Ukraine FM's Father-In-Law Is Russian General Who Helped Reunite Crimea With Russia

Russians and Ukrainians are family, sometimes all too literally

Wed, Apr 20, 2016
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General Yuri Mikhailenko, father-in-law of Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, seen here with a Russian military commander in Crimea

It would be all too easy to put this article under RI’s favorite tagline, “Insane in the Ukraine”, if the family story described here did not reflect an enormous number of human dramas in the ongoing conflict surrounding Ukraine.

My cousin Volodya, who has lived all his life in the small town of Serdobsk not far from the Volga, is married to an ethnic Ukrainian woman born in Kharkov, Lida. Her friends and relatives there all call her khokhluska, a Russian nickname for Ukrainians. Ever since Ukraine made its "European choice" in February 2014, he monitors her Skype conversations with her sister who lives in the Ukraine. The two sisters, who speak to each other in Ukrainian, are divided about their native land’s European choice. When their conversations drift away from children, grand children and other earthly matters to politics, he switches off the connection, admonishing them that: “You are sisters and the last thing we need is for you to quarrel to the point of no return.”

I personally have come across dozens of situations like these and heard of many cases of lifelong friendships and even marriages breaking up over political disagreements. Russians and Ukrainians are so intertwined and have been living together for so long that we, citizens of Russia, simply cannot take whatever is happening in the neighboring country as a foreign affair. This is what I tell Ukrainians when they say, "Why don’t you and your Putin leave us alone?" But even if there were no geopolitical dimension, Putin simply could not have sat back and relaxed without losing all respect from his people.

This is not an ethnic or linguistic divide – ethnic Ukrainians and ethnic Russian in the Ukraine as well as in Russia often find themselves on different sides of the barricades. It is more about ideology, culture and the historic experience of both peoples and countries. In the early 1990s, we Russians went through the same process as Ukrainians are eхperiencing today.

We too thought that 70 years of Communist rule were a black hole in our history, that we came out of them as good-for-nothings, that only the demi-gods of the West could rescue us from our miserable state by coming to rule us.

The results were the humiliating "wild 1990s", disastrous for Russia as a country and for millions upon millions of its people. The Euro-integrators of those times, President Yeltsin or the leader of the "young pro-western reformers" Yegor Gaidar, are the most despised and hated political figures today – worse than Stalin.

With the wisdom of hindsight, we know exactly what horrors Ukrainians brought on themselves by ruining their country and relationship with Russia for the sake of a paper on Euro-integration. Alas, in their current mood, "pro-European" Ukrainians and their supporters in Russia sincerely believe that they are on a special path and refuse to look at Russia’s experience.

And that’s when passions begin to rage and human dramas occur. As in this story described in Russia’s most popular news resource, Komsomolskay Pravda, by its correspondent in the Crimea, Diana Belaya. Don’t laugh.


New 'Zrada'

It has been a week since the Ukrainians discussed another ‘zrada’ (betrayal – Ukr.). In his tax declaration for 2015, the head of Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Pavel Klimkin, listed his wife as 40-year old Marina Mikhailenko. This attracted the attention of Kiev’s journalists, because  a year ago the chief diplomat of the independent state was married to another woman – Natalya, with whom he has two sons. Why did he hide his divorce and remarriage? 

The reason for Klimkin’s secrecy was soon discovered. The father of his new wife is Russian Major General Yuri Mikhailenko, who supports Putin and proudly wears a Return of the Crimea Medal awarded since the Crimean Referendum on March 16th, 2014. 

Marina Mikhailenko considers herself a devout Ukrainian, and wouldn’t hear of anything else.

Although the General served in the Ukrainian Army, he has always supported Russia’s reunification with the Crimea. Born in the town of Perm in the Ural region, he finished flight school there and graduated from the Moscow Military University (Lenin Military Academy back then). Later, his daughter left to study in Kiev, and he and his wife moved to Sevastopol, then to Kiev. After the Ukraine coup d’état he returned to Sevastopol. His wife Nina Gavrilovna and daughter stayed in Kiev.  

How Klimkin was labeled an FSB agent 

The Ukrainians called the marriage of the Head of the MFA a ‘ganba’ (shame), despite the ‘patriotic’ attitude of his wife. Marina Mikhailenko is the Deputy Head of the Main Department of Foreign Policy and has been Euro-integrating the Ukraine for several years together with her beloved husband. But who cares if there is a vicious enemy in the diplomat’s family – a man who has hoped for the return of the Crimea under Russia’s wing for 23 years? (Yuri Mikhailovich told this to the KP correspondent.) 

A member of the radical party “Liberty”, Alexander Aronets, has also fueled the flames:

- It seems that the Foreign Minister was recruited by the FSB! Poroshenko has to fire Klimkin for being under Russian influence!

Marina Mikhailenko, understanding that the scandal threatens them both with the sack, posted on her Facebook page: 

“My ancestors, Ukrainians, were closely related to the Crimea – my great-grandmother, grandmother and grandfather are all buried there. That’s why the annexation of the Crimea became my personal tragedy. I’m not going to renounce my father, although I haven’t contacted him for a long time”.

 “I WEAR THE MEDAL WITH PRIDE”

We met Yuri Mikhailenko in a local spa where he is currently recovering. 

“In 2014 I was awarded three medals: the first was given by the Communist Party, the second by Russia’s Defense Ministry and the third  by the local authorities. I’m proud of them, that’s why I wear them and I’m going to continue to wear them!” – says the 75-year old Major General. The Crimea always belonged to Russia historically, and the population of the peninsula has always accepted this. That’s why Ukraine officials were afraid even to come to Sevastopol – they were never supported by the people here! 

Journalists looking at the return of the Crimea Medal on the general’s chest.

Yuri Vasilyevich, like all other Crimeans, voted in the 2014 referendum. His old mother suffering from cancer asked him to drive her to the polling station to check the historic box. She died a week later. 

"WE ARE ONE NATION, MY DAUGHTER WILL UNDERSTAND IT SOONER OR LATER"

After the Crimean Spring, relatives don’t even wish each other a happy birthday. Besides, the general from Sevastopol doesn’t want to see his son-in-law. 

“How can I treat him if we never communicate?” – says Yuri Vasilyevich. “Marina and Pavel see everything only in blue and yellow (the colors of the Ukrainian flag). After another political conversation, I decided that we had nothing to talk about. Although I don’t support them, I think they will eventually understand. As for me, I consider Russians and Ukrainians as one nation. When the time comes, my daughter and I will be together again.”

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