The story of one man’s discovery of national pride and his struggle to maintain a sense of place as leaders in distant capitals play geopolitical chess with his homeland.
By Mike Eckel
SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine — The last free person to see Mikhail Vdovchenko before his descent into nine days of Russian hell was the co-owner of a local musical instrument store. For much of the past year, she’s been scared, so much so that she drops her voice to a whisper on the boulevard outside her store when talking to strangers. She glances nervously over her shoulder at passersby.
Too frightened to disclose her full name, Natalya is the mother of two teenagers and a four-decade resident of the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia summarily annexed in March, then launched an insurgency in eastern Ukraine sparking the worst crisis between Russia and the West since the Cold War. What happened in Simferopol—the Crimean capital where her store is located—and the entire nation has terrified her.
On March 11, she first made eye contact with Mikhail—Misha, his friends and relatives call him—on a sidewalk a few blocks outside the city center, a little before 4 p.m. She was walking home from the bank.