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World

Ukrainians in the US: 'Please help us!'

The US government and media are concerned about the mass protests in Kyiv. Ever since the violence escalated there, the Ukrainian community in the US makes itself heard. It wants the West to help.

Sergey Pershoguba and Dmytro Kashyu put it very strongly: "The US government and the Western governments need to act fast. Guys, we ask you for help!" Braving temperatures well below zero, the two young men are protesting along with more than 40 like-minded people in front of the US State Department in Washington. Almost all of them are Ukrainian-born US citizens. Some of them wear clothes in the Ukrainian national colors blue and yellow.

Their faces speak of utter desperation. Ever since violence broke out on Kyiv's Independence Square, known as Maidan, and demonstrators have been killed by police, they find it hard to stay home or go to work.

Demonstration at Kerry's residence

The previous day, they demonstrated in front of the German embassy and handed over a petition. Now they are standing in front of the official residence of US Secretary of State John Kerry.

"Too slow, too late," it says on a poster which Anastasiia Rybytska holds up with trembling hands. She is deeply worried that her countrymen and women could be left alone by the international community. She is in direct contact via phone and Facebook with the protesters on the Maidan who, in her view, find themselves in an almost hopeless situation.

"For now, their message is: they are begging for help. At the start... they wanted to go to Europe, it was a peaceful protest... But now, when the police started killing people, undressing them and pouring cold water on them, and just doing things I cannot even describe, the main message from there is people begging: "Help us." The young biologist is deeply worried: "If the international community does not influence it right now, there will be another very very black spot in history."

Five months ago - before mass protests began in the Ukraine - Anastasiia Rybytska, in her search for work and a better life, emigrated to the US. According to the latest estimates, up to 1.5 million Ukrainians currently live in the US, especially in the Northeast and the region around Chicago.

They came to the US during several waves of immigration over the last 150 years. Like in a grassroots movement, recounts Ira Payosova, these Ukrainian expatriates are now linking up with each other to face the extreme political situation in their home country together.

For the last five years, the student has called the US her home. She was shattered when she heard about the abduction of a young journalist who had been a fellow student for over six years. "I am in contact with people there, my friends from university years, from school. Many of them do not know each other, they have never met before, Ira says.

"They believe that, at least until now, they were not successful without external help, without the help of the West particularly. Their two main messages are: They are asking for help. And the second big thing they are asking for is to freeze all bank accounts of all companies and organizations and funds and personal bank accounts associated with the family of President Viktor Yanukovych and his political allies."

Ira is sure about one thing: "People in the Ukraine believe that this will stop the violence, and that Yanukovych will become more cooperative."

Hanja Cherniak supports these demands: "I am an American of Ukrainian descent, and I would like our government to impose not only sanctions, but freeze the money that the so-called President of Ukraine and his cronies have stolen from the people."

Ukraine Proteste in Washington 23.01.2014

Hanja's (left) parents are from Ukraine

She sounds determined, fighting back tears with her Ukrainian flag wrapped around her shoulders. "I want them to do whatever they can to stop the tortures, stop the killings, stop the senseless beatings of these young people who only want to live and be free."

Solidarity with the protesters

Hanja, Ira und Anastasiia met through the protest movement. Promising unlimited solidarity to her countrymen and women on the Maidan and all over the country, Anastasiia probably speaks out for all of them: "We Ukrainians abroad are going to stand with you till the very end, till you win, and we are going to support you as much as we can."

"Also, Yanukovych will one day be punished," she believes.

But how can you exercise any real influence being thousands of miles away from your home country? That's the big question many of the demonstrators are pondering. "From here we can address the European governments and the United States government to put some pressure on them, to make the Ukrainian government understand that there is a punishment even for them," Rybytska says.

Fellow Ukrainian Dmytro Kashyn thinks the most important thing to do is to stay in close touch with relatives and friends in the Ukraine making them feel that they are not being left alone. „We will try to talk to many people in the US and explain them the situation as we see it, and try to manifest our vision here." If all that does not help, one can only turn to prayer as a last resort, he says.

Ukraine Proteste in Washington 23.01.2014

Outside the US State Department

Disappointed with Obama

Many of the demonstrators are disillusioned about the US administration. To their ears, most of the official statements of Secretary of State Kerry or Vice President Joe Biden rather sound like lip service, and they do not even seem to buy into President Obama's recent threats of sanctions. "It's very frustrating with this administration. They seem to be extremely naive, and foreign policy is almost non-existent. I really don't expect a lot, but I feel I must do what I can, to try to win some sort of victory for the people of my parents' birth."

Sergey Pershoguba and Dmytro Kashyu are convinced they need to do a lot more than demonstrating in a secure place far away in the US, whereas their countrymen have to risk their lives on a daily basis: "As soon as we can we should try to go home and go to Maidan Square, and be with the opposition. We are with them and we support them."

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