January 29, 2015

2014: Ukrainians in the U.S.: advocates for Ukraine


Paul Hadzewycz

Members of the Ukrainian diaspora march in Washington on May 3 in protest against Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Ukrainians in the U.S. were active in advocacy events, protests, commemorations and various other actions largely focused on the developments in Ukraine.

The year 2014 began with a meeting that was organized on January 2 by the Ukrainian National Association with Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, at his office in Newark, N.J., to express to the senator the ongoing concerns of Ukrainian Americans who reside in New Jersey in light of the widespread Euro-Maidan protests in Kyiv and throughout Ukraine. Sen. Menendez stated: “We stand with the citizens of Ukraine who meet in Kyiv’s Maidan Square seeking their human rights and dignity.”

Presentations were made by Prof. Alexander Motyl, as well as by Myroslaw Smorodsky and Victor Rud of the Ukrainian American Bar Association. Tamara Olexy, president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, urged U.S. government sanctions against the corrupt Ukrainian government officials, as well as against Russia for its involvement and economic aggression toward Ukraine. Sen. Menendez promised to raise the issue at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington and pushed for Magnitsky Act-type legislation targeting Ukrainian and Russian government officials.

Similar meetings were held with: Sen. Chris Murphy (R-Conn.) at St. Michael Ukrainian Catholic Church in New Haven, Conn., on March 1. A town hall meeting with the senator was held at the Ukrainian National Home in Willimantic, Conn. Also in attendance were Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), and State Rep. Susan Johnson (D). Memorial services were held at Ukrainian churches across Connecticut on February 23 and March 2, with various state and federal representatives in attendance.

Demonstrations in the U.S. in support of the Euro-Maidan protests in Ukraine were held on January 26 in New York, Washington and Austin, Tex. Other protests were held on February 2 in Washington near the White House, and more than 100 people gathered in New York’s Columbus Circle on February 16 for a recreation of piano performances during the Euro-Maidan protests on Independence Square in Kyiv. Religious, political and community leaders convened in New York on February 23 in support of the Euro-Maidan protests in Ukraine. Leading participants included: Dania Lawro of the Ukrainian American Youth Association branch in New York; Rabbi Yaakov Bleich, chief rabbi of Kyiv and Ukraine; Ms. Olexy, president of the UCCA; Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.); and Tom Birchard, owner of the Veselka Restaurant. Following the violence that erupted at the Euro-Maidan protests in Kyiv in late February, Ukrainians in the U.S. mobilized for demonstrations in Washington at the Russian Embassy and in Cleveland on February 21 with a 250-car Auto-Maidan and a protest at the Cleveland City Hall that attracted 400 protesters.

Heavyweight boxing world champion Wladimir Klitschko met with Ukrainians in New York at the Ukrainian National Home on February 3 at an event organized by the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America. Calling attention to the Euro-Maidan protests in Ukraine, thanking the diaspora Ukrainian community for its support, and the need for more action, Mr. Klitschko later joined a flashmob outside the venue for the singing of the Ukrainian national anthem and photos with fans. Presentations were made by the Razom organization, as well as UCCA leaders, who stressed the importance of each person’s actions to call attention to the plight of the people of Ukraine.

Ukrainians and their supporters took to social media messaging service Twitter to digitally bombard subscribers with targeted messages to specific media and high-profile recipients, with Twitter “storms” occurring on January 20 and 27 worldwide. The effort, known as Digital Miadan, gained momentum following the initial Twitter storms. Leading the effort were: Lara Chelak, Andrea Chalupa, Alexandra Chalupa, Constatin Kostenko and others. The Digital Maidan also highlighted the Internet and social media as the most popular means for Ukraine’s citizens to get the latest news.

The New Jersey Ukrainian community met with Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) on February 21 at his office in Paterson, N.J. Representatives from Clifton and Passaic were in attendance who learned of Rep. Pascrell’s support of HR 447 that would sanction the Ukrainian government officials responsible for violence against the Euro-Maidan protesters as well as those officials responsible for the unrest.

More than 2,000 protesters – who arrived by busload from Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Boston, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Connecticut – gathered in front of the White House in Washington on March 6 to protest the Russian invasion of Crimea and President Vladimir Putin’s violation of international laws. The protest was organized by the UCCA, with support from Crimean Tatars, Poles, Estonians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Circassians, Turks, Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks and Georgians. The event featured songs of protest, prayers by Orthodox and Catholic Church leaders, and remarks by former ambassadors, political analysts and community activists as well as politicians. After two hours in front of the White House, the protest moved to the Russian Embassy for another hour.

Ukrainian Americans in New Britain, Conn., picketed at Central Connecticut State University on March 5 to demand that President Barack Obama defend Ukraine and impose sanctions on Russia for its unlawful invasion of Crimea.

On March 15 Ukrainians in the Albany area protested at the local Lukoil gas stations, to remind consumers that Lukoil revenue is funding Russian terrorism in Ukraine. Protests were held in Albany, Watervliet and Schenectady, N.Y., and received support from passers-by. In Philadelphia, similar protests were held at Lukoil gas stations on March 15, with protesters shouting, “Lukoil supports Putin’s war effort, don’t buy Russian gas!”

The United Ukrainian American Relief Committee, in coordination with the Embassy of Ukraine in the U.S., collected funds for the National Guard and Ukrainian Army, as well as their families. Funds were collected with cooperation from the Ukrainian American credit unions based in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and New England, as well as MB Financial Bank (Chicago and Philadelphia). Funds were also collected for the victims and their families of those killed during the Euro-Maidan protests.

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) met on March 20 with Ukrainian American constituents, and leaders of area Ukrainian organizations – including the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, Ukrainian National Association, Ukrainian American Youth Association, Plast Ukrainian Scouting Organization – at the Ukrainian American Cultural Center of New Jersey in Whippany. Rep Frelinghuysen, who chairs the Defense Subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations, soon after wrote a letter urging President Obama to designate Ukraine as a Major Non-NATO Ally. He added in his letter, “It has been said that the West won the Cold War ‘without firing a shot.’ History must not record that we lost this confrontation without lifting a finger.”

A similar meeting was held with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on February 28 in his New York office, at the request of the UCCA, to discuss the crisis in Ukraine. The Ukrainian community urged that the U.S. boycott the G-8 summit that was to be held in Sochi, Russia, as well as the expansion of the Magnitsky Act to include Russian officials who support Russia’s actions in Ukraine, in addition to suspending the Russian Federation from the World Trade Organization and the Organization for the Security and Cooperation in Europe. Sen. Schumer said that Ukraine needed diplomatic and economic assistance, but did not mention anything on the military front to deter Russian aggression.

The Ukrainian community in Parma, Ohio, hosted a Maidan benefit concert on March 15. More than 700 people attended the concert at St. Andrew Ukrainian Catholic Church that featured the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus (UBC), the Zorya Female Vocal Ensemble and the Bayda Quartet. Co-sponsored by the Cleveland Maidan Committee and the United Ukrainian Organizations of Ohio, along with participants from 50 Ukrainian organizations in northern Ohio, the concert was also viewed live via a live web broadcast on the UBC’s YouTube channel. The evening raised nearly $100,000 for assistance to families affected by the Euro-Maidan protests. Bishop John Bura of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of St. Josaphat in Parma led 12 priests of various denominations in a prayer service to commemorate the Heavenly Brigade victims.

On March 30, the Ukrainian community of New Haven met with Sen. Blumenthal at St. Michael Ukrainian Catholic Church hall. Topics included foreign policy in light of events in Ukraine, aid for Ukraine, sanctions against Russia, as well as U.S-Russia relations. Similarly, on March 1 the community met with Sen. Murphy, and with Rep. Rosa DeLauro on March 9. Sen. Blumenthal and New Haven Mayor Toni Harp attended a requiem service at St. Michael Ukrainian Catholic Church on February 23 in honor of the fallen heroes of Ukraine.

The election observer missions that had been organized by the UCCA were in full swing again for the planned presidential election on May 25. The UCCA has sent election observers to Ukraine since 1991, with the goal of ensuring fair and free elections through the reporting of election irregularities and violations. On May 5 a team from the UCCA’s observer mission, including long-term observer Reno Domenico, met with members of Ukraine’s Central Election Commission. Security issues were discussed, especially procedures for short-term observers and changes to election laws. As of May 7, the CEC registered 114 UCCA observers, with an additional 90 observers who were awaiting accreditation.

On May 20 Andrew Futey, vice-president of UCCA and co-chair of the UCCA International Election Observation Mission (IEOM), met with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Mr. Futey was joined by representatives of the Ukrainian World Congress and its IEOM, which was chaired by Judge Bohdan Futey. By the time of the meeting, the number of UCCA election observers had grown to 222. The prime minister was briefed on recent work in Washington, through the Ukrainian National Information Service (UNIS). The prime minister expressed thanks for these efforts and reported on the efforts of law enforcement to provide security for the elections throughout Ukraine.

On May 12-20 the UCCA conducted a civic education program, “Electing the New Ukrainian President,” in a town-hall style that was broadcast to oblast radio stations in seven cities of eastern and southern Ukraine – Chernihiv, Kharkiv, Poltava, Kirovohrad, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhia and Odesa. More than 7 million listeners tuned in to hear the hour-long programs. Candidate Andrii Hrynenko and representatives of candidates for Olha Bohomolets, Yurii Boiko, Anatoliy Hrytsenko, Dmytro Yarosh, Vasyl Kuibida, Mykola Mlomuzh, Petro Poroshenko, Oleh Tiahnybok, Sergey Tigipko and Yulia Tymoshenko took part. Financial support was provided by the National Endowment for Democracy and additional support came from the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine.

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