‘God Will Help Us’

Ukraine’s Situation Hits Home For Many Valley Residents

Posted: March 12, 2014

HARRISONBURG — Andre Bogachuk has faith in two areas that his native Ukraine will survive “Russian aggression.”

“I really believe if the Western world will not help Ukraine, God will help us. I really believe this. God will help us,” he said. “Ukrainian people [are] really, really peaceful. They really don’t like [to] rebel. …  They really like quiet life.”

If Bogachuk, 29, hadn’t married and moved to Harrisonburg more than three years ago, he said he would have been right there with his fellow countrymen in Ukraine gaining control of the capital in Kiev.

In late February, President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia after nearly three months of anti-government protests after rebuffing an economic  agreement with the European Union and instead  accepting a $15 billion loan package from Russia to help Ukraine’s struggling economy.

Pro-Russian forces have since gained a stronghold of Ukraine’s southeastern Crimean region. Moscow has refused to recognize new Ukrainian leaders and Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country has the right to protect ethnic Russians in the former Soviet Union.

Ukraine, like Russia, belonged to the former Soviet Union, which dissolved in 1990. Largely through a resettlement program, the Harrisonburg area is now home to several thousand Russians and Ukrainians.

Under Yanukovych, the Ukrainian government treated people “really, really, really bad,” Bogachuk said. And, in a “vision” shared by Putin, it views Ukraine and Russia as one in the same, he said.

“We are a sovereign country. We are independent. What they are doing is horrible. It’s unlawful. It’s aggressive,” said Bogachuk, whose family lives in central Ukraine.

Steele and Alice Dunn, a young Valley couple working as missionaries in Ukraine through Beaver Creek Church of the Brethren in Bridgewater, have seen the situation play out since their arrival overseas in March 2012.

They “immediately dropped everything” to pray with peaceful student demonstrators who were beaten in Kiev in November, showing their support for the effort to “get rid of the overwhelming corruption that permeates every level of Ukrainian government,” Steele Dunn said in an email.

“Everyone in Ukraine understands that Russia genuinely believes that Ukraine is theirs, and that they regularly exert as much control as possible by installing Russia-friendly men in the government and through other covert means,” he said. “So, when the people actually succeeded in overcoming the regime, they determined to take advantage of the vulnerability of Ukraine as the government undergoes significant upheaval.

“We personally do not expect Russia to back down at this point. They effectively control the entire region of Crimea, and are working very hard to fabricate a ‘provocation’ so that they can launch war against Ukraine.”

Alice Dunn’s parents are from Ukraine, where her father’s family lives. At the start of 2013, she and her husband returned home to “regroup and raise support,” Steele Dunn said, and then went back abroad to teach and conduct Bible studies in Rakhiv, a city in western Ukraine.

Residents are “generally pessimistic” about a vote coming Sunday on whether Crimea should join Russia, he said. Crimeans have generally been pro-Russian, while those living in western Ukraine has sought greater ties with the European Union.

“This kind of corruption [and] oppression has been a fact of life here for many centuries, so even though Ukrainians are ready to fight for their freedom [and] rights to some extent, there’s also a fatalistic sense that nothing is really going to change either way,” Dunn said.

Ukrainian Valentina Sokolyuk, the home-school liaison for Harrisonburg High School, said violence likely would have escalated already if Ukrainians had access to weapons.

“They have hammers and bats. They’re different,” she said. “If they had weapons, they probably start shooting each other.”

Sokolyuk left Ukraine more than 20 years ago. People are struggling to find employment and want to be part of the EU to get jobs, she said.

“I know in Ukraine there is not easy life,” Sokolyuk said. “At this point, sometimes when I watch the news … I feel bad. Why? What happened? Local people are just shocked why Russia is doing this and what is the purpose. [The countries] are supposed to be helping each other. They’re not.”

Dunn said Ukrainians believe international intervention is “essential to maintain the territorial integrity of Ukraine and halt Russian aggression.”

“They have to [enforce] all sanctions against Russia,” he said of the United States and European leaders, “to stop Putin and his government. …  I completely agree with Ukraine people and what they did. All I can do is clap for them.”

Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or pknight@dnronline.com

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