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Teacher in Ozark Shares Concerns of Home as Ukraine Crisis Spills Into Crimea

Olga Yeager, originally from Crimea in Ukraine, teaches English as a second language at Ozark School District. (Photo provided
Olga Yeager, originally from Crimea in Ukraine, teaches English as a second language at Ozark School District. (Photo provided

The crisis in Ukraine is spreading:  today, gunmen in unmarked military clothes took control of two airports in Crimea.  Crimea officially belongs to Ukraine now. But it was once part of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union--and it's home to a Russian Naval Fleet. If you’ve been listening to NPR News, you know that Ukraine protesters ousted their president, Viktor Yanukovych, last week because they felt his economic policies were too close to Russia.  Many Crimeans don’t trust the new interim government in Kiev.   KSMU’s Jennifer Davidson spoke with one of them:  a woman in Ozark for whom this conflict hits close to home.

Here to talk with us about this is Olga Jaeger, who was born and raised in Crimea. Today, she teaches ESL with Ozark Public Schools and joined us by phone. Hi Olga.  Can you begin by telling us what you’re hearing from your family members in Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine.

“The situation in Sevastopol is peaceful, and I don’t think there’s any danger of fighting breaking out. As far as taking over the airports and the administration, I don’t think they know exactly who is responsible,” Jeager said.

She says she talks to her family almost every day.  She, like other Crimeans, have been watching the protests unfold for months in Kiev, Ukraine.

“Finally, when the opposition took over, I think it was not very positively received in Crimea, and in Sevastopol in particular,” she said.

One reason is, she said, is that people in Crimea don’t feel they have representation, or even a choice in the new, interim government in Kiev.

“There is quite a bit of mistrust of the current opposition leaders. One of them, in particular, is from a far-right nationalist organization. And really, people in Crimea, in Sevastopol, fear retaliation,” Jeager said.

Jeager said she and her family identify more as Russians than they do as Ukrainians.

“Absolutely. Those ties go back centuries ago, even. Crimea was part of the Russian Empire since the end of the 18th century, and it became part of Ukraine only pretty recently—in 1954, when Nikita Kruschev gave it to Ukraine,” Jeager said.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and borders were drawn, Crimea was determined to be part of the new, independent Ukraine.

Jeager said she doesn’t think most Crimeans want to officially go back to Russia, but they are concerned that Russians in Crimea will be oppressed linguistically and culturally.

“Those language issues, also, are not new,” she said. 

After Ukraine became its own country, the Ukrainian language became the official language used in media, on all medical forms, and legal documentation.

“And really, in a city where almost everyone speaks Russian, that was quite a shock. And so, I’d say yes, people do fear that there will be even more consequences,” Jeager said.