62° Good Evening
62° Good Evening
Long Island

Casualty of Ukraine violence finds refuge on LI

Zinoviy Zakalyuk watches footage of himself at the

Zinoviy Zakalyuk watches footage of himself at the Jan. 22, 2014, protest in in Kiev, Ukraine. At around 11 a.m. that day, he wound up on the ground -- his family says he's not exactly sure how -- and was kicked and stomped. Credit: Steve Pfost

Zinoviy Zakalyuk, who says his skull was cracked in a savage beating during protests in Kiev's main square a month ago, has found refuge with his daughter in Massapequa. But he cannot escape the pain of the bloodshed and division that has wracked his homeland, Ukraine.

His daughter, Svitlana Zakalyuk, who translated for her 63-year-old father, said he has been crying all the time.

Zakalyuk, a retired former aide to a parliamentary deputy from the Ternopil region, told her he is feeling torn between happiness at seeing President Viktor Yanukovych's government driven from the capital and sorrow for those who died in the fight to topple him.

"He is so sad and upset about what happened to those people," she said.

The family has been watching videos of funerals from the fighting. "They are burying the young people that were standing with him at the square," Svitlana Zakalyuk said.

Zakalyuk had joined them in Kiev "to say to the world that human rights cannot be taken away," his daughter, 39, said. "We couldn't tell him not to go."

Worry and anguish among Long Islanders with ties to Ukraine have grown as the crisis got bloodier. Some churches are holding special Masses Sunday, including St. Vladimir Ukrainian Catholic Church in Hempstead and St. John the Theologian Orthodox Church in Shirley.

The Rev. Jonathan Ivanoff of St. John's said about a dozen of his parishioners are from Ukraine.

"They can't be there [and] it is causing a great deal of anxiety and stress," he said. "This is something they fear could lead to some sort of civil war."

Svitlana Zakalyuk, who has lived on Long Island for 15 years, said her father was lucky to have an open visa so he could come here. Now, she said, the family is struggling to find and finance his rehabilitative medical care, and are also researching how to obtain political asylum for him.

Zakalyuk, still showing dark bruises under his eyes and a pink scar on the right side of his head, spoke about his experiences with his family alongside him at the St. Vladimir Parish Center in Uniondale Saturday. He wept frequently.

Zakalyuk traveled in December from western Ukraine to Kiev, a nine-hour drive, after he heard news that students were beaten in anti-government protests, according to Svitlana.

He returned to Kiev in January, and would spend every day in the Independence Square and nights at his son's home in Kiev, Svitlana said. Before going out on the morning of Jan. 22, he heard on the news that two people were killed earlier that day. It didn't stop him.

At around 11 a.m., he ended up on the ground -- his family says he doesn't know exactly how -- and was kicked and stomped. His beating left him with purple circles surrounding his swollen eyes, fractured ribs, a deep cut on his head and a cracked skull, according to his family.

Part of the assault was captured on a news video. Svitlana Zakalyuk first saw it online that day. Like many others with Ukraine ties, she has been following news on the Internet. She thought she recognized her father, and after hours of phone calls, got confirmation that it was him.

"Every time I see it, it makes me so sad, nauseous and ashamed," she said.

Watching it again on her cellphone Saturday, her eyes pooled with tears. Her father and her son, 19-year-old Taras, also cried.

After his beating, Zakalyuk went to the hospital, where he stayed for nine days. Fearing that the police would come for his father, his son in Kiev, Oleg Zakalyuk, brought him back to his house. It wasn't until 12 days after the beating that the traumatized man could speak.

Several groups raised money for his medical bills in Ukraine and to fly him to the United States. He arrived Tuesday.

Sitting by him Saturday, Svitlana Zakalyuk looked at her father and said: "We're so proud of him. He was really trying to make a difference for people in Ukraine."


We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.

Latest Long Island News