Few Americans know Ukraine more intimately than Roman Popadiuk, the first U.S. ambassador sent there after the country became independent in 1991. Popadiuk's parents were Ukrainians who were taken from their homeland by the Nazis to do forced labor. Popadiuk was born in 1950 in a displaced-persons camp in Austria and moved with his family to the U.S. when he was 7 months old. Before serving as ambassador in 1992 and '93 in Kiev, he was a member of the Foreign Service and worked in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush White Houses as a press officer. He currently is a principal in Washington with Bingham Consulting. Still deeply involved in Ukrainian issues, he fielded questions from National Journal on Monday. Edited excerpts follow.
Is there a danger that when the dust settles, Ukraine will no longer exist as a single country? How do you unite a country when half want to look to Europe and half want to look to Russia and all the elections since 1991 have shown this split?
Like any society, Ukraine has its differences regarding values, goals, and political views, but left to their own devices, Ukrainians have been able to deal with these differences. It is worth remembering two points: In the 1991 independence referendum, approximately 91 percent of Ukrainians, including a majority of ethnic Russians, voted for independence. Also, during the early years of independence there were nationalist circles in Russia and in Crimea that unsuccessfully sought a union of Crimea with Russia. More currently, during the Maidan revolution, there were no rumblings of separatism in eastern Ukraine or Crimea. It is only when Russia militarily intervened in Crimea and sent in instigators that the current troubles arose.