Ukraine crisis: Families torn apart by divided loyalties with parents and children facing different ways


Victor Sipiev hasn’t seen his parents for more than a month. The 25-year-old computer programmer used to be a regular visitor to his family home, just 12 miles outside the east Ukrainian city of Donetsk. But his support for a unified Ukraine has left him increasingly estranged from his family’s pro-Russian separatist views.

“There is a misunderstanding between the generations”, he says.  “There are moments when I just don’t get them.”

A United Nations official warned on Sunday that Ukraine was coming close to “the point of no return”. Ivan Simonovic, the UN assistant secretary general for human rights, told the BBC that the crisis reminded him of the conflict in the 1990s in his native Croatia.

In recent weeks more than 50 people have been killed in the violence between pro-Ukrainian government forces and separatists militias.

The divisions in eastern Ukraine extend beyond militia groups, as members of individual families, friendship groups and even relationships find themselves wrenched apart by differing views of the political situation.

“It was a war between us”, says Katya, 26, who supports a unified Ukraine but lives with her pro-Russian parents in Donetsk. 

Two months ago she split up with her boyfriend of eight years after they found themselves disagreeing over the toppling of the Kremlin-backed President, Victor Yanukovych. “If two people look in different directions…” she said with a shrug. 


Others describe married couples who no longer speak to each other and bitter arguments within individual households.

One young activist described a pair of brothers within her extended family so divided that while one was plotting a move to Moscow or Crimea so as to be living on Russian soil, the other was among the crowds calling for Yanukovych’s removal at the Maidan protests in Kiev. Lena Glazunova’s family history is representative of the complex web of loyalties and ethnicities in this region. Her mother is a Russian born in Volgograd, the city formerly known as Stalingrad. Her father was born in Ukraine to a Ukrainian father and a Russian mother.

Ivan Simonovic, the UN assistant secretary general for human rights, told the BBC that the crisis reminded him of the conflict in the 1990s in his native Croatia

Glazunova’s support for a unified Ukraine has pitted her against her parents and one of her three sisters.  She is enraged by her parents’ desire to be reunited with Russia. “I am pro-Ukrainian, I love Ukraine,” she said.

Her father, Alexandr, thinks she is mistaken. “We are all Russians. I am Russian in my heart. I have relatives in Russia,” he said. “But you gave birth to me in Ukraine,” was her retort. 

Alexandr blames his daughter’s views on the Ukrainian education system.  “Take away the history from a nation and after one generation you could can do with this nation whatever you want”, he said, before launching into a lengthy explanation of the region’s historic ties to Russia.

His daughter argues that the older generation is nostalgic for the stability of life they enjoyed when Ukraine was part of the former Soviet Union. “When they got this freedom they really didn’t know what to do with it”, she says, speaking of Ukraine’s independence in 1991. “They have a slave mentality. They want to be under authority.”

Despite her well-established life in Donetsk – a family, a circle of friends and her own business, Lena is prepared to leave if the region comes under Moscow’s control. “If it happens that Russia will come, I will get my stuff and leave.”

Last week, the Donetsk and Luhansk regions declared independence from Kiev after self-rule vote condemned by the Ukrainian government and many Western nations.

The mood in the city of Donetsk has calmed over the past week despite continued violence in the surrounding region.  Victor has also softened his stance since the referendum.  This week he has started to talk to his parents again. “Parents are parents,” he explains, and besides, “it was my father’s birthday”.

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