For Gloria Horbaty, a second-generation Ukrainian with uncles, aunts and cousins still in the country, recent news from Eastern Europe has been particularly worrying.
“I just keep getting more and more distressed,” she said.
Some state residents of Ukrainian descent say they’ve been watching events in Eastern Europe intently and are concerned about aggressive moves by Russia, which dominated Ukraine for most of the 20th century.
Ukraine, which gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, contains both ethnic Ukrainians and Russians. Horbaty’s family is from near Lviv, a city in the western part of the country where mostly ethnic Ukrainians live and where Ukrainian is predominately spoken. Her relatives haven’t been involved in the fighting in Kiev.
Horbaty said she’s attended rallies and will attend more urging the United States to pressure Russia against interfering in Ukraine.
“The biggest problem I’m having is watching our government and other governments let (Russian President Vladimir) Putin do anything he wants,” she said. “History is repeating again. Nobody is helping us.”
Protests in Ukraine’s capital city of Kiev began November of last year after then-president Viktor Yanukovych rejected a deal to further integrate with the European Union. For ethnic Ukrainians such as Horbaty, Yanukovych represented corruption and domination by Russia.
“We knew that Yanukovych was corrupt. We knew the elections were corrupt,” Horbaty said.
Clashes between police and protesters barricaded in the capital’s Independence Square became increasingly violent earlier this year. Deaths and injuries were recorded daily by the English-language Kiev Post. A fight on Feb. 18-19 left 26 dead, including 10 police. Another fight on Feb. 20 resulted in 42 deaths.
Yanukovych left Kiev late last month. On Feb. 23, the Ukrainian parliament appointed interim president Oleksandr Turchynov, a member of an opposition party.
Opposition to Yanukovych and his Russian-oriented policies came largely from ethnic Ukrainians in the country’s western half. Eastern regions, with higher populations of ethnic Russians, supported Yanukovych. According to the New York Times, pro-Russian militias have formed in cities in eastern Ukraine and Crimea, a peninsula containing a Russian naval base. The Russian flag has been raised over barricades in some Russian-dominated Ukrainian cities.
An agreement between Ukraine and Russia allows the Russian navy to maintain the Sevastopol base on the Black Sea. In recent days Russian soldiers have been blocking access to Ukrainian bases in Crimea and took over an airport.
Putin said he has no intentions of annexing Crimea. The prime minister of Ukraine’s Crimea region said local officials were preparing a vote on independence, according to the New York Times.
The history of Ukrainian-Russian relations has not been pleasant, according to Horbaty. Much of what is now Ukraine was controlled by the Soviet Union. In the 1930s, millions of Ukrainians died of starvation as a result of Joseph Stalin’s agricultural collectivization plans. To diminish Ukrainian nationalism, Russian became the preferred language.
“If you wanted to get anywhere, particularly in the cities, you had to learn Russian,” Horbaty said.
Horbaty is a past president of the Ukrainian National Women’s League New England chapter. She also does Ukrainian traditional egg decorating, called pysanky.
Despite domination by other nations, Ukrainian culture has persisted, according to Joan Kerelejza, a third-generation Ukrainian from Farmington.
“Ukraine has a long history of being occupied by one power or another and has held on to its traditions and nationalistic pride,” she said.
Kerelejza is also participating in protests for Ukraine and plans to attend President Barack Obama’s visit to Central Connecticut State University today to support that cause. The news of Russian troops in Crimea has worried Kerelejza.
The Rev. Joshua Mosher, pastor of Ss. Peter and Paul Orthodox Church in Meriden, said his congregation is primarily of Russian descent. Violence in Ukraine has been deeply concerning, Mosher said, and has been talked about frequently by parishioners.
While church members would consider themselves Russian, Mosher said that doesn’t mean there’s sympathy for Putin’s government.
“Having a deep affection for Russia isn’t the same as having an affection for the foreign policy,” Mosher said. “There isn’t any desire to cheer on the power plays of the current Russian government.”
Mosher compared the current Russian machinations in Ukraine with that country’s 2012 invasion of Georgia.
Mosher most identified with Orthodox priests and monks who had led services during fighting in Kiev and in some cases interposed themselves between lines of police and protesters.
“We want people to step away from the tanks and the tear gas and the rock-throwing,” Mosher said. “We’re very much praying for peace.”