Crisis in the Ukraine Homeland insecurity, local, state, Ukrainians gather in Windham to discuss crisis
Ukrainian- born Volodymyr Serhiyenko has been living in the United States for the past five years and has been enjoying his personal freedoms with a democratic government. But he’s been haunted by all the recent turmoil and unrest, with peaceful protestors shot dead by snipers at the Maidan (Independence Square), fires outside parliament, stun grenades and gunfire — the worst bloodshed the country as seen in 22 years of independence. Serhiyenko was one of many locals attending a meeting at the Ukrainian National Home in North Windham Sunday with other members of the University of Connecticut’s Ukrainian Student Association, Ukrainian Americans from around Connecticut and state dignitaries.
The event was hosted by U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, who was joined by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. “We are so far away from our country,” said Serhiyenko, a 27- year- old UConn student. “ We cannot sleep at night. We cannot work. We cannot study. Even though we’re far from our country, we’re extremely worried.” According to the Ukrainian National Association, more than 100 civilians died in the Kiev conflict and more than 1,000 were injured. Serhiyenko said one of the protestors killed was from his hometown, but he’s fortunate as all of his family and friends are still safe. He was in Windham Sunday to be with other Ukrainians to support one another and to help gain more knowledge to help raise awareness about his homeland.
“America is like a role model for the Ukraine,” Serhiyenko said. “We want our parliament to be like the United States.” He plans to visit the Ukraine during the summer — after early presidential elections are held on May 25. And he’s hopeful a change in government will “help Ukraine be a better country.” However, as of this morning there are new reports of violence in the Ukraine now between pro-Russian demonstrators and the Ukraine’s anti-government protestors. At issue is whether the Ukraine wants to align itself economically with Russian influence or be part of a more global economic union. An arrest warrant has also issued for former president Viktor Yanukovych’s arrest related to last week’s massacre. The Ukrainian events appear to be changing by the minute.
Myron Kolinsky, president of the Ukrainian- American Youth Association in Hartford, who has been in constant contact with legislators pleading for help for the Ukraine, said there has been much change in the Ukraine just over the weekend. He said former-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was released from prison Saturday after being confined for two years and the Ukrainian Bar Association impeached former president Viktor Yanukovych that same day. Oleksander Turchinov was also named the acting president until presidential elections. “ Innocent people lost their lives,” Kolinsky said. “That’s why we’re here today and we’re here to support the will of the Ukrainian people. They’ve gone through tragedy and traumas in the last three months and before that, they said they had enough.
“Last week there were sniper attacks and today they’re talking about a new government,” Kolinsky said during Sunday’s event. Both Courtney and Blumenthal spoke to the group of about 100 people, all seemingly in favor of Ukrainian democracy. They both support sanctions that would hold the political figures responsible for denying freedom and their brutal actions against anti-government protests that began peacefully. “There should be an end to the violence and end to the killing of innocent, young people with so much ahead of them,” Blumenthal said. “There should be an end to the bloodshed. There should be peace.”
The U.S. House of Representatives passed House Resolution 447 Feb. 10 in favor of supporting the “democratic and European aspirations” in Ukraine. The bill passed 381-2 with all five Connecticut congressmen voting in favor of the resolution. Courtney said we have to continue to “make sure democracy that the Orange Revolution fought so hard for is not lost.” The Orange Revolution fought for a pro-Democratic government, something that the Ukrainians have been working to re-instate for the past three months. Ukrainian unrest began Nov. 21. Courtney said some of the protestors “ paid the ultimate sacrifice” and this was a “tragic, frightening, sickening loss of life.”
When Yanukovych was elected in 2010, he turned the government to a presidential-parliamentary republic, which Kolinsky said gave Yanukovych all the power. And the Ukrainians have been fighting to take back some control. “I hope that we will have better opportunities now that they have freed themselves, apparently, hopefully of this dictator,” said Blumenthal. The U.S. will help review sanctions this week against former Ukrainian government officials, as well as look at ways to help the struggling country economically. Those sanctions could include freezing U.S. assets and denying visas to Ukrainian government leaders and politicians involved in the violence.
Blumenthal said he will start looking into assistance for burn victims injured in the unrest as well. “ It’s a great opportunity for freedom and democracy,” Blumenthal said. “It’s history. It’s a turning point.” Courtney said he is optimistic that, with Ukraine elections about three months away, “ less mischief ” will occur and the country will be able to promptly restore a government for the people. However, he said he believes the U.S. and the European Union can help by having groups in place to help safeguard the election. “We have to be able to execute an election where you can restore democratic stability,” Courtney said. “We still have a heck of a lot of work to do.”
Memorial services were also held Sunday for the victims of the Ukrainian turmoil at 11 Ukrainian houses of worship throughout the state, including one at St. Michael’s Church in New Haven that Blumenthal attended. “They will go down, I believe, as heroes, because they stood up and fought for freedom and that is an American value,” Blumenthal said. He said he believes the people of Ukraine “should be able to make decisions about their future without being held hostage or blackmailed.” Glastonbury resident Bohdan Pokora said Yanukovych’s “idea of “democracy was to keep journalists from speaking.” “First you beat him up,” Pokora said. “If that wasn’t enough, you dumped him into the woods and hoped he died.”
Pokora’s parents were born in the Ukraine and were brought to the U.S. from a displaced person’s camp after World War II in 1950. Pokora still has family in the Ukraine and went to visit before Yanukovych became president. At that time. he felt the “country had a way to go, but there was opportunity.” “Once this president came in, all of that was pretty much gone,” Pokora said. “We got the feeling that it really was a repressed-type of society.” “Once the new government has full control, I’m sure it will be a normal country — just like any place else,” Pokora said.