Ukrainian-Americans angry, but hopeful for the future

Members of New York City's Ukrainian community reflect on the political turmoil that has gripped their homeland

Members of New York City's Ukrainian community gathered at a makeshift memorial in downtown Manhattan to honor those who died during the country's uprising, Feb. 22, 2014.
Wilson Dizard

NEW YORK — After a turbulent day in their ancestral homeland, members of New York City's Ukrainian community gathered Saturday in front of a cultural center on the Lower East Side of Manhattan to honor those who lost their lives during Ukraine’s uprising.  

They expressed sadness and anger over the violence that left at least 77 people dead in the bloodiest week since anti-government protesters took to the streets of the capital Kiev in late November, furious with President Viktor Yanukovich for rebuffing a deal with the European Union to strengthen old ties with Russia.

No one who spoke to Al Jazeera expressed support for Yanukovich, who was dismissed by parliament on Saturday. Many said he should face stiff punishment for the deaths of demonstrators.

"The president should be brought into the Euromaidan, and let the people do what they may," said Lada Lysniak, 42, a Ukrainian-American from Long Island. Euromaidan is another name for Independence Square, which served as the rallying point for protesters who camped in the capital for three months calling for Yanukovich’s resignation.

Despite their anger, many of those gathered at a makeshift memorial in downtown Manhattan expressed optimism for the future, saying now is the time for Ukraine to fully reject Russian influence and forge a path with Western Europe.

"I think it's a glimmer of hope," said Adriana Krasniansky, 20, a student at Fordham University who was born in Ukraine.

Krasniansky said laws banning protests were the catalyst for violent clashes between police and demonstrators. The laws allowed police to use "violence disguised as crowd control," she said.

"When it began, it was a wonderful, huge peaceful protest … I think everyone was prepared for it to turn violent, but I don't think anyone truly expected it," Krasniansky added.

The bloody turn was "disheartening for those who came out for an expression of civil voice."

Volodymyr Serhiychuk, a Ukrainian journalism professor, just arrived in the city to deliver a series of history lectures. He had been in Independence Square on Friday morning.

With Krasniansky translating, the professor told Al Jazeera the deadly violence of the protest will make a new government take its responsibility for the people more seriously.

"Blood has been shed, so the opposition leaders or the new government will be accountable to the people," Serhiychuk said, adding it was too soon to tell who would take power now that President Yanukovich had been dismissed.

Late on Saturday, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko – freshly released from prison where she had been held since 2011 on charges of abuse of power – announced her intention to run for president. She also encouraged protesters to remain in Independence Square until every last one of their demands is met.

Among those demands is a government that listens to its people, many of whom fear the prospects of being drawn back into Russia’s sphere of influence. Ukrainians, especially the old, still recall their country’s negative experience as part of the Soviet Union — blaming then-leader Joseph Stalin for the deaths of millions by starvation, an event they call the "Holodomor."

"There are victims of the Holodomor who are still living today," explained Dania Lawro, a Ukrainian-American mother of two. "They're afraid that this is all going to come apart for them, and that Russia is going to come back."

Lawro, a school teacher and community organizer who works with New York City-based Ukrainian American Youth Association, expects parliament will form a temporary government. Prior to his dismissal on Saturday, Yanukovich signed a deal with opposition leaders to create a national unity government to oversee early presidential elections.

Those elections, now slated for May 25, offer a way out of the political turmoil that has gripped Ukraine.

Lawro’s son Lukian, 8, explained: "Without killing people, without hurting them.”

Related News

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter


Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter