Ukrainian-Americans fearful about future of home country

WOODLAND - Ukrainian Police in Kiev stormed the main protest camp Wednesday, which has been occupied since November.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and the leaders of groups protesting his government announced a truce, but Independence Square saw no signs of a cease fire. Police lines were still afire early Thursday morning and protestors vowed to keep fighting.

Both sides blame each other for the violence, which has killed at least 26 people, including seven policemen. President Yanukovych stands accused of massive corruption and unleashing secret police on protestors.

Among those watching closely as events unfold in Ukraine are the thousands of Ukrainian-Americans throughout the Sacramento region.

"Probably if I would be there, I would be in the streets right now," Woodland resident Andriy Kryshtafovych said, expressing solidarity with Ukranian protestors, like his cousins demonstrating in Kiev.

Kryshtafovych is a man torn between two worlds. One wall of his Woodland home hangs photos he shot of his favorite places in Europe. The next wall shows photos from his trips to America's national parks. He's lived in California the past 13 years, most recently working as a research scientist at UC Davis. He said watching news from his home country has been heart-breaking in recent months.

"We are just holding our breath and watching this news on the internet. It's really tough for us here," Kryshtafovych said.

Like a lot of Californians of Ukrainian descent, Kryshtafovych sympathizes with protestors. In November, people started taking to the streets over President Viktor Yanukovych's trade agreement with Russia, foregoing a trade pact with the European Union.

"They were peaceful protestors, and then [the government] used unnecessary, strong, and fatal force, so five persons died in December, in the beginning of December of last year, so this sparked even more protests," Kryshtafovych said.

In fact, he insists the trade dispute was just the final straw that drew protestors to the streets of Kiev and other cities across the country.

"People want non-corrupt government, so government in Ukraine is quite well-corrupted," Kryshtafovych said.

Since the escalation of violence killed more than a dozen people Tuesday, western leaders have threatened sanctions against the Ukrainian government unless it shows more restraint in dealing with peaceful protests.

"It can get worse, but my hopes are that it won't," Kryshtafovych said.

U.S. officials describe the tentative deal between protestors and their government as a glimmer of hope, but caution that the possible truce is fragile. The State Department made clear it holds President Yanukovich responsible for the violence and has banned 20 top members of the Ukranian government from traveling to the U.S.

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