Q&A: Bay Area Ukrainians Organize in Response to Crisis

Q&A: Bay Area Ukrainians Organize in Response to Crisis

New America Media

By Zdenek Kratochvil

Above: Ukrainians gathered in San Francisco in January for a rally in support of pro-European protestors in the Ukranian capital Kiev


Editor’s Note: Protests in Ukraine sparked by former President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to reject a trade deal with the European Union have now evolved into a larger regional crisis. Concerns are growing over the possible break up of the former Soviet country. Moscow’s growing military involvement, meanwhile, has leaders in Washington and the E.U. scrambling to come up with a response. Organizers of MaydanSF, a Bay Area-based Ukrainian group named for the protests that began in the Ukrainian capital Kiev in November, have been working to support protestors in their home country. To date they’ve organized several local rallies and say more are planned. They spoke with NAM contributor Zdenek Kratochvil.

Describe the MaydanSF movement. When did it form and what is its mission?

MaydanSF began in November, at the start of the pro-European demonstrations in Kiev, Ukraine. EuroMaydan, the name for the movement in Ukraine, comes from the name of Kiev’s Independence Square, Maydan. The group was founded by San Francisco residents Mikola Bilogorskiy and Lesya P. (who asked that her last name not be used). Within a week, we organized our first protest, which was attended by more than 500 people.

With over 20 members, we are now in the process of forming a non-profit called Nova Ukraine (New Ukraine). We’ve also defined several key goals, which include: contributing to the development of a civil society in Ukraine through the use of innovative technologies and other means, assisting Ukraine in diminishing corruption at all levels of society, and raising awareness about Ukraine in the United States and the world.

How has the current situation in Ukraine impacted the Ukranian community in the Bay Area?

The EuroMaydan Movement has forever changed Ukraine and Ukrainian People both back in Ukraine and around the world. I’ve lived in San Francisco for six years, and I have never met so many Ukrainians though I have been looking for them. Our organization has connected with EuroMaydan Leaders across America and different cities around the world. We are working on a number of projects to utilize the strength of our community to participate actively in furthering the rebuilding process in Ukraine.

What are some of the challenges your community faces now?

While the crisis in Ukraine has lifted awareness of the country, many here are still not aware about events there or do not know where Ukraine is located on a map. Thus, we will continue our work of spreading awareness about the protests and the needs of Ukraine. We’d like to also get the representatives of other countries on board – particularly those countries that are or have experienced similar movements, like Venezuela, Georgia, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and others.

What are your concerns about Russia’s growing involvement in the crisis?

We are concerned about the breakdown of Ukraine into two parts – ‘pro-European’ (Central and Western Ukraine) and pro-Russian (Eastern Ukraine). After the Sochi Olympic Games ended Putin has gotten more involved in the situation. He is specifically targeting the Crimean Peninsula, where the Russian fleet is stationed along with a Russian military base. Currently, the population in Crimea is comprised predominantly of Russian and Pro-Russian groups. Many are asking Russia to ‘help them’ and ‘save them’ from the newly established government in Kiev. However, there is also a large Tatar population that does not want and resists the Russian invasion.

Aside from the protest you mentioned, have there been others organized by your group?

MaydanSF has organized three large demonstrations in San Francisco so far. Our San Francisco demonstrations had more than 500 participants each time, including representatives from Russia, (and former Soviet states like) Belarus, Kazakhstan and Georgia.

What kind of support does MaydanSF provide to protestors in Ukranie?

One of our purposes has been to collect donations to support the needs of the protesters in Kiev, such as food, medicine and shelter. We have collected over $13,000 in donations and have sent the money to Ukraine. We have asked our friends in Ukraine to send us copies of the receipts for what they purchased; and we then posted these receipts on our website maydansf.com, so that local supporters could see where exactly their money went.

After the massive killings in Ukraine during the week of February 17, when over a 100 protesters were killed, we also began focusing on supporting the needs of the families of those who have died. The people in Ukraine are mentally and physically exhausted. It’s our priority to provide any help we can to ensure people stay motivated to rebuild the new truly democratic Ukraine.

Follow the organizers of MaydanSF on Facebook. Videos of recent Bay Area protests organized by the group can be seen here and here.