When Crimean citizens voted on Sunday to secede from Ukraine and unite with Russia, there was widespread apprehension in ethnic circles within the East Village – sometimes called “Little Ukraine.” Locals worried about an uncertain future for their friends and relatives living in a divided country with historic ties to Russia. Meanwhile, debates continue surrounding whether the vote was even legal.
“Everybody I’ve talked to is very concerned about potential war and about Russian troops amassing on the borders of Ukraine,” said Hanya Krill, a U.S born Ukrainian East Village resident who heads the development and marketing programs at The Ukrainian Museum on East 6th Street. “People are holding their breath.”
The Ukrainian Museum currently has an exhibit of political posters and photographs that grew out of the demonstrations in Kiev last month. It was those demonstrations that led to the Moscow-backed Ukrainian president, Victor Yanukovych, fleeing his luxurious digs, precipitating Russia’s invasion of Crimea.
On April 5th at 7pm, the museum will hold a screening of a documentary on democracy movements in five countries, including Ukraine. Entitled A Whisper to a Roar, the film was directed by Ben Moses, who will be on hand to speak at the screening. Also speaking at the event is a Ukrainian protester from Kiev, Yulia Marushevska – a Ph.D. candidate at Taras Shevchenko University featured in Moses’ short film I am a Ukrainian. Perhaps you have seen it – the video went viral during the demonstrations in early February.
“I imagine that it will be interesting for [the audience] to meet somebody who has been protesting in Euromaidan and actively involved in it,” said Krill.
Euromaidan is the name given to the wave of protests that began back in November. They started after Yanukovych – reportedly prodded by Russian President Vladimir Putin – reneged on his promise to work out a deal with the EU that would ease Ukraine’s massive debt. The demonstrations later became protests against government corruption and authoritarian rule, resulting in violent clashes with riot police that left more than 100 demonstrators dead. Two days after Yanukovych went on the run February 22nd, an interim parliament reportedly impeached him and called for his arrest on charges of human rights violations and abuse of power.
Moses’ documentary touches on Ukraine’s bloodless 2004 “Orange Revolution,” which ended successfully with the election of Yanukovych’s rival for president and predecessor, Viktor Yushchenko. At that time, demonstrators protested rigged elections, voter intimidation and electoral fraud. Maria Shust, longtime director of the Ukranian Museum, insists that the recent demonstrations would have been non-violent if there hadn’t been “instigators” attacking people – “Probably ordered by Yanukovych.” Shust’s parents left Western Ukraine during World War II. She lived in Germany until her family came to America when she was ten-years-old.
Previously, Shust denied claims made by Putin and various media outlets that some of the demonstrators were extremist groups of nationalists, neo-Nazis and fascists. “Most of them were students who wanted a better life,” she said.
Shust worries that Russia’s military intervention in the Crimean Black Sea peninsula might extend to other parts of Ukraine. “The Russians so outnumber us,” she said. “We’re not strong enough to withstand their military.” She fears that Russia will take other parts of the Eastern Ukraine in addition to Crimea.
When asked if Ukrainians would fight in this David vs. Goliath-esque combat with the Russians, Shust murmured, “Yes, I think Ukrainians will fight for their freedom. I can’t predict and I hope it really doesn’t happen. People would just die needlessly. I certainly hope that with a little pressure Putin can be stopped from going further into Ukraine.”
A Whisper to a Roar will play at The Ukraine Museum at 222 East 6th Street on April 5th at 7pm. Admission is $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and museum members and $5 for students.