As fears of violence and instability plague her homeland of Crimea, Iryna looks to online networks for connection, people-powered news, and a platform for peacebuilding.
They are not afraid of the soldiers. They are not afraid of cold. Crimean women are afraid of only one thing: not being heard. They are the ambassadors of peace in the times of changes, in the times of confusion, in the times of fears and hopes.
Crimea is in transition. We experienced this once before, when the USSR fell. Now, for the second time in my life, all the familiar things around me have changed beyond recognition.
While many of the men around us are ready to take up arms, Crimean women are taking up posters and laptops. They are exploding the Internet with the slogan: "No war in Crimea! Crimea women for peace!" Pictures with women holding these posters are appearing all around the world. These women are not afraid; they are appealing to men to keep their homes in peace. They are working to keep their husbands and children alive.
I was born in Crimea, which was then a part of Ukrainian Soviet Republic, which was in turn a part of the totalitarian machine of the Soviet Union. At the age of 13 I stopped wearing a red pioneer tie. A couple years later I exchanged my red passport for a blue one and became a Ukrainian citizen. Over the next 23 years I tried to adapt to the new reality, but I never entirely lost my Soviet soul. I was confused trying to understand whether I am Soviet, Russian, or Ukrainian. Finally I decided I am Crimean because this beautiful land will always be my real motherland.
This year everyone in the world has gotten a chance to know Crimea, my beautiful Crimea. It is a territory located in the south of Ukraine, with more than one hundred nationalities. That is, we were part of Ukraine until the referendum on March 16th, when we fell asleep in one country and woke up in another.
I didn't vote in the referendum on principle. I am not for one side or the other. Just because we have the Republic of Crimea stamp on our passport, we have become hostages to this situation. The last months changed my motherland significantly; the last weeks changed it irreversibly. Only one month ago we were a part of Ukraine and today you only see Ukrainian flags on buildings as graffiti. All of the yellow and blue flags in Crimea are already changed to Russian tricolors. Ukrainian and Russian currencies are depreciating. Ukrainian banks are closing. People are joining lines thousands of people long to apply for Russian passports. Every day brings changes, and they are not always welcome.
In February, when the first soldiers appeared on the beautiful and peaceful streets of Simferopol everyone began to speak about the possibility of a war. They appeared unexpectedly, and no one could understand who they were and where they came from. Because they rarely spoke, people began to call these uniformed men the "polite green people" for their "polite" invasion. But polite or not, militarists with covered faces and guns occupying strategic buildings provoke worries rather than a feeling of safety. Every day I wake up thinking, "please, let nothing bad happen today."
Many people are happy with this new reality. But many feel confused and disappointed. And almost no one understands completely what has happened and what will happen next. TV doesn't help us understand the situation. If you turn off the sound you will see the same pictures shown by Ukrainian and Russian channels. But the information they present is directly opposite. Both sides blame each other for extreme nationalism, provocation, and separatism.
All of my old contacts in my online social networks have been getting in touch to ask me about the situation in Crimea because what they see on TV is so awful and unbelievable. Over the last two months I've spent more time in social networks than in the previous two years, and I have come to understand one thing: Sometimes a woman with a laptop can be more powerful than a man with a gun. The most powerful weapons are not rocket launchers or Kalashnikovs in the hands of the soldiers. Social networks are becoming more powerful. While mass media was showing horrific and sensationalizing images of the ubiquitous "little green men", the empty shelves in supermarkets, and tanks on the streets, our online networks are becoming our only trusted source of information. Through email and social media, we are connecting with each other and sharing information much closer to the truth than what we see on TV.
My friends and I are afraid to leave Crimea, because with recent legislation changes we don't know if we could return. Because our physical movement is restricted, the Internet is the perfect place for women to meet each other and feel that there are many of us together. We log on just to ask each other, "All is fine?" And so we can hear the answer: "Yes, we have helicopters above our heads, but more or less we are fine." When I greet my friends now, we always begin and end our conversations with wishes of peace.
I have witnessed a desire for peace and concern for the safety of children uniting women across nationality, religion, and political views. In recent months, as women have felt an overwhelming need to speak out, a Facebook group was created called Crimea Women for Peace. In this group--which already has almost four hundred participants--women feel free to say what they think about the situation, to change opinions, to discuss, to plan their actions.
Still, women in Crimea have a feeling that no one is hearing us. The politicians are using us to play their games. The Internet is our main way to connect with each other and explain to the world about how we are living here. We can say to the whole world what we feel. We can tell the world that for most of us, this is not about politics. We are mothers and ordinary people. The main thing for us is to keep peace. We are strong and we are using every means we can to shout this for all to hear.
At any price, we want peace.