NEW YORK CITY, U.S.A. All eyes are on Ukraine right now, as the world watches in fear, waiting to see if Russian troops will seize more parts of the country, after winning over Crimea.
The divide in Ukraine is complicated, says Professor Yanni Kotsonis, of New York University’s Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia. According to Kotsonis, many Ukrainians are divided on whether they’d prefer a Russian or European identity – and the recent vote that gave Russia ownership over Crimea didn’t help.
“It forced Ukraine to choose in a way that it had never been forced to choose before. The reaction by some inside Ukraine was negative,” Kotsonis said.
While President Obama has called Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions a violation of international law, Kotsonis attributes much of the measures to Russia’s thirst for might. “He doesn’t know how to project Russian power abroad, so he falls back on the military,” he said.
Although the conflict in Eastern Europe is an ocean away, for Ukrainians in New York, the fight still rages on as Russia continues to threaten the country they call “home.”
N.Y.U. freshman, Maryna Prykhodko, moved from Ukraine to the United States when she was 8-years-old, leaving much of her family behind. According to Prykhodko, the protests throughout Ukraine were a sign of hope, a chance to reform the country and a way to open up dialogue.
“I was very much in support of having the revolution because when I was there people were always unhappy. I thought the only way to fix everything was a revolution and it was always in the back of everyone’s mind,” Prykhodko said.
And yet, violence soon escalated, and Prykhodko’s concern shifted from political to personal. “You know you can say at the end of the day that Russia’s going to swallow Ukraine whole, but my personal biggest fear is that my family will be hurt.”
Contrary to the recent vote in Crimea, Prykhodko believes all Ukrainians still want the same thing – a unified country. “None of us want to see Ukraine split up,” she said.
Like Prykhodko, New Yorker, Stansilav Demechko, the Vice President of the Ukrainian Youth Organizations of America, is clear on his hopes for Ukraine.
Everyday, Demechko thinks about his friends back home, worrying for their lives and imagining a time in which Ukrainians can live without fear.
“Many of the people who were killed were students my age. A boy was killed from my town. He was 19-years-old. He ran to save his comrades,” Demechko said.
For Demechko, the best way to combat Russian rule in Ukraine is through education. With the Ukrainian Youth Organizations of America, Demechko speaks to audiences throughout New York City, spreading awareness about the situation abroad.
“They are our brothers and sisters. They are being oppressed, they are being shot at,” Demechko said. “We feel obliged to show the Western World what is going on in Ukraine.”
– Katelyn Israelski