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Ukraine's Conflict Hits Close To Home For Me, A Korean-Canadian

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Ukrainians take a part in a rally to mark the second anniversary of the Euromaidan Revolution at the Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, Nov. 22, 2015. (Photo:STR/NurPhoto)

Before I begin, I must state that I have no personal affiliation to Ukraine. My interest in Ukraine only began when I started studying Ukrainian language, history and politics at the University of Saskatchewan. As a Korean, I could find many parallels between Korea and Ukraine. Both had suffered Mongol invasion, imperialism, fascism and communism in the past. In recent years, both have been struggling with corruption and the kleptocracy.

My adolescence in Western Canada was a struggle against people who tried to dehumanize me. I lived in a Saskatchewan oil county for a decade. Some memorable moments included people laughing at me on the morning after a break-and-enter at my parents' store; shooting a rifle at their store window at night; vandalizing our signboard with racial slurs; telling me to go back to my country; and the police and the gas thief laughing together at me and my parents for reporting a crime.

Before I met Ukrainians, I had given up my hope of regaining my humanity. Living in such an inhospitable environment convinced me what many would take for granted -- such as friendship and love -- are a luxury. I could not read novels for a long time because the stories of friendship and love made me to desire what were not available to me. All I did was work, study and worry about who would be the next person to wrong me. I longed to get out of oil country.

Ukrainians' hope and aspirations are not much different than mine. Ukrainians wanted normalcy - which is what I, too, have wanted all along.

November 2013 -- the beginning of the Euromaidan Revolution -- was a life-changing event for me. Euromaidan represented the Ukrainians' righteous struggle against the corrupt President Viktor Yanukovych. After months of struggle on the cold streets of Kyiv, and more than a hundred lives lost, Ukrainians got their country back. Euromaidan was a moment where history was made not by the cold, calculated decisions of the few, but by the will of the ordinary people.

Initially, I was skeptical to Euromaidan. This was not the first time when mayhem occurred in Eastern Europe. But my professor, Dr. Bohdan Kordan, helped me to realize that Ukrainians' hope and aspirations in life are not much different than mine.

They want to live in a country where there's rule of law and justice. They want to live in a country where people can trust each other, rather than constantly worry about being wronged by others. In other words, Ukrainians wanted normalcy in their life -- which is what I, too, have wanted all along.

What truly impressed me was that Ukrainians that I know do not try to hide that Ukraine has problems, and there is lots of work that needs to be done. I have always thought that esprit de corps -- the sense of pride and loyalty for one's group -- is Canada's greatest problem. Not because being loyal to your community or group is bad, but because it could blind your eyes from the truth and make you reluctant from openly speaking about the problems within your community.

The significance of the Euromaidan is that the many, who are flawed and imperfect, accomplished what the exceptional few could not. Unfortunately, the Web has become a sea of misinformation and half-truth on Ukraine. While being oblivious to the problems in Russia, Russian media has been shamelessly denouncing Euromaidan as a "coup" and Ukrainians as "fascists."

I began to pay closer attention to what people do, not what they say. During the Euromaidan, ordinary people voluntarily came to the streets to fight the injustice and help each other.

On the front lines, Ukrainian soldiers provided quarter for Russian POWs. In Kyiv, there is an ongoing reform to bring corruption to an end. But on the other hand, we have people executing the unarmed POWs, and people being condemned to death by Soviet-style martial law.

No nations are free from their past sins and able to keep their hands clean in a war. But then I ask myself: which one of the two -- Russia or Ukraine -- is making a step towards a better future? Which one of the two is desperately trying to preserve humanity in the worst possible situation? Which people's acts carry more sincerity and integrity?

Without a doubt, the answer is Ukraine and Ukrainians.

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