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Political science professor speaks as scholar, native daughter of Ukraine

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Native to both Russian and Ukrainian cultures, Olena Surzhko-Harned, Ph.D., assistant professor of political science at Mercyhurst University, has an astute grasp of the crisis unfolding in Ukraine.

But her familiarity extends beyond the academic. It’s personal. She was born and raised in the Ukraine’s Lubny, Poltava, region and her parents and siblings currently live in Kiev. 

From her daily phone calls home, she senses, “They are worried, but they try to have a calm manner.”

So, too, does Surzhko-Harned, who is blending both her personal and professional knowledge to shed light on the current situation. She has been interviewed by the local news and last Friday joined a panel of experts discussing the subject at Cornell University. Last night, she was a guest of Mercyhurst’s Political Science Honor Society, when she again shared her insights.

On March 1, the Russian parliament approved Russian President Vladimir Putin’s request to deploy troops in the Crimean peninsula, purportedly to protect the ethnic-Russian citizens living there. Less than two weeks later, the Crimean parliament announced that it would hold a referendum on whether to rejoin Russia or stay with Ukraine. The Moscow-backed referendum passed March 17 with more than 90 percent of voters supporting unification with Russia.

“Crimea has made its choice, or had it made for them. I think it’s lost,” Surzhko-Harned said. “The question now is will Putin stop at Crimea?”

Thousands of Russian troops are drilling on Ukraine’s border, raising fears that Putin may also intercede in eastern Ukrainian cities with substantial populations of ethnic Russians.

“If Putin does cross the border, he will meet with resistance,” Surzhko-Harned predicted. “These eastern regions are not as autonomous as Crimea, which only became part of Ukraine in 1954; they have been part of Ukraine forever.”

For those interested in learning more, a video of the Cornell panel discussion that Surzhko-Harned participated in can be accessed here as Part I and Part II.