A young eastern Ukrainian philosophy student, commenting on the weekend referendum in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, summed up his country's condition rather neatly: "I haven't voted," he said, "and nor have any of my friends. It's a referendum for idiots, organized by idiots. Of course I don't want to be part of their absurd republic or join Russia. But having said that, I don't like the new Kiev government either. Basically, we're screwed."
According to the pro-Russia separatists, they won big, claiming 89 per cent yes in Donetsk for the question, "Do you support the act of state self-rule of the Donetsk People's Republic?" Referendum officials in Luhansk reported 96 per cent yes for a similar question. Considering there were no international observers, no up-to-date electoral lists, heavily armed men keeping watch, and most of those who disagreed with the separatists choosing to boycott the referendum, the results are, to put it mildly, questionable.
A more reliable poll, conducted by Pew Research, suggests that Russian-speaking Ukrainians have little appetite for separation. Fifty-eight per cent believe Ukraine should remain one country while less than half that number believe regions should be allowed to secede. However, like the young philosophy student, they aren't happy with Kiev either and have significant differences with western Ukraine. For example, two-thirds of those in the east believe Kiev is having a bad influence on events while 60 per cent of those in the west believe it is having a good influence.
And then there's the language issue: almost ninety per cent of Russian speakers believe both Russian and Ukrainian should be official languages whereas two-thirds of those in the west believe the only official language should be Ukrainian. Canadians are all too familiar with the intractability of language arguments.
Of particular interest, perhaps, are the divergent attitudes toward the May 25 presidential election. Fifty-nine per cent in the west believe it will be fair while, ominously, 63 per cent in the east think that's unlikely.
So a majority of all groups want the country to remain united, yet it is riddled with division. Screwed? Perhaps not, but seriously challenged certainly.