“I’m happy right now, but it’s not over yet. I want a new Ukraine.”
With that emotional and cautious optimism, Volodymyr Gali and his family joined 200 fellow Ukrainian-Americans from the Greater New Haven Ukrainian community Sunday morning to greet the news that the president of Ukraine had fled the capital, signaling the end, at least for now, of the violence in his home country.
Gali, a research scientist for Squibb Bristol Meyers, donned his traditional embroidered tunic to attend services at the 103-year-old St. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church on George Street.
He exchanged greetings of “dobryi den,” or good morning/good day, to friends coming into the incense-filled church, home to about 200 families. He has belonged to the church 20 years, ever sense he emigrated from Ukraine.
“I want to help build a new Ukraine,” Gali said. “This revolution opened the eyes of the West to how bad it was, the corruption.”
Church spokesman Myron Melnyk said that in a coordinated effort the other Ukrainian churches in Connecticut, including in Hartford and Stamford, held similar vigils and services Sunday as the world’s eyes fastened on the fast-moving events in the Eastern European former Soviet satellite.
In addition to lending the support of prayer, Melnyk’s congregation raised money for humanitarian aid on Sunday morning.
About 40,000 Ukrainian-Americans live in Connecticut, he said.
The regular mass was followed by a candle-lighting and memorial service of remembrance called a “panakhyda.”.
It was in honor of an estimated 100 people, on both sides, killed in the violence at what Ukrainians call “the Maidan,” or the main independence square in the country’s capital city, Kiev.
Among those paying their respects were U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Mayor Toni Harp, and Nick Severia representing U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who was unable to attend.
Blumenthal is a sponsor of a Senate bill calling for targeted sanctions again Ukrainian leaders implicated in the violence. The bill was authored by the the state’s other senator, Chris Murphy, after Murphy and bill co-author Sen. John McCain went to Ukraine at the end of 2013.
The bill, and a House version, received the the unanimous support of the state’s Congressional delegation, said Melnyk
The implementation of those sanctions last week—including freezing of visa approvals and bank accounts—contributed to the flight of President Viktor Yanukovych, he speculated.
Carrying their lit candles, people solemnly processed down the church steps to George Street and to the parish hall. Among them was11-year-old, Orest Seniw (pictured), bearing a small Ukrainian flag.
As people took their seats, they saw modestly taped to the walls eight-and-half-by-eleven pieces of paper, each with a face of one of the dead. The images, about 55 in all out of the total of more than 100, were culled from the Internet, said Melnyk.
“It’s just kind of sad. They were just trying to get their freedom,” Orest remarked.
“We came here [to church Sunday] because my mom worries about her family and friends in Ukraine,” he said.
Alexandra Seniw, the mom in question, said she has been in regular touch with relatives who live in cities in the west of Ukraine, the stronghold of resistance to Yanukovych’s Soviet-backed regime. She’s been in the U.S. for 20 years.
“We listen to YouTube, the Internet, for ten hours [yesterday]. Everybody’s leaving their jobs, family, to go to the Maidan,” she said.
When the dirge of names and the ages of each of the 55 dead was completed, calls of “glory to the heroes” (in Ukrainian) filled the hall.
Then Blumenthal rose to express his shared grief at “losing such wonderful young people.”
He called not only for sanctions but for the aid like the provision of natural gas “so people of the Ukraine are not blackmailed by any country,” a clear reference to Russia. Applause filled up the parish hall.
Blumenthal, who was rushing off to similar memorial event in Willimantic, said he attened to offer reassurance that “these lost are not lost in vain. ... iThere will be a path for people of Ukraine to determine their own future, without interference of other countries, west or east.”
The church is continuing to raise money for medical and humanitarian assistance and for those whose families are in need as a result of the violence. The church-raised funds are being collected through the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America.
“The press has played up this division too much between [Russian dominated] east and west” in Ukraine, said Melnyk. “The motivating force [of the revolution] has been people just want change, to throw out a government that’s corrupt. Those in power have become billionaires in the last three years. People aren’t stupid. You can’t control information any more. People just want change.”
He said organization hoped to raise at least a few thousand dollars alone at Sunday’s service. Those wishing to contribute can contact Melnyk at (201) 264-9293.
Ukraine is a very religious country, said Alexandra Sinew. “We have to support people over there. We at least have to help, and pray.”