Valley Ukrainians concerned about unrest in homeland

By Denise Dick


The conflict in Ukraine after Russian troops took over Crimea is no longer a Ukrainian problem, said the Rev. Lubomyr Zhybak, administrator at Holy Trinity Ukrainian Catholic Church, Byzantine Rite.

“It’s an international problem,” he said.

Father Zhybak, a Ukrainian citizen, came to Holy Trinity in January 2013 after returning to the United States in December 2012. Before that, he studied five years in Stamford, Conn., three years in Yonkers, N.Y., and two years in Rome and was ordained in 2008. He then served five years in the priesthood in Ukraine.

His parents, sister and the family of his wife remain in Ukraine, and they are fearful.

“They are afraid of a war,” said Father Zhybak, 36.

Problems began in Ukraine last November when the former government announced it wasn’t strengthening its agreement with the European Union in favor of closer cooperation with Moscow.

That led to protests that were quelled by police, resulting in bloodshed and the deaths of three protesters.

Last month, Ukraine’s president and protest leaders agreed to form a new government and conduct an election, but the president fled the country after the country’s parliament cut his powers.

Over the weekend, Russian troops took over Crimea.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine territory, saying Putin should end the destabilization operation quickly.

“All Americans should be aware that Russia can be a potentially dangerous player,” Ryan said in a statement. “There are sensitive economic and political interests tied into this current situation, and any action on behalf of the United States and its allies will certainly invite retaliation from the Russians. But this type of behavior is unacceptable, and the world community must intervene in a firm and pragmatic way.”

Secretary of State John Kerry has suggested actions including asset freezes, visa bans, a disruption of trade and a slowdown in business investments in Russia, Ryan’s statement said.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Ukraine had one of the world’s largest nuclear weapons stashes. It gave them up in the early 1990s as part of an agreement under which Russia, the U.S. and the United Kingdom promised to respect Ukrainian territory.

Father Zhybak believes the international community — the United Nations, the European Union — should intervene by any peaceful means necessary.

There was no reason for Russia to invade Ukraine, he said. It was an act of aggression against a country that wants to have peaceful relations with Russia.

The priest questions how Putin, who purports to be Christian, could direct his military to invade a country with which it has no conflict.

Ukrainians are a peaceful people, he said.

Father Zhybak pointed to the Ukrainian flag with a blue band on top, symbolizing the sky, and a yellow band across the bottom, symbolizing wheat fields.

“It’s the union of heaven and earth,” he said. “Can you really get a more peaceful symbol than that?”

He hopes the Russian people take to the streets to show their government that they’re not in favor of a war with Ukraine.

“I’m asking my parishioners to pray for a conversion of the hearts of the aggressors,” Father Zhybak said.

Other Mahoning Valley residents of Ukrainian descent also voiced concerns about the unrest.

“The Russians want to take Ukraine under their power,” said Steve Hawryluk of Weathersfield Township. “They don’t want the Ukrainian people to have any freedom.”

His parents emigrated from Ukraine to France in 1939 where Hawryluk was born. The family immigrated to the United States in 1952.

The 72-year-old has only second and third cousins remaining in the country and says he doesn’t know them but still worries about what’s happening in the country.

“I’d like to see Russia out of there,” Hawryluk said, adding that Putin likely moved in believing Ukraine’s government is weak.

Hawryluk visited in 1995, taking his mother, who was 80, back to her home country to visit friends.

“People were still scared of the Russians no matter what they did,” Hawryluk said.

He’d like to see the U.S. get involved but believes it will take some kind of military intervention to turn back Putin.

“I probably won’t ever go back,” Hawryluk said. “I don’t know anyone there.”

Alex Dobransky’s parents came to the United States from Ukraine in 1910.

He’d like Putin to leave Ukraine, even if it means a split to the country.

“People on the eastern side of Ukraine, there are a lot more Russians on that side than on the western side,” Dobransky, of Canfield, said. “The people on the west side want to be associated more with the rest of Europe and to be free, of course.”

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