I met a Russian…and I brought up Ukraine

Whilst in Korea at SeoulTech for a 2 week summer school I met many people from many countries including: Japan, Taiwan, China, Russia, USA and more. It was a fascinating experience and I have made some true life long friends both in the UK and overseas. However, there was one incident that left me totally speechless, which for anyone who knows me is a complete rarity.

Now before I go into detail about this situation I want to say this as a kind of disclaimer. If the person I am talking about in this post ever happens to read this, do not take what I say too personally. We clearly just have very contrasting opinions and I simply want to explore that difference.

So, let’s get into it. It was the first Friday night of the summer school and most of us decided that we would go clubbing for the night in Itaewon – an area of Seoul popular with foreigners. Clubbing is not something I usually indulge in, simply because people in clubs generally drive nuts, but I went along for the experience and the company.

Before heading to the club we went to a sports bar for a few drinks. We joked around and talked about little things, mostly small talk like what do you study? Where are you from? What languages do you speak? (given that to Asians my French is fluent I may have played that card a little stronger than I should have while I had the chance) etc.

At some point we ended up talking about where people look like they are from and I passed a comment that the person opposite me – a Russian – did not look like they were from Russia. She looked pretty stunned by my remark and maybe even disgusted, so I waited for her to reply and that’s where it gets interesting.

She went on to explain that one of her parents was Ukrainian and the other from Belarus and thus concluded that she was fully Russian and was surprised to hear that I thought she did not look it.

Speechless. I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing. I thought maybe she was joking but she was very direct and looked totally serious. So I poked the bear a little more to see how deep the rabbit hole went.

“You know Ukraine is its own country, right?” I asked.

“Well…maybe.”

This reply honestly shook me despite how trivial it may seem to some (though more likely most) people.

Flag_of_the_Soviet_Union

For clarity, this person is certainly older than me, but no more than 10 years at the absolute most. I don’t want to guess how old exactly in case of causing offence, but she is almost certainly older than me so I would therefore assume that she is at least somewhat politically aware…and yet she thinks like this? I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but I don’t think it would be to farfetched to say that she sounds very pro-Soviet Union.

Is this the norm in Russia? Amongst the average working class people I mean. I can understand the governmental people seeking this kind of future, many of them lived through the Soviet days and would likely want to see Russia’s “former glory” returned, but someone around my own age? A student?

Do they really believe that the Russian Federation should consume its old neighbors once again despite the fact the majority clearly want to remain independent? But even that feels incorrect to say; it felt like she was more of the opinion that Russia had the right to take back their land and people.

But maybe a little more topical, do they think Russia should take Ukraine?

Given that it is not acceptable to discuss politics amongst most Koreans I decided it would be best to drop the subject and just enjoy the night, but her remarks still get under my skin and I am still in a certain level of shock.

How can someone believe Russian propaganda? The reasoning Putin gives for arming separatists in Ukraine is totally flawed. You don’t have a right to do anything just because you think that maybe Russian speaking people will be in harm’s way. I’m not saying I back Ukraine here, they are no angels, but Russia certainly is not to be trusted.

If today’s reports that Ukraine destroyed a Russian military convoy after it crossed into Ukraine are verified, Russia’s true colours will be revealed and it will no longer be able to deny its claims that they are not militarily involved. It will show Russia for what I suspect it is: a war-mongering, power grabbing, oppressive state that has more similarities with its North Korean and Chinese allies than it would like to admit.

I do not support Ukraine, but I certainly do not support Russia either! Time will tell.

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