The Ties that Bind Eastern Ukraine To Russia

While Kiev is the epicenter of conflict, the clashes have been felt elsewhere in Ukraine. Sergei Shtukarin of the Center for Political Studies explains the country's Russian-influenced eastern region.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Let's get a view now on the events in Ukraine from the eastern part of that country. Russian is the first language of most of the people who live there, and many support closer ties with Russia. Sergei Shtukarin is executive director of the Center for Political Studies in the industrial city of Donetsk. Mr. Shtukarin, welcome to the program.

SERGEI SHTUKARIN: Thank you.

SIEGEL: And what kind of picture people there had of the events in Kiev this week? What are they seeing on television? What are they hearing on radio?

SHTUKARIN: Most of the people are quite under-informed because most of the media outlets are either Russian or it is media that is largely controlled by the oligarchs connected with the government. So the picture is quite distorted. They see that there is a revolt of nationalists against the legitimate government.

SIEGEL: Well, you're in the part of Ukraine that President Yanukovych comes from. Is he still popular there? Do people like the way he's handled the crisis?

SHTUKARIN: Well, my NGO has conducted public opinion polls from the year's end. We have tracked that his personal rating is quite lower, except for the period of election campaign. And since his management of the country for several years after his election as president was a complete disaster, many people do not support him at all, But they still consider him to be local. They say he's our guy. And they are afraid of the possible outcome as they manipulated into believing of victory of the western Ukrainians.

SIEGEL: Well, when President Yanukovych or his supporters say that the protesters are terrorists, that they're fascists, that they're Nazis, do the people in Donetsk - do some people actually believe that?

SHTUKARIN: I would say that many people are so disillusioned and so tired of any political discourse that those commoners who would like to just mind their own business, like old babushkas as they say, old grannies, old pensioners, those who were raised in the Soviet's time, they believe whatever the government is saying. They're very easily manipulated into trusting the authorities. And they consider if the president was elected in a democratic manner, then he should stay in power regardless of the state treasons and all the brutal acts of violence that he committed.

SIEGEL: In Donetsk, you're actually not very far away from where the Winter Olympics are taking place right now, in Sochi.

SHTUKARIN: Uh-huh.

SIEGEL: It's kind of odd to be witnessing this terrible conflict not far from where the brotherhood among nations is being celebrated in the Olympic games.

SHTUKARIN: Yeah. This is a very tricky and coward thing actually for Russia to hold the Olympics and to back the totalitarian regime, which is basically killing people during the Olympic Games. I think Ukrainian team, which was winning medals and being quite successful, some of the sportsmen and women decided to leave the Olympics. I think it's signifying that there is a deep crisis going on, and the international community should also react. There were calls for other countries as well to boycott the Olympics, at least the closing ceremony.

SIEGEL: The calls to boycott the closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games in sympathy with Ukrainians in Kiev, you know.

SHTUKARIN: True, yeah.

SIEGEL: To what extent - when people see President Yanukovych handling this crisis as he is, to what extent do Ukrainians actually see Vladimir Putin behind him, or is this a Ukrainian show?

SHTUKARIN: I think for those who actually stand for their rights, who stand for civil liberties and who mourn over the death of over a hundred of Ukrainians and many more wounded, they believe that there is a Russian hand behind it all. And it is quite obvious that all the events that linked to a Russian president announcing a loan to Ukrainian government and then military dispersal of fear in Maidan. So there are a number of events that actually support this decision.

SIEGEL: Mr. Shtukarin, thank you very much for talking with us today.

SHTUKARIN: It was my pleasure. Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's Sergei Shtukarin, who's executive director of the Center for Political Studies. That's an NGO in the industrial city of Donetsk, Ukraine. It's pretty much in the eastern Russified part of the country.

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