FACES AND PLACES

by Myron B. Kuropas


Welcome back, pilgrim!

Thanks to ham-fisted INS agents, the Karanoukh family - Vasilli, Maria, Sviat, Ihor - are now in Kyiv, where Ukraine's embrace of these "pilgrims" is not exactly welcoming.

The Karanoukhs lost everything they had accumulated during their 15 years in the United States: their house, their business, their ID cards (including Sviat's Stevens Institute ID - he was scheduled to graduate in May) and many of their personal belongings, including two gold rings.

Last February, INS agents hustled the Karanoukhs to the airport in vans with black-tinted windows. They were denied an opportunity for a final farewell with their aging grandmother who remained behind because she had a green card. On their trip to the airport, according to Sviat, one of the INS agents turned the volume up on the radio, making it difficult for the family to communicate.

Upon arriving in Kyiv, Ukrainian authorities questioned them for about an hour. They were especially interested in the father's political asylum request. His passport had "08" stamped in the category section which stands for political asylum.

So how are these former pilgrims doing in Ukraine? Not well. Ukraine, as I have mentioned many times on these pages, does not recognize American college degrees. The father's computer programming degree, earned in the United States, is dismissed as meaningless by Ukrainian authorities. The sons' high school diplomas and college credits also are unacceptable. The boys were told they would have to return to school to earn a diploma from a Ukrainian secondary school. Ukrainian authorities have this inflated idea of the value of Ukrainian higher education, despite the fact that of 500 rated universities in the world, not one - NOT ONE - is in Ukraine.

Instead of college, Sviat and Ihor now face military service, where the old Soviet army tradition of savage beatings of recruits - "didovschina" - is still very much in vogue. Given the low opinion Ukrainians have of Ukrainians from the U.S., their military welcome should be especially exquisite.

One more thing. As in Soviet times, Ukraine has two passports, an international one and an internal one. Sviat and Ihor do not have internal passports. Without internal passports, they can't be employed. If they apply for internal passports, the lack of military service will be a red flag. They may be drafted before they can attend any school.

Is the Karanoukh debacle an unusual case? No. Are other Ukrainians at risk, are they really low-hanging fruit as Camille Huk would have us believe? Absolutely!

In my last column I wondered if the Ukrainian community has done anything on behalf of the Karanoukhs. I've done some poking about and discovered that our people here have tried to help. Ukrainian National Association Treasurer Roma Lisovich has informed me that both the UNWLA and the UNA have addressed this issue and enlisted the assistance of New Jersey's two U.S. senators in the Karanoukh case.

A few weeks ago the Ukrainian National Women's League of America and the Passaic branch of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America organized a meeting of Fourth Wavers to explain what is at stake. Immigration law professors from Seton Hall University were present and mentioned that they operate a free legal aid office for immigrants. The UNA offered to provide translators if necessary.

Americans for Human Rights in Ukraine (AHRU) President Bozhena Olshaniwsky told me that her organization held an information night for Fourth Wavers a while back and only four people showed up.

Part of the reason Fourth Wavers are at risk is their mentality. Having lived in Soviet Ukraine and beyond, they still believe that anything is possible for the right price - college diplomas, green cards, asylum, whatever. As soon as they earn enough money over here, our newest immigrants are willing, even anxious, to squander it on some unscrupulous attorney or other shyster who promises relief for the right price. When we tell them that we live in a country of laws, they find it difficult to believe, especially when some of their friends really do get taken care of by people who somehow manage to get them a visa in Kyiv, a green card, a driver's license and whatever else they need - all for the right price.

One can hardly blame our newest immigrants for maintaining a low profile. If they're illegal, they're afraid to come forward. They refuse to join our organizations out of fear that their status will somehow be betrayed. The idea of voluntary membership in a community organization, moreover, is an unfamiliar concept, especially since "voluntarism" in Soviet Ukraine was hardly voluntary. Illegals are always looking over their shoulder, wondering when they will be discovered and sent back. The Karanoukh debacle doesn't offer much solace.

Although some 11 million illegal immigrants, mostly Hispanic, still live freely in the United States enjoying various benefits, four Ukrainians who followed the proper procedures have been deported. Some Ukrainians tell me that the Karanoukhs deserved what they got because they lied about their need for asylum. Their lives were never in danger. But who can say what constitutes peril in today's Ukraine?

Are Jews in danger in Ukraine today? Jewish émigrés are returning from Israel in droves, so most of us would say no. But the fact remains that up until very recently (perhaps even now), Jewish immigrants from Ukraine were granted U.S. asylum simply for the asking. Some Jewish organizational leaders still promote the idea that Ukraine is a hotbed of anti-Semitism.

Gone are the days when we condemned Fourth Wavers for immigrating because we wanted them to remain in Ukraine to help build a new nation. Like it or not, a new, nationally aware and economically stable Ukraine is still decades away. The time has come to accept and assist our Fourth Wave, unquestionably the largest immigration we've ever had. They're here and we need them to help us build a new Ukrainian America. We may not like their attitudes, their mind-set, or their way of thinking, but in the end, they're our people. They're family for God's sake!


Myron Kuropas's e-mail address is: kuropas@comcast.net.


Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, April 30, 2006, No. 18, Vol. LXXIV


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