Ukrainian connection

Larry Stout, of Montgomery, has more than a casual interest in the revolution in Ukraine.

Over the past seven years, Stout said he has traveled there a dozen times, serving as a leadership seminar instruction coach and pastor.

Stout said his prayers and thoughts have been with the western-leaning Ukrainians since the ouster of pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych and the occupation of Crimea, a southern province of Ukraine along the Black Sea, by Russian troops

Stout said he was not surprised by Russian President Vladimir Putin insisting he can use force to protect Russian interests in Ukraine because the writing had been on the wall since before the Winter Olympics were held last month in Sochi, Russia.

“We were kicked out last fall,” Stout, a co-vocational pastor with CityChurch at 36 E. Fourth St., said.

While in Ukraine, Stout worked as an instructor and taught business courses for a college affiliated with Steinbeis University in Berlin, Germany.

Before teaching, Stout spent several years in missionary work, and

in the 1980s while in Latvia, a nation to the north of the Ukraine along the Baltic Sea, he said he witnessed the effects of radiation poisoning on dying children who had lived close to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant near Kiev, Ukraine’s largest city.

While Stout lived in Rega, the capital of Latvia, he said a majority of the students and business people he spoke to felt Russia would invade Ukraine in the future.

“I was afraid to buy a house,” he said of that fear.

Although not a political expert, Stout said the impression he got from most of the people he met was that they relished the Western lifestyle, culture and music.

They ate at Kentucky Fried Chicken, drank Coca-Cola and wanted to work for companies doing business with the U.S. and Europe, he said.

Stout said many people see the images of the armed soldiers and hear the threats from Russia leaders and don’t realize that the Iron Curtain went down long ago and the culture has changed.

“It’s not the Cold War any longer,” he said. “The western Ukraine has Fortune 500 companies. They understand democracy is the key to economic development. The country prospered under democracy.

“The Russian style leans toward more control and constraint and continues to carry a socialist mind set, meaning ‘there’s only so much pie we can share,’ ” he added. “The irony is a majority of the Ukrainians see themselves separate from Russia.”

While in the Ukraine, Stout said he developed a personal relationship with former boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, an ex-prize fighter and Ukraine patriot who has considered a run at politics.

Klitschko is ardently opposed to the occupation by Russia and said he considered it to be unacceptable. He keeps in contact with Stout by email.

Asked where he thought the next phase of the conflict would go, Stout said the occupation and continued statements by Putin are a concern.

The Ukraine is a huge economic ally to Russia that it can’t afford to lose, Stout said.

“The invasion will affect us,” Stout said. “It will test the West’s resolve concerning Russia’s aggression.”