meehan

    I got antsy over the back and forth at the intense discussion but didn’t hear any suggestion for how Ukraine make take the initiative on the peace process. So I’ve written some thoughts on what might be an opening gambit on the part of Kyiv. The question for me is how does Ukraine emerge as a viable economy with a government that can manage the peace. .

    The debate on how to end the war in Ukraine is too simplistic. One side says first get the Russian forces on the run and then reopen negotiations with Moscow. The other side says to get Moscow to the negotiating table first concede the idea of some continuing Russian occupation. This second idea is untenable for Ukraine, as it needs both its agricultural and industrial areas in order to successfully function as an economically viable nation after the war. However, in either case the conditions that led three oblasts welcoming the Russian invasion must be addressed. The Russian invasion of 2014 was apparently encouraged by 43% of Crimeans, 33% of Donetsk, and 24% of Luhansk of Russian descent. A viable democratic Ukraine without any Russian occupation must solve the issue of how to reincorporate the allegiance of these oblasts successfully.

    I suggest that Kyiv should now have a broad, open internal debate between the government and parliament on the political issues that will face a peacetime government as a way to discern how to end this war compatible to developing a sustainable, democratic Ukraine. This internal debate will hopefully raise 2 ideas. First, consider the offer of amnesty to Ukrainians who have not committed atrocities.This was key to the reunification of the North and South after the U.S. civil war ended. This offer might also cause the militias of these oblasts to consider laying down their arms. Right now Kyiv is committed to treating those who sided with Russia as traitors.

    Secondly, Kyiv should reconsider addressing the grievances of these oblasts in 2014 and come up with a structure that would address them. Among those grievances was the Ukrainization of their Russian citizens, which in principle isn’t much different in purpose than the Russification of the Ukrainians in the occupied zones. Kyiv should make the case to the Russia sympathizers that the Ukraine of 2023 is a much more coherent country than in 2014, one which now recognizes diversity as a strength to creating a better living standard than in Russia. Point out that the vicious Russian military campaign against civilians in contrast to their poor combat performance ought to cause them to reconsider their loyalty to Russia. A shift of their loyalty to Kyiv might hasten the reevaluation of Moscow’s commitment to continuing the war. If the Russians lose their welcome in the oblasts, it would become exponentially more difficult to occupy the country.

    The extraordinary consolidation of the people of Ukraine as one united force to oppose the Russian aggression needs to be supplemented by a comparably brilliant policy to welcome the people of the Eastern oblasts back into the fold. A pro-Ukrainian population along the border with Russia would be a strong deterrent against future Russian invasions. Acceding to domestic reconciliation would be an indicator that Kyiv might be able to successfully manage peace.

    At this point Ukraine has mainly a successful war-time government. If Ukraine can agree on a reconciliation plan, Ukraine’s current benefactors might also feel as much as investors in building a solid democratic nation as supporters of a war against international aggression. This shift in perception might win over Congressional skeptics for sustained U.S. support. Addressing the issues of post war Ukraine can also serve to re-align current splintered factions within Ukraine and potentially bring this war to a faster close.

    Again, just some thoughts.