Thursday, December 18, 2014

Guest Speaker Examines Unrest in Ukraine

By Patricia Billinger & Tim Bothe

Ukraine has experienced deep political crisis since the 2004 Orange Revolution and subsequent shifts of power. At the heart of the conflict is a divide between those who wish to maintain ties to Russia and those who wish to align more closely with Western nations.  This domestic divide has deepened pre-existing ethnic and linguistic cracks. 

Meanwhile, continued Russian military involvement in the region – particularly in Crimea - has intensified the crisis, contributed to a wave of internally displaced refugees, and muddied the international perception of whether this is an internal civil dispute or an international conflict involving two nation-states. 

On Wednesday, Dec. 17, international business development specialist Mike Shanley shared his personal experience as a humanitarian aid worker in Ukraine at the start of the crisis and his current perception of events as a businessman who continues to maintain business contacts within the Ukrainian community.
Mike Shanley discusses current political unrest in Ukraine.

Shanley is the Founder and CEO of Konektid, an organization that works to help companies enter markets in emerging economies like Ukraine. Shanley developed his connection with Ukraine and a number of businesses, residents and aid organizations in Ukraine when he served as a Peace Corps volunteer there from 2004-2006.

It was while he was volunteering in Kiev, Ukraine’s capitol, that he witnessed the Orange Revolution first-hand. It was a peaceful revolution that brought pro-democracy, Western-allied leaders to power. 
Having witnessed that revolution, Shanley said he was shocked when another political shift in November 2013 turned violent. 

Indeed, violence and instability in Ukraine in the past year have reached such levels that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is helping people affected by the conflict,  primarily in the eastern portion of Ukraine, and is supporting the work of the Ukrainian Red Cross. 

The Red Cross has assisted by:
  • Providing medical supplies to 25 health facilities in eastern Ukraine
  •  Providing aid to 10,000 displaced persons
  •  Providing 120 tons of food, which was delivered by the Russian Red Cross to displaced persons around Rostov.
Shanley recalled Ukraine’s harsh winters. Even during relative stability, there were times where they had to cancel the English classes he was teaching because it was so cold, “you could see your breath inside the classrooms.” Today, economic pressures caused by the conflict combine with a lack of government services to the conflict zones to create challenging conditions for refugees fleeing the violence or relocating in search of access to services – and warmth. 

The harsh reality of winter makes aid provided by the Red Cross and international agencies that much more vital for those caught in the midst of a struggle to define the identity, borders and alliances of a region in flux.

The Red Cross is helping families find missing loved ones in the Ukraine due to the current conflict through its Restoring Family Links program. For program information and general inquiries use the International Reconnecting Families Inquiry Form or contact a Restoring Family Links caseworker at 303-607-4771.

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