December 14th, 2013
09:05 PM ET

Why Ukraine is in turmoil

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By Global Public Square staff

Take a look at the extraordinary images from Ukraine in the video. Protesters in Kiev knocking down a giant statue of the Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin. Tens of thousands of Ukrainians cheering them on as they hack the fallen statue with hammers. The incident last Sunday was one of the most symbolic moments of the protests underway in Ukraine.

At the heart of these protests is a widespread frustration not only with the government in Kiev, but more so with Russian interference. To some, the moment recalled another defining moment, from 1989. That was the year Communism fell across eastern Europe, leading to the end of the Soviet Union, and, of course, to Ukraine's independence.

But you need to go much further back in history to understand what's really going on in Ukraine.

First, here's what sparked the crisis. In November, President Viktor Yanukovych pulled out of a proposed deal to forge closer ties with the European Union. Why? Well, one reason was that he had another offer, from Moscow. Russia wants Ukraine to join its Eurasian Customs Union, which already includes Belarus and Kazakhstan.

This is not a new story. The tug-of-war over Ukraine is rooted in history.

In his book The Clash of Civilizations, the political scientist Samuel Huntington pointed out that the divide between Western and Eastern Christianity runs right through the heart of Ukraine. And that divide, between two kinds of Christianity and thus two paths of political development, dates back to the Middle Ages – and it resonates in Ukraine's politics to this day.

Take a look at the map in the video, from Ukraine's 1994 presidential elections. Shaded in grey on the left are the provinces that voted for the incumbent, Leonid Kravchuk. On the right, those for the pro-Russian Leonid Kuchma. Both took 13 provinces each: an even split reflecting Ukraine's deep historical, cultural divide.

More from GPS: Ukraine debate had Cold War echoes

While Ukraine might have mixed feelings about its destiny, power politics has pushed it in one direction. Huntington writes that 1654 was the defining moment, the Cossacks pledged allegiance to Russia in return for help fighting off Polish rule. From then on, until independence in 1991, Ukraine was controlled by Moscow. The question is, will this domination continue into the 21st century?

It shouldn't. Much has changed since 1654. The forces of democracy, globalization, trade, and technology give Ukraine much greater freedom of action. And it shouldn’t be one person's decision to align with Russia or Europe. That's the anger that you see on the streets of Kiev: the people want to be involved in this fateful decision.

The choice on either side is clear. Europe will want Ukraine to modernize, to become more liberal and free, and to undertake serious economic reforms if it wants to become closer to the West. That choice is difficult in the short-term, but has long-term payoffs.

The alternative is rather different. Under Vladimir Putin, Russia essentially wants to maintain a sphere of influence, which would enhance Russian power. Putin will use a mixture of threats, bribes, and his own media resources to reach this goal. Take a striking moment last week on Russian TV. A Russian journalist was narrating a revisionist account of what he was seeing in Kiev. Then, suddenly, a Ukrainian journalist pops in the picture…and awards him what looks like an Oscar. It was for good acting, I suppose.

This battle for people's hearts and minds will continue in the coming weeks. But the real decision point comes in 2015, when Ukraine next goes to vote.

Perhaps one day, 2015 will be seen as a turning point, like 1654.

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Topics: Russia • Ukraine • What in the World?

soundoff (57 Responses)
  1. rightospeak

    Real history is interesting, unfortunately most of history are trashy fairy tales written by victors. I am glad that you mentioned 1654 and Bohdan Khmelnycky – it was a time of revolt against oppression , some people call it a Pogrom.

    Yes ,you need to go back in real history to understand what is going on in Ukraine. It is all about oppression, usury, property rights -not much has changed. The rebellion led by Khmelnycky was because Ukrainian peasants were losing their land due to vodka credit and usury, they were robbed of their property rights. So they chased the usurers and their masters and took back their land. The Communists robbed the peasants of all the land and still hold the wealth of the country in their hands. Transfer of land and property to the people is slow in coming. The government borrowed money in Ukrainian people's name and pay interest on loans. People still see the Communists as the oppressors who are slow to implement reforms.

    December 15, 2013 at 9:42 am |
    • Alex279

      You mentioned word "pogrom" in the context of Bogdan Khmelnitsky. This is very innovative interpretation of Ukranian history I never heard about. In fact, you mixing two completely unrelated stories.

      "Pogrom" means to beat somebody for the sake of making the point, to punish, to teach someone who is the tough guy in the neighborhood, or whatever, but not to kill or destroy completely. Yes, indeed, typically practiced in Western Ukraine against some categories of people, Jews, for example. In some cases Poles. And this is the origin of the word. The word itself has the meaning of incompleteness, so it must me done from time to time on a more-or-less periodic basis. Jews actually played an important role of Western Ukrainian society, so Ukranians did not want to exterminate them completely, only to tech them from time to time.

      To beat somebody in a more decisive manner is called "Razgrom". You see the two words? They have common root, but are differ only by prefix.

      December 16, 2013 at 8:12 pm |
      • rightospeak

        I know well , Alex, what the word POGROM means. Bohdan Khmelnytzky, some print it Bohdan Chmielnicki , has been accused of pogrom by some. In his book "Dvesti Let Vmeste" Alexandr Solzhenitsyn mentions the facts of what happened and causes of the rebellion.that Bohdan lead. Personally , I read many times in various papers in English about Bohdan 's pogrom and I thought I would mention the usage of it.

        December 19, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
  2. Danro

    I usually enjoy most of the articles from Fareed but this one is not one of his best. First to say that the kind of Christianity determines the kind of political system is not correct. Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania are Orthodox and democracies. Looking back hundreds of years to give a clue to what is happening now in Ukraine seems sensible but is just a nice history lesson which does not give any light on the current fight. Nothing was mentioned about Ukraine during the Soviet times. Nothing was mentioned about how the people of Ukraine and all other soviet republics were mixed and separated by Stalin to create countries without majorities of native populations. What is happening in Ukraine is happening in every other former Soviet republic but the difference is that it is on the border with the EU. The people of Ukraine can see the difference between the West and what they have and of course want what's better. Unfortunately the election in 2015 will not do anything. Whatever happens in the next month will be by the ruling government to placate the population and western countries. As soon as all the attention goes away, the government will turn again to Russia.

    December 15, 2013 at 10:48 am |
  3. Joseph McCarthy

    The West is counting on the ignorance of it's own people over the history of Ukraine. It wants us all to think that Ukraine is being again victimized by the "big, bad Russian bear" of the north, so to speak. The Western leaders want both us and the people of Ukraine to believe in the fairy tale about them being the true "liberators" here. Adolf Hitler has already succeeded in that endeavor back in 1941, getting the Ukrainians to see the Germans as their "liberators" from Russia. The true problem here is the animosity which has been going between Ukraine and Russia for the last 800 years or so or when Poland conquered the western half of that country around 1610. People do need to know the true history of Ukraine before they speak!

    December 15, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
    • Blue Panther

      Lots of empires tramped through Ukraine–the Mongols, Poland, Ottoman Turks, the Germans and the Russians. They all evaporated "like dew in the morning sunshine" as the Ukrainian national hymn goes. And the Ukrainian people remained...

      December 19, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
      • Dave

        A great example of how geography can determine history. The entire history of Ukraine is summed up here;

        Wealthy, rich, fertile land... no defensible borders.

        December 21, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
    • Dave

      To be fair, in WWII people were starved for info. They had no idea how evil Hitler was. But they knew all too well, fresh on the heels of Stalin engineered Ukrainian GENOCIDE, just how evil Stalin was.

      If you were in their shoes, you'd embrace Hitler too. Now in time they realised he was just as bad or worse. Trying to remember how an old timer phrased it to me 'we were stupid, we didn't know, we traded a demon for a devil'

      December 21, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
  4. RussianImperial

    Ukraine is part of Russia, it will always be so. The desire of Europeans to meddle in the Affairs of others is a miserable copying of American politics

    December 15, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
    • Joseph McCarthy

      I fully agree, Russiaimperial. In 882, Kiev did become the capitol of Russia when the first Grand Duke of Russia, Rurik died. In fact, Ukraine was the very heart of the old Russia during the later Middle Ages until the Tartars took over around 1240 and reduced Russia to a system of tributary states.

      December 15, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
      • RussianImperial

        Exactly. Russia and Ukraine unites more than just economic ties, it is one ethnos. Russia is not the Soviet Union, has other goals and means, but the West still sees it as "an Evil Empire". Personally, I think that the "Evil Empire" has long moved for ocean

        December 15, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
      • Victor Bird

        Do some research, for you are displaying yourself as half-ignorant. Especially look up into the name of Muskovy (the true name of a state now called Russia).
        Then, I would suggest to learn more about histories of two very different peoples: Ukrainians (Ruthenians or Rusyny or Rusy) and, so-called Russians (Muscovites).

        Ignorance is disgusting.

        December 16, 2013 at 1:21 am |
      • Jerry Falwell

        I totally agree, Victor. Ignorance is truly disgusting. I feel the same way after reading all these pro-Western comments over how Ukraine should join the EU which would be the worst mistake the Ukrainians can make. This is yet another way NATO's trying to swallow up Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991!

        December 16, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • Ivan

      It is precisely because the Ukraine is Russian that it must remain politically independent. Russia needs a West Germany or a South Korea or a Taiwan, a portion that advances and can later redeem the rest from the darkness. A place that is what St. Petersburg was supposed to be, but could not be because progress was incompatible with Tsarist/Communist/Putinist authoritarian imbecillity.

      December 15, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
      • Blue Panther

        An interesting insight and certainly many ethnic Russians in Ukraine want eventual integration with the EU and Ukraine can serve as an example but Russians in Russia need to decide what they want.

        December 19, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
    • Blue Panther

      Russia has always choked on Ukraine until it wisely stepped away after the downfall of the USSR. But now it's back taking a bite and it will end badly once again.

      December 19, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
    • hemusbull

      Well, why one from Russia should have the right to intervene in Ukrainian internal affairs but an European doesn't? You are ridiculously illogical idi0t!

      December 19, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
    • Walter

      Typical Russian who thinks they own the world. The Ukrainians belong to the Russians as much as the Irish to England. If you translate Russian it means swamp go crawl back into your swamp in and around around Imperialist Moscow

      December 21, 2013 at 6:23 am |
      • Dave

        Although we are probably on the same side in this conflict... I have to point out... you are wrong about the swamp dwelling thing. Don't know where you got that info. A bad source I suspect. I would be very critical of anything you got from that source.

        The real origin of the word traces to the Vikings that were traveling the rivers in what is now Russia and Ukraine.

        The real etymology of the word (from Wikipedia).

        According to the most prominent theory, the name Rus', like the Finnish name for Sweden (Ruotsi), is derived from an Old Norse term for "the men who row" (rods-) as rowing was the main method of navigating the rivers of Eastern Europe, and that it could be linked to the Swedish coastal area of Roslagen (the Rowing crews) or Roden, as it was known in earlier times.[5][6] The name Rus' would then have the same origin as the Finnish, Saami, Estonian and Võro names for Sweden: Ruotsi, Ruoŧŧa, Rootsi and Roodsi.[7] It is remarkable enough that the local Finnic and Permic peoples in northern Russia proper use the same "Rus'" related name both for Sweden and Russia (depending on the language): thus the Veps name for Sweden / Swedish is Ročinma / Ročin,[8] while in the neighboring Komi language the same term Ročmu / Roč means already Russia / Russian instead.[9][10]

        December 21, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
    • Dave

      Ukraine was NOT always part of Russia. A czar screwed them out of independance in a war with Poland in the 1600's.

      If Ukraine is really just 'little Russia', why do they have their own language?

      And if anything belongs to anybody, Moscow and St. Petersberg belong to Kyiv-Rus, not the other way round. Russia begins in Kyiv, not Moscow. You have the relationship between these 2 countries backwards I think.

      And who are you, a Russian, to say what Ukrainians want? Whether you agree or not, they are an independant nation. Let them decide their own fate.

      But we all know your dictator Putin will never allow that. He has dreams of rebuilding the empire.. which by your name I have to assume you fully support.

      I consider Putin the most dangerous man on this planet. I would love nothing more than to see him removed from power.

      I very much consider him my enemy. Not the Russian people mind you, got no beef there, just your dictator. I hate that man.

      December 21, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
    • Dave

      For what it's worth....

      I really do like the Russian people. Count several among my friends. I LOVED my time in Ukraine and look forward to going back (better part of a year last time... my father moved there in 2001, and no, he is NOT Ukrainian, but he is still there). When I say I have no gripe with the Russian people, I really do mean that. I think we are natural friends and allies actually. Look at our shared values of islamic extremism/terrorism or even space exploration. Ever think it odd that the US and Russia seem to be the only countries on this planet worried about being taken out by an asteroid? My opinion? Well duh, let's work together on this. Together I think we might literally save the planet. And yes, we will accomplish more together than separately. As much as I hate Putin, I would still welcome the chance to work together with Russia on some shared issues we have.

      I have to assume you will disagree, and I am aware that Putin enjoys quite a bit of support there. He might play fast and loose with 'elections', but a lot of people there are truly happy with him.

      In fact, here I am wasting my time talking to you in ENGLISH. My goal is fluency in both Ukrainian and Russian. I should be trying to practice with you 😉

      We disagree, but don't think I wish you any ill will or animosity. I dislike Putin. That's all my friend. I have no hatred for you even though we disagree. I want BETTER relations between our countries.

      But I just don't see that happening with Putin in power.

      December 22, 2013 at 1:38 am |
  5. j. von hettlingen

    Ukraine means a lot to Russian history. The two modern-day Ukraine and Russia were part of the ancient state Kievan Rus.
    The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate was part of the Moscow Patriarchate and broke away in 1991. This year should be marking the 1,025th anniversary of the conversion to Christianity of Kievan Rus.
    The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, travelled to Kiev in 2009 and persuaded worshippers in Ukraine their breakaway Church must return to Moscow.

    December 15, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
    • Blue Panther

      At one point France and Germany were "united" under Charlemagne. So they should be united forever? Thankfully there is no monolithic Orthodox Church "unity" in Ukraine. In fact there three Orthodox Churches in Ukraine and people are free to choose which to attend. Nobody in Ukraine "returned" to Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, who has become an object of derision once he was photographed wearing a 30 thousand dollar Swiss watch on his pious wrists. They later tired to photoshop the offending watch of his hands but the internet is unforgiving and there you have it.

      December 19, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
  6. Danro

    One thing that was not mentioned in this article or others is why does Russia want Ukraine. Some of the commentators before me mentioned some reasons. So now let me give what I think is Russia's view.
    1. There are Russians in Ukraine. (8% of the population are Russian or other. This is due to population transfers during the Soviet era. Also Khazakstan and Belarus as well as every other former Soviet Republic has a sizable Russian minority. That is a reason for all of the issues between Estonia and especially Latvia and Lithuania.)
    2. Russia views Ukraine as an integral part of Russia. The founders of modern Russia, the Kievan Rus established their Empire in the Ukraine.
    3. The Russian Orthodox Church was founded in Kiev by Saint Andrew who founded thecity of Kiev also.
    4. The Crimea. The Crimea is seen as a part of Russia and the Russia. Black Sea fleet is stationed in Sevestopol. The deal in 2010 keeps the fleet there until 2042.
    5. Ukraine, as well as Belarus are the the countries through which Russia gas pipelines go through to get to Europe. As we know Russia's economy is heavily dependent on oil and natural gas.

    December 15, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
    • Blue Panther

      Yes, and? Many ethnic Russians, especially in the capital city of Kyiv, want EU integration. An Orthodox Church, not a "Russian Orthodox Church" was founded in Kyiv when Moscow wasn't even a village yet. And there are THREE Orthodox Churches in Ukraine, only one of which follows Moscow. Everyone is free to choose how to worship, unlike in Russia, where the Russian Orthodox have a monopoly. Some in Russia may view Ukraine as an "integral" part of Russia but then Nazi Germany viewed the Czechs and Poland as an "integral" part of the Reich. "Integral" parts have a nasty habit of slipping away. As for pipelines, Russia seems to have built many more around Ukraine though of course they would love to get their hands on the Ukrainian pipelines as well.

      December 19, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
  7. Danro

    The next question is what is the EU offering?
    It is an agreement between the EU and Ukraine that eases travel and encourages business.

    It is NOT an agreement to join the EU. It kind of like a lets be friends agreement. To join the EU, Ukraine will have to sign more agreements, reform more and prove that it can be a good member.
    The EU cannot have Ukraine or any country join now. The EU is stretched to its legal max as to how many members it can handle.
    Therefore in order for Ukraine to join it must reform itself and at the same the EU must do the same.

    December 15, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
  8. Gphill

    One if the biggest issues in Ukraine and gives reference to Russia is that it has. Natural sea port, Ukraine is also the bread basket of the Russian origin .
    Political structure of Ukraine is Russian or putatonic intervention. Through Ukraine Russia can control gas exports, navel influence and superiority of the region. Also involved is the middle defense, as well as the future bridge over the Kerch region, which will give access for Russian military movement to Sevastopol . Sevastopol has always been considered part of the Russian origin and the influence still is under Russian control . If Ukraine considers full independence as a single state it should distance itself from euro pressure, west and Russia as well. It had considerable influence both by the orthodox and Christian church, the facts lay within the modernization and direction of its political influence and this is Russian backed . Bottom line is the youth And what is their direction , as a former soviet state the younger generation wants full dexterity and a creation of a new modern state of technology, advancement in its science and creation new political governing society that which is free from corruption by state officials and Russian influence.

    December 15, 2013 at 8:51 pm |
  9. konstantin

    To warn Ukraine, what the accession to euroassociation закрытоет the road to "Customs union" is pressure? ! !
    Or Russians have to ask permission State Department whom it to accept in the Customs union?
    And now think – that Ukraine if refuses the European Union when there is a choice between EU and Russia wants

    December 16, 2013 at 6:06 am |
    • Blue Panther

      But Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov told EU diplomats Russia's goal is a "common economic and humanitarian space from Lisbon and Vladivostok." So this means Russia wants the goodies of the EU but denies it to its neighbors?

      December 19, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
  10. konstantin

    To warn Ukraine, what the accession to euroassociation closes the road to "Customs union" is pressure? ! !
    Or Russians have to ask permission State Department whom it to accept in the Customs union?
    And now think – that Ukraine if refuses the European Union when there is a choice between EU and Russia wants

    December 16, 2013 at 6:08 am |
  11. john

    Ukraine is not Russia. I am Ukrainian – I speak Ukrainian. Kievan-Rus was never Russia. Moscow – or Muscovy developed later. IMoscow claims Rus but that is only a claim. Peter the Great changed the name of his country from Muscovy to Russia in thwe 18th c. Ukrainians have equal right to the heritage of Kievan Rus as the Russians or Byelorussians. Ukrainians have also a right to determine their own future. The majority – both east & west have chosen Europe, despite anything Yanukovych now says. He broke a promise and now faces the consequences.

    December 16, 2013 at 8:28 am |
  12. Calm47

    Ukraine – a unique country. Only in Ukraine, and nowhere else, can be held multi-day farce "Fascists for European Integration." And "fair and democratic" Western politicians and journalists will squeal excitedly about his support. But all of them shyly (or perhaps because of their moral deformity) are silent, that, for example, one of the slogans of the booth is the "nation above all." Anyone he did not like? Maidan in its current form is not a fight for European integration. This becoming Ukrainian fascism with all the inevitable consequences.

    December 16, 2013 at 10:42 am |
    • Alex279

      This is a good point. Especially to see Oleg Tyagnibok (the chief Ukranian waffen-SS-admiring nationalist) meeting with surviving brother Jaroslav Kaszynsky. Their hatred to Russia is so blinding that they cannot even hate each other any more.

      December 16, 2013 at 8:28 pm |
      • Blue Panther

        Well perhaps Kaczynsky remembers it was the USSR that signed an agreement with Nazi Germany to dismember Poland in 1939.

        December 19, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
    • rightospeak

      One can not call nationalism fascism , Calm. Is Israel fascist ? If not for Jewish nationalism , there would be no Israel ! Dirt one can find everywhere easily , analysis is much harder to come buy.

      December 19, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
  13. Jamie Estevez

    Why is the Ukraine in turmoil?...The acronym C.I.A. comes to mind. Pipelines for Central Asian natural gas and oil come to mind. Expansion of NATO comes to mind as does Western Corporate domination also known as Globalism. Ukraine is better off with close ties with Russia.

    December 16, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
    • Jerry Falwell

      Thank you, Jamie. You said it all!

      December 16, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
  14. Dimitri

    Russia is great country and will rule rest of world in short period. We have brought stability to many countries.

    December 17, 2013 at 12:27 am |
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Great post, Dimitri. Russia did bring a lot of stability to many countries like you said. We Americans sure made a mess of things in a lot of places, especially in the Middle East, thanks to those right-wing idiots in Washington!

      December 17, 2013 at 8:30 am |
      • Blue Panther

        Yes, Russia brought very much stability to so many countries–the stability of the graveyard.

        December 19, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
    • Dave

      Oppression is not stability my friend.

      December 22, 2013 at 1:05 am |
  15. BamaBill

    The Ukrainians were screwed by their short-sighted President, he had agreed to go with the EU, right or wrong in the views of all the respondents. He changed his mind because Putin bought him with short term gains. The why and wherefor have been argued by all the above. What is going to happen in Kyiv, will the demonstrators now go home? The next few days will be interesting. The real issue will be what will Ukraine do in the upcoming elections. Russia is not home safe. Ukraine needs to clean itself up if it ever wants out from under the control of Moscow, it is up to them, not the EU, Russia or the country that everyone is blaming the US.

    December 18, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
  16. The Bee

    In the last Ukrainian election, Putin spent 700 million dollars to make sure Yanukovich won, even though people both in East and West Ukraine voted him out.

    December 18, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
    • Dave

      And let us not forget Putin's involvement in 2004... If I were Ukrainian, I'd be on the verge of open WAR with Russia right now.

      This is an invasion by a foreign power with the aid of their own stooge in the presidency. Yanakovich is a traitor to Ukraine, loyal to a foreign power... and should be treated as such by Ukrainians.

      I wouldn't shed a tear to see him swinging from a tree. He's a traitor to his own country, selling them out to Putin for a personal cash gain (many accounts have him WELL paid off in the last few weeks). If I were Ukrainian, I'd have a hard time seeing that as anything but blatant treason.

      December 22, 2013 at 1:11 am |
  17. serglet

    To Dave:
    If you, as well as the Global Public Square staff, were Ukrainian, you'd understand the protests is linked with the present state power and government in Ukraine.

    And too many banal and false anti-Russian things on one mess for one article 🙂

    January 3, 2014 at 5:44 am |
  18. Anna

    What I do not understand is why they would put a rapist and a thief as the president? I really hope he will step down but that's a long shot! I support the opposition 100%! Please stop killing good honest Ukrainians, they are only trying to stand up for their country and who want to live a better life! Also why are Ukrainian people speaking Russian? Are you not in Ukraine?

    January 25, 2014 at 4:03 pm |
  19. Sergey

    Please, help.
    Any financial assistance activists on Maidan:


    WME-кошелёк- E751762665149

    February 21, 2014 at 7:30 am |
  20. sasha_026rus

    Esli bl u babu6ki bil 4len to ona bila dedu6koi.....

    March 1, 2014 at 10:56 am |
  21. ranKraze

    The Actual reason behind the Ukrainian crisis is the russian gas pipelines going through Ukraine on which more than half of russian ecomnomy depends and energy needs of most of the european contries depends. So ultimately both EU and Russia have an eye on Ukraine to take control of those pipelines indirectly cotrolling the economy of the region. At last it is all for money 🙁

    March 11, 2014 at 1:12 am |

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