New Orleans (WGNO) — Catherine Koppel describes the relationship between the people of Russia and the people of Ukraine as similar to the relationship between the people of southeast Louisiana and those in the Mississippi Delta.
They share much of the same history and culture.
Russians have Ukrainian relatives and friends– and vice versa.
So the Russian invasion of Ukraine seemed unimaginable to Koppel, who worked extensively in Ukraine when she was a producer and reporter for the Reuters news agency, based in Moscow.
Would it be as inexplicable as the United States invading Canada?
No, says Koppel, it would be “like Mexico invading El Paso.. and then trying to demilitarize the rest of the nation.”
Koppel says Russian President Vladimir Putin’s stated goal of “saving Russian-speaking Ukrainians” is not credible– not when Russia is “attacking people in their apartments, their schools, kindergartens and hospitals.”
Older Russians, says Koppel, may “be accepting of the false narrative” that they see on Russian-controlled media. But she has faith in the younger generation, who have internet access and “realize that something is very wrong.”
Koppel first went to Russia on a dance tour when she was in high school, and spent a year there when she was a college junior, working for CNN’s Moscow bureau.
In 2010, a fellowship led to a full time position with Reuters, where she stayed until 2015, when she felt Russian sentiment had turned against Americans.
But in the five years in between, she reported in Ukraine many times, including the Russian seizure of Crimea, and the occupation of eastern Ukraine.
Now back in New Orleans, she’s watching events unfold, wary of what might happen next, and worried for her Ukrainian friends.