Their names are Oksana and Olga, one is Ukrainian and the other Russian, and both were born during the same decade, in the 70s, when their countries were part of the Soviet Union and both nations lived together under the umbrella of a common state. More than thirty years after the fall of the iron curtain and the disintegration of the red giant, the open crisis between Russia and Ukraine – weeks ago, the Kremlin began deploying its troops to the border, where some 115,000 soldiers have already gathered – threatens to plunge the Donbass region into a pit of violence. Since February 2013, the Euromaidan protests, the separatist insurgency in Donetsk
and Lugansk and the Russian annexation of Crimea, which has not been recognized by much of the international community, laid the foundations for a conflict with an unpredictable outcome. «A war between Russia and Ukraine would be on a large scale in Europe», warned a few days ago the Ukrainian president, Volodímir Zelensky.
“Putin is an expansionist politician who wants to become a new Tsar,” he denounces Oksana Karpenko (Ternópil, 1972), who arrived in Spain more than twenty years ago, looking for a better future. After running, together with her husband, Juan Gómez de Ávila, a restaurant and a tavern with typical Ukrainian dishes, the couple recently opened a store with Spanish products in the center of Leganés, where you can buy fresh Candeleda cheese and alfajor threads, but also cans of Russian caviar. “It is believed that he is the ruler of the world and that no one is capable of stopping him,” he denounces, while serving a plate of Iberian ham for a snack. Like her, Olga Zyryanova (Nursultán, 1978), who is a teacher, landed in Spain two decades ago, and is following with concern the news that arrives from Eastern Europe, marked by the shadow of a military escalation. “I am Russian and my husband is Ukrainian, and the truth is that it is a complicated situation, but it also has an advantage, which is to share different points of view,” she explains by phone. “I don’t want to comment on politics, but I do want to make it clear that Russia is not Putin, because 144 million people live there.”
Although the testimonies of these women are only two brushstrokes in the enormous fresco of public opinion sensitivities in their respective countries –both recognize that emotions have been on the surface since the beginning of the conflict, in which about 14,000 people have died, and that many citizens have become radicalized–, his words are found in the reflective tone, the intense desire for peace and the common memories, the result of coexistence between two nations that love and hate each other like two friends who have known each other for a long time a long time, but to whom life has taken different paths.
“Everyone says that we come from a common cradle, the Russian from Kiev, but that cradle is a thousand years old and was broken a long time ago, ”reflects Karpenko, referring to the Slavic state that was founded in the 9th century and has traditionally been considered the shared origin of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. “Yes, we have more or less the same skin, but we Ukrainians are also brown, due to the influence of the Mongols and the Tatars,” he adds, recalling that the conquest of the horsemen of Genghis Khan in the 13th century it dissolved that union and separated the inhabitants of the Ukraine and Russia for centuries. “Ten or twenty years ago, a tractor plowing the field went to Russia and back, and there were no borders,” adds Zyryanova. “I love Ukraine very much, I have traveled there many times and they are not bad people, I have never felt any contempt from my husband’s family, and that is why all this hurts me so much,” she reasons, emphasizing that her Russian mother adores Ukraine. his Ukrainian son-in-law. “Most people don’t want war or hear about it, and I’m hopeful that all of that will end.”
To talk with Karpenko and Zyryanova is to listen live to the recent history of Europe, with its sinuous journeys towards the abyss and its will to recover the light. «I had a good childhood in the Soviet Union, my father was a doctor, although he died of cancer a year after Chernobyl, and my mother was a speech therapist, and they both had a stable, well-paid job,” recalls Oksana, who studied Slavic philology at the University of Chernivizi, a city near the border with Romania, where he lived with Russian and Romanian students. “My paternal grandfather was Ukrainian, but he did his military service in the Urals, met my grandmother and stayed there. ‘Look around, this is my house,’ he told me the last time I saw him, when I asked him if he didn’t want to go back to Ukraine,” Zyryanova details. “My father was born Russian and met my mother in Kazakhstan, who descended from a German family that Catherine the Great brought to Ukraine and the Volga region in the 18th century,” he says. “When World War II started, Stalin proclaimed them enemies of the people and sent them to the gulag or concentration camps, because he believed that because of their roots they were going to join the Nazis.”
“On a personal level, the Ukrainians have never had problems with the Russians,” Karpenko stresses. “We lived together for 70 years in the USSR, and people got married, separated or lived in Russia for work, but the military conflict is sowing hatred,” he reflects, explaining that young Ukrainians dream of their country modernizing and between to the European Union and NATO. “I am the granddaughter of people who lived through World War II and we have to be very aware that wars affect everyone», warns Zyryanova. “With my husband, when we talk about the conflict, we try to do it with total respect. After 2014, he has traveled to Russia and I to the Ukraine, and that changes your vision of things a lot. We Russians and Ukrainians have to show that we want peace and to be loved, because hatred is not going to lead to anything.
While these two women present their points of view, and in their words political reflections and memories are intertwined, the dignitaries continue their negotiations at the highest level. What happens in the next few days on the border between Ukraine and Russia is impossible to predict. Perhaps the wisest thing would be for these diplomatic contacts, on which the future of millions of people depends, to end up wrapped in the deep yearning for peace of ordinary citizens.