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Tears and anger among Ukrainians in US, Canada

February 20, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) — The news of conflict and bloodshed in another part of the world hit close to home for Ukrainians living in the United States and Canada, as they worried about what would come next for their violence-torn homeland.

Late reports Wednesday of a truce between President Viktor Yanukovych and protest leaders were met with caution, amid tears and anger.

“I wish that Yanukovych and (Russian President Vladimir) Putin would hang in the Maidan,” said Chrystyna Pevny of Queens, referring to the protesters’ camp in Kiev’s Independence Square.

“I think that even that is too good for them,” the 80-year-old said as she left the Ukrainian Museum on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

The cautionary fears appeared to have been borne out when the truce collapsed hours later, with fierce clashes erupting between protesters and police.

Ukraine is divided over whether the nation of 46 million will have closer ties to the West or to Russia. The protests began in late November after Yanukovych turned away from a long-anticipated deal for closer ties with the European Union. After Yanukovych shelved the agreement with the EU, Russia announced a $15 billion bailout for economically battered Ukraine.

Protesters accuse Yanukovych of ignoring their demands to enact constitutional reforms that would limit the president’s power — a key opposition demand.

The United States raised the prospect of joining partners in Europe to impose sanctions against Ukraine, and the European Union called a meeting of its 28 member countries on Thursday.

Later Wednesday, Yanukovych and leaders of the protests agreed halt the violence and to hold talks on ending the bloodshed. But as the foreign ministers of three European countries met with Yanukovych, after their meeting with the opposition leaders, clashes broke out again Thursday. Neither side appeared willing to compromise.

Yaakov Dov Bleich, who is the chief rabbi of Kiev and Ukraine but splits his time between there and New York City, reacted cautiously. He noted the enormity of clashes between government forces and protesters this week that have left 28 people dead and 287 hospitalized. Protesters say the number is actually much higher.

“I think it’s going to be very hard to rebuild trust between people and the president,” Bleich said.

In the Pittsburgh area, Ukrainian churches and social clubs organized weekend memorials for those who died and called for a stronger response by the U.S. and the European Union.

“It’s disheartening for everybody, to see people struggling who want freedom,” said the Rev. Timothy Tomson, pastor of St. Mary Ukrainian Orthodox Church in McKees Rocks.

In Canada, home to more than 1 million people of Ukrainian descent, there was fear the violence could spread. Before news of the truce was announced, Toronto resident Steve Andrusiak feared the country was “on the brink of a civil war. This isn’t going to go away.”

Pavlo Bandrisky, vice president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America’s Illinois division, said that Ukrainians in the U.S. are worried about their loved ones, but that the violence they all fear will only unite the people there more. There are about a million Americans of Ukrainian descent.

“We’re all disgusted,” said Bandrisky, whose parents came to the U.S. in 1949 after years in World War II labor camps. “People have been coming out in freezing rain, snow and subzero temperatures, but now that there’s blood on the streets ... there’s no turning back.”


Associated Press writers Kevin Begos in Pittsburgh, Rob Gillies in Toronto and Tammy Webber in Chicago contributed to this report.

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