Ukraine native weighs in on conflict

By Jessi Stone Assistant editor | Mar 27, 2014
Photo by: Jessi Stone Lana Wishart washes and styles Kim O'Connor's hair every week at SmartStyle. Many of Wishart's clients like to hear her opinions about the issues in Ukraine, her home country.

International conflicts are rarely the most popular topic of discussion in a hair salon, but since her home country has been making headlines lately, hair stylist Svetlana “Lana” Wishart said all of her clients are eager to know more about Ukraine.

Wishart, who has lived in Haywood County now for seven years, is happy to share her knowledge about Ukraine and the turmoil facing many of her family and friends still living there.

“Ukraine life is a tough life,” she said. “The economy is very bad and people see the government as corrupt.”

Unrest in Ukraine

Ukraine has a lengthy and checkered relationship with neighboring Russia. It was once all under the Soviet Union umbrella, but now Ukraine is a new country trying to forge its independence. Recent chaos started to heat up last November when thousands of people took to the streets in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, to protest the government's sudden decision not to sign an association agreement with the European Union.

While there are a number of political issues at play right now, Wishart said it boiled down to government corruption and the people’s distrust for politicians. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted just before fleeing the capital in February. He is still missing even though a warrant has been issued of his arrest.

Wishart said Yanukovych was just a puppet for Russian President Vladimir Putin, adding that losing Yanukovych meant a loss of power for Putin. An interim president has been put in office, but the people don’t trust him either, Wishart said.

Russia agreed to cut the price of gas supplied to Ukraine in order to offer aid and allow Ukraine to avoid bankruptcy. The U.S. also has offered financial aid to Ukraine, but Wishart said aid doesn’t do much good when it’s in the hands of corrupt politicians.

“Money is not helping the people — it’s just going to a corrupt government,” she said.

Wishart’s family is from Nikolayev, a city in South Ukraine, not too far from Crimea where the most conflict is now taking place. To make matters worse for Ukraine’s people, Putin was given permission from the Russian parliament earlier this month to use Russian forces in Ukraine and to send troops into Crimea.

Russia has seized many of the military bases on the peninsula while the interim president of Ukraine has called for the withdrawal of Ukraine forces.

Wishart said Putin is claiming to be using his army to protect Russians who are living in Ukraine, but she insists that it is simply a move for Putin to gain more power. She said the Russian media is showing videos of brutality against Russians in Crimea, but everyone can tell the videos were not taken recently in Crimea.

“The Russian media shows troops protecting people, but it’s not happening,” she said. “Putin’s got the power. He wants to take the place — that’s his goal.”

In a move that has most people scratching their heads, Crimea voted in a referendum to be annexed into Russia. However, the move has been deemed illegal by Ukraine.

Wishart said she didn’t understand how a majority of the people in Crimea voted to be a part of Russia.

“There’s only a small percentage of Russians (in Crimea),” she said. “It’s not the younger people who want to be part of Russia.”

Family back home

Wishart said she speaks to her family in Ukraine on a regular basis and uses Skype so her children and parents can communicate over the long distance. She worries about her parents and siblings, but hardship is something her family, like most Ukrainians, have become accustomed to over the years.

She said many people live off a salary of $300 a month while expenses continue to increase. Gas, which is imported from Russia, costs about $6 a gallon in Ukraine. People don’t go out much for entertainment or to eat.

“They can’t afford to go out,” Wishart said. “They go to fresh markets to save money on food.”

But her family is doing better than most. Her mother has a good job at a college and her father is retired from the Russian military with 26 years of service. While Putin’s interference is troublesome, it’s not just the Russians putting pressure on Ukrainians. Wishart’s parents are afraid of civil war breaking out in Ukraine as extremists bully people into only speaking Ukrainian.

“There are a lot of Russian people in South and East Ukraine that speak mostly Russian and there’s a lot of pressure on them to speak Ukrainian,” she said. “That hate goes both ways.”

Wishart said she had a very good childhood in Ukraine and doesn’t feel any anger or resentment for her country. She was actually born in Germany in 1975 while her father was stationed there and they moved back to Ukraine in 1979.

She grew up in a military community with close-knit families. But she is concerned for the country’s future and for her family’s safety. She has thought about her family moving to the U.S. but it’s hard for her family to pick up and leave everything they know behind.

“My parents are torn,” she said. “They love where they live and my grandma's there, but they also miss their grandchildren. They want to be closer to them so you never know what will happen.”

Coming to America

Wishart was working as a restaurant manager in Nikolayev when she first met her future husband, Greg Wishart. Greg likes to travel and just happened to walk into her restaurant while vacationing in Ukraine.

“He saw me and wanted to talk to me, but I didn’t speak any English,” she said.

But with the help of an email program that translates languages, the two started communicating through email even after he went back home to North Carolina. The new relationship prompted Lana to start taking English classes in Ukraine. After a year and half, Greg made another visit, and this time he asked Lana if she wanted to visit his home in North Carolina.

It was a long process, but she was able to get to get what they call a “fiancé visa” in June 2006 to be able to stay in the U.S. for three months. It was definitely a culture shock coming to North Carolina, but she fell in love with it.

“I never planned to live here, but we worked it out,” she said.

When she moved here full-time, she took a second language program to improve her English skills. Lana has a 16-year-old and she and Greg have a 5 –year-old together who both attend Haywood County Schools.

As for a career, Lana had plenty of restaurant management experience, but she wanted to try something new. She went to Haywood Community College and earned her degree in cosmetology last year. Now she works as a hair stylist at SmartStyle, located inside Walmart in Waynesville.

“I understand it’s the country of opportunity,” she said about her impressions of American. “If you work hard and you are smart, you can become somebody.”



November 2013 — People protest in the streets of Kiev because of the government's sudden decision to abandon plans to sign an association agreement with the EU.

February 2014 — More than 70 people die during the Kiev protests and police are accused of using live ammunition.

President Yanukovych concedes early elections and flees Kiev, and the opposition takes control.

Pro-Russian gunmen seize buildings in Crimean. Unidentified gunmen in combat uniforms appear outside Crimea's main airports and Ukrainian military installations, sparking fears of Russian military intervention.

March 2014 — The Ukrainian army adopts a state of alert. Ukraine's interim prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accuses Russia of declaring war.

Crimea votes to join Russia in a referendum deemed illegal by Ukaine and the West. Moscow moves to annex Crimea. Ukraine says it will never accept the move.

Source: BBC News