Muscat: As the conflict between Russia and Ukraine continues without an end in sight, Ukrainian citizens living in Oman fear for their country's future.
Ukraine, a former part of the USSR, gained independence from Russia in 1991 following the end of the Cold War, but since February pro-Russian militias have been fighting in the eastern part of the country, in a bid to separate from Ukraine.
In March, the Crimean Peninsula, which is part of Ukraine, was annexed by Russia, and in the provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk fighting between separatist rebels and the Ukrainian military continues.
Anna Stalinska and Sergey Lebed, a Ukrainian couple living in Muscat, worry about the conflict back home and do not think most Ukrainians have any interest in becoming part of Russia.
"The situation is very nerve racking. There are many rumours. We don't trust most media, just the people who are going to the east and bringing back information first-hand. They are talking about how Ukrainians in the east don't want this. And they say the Russians also want to attack Kiev," says Anna, who teaches at Middle East College.
Sergey, an employee at an IT company in Muscat, flew back to Muscat the day after Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine.
He admits he was nervous and checked to make sure the flight path would not go near the eastern part of the country, where pro-Russian rebels are located.
While back in their hometown Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, earlier this summer, Sergey and Anna noticed changes, such an influx of refugees from the east and increased levels of crime, which they attribute to the instability caused by the conflict.
Drive to collect money, goods for Ukrainian troops
They say there is corruption, too, in the parliament and the military, as some people are accepting bribes to leak information to pro-Russian separatists.
Anna and Sergey, along with many of their friends and family members, have donated money, medicines and other goods to support Ukrainian troops.
One of their friends, a woman with a PhD in economics who works at the National Academy of Sciences in Kiev, has been spending much of her time collecting money and goods, which she then drives to the eastern provinces and hands over to soldiers.
Many Ukrainians have joined the army, too, including some of their friends.
"People are buying boots, uniforms, helmets, anything to help the army. It's not even going
through the government," Sergey explains.
Here in Oman, they follow the situation very closely by speaking with family and friends in Ukraine, and through social media, which they trust more than official news sources. They say Russian media has been very anti-Ukrainian in the past few years, suggesting that the United States will use Ukraine to attack, which has helped fuel tensions. "They say Ukrainians are monsters who will eat Russian children. The propaganda in Russia has worked that way for the past 10 years, and the people believe Ukraine is able to attack Russia," Anna says.
They add that in the past few years, many Russians have moved to Crimea and the eastern provinces, and they believe they instigated the unrest. "It's not the will of the local population," says Anna.
The battle now is not just with Russia, but for the future of Ukraine, according to Anna and Sergey. They say that even though most people support the Ukrainian military and hope to keep Ukraine independent, the conflict and widespread corruption have worn down social values and the sense of unity in the country.
"It's a war every person is fighting inside themselves to build a new Ukraine. Are they going to resist all this corruption and fight for good values, for the good society, and start to build a new society right now, not waiting till this war is over?" she asks.
Both Anna and Sergey speak fluent Russian and have many friends who are of Russian descent in Ukraine. They also fear for Russia's future, especially given decisions to impose sanctions against the European Union by blocking imports of food, which has a worse impact on its own people than on Europeans, Anna explains.
"I don't believe in any good future in Russia, because if they continue these politics, they will be isolated," Anna adds.
Sergey shakes his head in despair when asked when the conflict might end. He says there are only two possible conclusions.
"It could finish or it could be a complete war between Russia and Ukraine, with a real Russian military invasion.
"There are already Russian troops there.
For Anna and Sergey, the conflict in Ukraine does not only affect them. It could also dictate the future of their young son, two-year-old Alex, who was born in Oman.
"We do worry a lot. We still belong to Ukraine and believe our children will be able to get their education there. We hope it will end soon," adds Anna.
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