Local eyes focused on Ukraine

The turmoil that continues to unfold from last month’s disputed presidential election in the Ukraine is weighing heavily on the hearts of some area residents.
Among them, Nick Andrusco of Fort Frances, who emigrated from the Ukraine with his parents in 1929, and Rev. Fr. Michael Kopchuk of St. George’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church here.
Rev. Fr. Kopchuk, a first generation Canadian of Ukrainian decent, maintains regular correspondence with relatives and friends in the western Ukraine.
He shared some of their thoughts, hopes, and fears on what life’s like when you’re trying to crawl out from under the influences of Communism and into the modern world.
“They are very upset about what’s happening now,” Rev. Fr. Kopchuk said Tuesday morning in a telephone interview. “Even a few years ago, when Leonid Kuchma was elected as president, they were afraid Ukraine would become next Soviet Union.
“This [current situation] is even worse,” he warned. “And it is complicated by the fact that Ukraine has three Orthodox churches and one of them is still directly under Russian influence.”
Rev. Fr. Kopchuk’s relatives and friends are supporters of Viktor Yuschenko, the West-leaning candidate who claimed the Nov. 21 presidential run-off election was illegally won by pro-Moscow Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.
“In a nutshell, Russia is still heavily involved [in the Ukraine], which it shouldn’t be,” he noted. “It still has a lot of influence—lots more than locals would like.”
But he also admitted that even if a new election outcome put Yuschenko in power, it would be years before true social and economic change would be felt by those who live in the country of 48 million.
“There are a lot of old people in government there who are still communist-thinking. That’s how they were raised and that’s all they know,” said Rev. Fr. Kopchuk.
“The younger generations are more susceptible to new ideas and until those [older] people in government retire, nothing will change,” he added. “It is the up-and-coming generation where you’ll see change.
“That’s what my relatives say, ‘If they can just hold on for another 10 years, that’s where the hope is.’”
For Andrusco, 86, hope for his native country—from which he immigrated to Canada in 1929—lies with the outcome of another election.
He admits to keeping “way ahead” on the goings-on in the Ukraine, reading newspapers and watching TV reports and interviews on many aspects of the contentious issues there.
He is a Yuschenko supporter, but also believes Russian influence in the Ukraine will not be easily quelled.
“Sure the election was rigged, it doesn’t surprise me a bit,” Andrusco said. “The Ukraine is such a corrupt country right now.
“It has been under that [Russian influence] and been suppressed for hundreds of years,” he argued.
“I wish I knew what will happen,” Andrusco said. “I hope Yuschenko will run again—if they hold another election—and I don’t think Kuchma and [Russian president Vladimir] Putin thought such an uprising would occur against them.
“But I feel very uneasy about the whole thing,” he lamented.
Michael Zaleschuk, president of the Ukrainian Self Reliance League of Canada and the father of Fort Frances resident Larissa Curr, similarly is uneasy about the civil unrest in the Ukraine.
He’s also well aware of just how powerful Russian influence can be in uncertain times.
The Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC), of which the USRL is a part, and the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA) sent more than 150 people from Canada, the U.S., Europe, and Australia to the Ukraine to monitor the election process.
“We expected some skullduggery was happening there—that’s why we sent over 80 monitors from Canada,” Zaleschuk said Monday from his home in Regina Beach, Sask.
“President Putin wants to get the Ukraine under Soviet regime because it is very important to Russia,” he added.
Still, Zaleschuk said they think there will be another election on Dec. 12 and then you will see overwhelming support for Yuschenko—whom he described as “the good guy.”
“The opposition will step down, but the [Russian] mafia will be just as active as ever—until Yuschenko gets a hold of things or someone murders him,” he contended grimly.
Zaleschuk’s granddaughter, Elissa Curr, 22, a fourth-year university student, toured the Ukraine with her grandfather a few years ago. She corresponds by e-mail with two of the election monitors immersed there.
“I definitely think the Ukrainian people really need to have another election in order to be a part of Europe and the European Union, which is a lot better than being a part of Russia,” she reasoned when contact by telephone Monday from her home in Saskatchewan.
“My friends who are monitoring the situation over there were watching people who were trying to steal election boxes and replace them with phonies.
“The Russian mafia is very influential,” she noted.
“I am very thankful that we are a democratic society [in Canada],” Curr added. “And while I don’t always agree with what the government does here and I have not found a perfect political platform, we are by far much better off.
“I hope things will smooth out, but there is one thing we should never forget in all of this. Communism is not dead,” Zaleschuk warned.
“These guys will try every way possible to hold on to it,” he stressed. “You would be surprised at how many communists are planted within [the Ukraine]—and within Canada, as well.”
(Fort Frances Times)