Ukrainians under age 30 for the most part hope for increasing integration with Europe. At least, like this student, they’re optimistic about their future, perhaps not in Ukraine.
“In 15 years I imagine myself a musician in the US,” says Roman Gumenuyk. “I haven’t given much thought to politics. I’m not interested in it. It doesn’t mean I’m indifferent to how things are in my country, I just don’t really know what to do about it.”
Many people feel lost in the transition from being in the Soviet sphere till 1991, to a modern, independent state. Counting Ukrainians of all ages, most in the west and centre of the country support EU-integration, while most in the east support closer ties with Russia. But among the under-30s, according to a respected sociologist we spoke to in Kiev [Kyiv], 56 percent are Europe-friendly and 22 percent support going into a Customs Union with Russia.
Ilko Kucheriv, heading the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, said: “Not only young Ukrainians feel they have no way to influence matters in the country, unfortunately. This is what the opinion polls are saying: people simply think that the only instrument to influence the government’s decisions is the electoral process. Demonstrations and rallies are seen as less instrumental. They’re generally believed to be ineffective.”
Kucheriv said: “The majority of people under 30 in Ukraine are pro-European – predominantly in the east and all of them in the west. The young people from East and West are less different from each other than they are from the older people of their own regions.”
Roman was born into independent Ukraine. He has no attachment to the past. Neither does he know much about the Association Agreement with the EU towards which his country’s politicians have been working. This isn’t unusual in Ukraine; perhaps it is typical. He does see a satisfying possible future for himself – just an apolitical future.
The first President of independent Ukraine was Leonid Kravchuk. He made the declaration himself, and then was elected to office, serving from 1991-1994. His reputation was made on avoiding conflicts, flexibility and compromise. He is remembered for strengthening national sovereignty and developing relations with the West.
Sergio Cantone, head of the euronews Kiev bureau, asked: “President Kravchuk, aren’t you afraid that the signature of the Association Agreement could open a Pandora’s Box of divisions among Ukrainians?”
Former President of Ukraine Leonid Kravchuk: “I think that not signing the agreement – though I do not believe that will happen – could create problems for Ukraine. Is it going to be a division? In my opinion, we shouldn’t think of this in terms of division but rather a very acute predicament. It could influence economic and social matters and have an impact on the future presidential election.”
euronews: “According to the polls, a majority of Ukrainians want the Association Agreement with the EU to be signed, but at the same time there’s also a strong minority who are afraid of it. They are also afraid to cut the ties with Russia. Do you think they are afraid of a future in the EU because they don’t know what the EU represents?”
Kravchuk: “Society is not really afraid, but it considers Russia as a country where living conditions are the same as in the time of the Soviet Union. [There are people who believe] life in Russia is the same as it used to be in the former USSR, and they know what that life was like. In contrast, they do not know what life in Europe today is like. They know that the European way of life is highly demanding, in terms of competitiveness, the quality of products, the rule of law and equality before the law. The government in general and the opposition have failed to explain how we are going to live in Europe, if we become a member state in the EU – what demands will be and whether we will be able to fulfil them. The truth must be told.”