Ukrainian students react to deadly protests in Ukraine

Brooke Purves and Melissa Hurtado

American River College’s Ukrainian community is watching closely as the events in the Ukraine and keeping in contact with loved ones close to the protests.

Students from states of the former Soviet Union make up some of the largest groups of English as a second language (ESL) students on the ARC campus, and Ukrainian students represent the largest nationality of that group.

“It’s very hard to see what’s going on in the country where I was born and grew up,” said former ARC student Olesya Sytnyk.

“The price paid is too big – hundreds murdered, shot and heavily wounded. Mothers, wives and children left without their sons, husbands and fathers. My heart aches knowing all  that.”

Kiev – the Ukrainian capital – is still smoldering after a month-long blaze of bloody protests swept through the capital of the former soviet state Ukraine, resulting in the deaths of as many as 88 citizens, according to some reports.

President Viktor Yanukovych – along with several top aides and government officials – have left office and fled Kiev on their own, according to news reports, but they would have been legally forced out of office soon enough.

Yanukovych signed an agreement with protesters to cut his powers and to agree to the early elections,  but all the while still claimed his right to rule.

Ukraine parliament – some of whom align with former administrations – voted unanimously Sunday to impeach Yanukovych and call elections.

Ukrainian ESL student Olga Tsomkalova, has family living in Ukraine and friends who have been taking part in the protests.

“They are safe now,” said Tsomkalova in an email to The Current, “because president Yanukovich (has) escaped. The people of Ukraine (won) this war for democracy and freedom.”

Tsomkalova blames the anger of the people, and the cycle of protests, on what she and many others consider a violent and corrupt government, who addressed early protests with beatings and killings.

“That (is) why more and more people made protests,” she said.

Much of the protest movement started because Yanukovych rejected a 2013 trade pact with the European Union – which would have allowed for political and governmental reform – and ease of moving throughout the EU without a passport for Ukrainian citizens.

In January, Yanukovych also put bans and restrictions on political protests.

Luliia Berg – an ARC student from the Ukraine – still has family there, and expressed concern as well.

“It was bad,” Berg said as (Alona) Sazonova interpreted, “but we hope the next president will make something good for our country. A lot of people died…it’s very bad, like war. Every day I watch the news.”

Sytnyk, who moved here from the Ukraine 10 years ago, still feels concern for her friends and family in her home country.

“My heart is with them. It’s pretty painful what’s going on with them. It’s a tragedy, (but) I see it’s not the end here,” said Sytnyk. “So it’s painful for me. I hope (the protesters) will win because I know the life in Ukraine. I am disabled and I know a lot of disabled friends in Ukraine and how tough it was for that with that government … it was truly a big price paid.”

According to a State Department press release, Secretary John Kerry said the U.S. supports the Ukraine parliament’s decision to impeach Yanukovych and call early elections, and to quickly call an acting president and prime minister.

“I hope Yanukovych was (the) last dictator of Ukraine,” said Tsomkalova. “Ukrainians are good people. They fight for freedom (and) all (their) history. And they deserve (a) better future, for freedom and democracy.”

It is believed Yanukovych was pressured by neighboring Russia to back out of the agreement – and to keep Ukraine’s political ties with Russia – instead of creating new ones with the EU. According to some news outlets, Russian President Vladimir Putin is working toward a realigning of the former Soviet states.