What Ukrainian New Yorkers want you to know

Ukrainian Americans protest Russian troops in Crimea outside the United Nations Feb. 28, 2014.
Ukrainian Americans protest Russian troops in Crimea outside the United Nations Feb. 28, 2014.

— Hundreds gathered outside the St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church in Passaic, New Jersey clutching candles and anti-Putin posters on a night cold enough not to feel your hands after a couple of minutes of exposure. The leader of New Ukrainian Wave, a group that helps Ukrainians when they immigrate to Passaic, called off the names of those who died at the Euromaidan protests. Maidan is the movement that started in Kyiv’s main square. Originally, it started in protest against the former government not joining the European Union. But when violence erupted, the movement changed tone.


“It is very very difficult for us to watch what is happening over there,” said Ivana Lotoshynski, of New Ukrainian Wave. “We Ukrainians here over seas in the US are doing everything we can, everything that is in our power, to bring attention of the international community and specifically of the US govt. to what’s happening.”


So what are Ukrainian Americans trying to bring to our attention, and how is Russia involved? Here are a few points stressed by Ukrainian American demonstrators.


1)   It’s a country called Ukraine: Not “the Ukraine,” as it was called when it was part of the Soviet Union. It’s still accidently called the Ukraine even by the U.S. President. Ukrainians consider this demeaning and part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s propaganda to say Ukraine is still basically part of Russia. Ukrainians say Russia also refers to Ukraine as its “little brother.” Ukrainians are quick to point out their capital, Kiev was a historical center of the original eastern Slavic tribes, and the beginning of what would become Russia. Also, Ukrainian is a different language than Russian.


2)   What is the difference between east and west Ukraine?: Even though there are more ethnic Russians in the eastern part of Ukraine than the western, over 90 percent of Ukrainians voted to be an independent country from Russia in 1991. Meaning that the majority of eastern Ukraine either didn’t vote or they supported being separate from Russia. Putin seized control of Crimea, the southern peninsula of Ukraine, claiming Russia was protecting ethnic Russians in the area from the new radical Ukrainian government. A vote is scheduled on Sunday for Crimean citizens to decide on joining Russia. President Obama’s deputy national security advisor Tony Blinkin in an interview on CNN addressed the upcoming vote.


“First, if there is an annexation of Crimea, a referendum that moves Crimea from Ukraine to Russia, we won’t recognize it, nor will most of the world,” said Blinkin.


3)   Euromaidan was less about nationalism and more about anti-corruption: Protesters refer to it as a “revolution of dignity.” Euromaidan began as a protest against President Viktor Yanukovych for turning his back on Ukraine’s joining the European Union. Protesters felt Yanukovych was in the back pocket of President Putin and business oligarchs like Rinat Akhmetov, one of the richest men in Ukraine. They saw membership in the EU as a move towards a better economic future. Ivana Bilych, an attorney with Razom, said Ukrainians felt the government was just taking for their own needs and ignoring the people. Millions came out to protest after the Ukrainian Special Forces started attacking protesters. Putin has tried to frame the protests as a political coup staged by western-backed nationalistic Ukrainians.



4)   The United States promised to protect Ukraine: Ukraine gave up the third largest stockpile of nuclear weapons after the cold war. In exchange, the United Kingdom, United States and Russia agreed to help protect Ukraine’s borders under the Budapest Memorandum. On March 5, Secretary of State, John Kerry hosted the Budapest Memorandum Ministerial meeting to discuss Russian troops in Ukraine. According to a report by Reuters, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenuk, told parliament that he wants the U.S. to intervene militarily to help protect Ukrainian borders based on the obligations of the Memorandum.

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