Tri-City man from Ukraine, Russian wife agree to disagree on Crimea

By Loretto J. Hulse, Tri-City HeraldMarch 28, 2014 

A former Ukrainian and a former Russian sitting at the same dinner table could be problematic for some couples, in light of Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent annexation of Crimea.

But Vlad Savchuk -- originally from Lutsk, Ukraine -- and his wife, Svetlana -- originally from Moscow -- make it work.

"We have good discussions," Vlad said. "She's very much pro-Putin. Me, I'm not at all."

Svetlana looked at him and laughed. "Putin brought order to Russia," she said.

Vlad, 27, has been living in the Tri-Cities for 14 years, ever since his family fled the Ukraine to find a better life in America.

Svetlana, 28, came to the United States eight years ago with her family. They settled in Vancouver, Wash., and she moved to the Tri-Cities four years ago.

Vlad is the associate youth pastor at Good News Church, an Assembly of God congregation comprised of a diverse mix of nationalities -- including Sudanese, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Estonians, Hispanics, Ukrainians and Russians.

Three weeks ago, on business for the church, Vlad visited Kiev, the capitol of Ukraine. He found protesters occupying Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti) who have vowed not to leave until a new government is established. They've been occupying the square since Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych rejected joining the European Union in favor of stronger ties with Russia.

Kiev is in the eastern part of Ukraine, which is the more industrialized part of the country and the closest to the Russian border. Russian claims to parts of Ukraine aren't new. The land has been the object of a contentious tug of war between Russia and neighboring countries for hundreds of years.

Vlad and Svetlana say Ukrainians are divided, with many people in the south and east identifying more with Russia than with Ukraine.

"A very small percentage of them have a problem with Russia taking back Crimea," Vlad said. "But in the south and eastern parts they are already passing referendums to join Russia. That's where the majority of the people are pro-Russia."

When you look at Crimea on the map, it looks like part of Ukraine, Svetlana said.

"But the part that seceded has its own government and 80 to 90 percent of the people living there are Russian," she said.

The Savchuks are convinced Russia will ultimately lay claim to the eastern part of Ukraine. So are other Ukrainians living in the Tri-Cities, and their relatives back home too.

Viktor Savchuk, 50, of Pasco -- Vlad's father -- has siblings and a father still living in Rivne, in the western part of Ukraine.

He talks with them often. While they've said there were no riots in their area, his father -- Ivan Savchuk, 87 -- is worried.

"My father went through World War II and he's afraid war will start again," Viktor said, running his finger over a map of Ukraine. "My father is convinced Russia will take over Ukraine or at least the eastern part.

"It is a dangerous situation. I pray for a safe Ukraine," Viktor said.

Viktor's brother back in Ukraine is convinced his country will be safe only if it gets protection from the West and Europe, he said.

Stephan Melnik, 50, of Pasco, emigrated to the Tri-Cities 14 years ago from a small town outside Lutsk. His siblings still live in Ukraine.

Melnik's younger brother, Alex, is a reservist in the Ukrainian army. He would be one of those called upon to resist Russian troops massing along the Russian-Ukrainian border should they cross over, Melnik said.

"Russia wants to be a big empire again," Melnik said. "Why would Russia concentrate their army on the border if not intending to start something? Why? Ukraine will need help from America, Europe if war happens."

Laying a hand over his heart, Melnik said it's hard to explain how the situation between Ukraine and Russia makes him feel.

"It's sorrow. Like something broken," he said.

"I pray to God -- because he's the only one who can help -- that it not become war. Russia wants to fight and take more (of Ukraine) if no one stops them. We need something stronger than Ukraine," he said.

Vlad Savchuk isn't convinced Europe and the United States will step in with military force.

"The western part of Ukraine is already taking steps to become part of the European Union. They look at going to Russia like taking a step backwards," he said.

Getting information via newscasts from Ukraine and Russia is very hit or miss and not always accurate, Vlad said.

"No one here has 100 percent of the picture of what's going on ... and you can't be 100 percent sure unless you're in their shoes," he said.

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