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Thursday, March 27, 2014 12:01 am

Ukraine in crisis

Ukrainians visit Springfield amid conflict

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., speaks in front of his Springfield home March 23 about his recent visit to Ukraine.
Photo BY LAUREN P. DUNCAN

 

It’s been more than a month since Ukrainians were killed in Independence Square of Ukraine’s capital, Kiev. Six young Ukrainians who work with the country’s parliament shared their perspectives on the conflict during a visit to Springfield.

The delegates visited Springfield, March 21-29, at the invitation of the Springfield Commission on International Visitors, which is a part of a network where emerging world leaders are brought to U.S. cities with the support of the U.S. Congress. The delegates, who all serve as consultants or assistants to members of Ukraine’s parliament, spoke at a forum hosted by the Citizens Club of Springfield, March 25.

More than 800,000 demonstrators have been reported to have occupied Independence Square, the political center of Kiev, since the nation’s now ousted leader President Viktor Yanukovych turned down economic ties with the European Union in trade for a closer relationship with Russia in November.

Tensions have since heightened between the eastern-European nation and Russia since Russia took over Ukraine’s southern peninsula, Crimea.

Delegate Roman Yemets said he thinks the protests in Ukraine began as peaceful demonstrators who wanted to make a statement about their freedom to protest.

“They were overwhelming just peaceful people who wanted to protect their rights,” Yemets said.

Between Feb. 18-22, at least 88 people were killed during the demonstrations. Krystyna Dobrovolska emphasized the protesters were nonthreatening, as she said it is extremely difficult to find and afford to buy guns in Ukraine, and it is also illegal to carry them.

“So in this case people … were just shot in the street,” she said.

Yemets said the death toll was at 104 on Tuesday morning and about 300 people were missing.

Ukrainian civilians do not want to fight, Yemets said. But as Russia and President Vladimir Putin take hold of Crimea, he said the likelihood of a bigger conflict is increasing.

Oleksandr Makovskyy said while Yemets’ comments reflect much of the concerns of central and western Ukrainians, the conflict started from a different perspective for citizens of eastern Ukraine and Crimea. He said the conflict in Crimea arose in part because television there is controlled by Russia and many eastern-Ukrainians speak Russian. Thus, few Ukrainians in the east were aware of the meaning behind protests in Kiev.

“Putin took advantage of the fact that his channels basically dominate Crimea TV channels and he basically used it to his advantage to promote this idea of the separation of Crimea,” he said.

Separation of Crimea from Ukraine is illegal under the Ukraine constitution, he said.

Delegate Viktoriya Beri said she was a medical volunteer during the time of the violence.

“I would put it short that the last events have basically gathered together all of the Ukrainian community and made us stronger,” she said.

She said Ukraine highly values the support it has received from the European Union and the U.S.

“But of course, I think that the actions could be more swiftly implemented and that leaders of the European Union and the United States could be more decisive,” she said.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., along with seven other senators, visited Ukraine, March 13-16. Since his return it’s been reported that Putin wants to ban Durbin and other leaders from entering Russia in response to U.S. sanctions against the country.

On March 16, the Russian media in Crimea came out with results from what Durbin called a “phony election” that showed 96.6 percent of the Crimean people want to be a part of Russia.

“I don’t believe it for a second,” Durbin said.

Durbin said Ukraine doesn’t have the forces to move Putin out. Although Durbin is not calling for any U.S. troops in Ukraine, he said he thinks the U.S. can help the country to build up its own army and defense.

Durbin said he has never met Putin.

“I’m not sure I ever will,” he said.

The U.S. Senate is considering a loan of $1 billion to Ukraine. President Obama has announced the U.S. is prepared to put forth more sanctions if necessary.

Contact Lauren P. Duncan at intern@illinoistimes.com.

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