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Ukrainians' thoughts on Trump's impeachment? Many don't care, or know

Trump impeached in historic House vote
Trump impeached in historic House vote 04:35

Kiev, Ukraine — When the House voted to impeach President Trump on Wednesday night in Washington, D.C., the early-morning streets of the Ukrainian capital were nearly empty of people or traffic.

While the president's dealings with Ukraine have engulfed D.C. in heated divisiveness, they have barely caused a stir in Ukraine's capital city 5,000 miles away.

"I think people in general, and especially young people, care about their personal interests, and the impeachment of Donald Trump just simply doesn't affect them directly," said Marina Davydova, who worked two jobs in the beach town of Ocean City, Maryland, last summer on a temporary worker visa before returning back to her native Kiev.

"I don't know anything about [American] politics. I don't want to," Ruslan Orlov, a university student studying tourism told CBS News. "I'm too busy."

In conversations with Ukrainians, including political experts and journalists, there's an overall disinterest in the U.S. impeachment scandal even though its origin story involves a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, $400 million of halted military aid from the United States to Ukraine, and a request for the Ukrainians to investigate Mr. Trump's political rival, Joe Biden.

Zelensky and Ukraine seemed to be brought up in almost every House members' remarks during the televised impeachment debate, which aired on CNNI and BBC on international satellite TV in Kiev.

"Ordinary Ukrainians, most of them, have no idea what is going [on] with this," said Dmytro Potekhin, a Ukrainian political observer and former human rights activist, while sitting in a noisy cafe in the heart of Kiev. "They don't know that there are impeachment hearings in the states, and they don't know that Ukraine is regularly mentioned in them."

UKRAINE-WEATHER-DAILY-LIFE-FEATURE
Young people have a snack outside a cafe in the center of the Ukrainian capital Kiev on December 18, 2019. Sergei Supinsky / Getty Images

Matthew Kupfer, news editor at The Kyiv Post, said some people in Ukraine find it "hard to understand the controversy surrounding Trump."

"Watching impeachment for Ukrainians is like when a coworker sends me 'Game of Thrones' memes. I don't watch 'Game of Thrones' because it is extremely complicated and don't understand the references because I lack the context. And I think this is similar to the impeachment scandal," said Kupfer. "Ukrainians, really, they don't have the political context to help them make sense of it."

But it's not really a lack of interest, says Potekhin, who also runs a website that fact checks news stories. He said the impeachment story is "underreported" inside their country. He said some Ukrainian-based print and digital news organizations reported on the historic vote, but most local television outlets barely mentioned it, and the majority of people get their news from local TV.

"It is not that people don't care," said Potekhin. "It is that they don't know about it."

Kupfer agreed that most people in Ukraine get their news from television outlets. He also stressed that a minority of the population has been ardently following the impeachment story by utilizing print and international platforms. However, in this country, TV is still king — and still mainly run by wealthy Ukrainian businessmen, known as oligarchs, that  bring ulterior motives to how they operate their media organizations. 

"Television channels are controlled by oligarchs, largely. And they are used to advance the oligarchs interests," Kupfer said. 

Kupfer adds that there are also many Ukrainians in this country of over 40 million who like Mr. Trump because he's familiar to them.

"Some of them see him as a recognizable figure because in some ways, he looks like a Ukrainian politician. I think he has the same style, the same taste. I mean, they've had politicians like this," he said. 

Samer Yakut, a vendor at Ukraine's Independence Square, said Mr. Trump is "a good man."

"I like him. I like that he is a businessman. I respect how he loves his country, and he has put his people back to work," said Yakut, who sells traditional Russian "Babushka dolls" to tourists, including one of Mr. Trump. "But he has made, for us, trouble."

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