It's not about language, it's about freedom

Local Ukrainian woman speaks about crisis

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Kirill Pierce, 9, throws a frisbee for the family dog as Kieth, Olga, and Tiana, far left, watch from the front yard of their Coeur d’Alene home on Thursday. Olga and her son moved to the area in January from the Ukraine.

COEUR d'ALENE - Nearly 5,400 miles from Coeur d'Alene, a fight for independence rages.

Ukraine native Olga Tovyanska Pierce, 34, left Kiev when rumblings of war began between her country and Russia, about six months before the Revolution of Dignity that ousted the corrupt then-president Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014.

"The government was so corrupt," Pierce said Tuesday. "They stole money; the whole police was corrupt; the quality of life the last probably two, three years was very poor."

Olga, who also goes by Olya, explained that the majority of Ukrainian people were in favor of joining the European Union and Yanukovych, while still in office, wouldn't sign the association and free trade agreement with the E.U.

"When he refused to do that, this revolution happened," she said. "Our ex-president started moving toward Russia. He started negotiating an agreement with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and we did not want to do that. We had the Soviet Union and that was horrible. Some things were very nice, but we did not know, you know, all our life it was kind of an illusion. We were living with very limited information."

Olga now lives in Coeur d'Alene with her American husband, Keith, and their family. Her mom, dad and other relatives are still in Ukraine, where the crisis continues to worsen.

The people of Ukraine elected Petro Poroshenko as president May 25 of last year in an election that was not widely held in the tense eastern part of the country. Civil unrest has dominated the region and peppered the country as pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian troops do battle.

"My mom told me, 'You know, we don't feel the war here, but the war is in our head right now,'" Olga said. "It affects everybody. Everybody's depressed ... They see these boys going to protect, there's guys who get killed and it's everywhere. It's kids like 20-25 years old, it's young boys, the best people that we have, they're going to fight."

Olga holds multiple degrees and worked as a nurse and furniture designer in Kiev. She said she is worried about Ukraine "because our economy was so weak before the election. It's a very, very difficult economic situation."

She also said she wants people to understand that despite what some reports might say, the fighting is not about ethnicity or language.

"This war between Ukraine and Russia is a totally political situation, it's not about nationalities," she said. "We still probably someday will be friends with Russian people because we have a half of Russian blood, it's so mixed with the 70 years when it was Soviet Union. Now it's a very difficult situation."

Olga said a big part of the conflict comes from misinformation about Russian-speaking people who live in Ukraine.

"For example, on Russian TV, I hear that they told, 'Oh, Russian people (have) been killed in Ukraine because of Russian language," she said. "That's not true. My parents speak Russian, they even don't know Ukrainian. They could read it, but they could not speak it. Three of four parts of Ukraine speak Russian."

The mysterious and abrupt Feb. 27 assassination of political opposition leader Boris Nemstov caused a spike of emotions and suspicion. He was scheduled to provide proof of Russian military presence in Ukraine at a meeting two days after his death.

"People in Ukraine were so devastated, and I know everybody was shocked," Olga said. "My mom called me and my dad and told me. It's just something very scary going on. I was shocked when I was reading about it."

Keith, who has traveled the world and lived abroad, said it's not uncommon for powerful people in countries such as Russia and Ukraine to make people "disappear."

"It happens," he said. "You even suggest that in those areas, it happens, especially when someone's got that kind of power in that kind of world."

According to the Department of State, the U.S. has implemented sanctions on Russia and Ukraine to "send a strong message to the Russian government that there are consequences for their actions that threaten the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine." Keith said he is in favor of the sanctions because any more U.S. involvement could make things worse.

"I think the scary thing is they don't stop. The path that it seems that Putin's going down - when you've got a rogue leader like that that's really unpredictable with a lot of power and powerful military - it's not like dealing with Korea, which is scary ... they're scary enough, but not that scary," he said. "When you have a guy like this that's really talking some really scary language, you know, not afraid to say nukes weren't off the options there. I mean, he's talking nuking."

Olga said she appreciates the sanctions and what the U.S. has done for Ukraine, but emphasized that the usually peaceful and accepting Ukrainian people never wanted a war like this. They just want their independence, a concept to which Americans can relate.

"I want people to understand that we are fighting for our freedom, not because we don't like that people speak Russian or something, no," she said. "We're fighting for our freedom, we want to be a European country. We don't want this system anymore, we want to start something new and we want people to visit us and see how good we are."

Olga Tovyanska Pierce, 34, compares the political unrest in the Ukraine to a time when the area was under Soviet rule.

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