Hamilton's Ukrainian community "sick" about violence in Kiev

Hamilton's Ukrainian-Canadian community is disturbed by the violence in Kiev and supportive of the aims of the demonstrators.
People pass through Independence Square, the epicenter of the country's current unrest, Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. Fierce clashes between police and protesters, some including gunfire, shattered a brief truce in Ukraine's besieged capital Thursday, killing numerous people. The deaths came in a new eruption of violence just hours after the country's embattled president and the opposition leaders demanding his resignation called for a truce and negotiations to try to resolve Ukraine's political crisis.(AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky) (The Associated Press)

The scenes from the streets of Kiev are startling.

Protesters young and old, often bloodied and weary, hurling rocks and petrol bombs at seas of truncheon-wielding security forces clad in black riot gear, all amidst the charred husks of burnt out buses and office buildings.

It’s very difficult to watch. We’re just totally, totally in pain.- Stefa Bara, director of Hamilton’s Ukrainian Cultural Centre

Those images haunt Stefa Baran.

“Everyone is dismayed. Everyone is sick. It’s very difficult to watch. We’re just totally, totally in pain.”

Baran is the director of Hamilton’s Ukrainian Cultural Centre, and a member of the city’s 25,000-strong Ukrainian-Canadian community.

She said that the Ukrainian community in Hamilton is watching events in Kiev closely, and that “everyone supports the demonstrators.”

“This is a dictatorial regime. There is no way that anyone in this community supports [Ukrainian President] Viktor Yanukovych.”

'Mafia-style operation'

The crisis that has propelled the Ukrainian capital into the global spotlight stems from President Yanukovych’s decision late last year to pull out of an association deal with the European Union. Since Ukraine’s deal with the EU fell through, a militant protest movement intent on ousting Yanukovych from power has emerged in Kiev and other cities across the country.

Demonstrations have taken a deadly turn this week; at least twenty-six people- mostly protesters- have died over the past two days in clashes with police.

Peter Poticnyj, professor emeritus of political science at McMaster University, described the Ukrainian government as a “mafia-style operation,” and said that, “the bloodshed is totally unnecessary.”

“These students and young people came out and they simply wanted to present their grievances. They were met by large groups of troops and were beaten into the ground.”

Poticnyi also said that Russian President Vladimir Putin shoulders blame for the mayhem.

“Putin keeping Ukraine under control is a priority. He said on several occasions that Ukrainians are Russians, and Ukraine is part and parcel of Russia. He’s heavily involved. If he were not, we would have some sort of resolution by now.”

Nestor Staskovich, an executive with the Ukrainian National Federation of Hamilton, said that the members of his organization are entirely behind the protesters.

“I don’t know anyone that supports the government. Not here.”

Staskovich, too, emphatically believes that Putin is largely responsible for the bloody situation.

He is unsure, though, what the future will bring.

“The only way there is going to be a peaceful resolution to the situation is if the existing President and his staff resign. Is that realistic? No.”