- Associated Press
Wednesday, February 19, 2014

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Ukrainians living in the United States and Canada reacted with tentative optimism Wednesday to news of a truce in the violence-torn country, while still shedding tears for their homeland and nervously wondering what will come next.

Yaakov Dov Bleich, who is the chief rabbi of Kiev and Ukraine but splits his time between there and New York City, reacted cautiously when interviewed in New York. He noted the enormity of clashes between government forces and protesters Tuesday that left at least 26 people dead.

Ukraine, he said, won’t work as a dictatorship.

“Certain red lines were crossed yesterday,” Bleich said. “I think it’s going to be very hard to rebuild trust between people and the president.”

Nearly three months of anti-government protests have paralyzed Kiev, Ukraine’s capital. The opposition and President Viktor Yanukovych’s government are locked in a deep struggle over the identity of their nation of 46 million, which is divided in its loyalties between Russia and the West. Tuesday’s clashes at Kiev’s Independence Square were the worst violence yet and had raised the specter of civil war.

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

Later, Yanukovych and leaders of the protests agreed halt the violence and to hold talks on ending the bloodshed, a statement on the presidential website said. The statement did not give any further details.

In the Pittsburgh area, Ukrainian churches and social clubs organized weekend memorials for those who died and calling 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. Tomson said his cousin in Ukraine recently told him, “We want what you have - the freedom to complain, to throw bad politicians out of office.”

“As an American citizen, I’m very disappointed in my country,” Tomson said. “Our government is doing nothing, and the same with the EU.”

In Canada, home to more than 1 million people of Ukrainian descent, there was fear for those in the crossfire and that 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 feared will only unite the people there more.

“We’re all disgusted,” said Bandrisky, whose parents came to the U.S. in 1949 after years in World War II labor camps and whose wife was born and raised in Ukraine. “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.”

About 100 protesters gathered outside the Ukrainian Consulate in Chicago on Wednesday, calling for U.S. sanctions against Ukraine. Protesters also planned a candlelight vigil in the Michigan Avenue shopping district Wednesday night. Tens of thousands of Ukrainians live in Chicago and its suburbs.

Maria Semkiv, 66, who moved to Chicago from western Ukraine 18 years ago, just visited family there three weeks ago and took part in protests at Independence Square.

Choking back tears, Semkiv said the fall of the Soviet Union made many hope things finally would get better with a Democratic government and closer ties to the West.

The Rev. Ihor Hohosha, pastor of Pittsburgh’s St. George Ukrainian Church, said the U.S. and other countries have the power to end abuses by Yanukovych’s government.

The violence “can be ended in one day if the U.S. or Europe freezes” bank accounts, Hohosha said, adding that there’s a widespread perception that the U.S. and the EU aren’t willing to stand up to Russia in the standoff. Russia strongly supports Yanukovych’s government.

The people of Ukraine, he said, “cannot just be given as a sacrifice to Russia.”


Associated Press writers Deepti Hajela in New York City, Rob Gillies in Toronto and Tammy Webber in Chicago contributed to this report.

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