From afar, Olena fears for future of her homeland

What started as a genuine plea for change could soon see the Ukraine descend into a bloody conflict reminiscent of the break up of Yugoslavia, fears New Plymouth woman Olena Williams.

The Ukrainian national moved to New Zealand in 2003 and has been in constant contact with friends and family there since protesters ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych last month.

The country now appears to be on the brink of war after Russia sent in troops to secure its Black Sea fleet naval base there and its parliament authorised the use of military force to protect Russian speaking Ukrainian citizens.

Both the European Union and the United States have warned Russia to pull its troops out to avoid war but as yet the former super power refuses to budge.

"I don't believe in the probability of armed conflict, because basically the Ukrainian Army doesn't exist. It doesn't have modern weapons.

"I think it will be more at the economic level. The USA and the EU have strategies to isolate Russia if they want to," Mrs Williams said.

"But, at the same time, Russian troops are already in the Ukraine. So if someone else puts armed forces in, it will be a war.

"My friends are talking about separatism. Breaking into two countries or more.

"I fear it will become like Yugoslavia."

Ukrainians in the south and east generally have Russian sympathies and ties she said. In the west and north of the country citizens are more amenable to ties with Europe.

However families and friends can also be divided in their loyalties, Mrs Williams said.

She said the popular protests were a genuine plea by people for change from the corruption of the Yanukovych government but their European-friendly replacements were not necessarily who the people wanted.

"The people who went onto the streets were normal people, friends of mine. They were not hungry for power. . . . They just wanted change.

"Unfortunately the masterminds have their own scenarios in mind. Someone was using the situation as a tool to get into power.

"The situation in Ukraine is you should choose the lesser of evils because there are no good guys around," she said.

Taranaki Daily News