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Ukraine ex-pats see change of guard as 'new era'

Parishioners at St. Vladimir Ikrainain Catholic Church in

Parishioners at St. Vladimir Ikrainain Catholic Church in Hempstead on Feb. 23, 2014. Members are concerned about the violence and unrest in Kiev. Credit: Steve Pfost

From Brooklyn to Nassau, diverse groups of people with ties to Ukraine voiced optimism about the nation's future after its parliament took control Sunday.

"Today is a very important day as hopefully the beginning of a new era," said Andrij Szul, who stood outside St. Vladimir Ukrainian Catholic Church on Sunday in Hempstead, where a special Mass was held honoring those killed in the revolt. Szul said he has family from Ukraine.

In Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, Ukrainian Jews prayed Sunday afternoon for peace and offered a moment of silence to those who died and suffered during the bloody three-month revolt.

"This is a people's revolution, where thousands have been willing to sacrifice their lives for a better future," said Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, chief rabbi of Kiev and Ukraine, who spoke to several hundred members of the Russian American Jewish Experience at the Brighton Beach Jewish Community Center.

Boris Chernyy, 36, of Brooklyn, came to the United States at age 13 with his parents, who were Jewish dissidents from Kiev. He said of the ouster of President Viktor F. Yanukovych and governmental transition: "It's about time. My hopes are that there will be a new president who will head a government that will be more westernized and will be a leader who thinks about independence and capitalism and will take care of the people instead of his own pockets . . . that is what I hope for."

Ross Den, 32, of Brooklyn, who arrived as a child with his political refugee parents, said he was in Kiev in October, before the uprising.

"I could see the divide between the rich and the poor and the political corruption," said Den, whose family and friends in Kiev say they have seen "a spike in anti-Semitism."

"When there is this kind of uprising, there is always a fear of nationalism and Nazism," he said. "But I have hope. The people of the Ukraine are educated and modern in their thinking. They will find their way and their place with Europe."

Dov Bleich said there are between 350,000 and 400,000 Jews in Ukraine, which has a population of 45 million.

Esther Lamm, director of development for the Russian American Jewish Experience, an educational group that offers 10-week programs teaching Jewish history, philosophy and Judaism, said: "I find it sad when there are these outbursts of violence anywhere in the world.

"People deserve to live in a safe environment and have peace and not have to be afraid to speak their feelings for fear of being beaten," said Lamm, who remembers her childhood days swimming in the beaches of Odessa, Ukraine.

In Hempstead, Zinoviy Zakalyuk, who said he was beaten in Kiev's main square a month ago, was at the Mass at St. Vladimir with his family.

Zakalyuk said, through a translator, that he was happy about the recent news in Ukraine, but remains skeptical and worries about the country's future.

Ukraine spiraled into crisis in November, when protesters took to the streets after its president opposed a deal to deepen ties with the European Union.

Sergei Grim, 38, of Merrick, said he was expecting his parents to arrive from Ukraine soon. He said they are coming to stay with him and his family because he was concerned about their safety.

Grim said Ukraine should become a member of the European Union. "It's not going to be easy. . . . I just wish no more killing," he said.

Lesya Koziy was collecting donations outside of the church for two families in Ukraine who she said lost family members during last week's violence. She said two young men -- 17 and 19 years old -- were shot and killed in Independence Square. She said they are from Zbarazh in western Ukraine and that she knows their parents.

"It is unacceptable," said Koziy, 40, of Massapequa.

With Maria Alvarez


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