THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
Young Ukrainian leaders battle Russian pressure, endemic corruption
and a moribund economy in pursuit of a new, independent identity.
UKRAINE IN 2016:
BY WI L L I AM GL EASON
William Gleason spent five years teaching in Ukraine
(1995-2000), including three as a Senior Fulbright
Lecturer at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla
Academy, and two as the founding director of the Ful-
bright Program for Ukraine. As coordinator for Eurasian studies at
the Foreign Service Institute until recently, he returned to the capital
every year since 2000, and last year led a weeklong seminar there on
the nature of modern history at the invitation of The Kyiv-Mohyla
Academy. He is now an independent scholar/writer on Ukraine.
or most of its history, Ukraine has been
treated as a stateless borderland of scattered
peoples wedged between competing civili-
zations—principally Poland and Russia. But
over the past quarter-century, that percep-
tion has been replaced by a new orientation,
a new identity that is Western in design and
democratic in substance.
The students at the National Univer-
sity of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, where I taught in the 1990s and
returned in 2015 to conduct a seminar on modern Europe,
certainly believe that a historic change is underway in their
country, one that will not be reversed. And they have been
instrumental in making it a reality. Both students and faculty
at Mohyla, the best university in Ukraine, played a key organiz-
ing role in the Orange Revolution of 2004 and the Euromaidan
movement of 2013-2014.
Now they are united in their determination to Europeanize
their education and Ukraine’s future. None of these students
lived under Soviet power. Twenty-five years have passed since
Moscow ruled Ukraine. Almost two generations of students and
young people, in general, have reached maturity since 1991,
when the USSR imploded. Many now hold leadership positions
in business and government. As one student put it when the
seminar began: “We are not hesitant. Our parents often hesitated
and sometimes, even, our older brothers and sisters. We know
that freedommust be earned and can disappear. It has to be
fought for, sometimes. It is always fragile.”
The co-manager of the Sherborne Guest House, a boutique
hotel where I lodge during my annual trips to Kyiv, would agree.
As she mused one afternoon while I was checking in: “Until
2014, 90 percent of our guests came from Russia—90 percent!
But since the summer of 2014, zero guests from Russia. Not one
Russian guest over the past 18 months. Not a single person.
But our rooms are still full—full of Ukrainians and visitors from
She continued: “To me, that says it all. It tells me that Ukraini-
ans and Russians are no longer members of an extended family.
It also tells me that Ukraine may finally become a real country, a
country more sure of itself, a country with its own identity.”