Remember the movie Groundhog Day, the 1993 classic comic-fantasy in which TV weatherman Bill Murray is caught in a time-loop and is forced, day-after-day, to repeat the day before: Groundhog Day.
The plot of the lives of real-life people in Ukraine is radically similar to the movie, only there’s nothing funny about it. In a country struggling to free itself from a so-called “frozen war” with Russian-supported separatists in the country’s eastern third every day, and every night see exchanges of fire, smaller arms by day, heavier weapons by night that kill people on both sides.
But these tactical exchanges have no strategic motive. The front lines never change. Both sides know, to make a serious attempt to advance their positions would risk kicking off a far more destructive war involving more Ukrainian casualties and more outside intervention with both Russia and the US and its NATO allies pouring more firepower onto this endless low-burning flame of mutual murder.
The Groundhog Day repetitions rule in Ukraine’s other main struggle, to end, or at least reduce the corruption of its civil society. There is a lot of rhetoric about progress, with some oligarchs being forced into temporary retreat, even as other mega-rip-off artists rise and flourish. But both President Petro Poroshenko’s Cabinet and the Rada, the Ukrainian Parliament are filled with criminal pedigrees to match those of any of the dogs at the Westminster Dog show.
A Ukrainian Army Helicopter pilot named Nadiya Savchenko was one of the war’s early heroes. Shot down by the Russians who some days openly, other days covertly, run the separatist movement, she was imprisoned for two years, during which time she became a national hero. After her release, she ran for Parliament, won a seat and was immediately rated a good prospect to replace President Poroshenko. But after getting a better sense of Ukraine’s reality than she had in a Russian prison she turned on her nationalist supporters, said the war was simply ruinous and any force of conciliation should be applied to call the conflict off. The backlash against her has been huge and her Presidential prospects seem to have retreated.
Meanwhile, the frozen but bloody war goes on and so does the well-organized corruption that have made the Ukrainian economy a shambles and society a battleground between idealists and cynics. One of the leading idealists, a famous journalist named Pavel Sheremet was killed last month by a bomb which blew up his car in the capital city of Kiev.
Nick Schifrin is a young veteran foreign correspondent currently serving as Jerusalem Correspondent for NPR News. His work for ABC News and Al Jazeera America produced several awards, two of special meaning for me…an Edward R. Murrow Award and the Overseas Press Club’s David Kaplan Award…I knew David and joined him in covering the war in Bosnia where he was killed, probably by a Serb sniper during the siege of Sarajevo. Nick also reports for PBS NewsHour and the Pulitzer Center.