Kiev Protesters Find Backup In Philly
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Russia's president is also being criticized by Ukrainian-Americans watching the violent confrontations going on in their home country. Ukrainians in the U.S. tend to side with those protesting in Kiev's independent square. They're angry that President Viktor Yanukovych chose a closer relationship with Russia over a deal with the EU.
The Philadelphia area is home to more than 55,000 people of Ukrainian ancestry. NPR's Jeff Brady reports the community is holding rallies and lobbying their members of Congress.
JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Outside Philadelphia in front of an old elementary school that's been converted into Ukrainian community center, about five dozen people waived blue and gold flags last night and sang Ukraine's national anthem.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing in foreign language)
BRADY: As the song ends, a man shouts glory to Ukraine, and the crowd responds glory to the heroes.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Speaking in foreign language)
BRADY: Some at this rally were born in Ukraine. Others trace their ties through parents and grandparents. Christina Chorpeda(ph) says her family left when she was a toddler, but she still visits Ukraine often.
CHRISTINA CHORPEDA: I cannot understand what Yannukovych is doing to my country.
BRADY: Many here echo reports that political corruption has worsened under President Viktor Yannukovych. Osa Baroshka(ph) held the corner of a banner that read simply, sanctions, asking for economic sanctions to be levied against Ukraine's leaders, including Yannukovych.
OSA BAROSHKA: He is an anti-democratic tyrant who listens to the commands of Putin.
BRADY: Russian President Vladimir Putin is another name mentioned frequently at this rally. The protest in Kiev started in November after Yannukovych rejected a pending treaty with the European Union in favor of deeper financial ties to Russia. The vast majority of Ukrainian-Americans want the country to move westward and be more independent of Russia, says Princeton University professor of politics Mark Beissinger.
MARK BEISSINGER: Many of them come from the western portion of Ukraine that is associated with a pro-EU position.
BRADY: Beissinger says Ukrainian-Americans also want the U.S. and Europe to take a stronger position on the conflict.
BEISSINGER: The immigrant community is interested in insuring that we do something and to do something soon.
BRADY: President Obama issued a statement yesterday during his trip to Mexico.
ULANA METREKEVITCH: The United States condemns in the strongest terms the violence that's taking place.
BRADY: Back at the Ukrainian community center, rally organizer Ulana Metrekevitch(ph) read the entire statement over a loud speaker. People at this rally say they're calling their members of Congress asking for things like sanctions. The president of the Ukrainian center, Sophia Korupetski(ph), says her community is hopeful for change in Ukraine, but for now, all they can do is keep up with the news and hold rallies.
SOPHIA KORUPETSKI: I think people just feel they need to do something. And it's not gonna accomplish anything. It's just that we just want to show solidarity. We just want, you know, people driving by to just see what's going on.
BRADY: And she hopes some of those people in cars will get curious and learn more about what's happening now in Ukraine. Jeff Brady, NPR News, Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.