TRAVERSE CITY — Jack Segal sees local implications of the Ukrainian crisis even if it’s on the other side of the world.
First, there are the 416 people in Grand Traverse County the U.S. Census estimates have close Ukrainian ancestors. Then there’s the concern that U.S. involvement in a foreign crisis could distract us from issues at home.
“People of Ukrainian heritage don’t want to see war break out in their homeland,” Segal said. “Any money that’s committed to Ukraine is money we’re not going to commit to Michigan. It’s another demand, a serious financial demand, on us that diverts it from maybe higher priorities.”
Segal was involved in Ukrainian politics since the country split from the Soviet Union in 1991 until 2000. He now co-chairs the International Affairs Forum at Northwestern Michigan College.
Ukraine has long been divided between the northwest and southeast, two regions that typically vote for different candidates and speak different languages at home, Ukrainian in the northwest and Russian in the southeast.
“When I traveled in Ukraine, the cities in the east were Russian cities entirely,” Segal said. “The street language was clearly Russian.”
Segal said Ukraine also has the most productive farmland in the former Soviet Union and is home to sections of pipelines that supply Russian oil to Western Europe.
It also has a history of corrupt politicians from both the parties — the one that favors western foreign policy and the one that favors Russian foreign policy.
The demonstrations that started three months ago were to protest President Viktor F. Yanukovych’s decision not to apply to the European Union but to align Ukraine with Russia instead. Segal said the demonstrations heated up when anti-Russia and radical groups got involved. Yanukovych fled after the Ukrainian parliament stripped him of his power on Thursday, Feb. 20.