I was born in Kiev, Ukraine and spend 22 years of my life there. As all my family and friends are Russian speakers, Ukrainian always felt rather like a foreign language that I knew well but hardly used in everyday life. But wherever I went, including the Ukrainian-speaking west, I never felt any pressure to switch to Ukrainian.
Around the country there are enough Russian schools, press and books, TV and radio channels available; many Ukrainian web pages come in two languages. Speeches by Russian politicians about discrimination against the Russian population in Ukraine leave me baffled.
Ukraine is not divided; it is being divided. The main issue that creates tensions between the regions is a massive information campaign aimed at the Russian-speaking regions.
Many people in the east and south rely on the Russian press. Without access to internet and geographically far from the capital, people don’t find it hard to believe the “news” about nationalists seizing power with the aim of killing or exiling all the Russian-speaking population. I tried to watch Russian news to get an alternative opinion but I lost my patience after a report showing “thousands of Ukrainian refugees fleeing Ukraine for Russia”. It showed a checkpoint near the border with Poland.
The real news is much more scary and absurd: Russian soldiers surrounding the Ukrainian military base in Crimea; Russian politicians handing new Russian passports to the Ukrainian militants from the special forces accused in fatal injuries of civilians during the demonstrations in February.
The world needs to act quickly.
Julia Fedorenko, London W1
Here we go again. Russia acts to protect its vital interests – and no one can be in doubt about the importance of Crimea to its security – and the West comes out with threats and bluster. The obvious way out is for the areas of Ukraine which appear to have a majority for closer relations with Russia to break away.
Czechoslovakia broke up into the Czech Republic and Slovakia without any of the dire consequences envisaged by the Western powers in the case of Ukraine. But then, the Czechs are perhaps the only sensible electorate in Eastern Europe.
In a few months’ time, Scotland is going to decide its future, again without earth-shattering consequences. So the Nato countries should tell Kiev to get on and let their local populations decide their own future. The Ukraine crisis is not worth starting another cold war which could so easily change into a hot war.
Lyn Brooks, Ongar, Essex
Within hours of the Winter Olympics ending, the host nation seemed to be willing to start an international crisis. So much for these games helping us to achieve peace and understanding among nations.
The $50bn that the Games cost should have gone toward some true humanitarian relief – because the medals and the hype aren’t getting it done.
Joseph Carducci, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
The current threat to our gas supply should concentrate minds on the need for UK energy independence. Perhaps Ukip might lead the campaign for developing our native non-polluting energy resource, wind farms.
Francis Roads, London E18
Enemies of free expression
Your commitment to freedom of expression is necessary and laudable (Letter from the Editor, 1 March). The examples of the threat to the life of Muhammad Asghar in Pakistan and of the withdrawing of a book on Hinduism by Penguin India, both on the grounds of blasphemy, are indeed harrowing.
But these are in countries in which freedom of expression is pretty much prohibited. It is important to realise that in this country freedom of expression is also under sustained attack by religious groups and their apologists, despite the fact that the law on blasphemy was repealed in 2008. Three recent examples illustrate the point: the removal of posters by South Bank University in which God is replaced by the “Flying Spaghetti Monster”; the attempt by a local authority in Belfast to ban a play which satirises the Bible; and the widespread censoring of the “Jesus and Mo” cartoons.
After the furore of the Danish cartoons, in June 2006, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe provided firm and principled guidance to the effect that ideas “that may shock, offend, or disturb the state or any sector of the population” are protected by the freedom of expression.” I would ask you to champion this marvellous resolution, not only within The Independent but in the media at large.
Dr Rumy Hasan, Senior Lecturer, Science & Technology Policy Research, University of Sussex, Brighton
Pupils put under pressure to excel
Matthew Reece’s concerns about his Year-10 pupils (letter, 27 February) are timely and I think widespread. At my daughters’ school, even already high achievers are told of the dangers of failure and that they must work ever harder to attain the grades which will enable them to compete in the workplace.
Our 15-year-old daughter has been working at a pace entirely inappropriate for her age and was exhibiting signs of anxiety, as Mr Reece described. She told us that many of her friends feel the same way. Only by persuading her to work less and ignore what she has been told by some of her teachers have we been able to reduce her anxiety.
The pressure comes top-down from government and is passed on, often without a thought, to the people least able to deal with it. Under Ofsted pressures a “good school” is no longer good enough. Only outstanding is acceptable, which makes a complete nonsense of the words they have chosen.
The welfare of the whole child is missing in Michael Gove’s reforms, but when the response of the Opposition is to come up with ideas aimed at putting more pressure into the system, then like Mr Reece I despair for the future mental health of our young citizens.
Peter Reece, Wigan
No way out of the great travel rip-off
Vicki Mangan (letter, 3 March), commenting on travel companies, writes that “we would not stand for any other service so brazenly increasing their prices” at times of high demand.
Whether this is right or wrong is irrelevant; we just have to accept it. Many businesses have to “make the most” of their revenue opportunities and this translates as “rip people off whenever you can”. Restaurants and hotels whack up prices when a big event is on in town. Prices are “massaged” in many other sectors. Peak-time trains should be cheaper, as they’re busier and you can never get a seat. But they’re not, for obvious reasons.
If you worked for a travel company you might have a different view.
Mark Hunt, Chichester, West Sussex
Vicki Mangan is mistaken in comparing the practices of tour operators, hotels and airlines, whom she accuses of “brazenly increasing their prices”, to supermarkets, which have an effectively endless supply of goods to sell on a 24/7 basis in a fiercely competitive market.
The travel and tourism industry is restricted by capacity in the form of seats on planes and trains, airport landing slots, hotel rooms and the readiness of tourist areas to cope reasonably with visitor numbers.
The industry also cross-subsidises off-peak periods with profits from peak-period trade, often keeping smaller operators in business when they would otherwise fail, and allowing some of us who are child-free to take a cheaper, if a little chillier, holiday when we might otherwise be unable to do so.
John Moore, Northampton
What Cameron wanted from Merkel
It can have come as no surprise to David Cameron that Angela Merkel offered him very little support in his desire to remodel the European Union. Why then did he invite her to spell out her views so publicly?
Could it be that he actually wants the Eurosceptics, inside his party and beyond, to see what this country will be risking if we persist with the reckless proposal to hold an “in or out” referendum on a predetermined date, whether or not satisfactory negotiations will by then have been concluded?
It seems we may have to decide, prematurely, for or against isolation in an increasingly uncertain world.
David Hindmarsh, Cambridge
A cycle of violence
For the past 50 or so years I have concurred with Howard Jacobson’s opinion regarding the barbarity of punching someone in the face, and have agreed that such an act is wholly unacceptable (Voices, 1 March). However having read the first three paragraphs of his piece – which are nothing more than a prejudiced, intemperate anti-cyclist rant – I’ve changed my mind.
Philip Stephenson, Cambridge