Protest attendee dons a Ukrainian flag at Sunday’s gathering. (Photo: Jasmine Lee)

Iryna Vitkovska says NATO’s involvement in Ukraine’s conflict with Russia will not bring peace to her country. “They should have looked at it a long time ago, and not just waking up right now when it’s too late,” said the 27-year-old bartender of the Sly Fox. The bar is located on the ground floor of the Ukrainian National Home in the East Village, next to a sidewalk memorial for Ukrainians who’ve died in ongoing clashes with pro-Russian separatists.

Vitkovska says the “solution to the problem” lies not with NATO — which last week announced that it would establish a 4,000-member “rapid-reaction force” in support of Ukraine — but with the citizens of Russia. “[Putin] just doesn’t care,” she insisted. “He lies and makes up stuff and brainwashes his own people.”

But not all of the East Village’s Ukrainians agree that outside interventions — such as sanctions currently being weighed by the European Union — are futile. “Ukraine should be a part of NATO just because, at this point, Ukraine is so underdeveloped,” said Dmitri Lenczuk, a 23-year-old second-generation Ukrainian who works in the area. “There are some people in the army that don’t even have boots, you know, let alone actual arms.”

Ukraine is a NATO partner but not a member, though in 2008 it made an unsuccessful bid to become one.

Signs in East Village sidewalk memorial (Photo: Jasmine Lee)

Signs in East Village sidewalk memorial (Photo: Jasmine Lee)

Last week the organization’s leaders met in Newport, Wales, in part to discuss the ongoing conflict that escalated after Russia annexed the primarily Russian-speaking region of Crimea back in March. Despite Putin’s declaration that other areas of Ukraine would not be annexed, western leaders believe that Russia provided arms and troops to pro-Russian separatists who captured towns in Eastern Ukraine.

As a result of Thursday’s summit, NATO will send $20 million to Ukraine to improve its military training, cyber defense and rehabilitation of soldiers. On Friday, Ukraine and the separatists negotiated what’s been described as a shaky ceasefire.

Amidst the recent developments, around 70 Ukrainian-Americans protested in front of the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the UN on Sunday.

Askold Lozynsky, former president of the Ukrainian World Congress and protest organizer, explained, “The problem is that they [Ukraine] are fighting against a huge country and they need some military equipment so that is certainly a step in the right direction as well as additional sanctions which are being imposed by the Europeans.”

Many in the protest stated that if Russia succeeds in the region, it will pose a major threat to Europe.

“[In Russia] there is this imperialistic bend: the hell with the economy, the hell with everything else, we want Ukraine,” Lozynsky continued. “But it’s not just Ukraine: they want to dominate in the world and they cannot live without domination—that’s the problem.”

Back in July, shortly after Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was downed in Eastern Ukraine in what many suspect was a missile attack launched by Russian-backed militants, we spoke to Volodymyr Maslianyk, a 20-year-old server at Veselka who has relatives in Ukraine. He believed that if Europe didn’t impose sanctions on Russia, his home country would fall further into turmoil. His views on Ukraine’s massive neighbor were not favorable. “They have everything and yet they have nothing,” he said, referring to Russia’s rich natural resources, which are steadily drained from the country’s coffers by endemic corruption.

Flag of local Organization for Defense of Four Freedoms chapter. (Photo: Jasmine Lee)

Flag of local Organization for Defense of Four Freedoms chapter. (Photo: Jasmine Lee)

Many with relatives in both western and eastern Ukraine hope the conflict will end positively for their country. Today, as the European Union considered a timetable for imposing sanctions, Ukrainian president Petro O. Poroshenko said that about 70 percent of Russian forces had withdrawn from his country, The Times reported.

Nadya Scaglione, who has lived in the East Village for 25 years, highlighted Ukraine’s ability to fight till the end. “Ukrainian people will fight for their freedom no matter what and sooner or later it will end positively for them. I just hope it’s going to end sooner. Because if it’s not going to end positively for Ukraine, it’s not going to end positively for Europe.”

By Jasmine Lee, Dmitry Melamed, Eric Monge and Kirsten O’Regan