Phila. Ukrainians rally over strife in Kiev

During a mourners' vigil at Independence Mall , Yulia Kurka places a candle in memory of Ukrainians killed during the continuing violent protests in the capital of Kiev. At left is Basil Panczak. Another protest was held in Jenkintown. APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer
During a mourners' vigil at Independence Mall , Yulia Kurka places a candle in memory of Ukrainians killed during the continuing violent protests in the capital of Kiev. At left is Basil Panczak. Another protest was held in Jenkintown. APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer
Posted: February 21, 2014

Angered by the deaths this week of more than two dozen demonstrators in Kiev, Philadelphia-area Ukrainians rallied Wednesday on Independence Mall to spotlight the crisis in the Eastern European country.

"We are outraged, saddened, and greatly concerned," said Mary Kalyna, an organizer.

She called on the world community to freeze the assets and invoke travel restrictions against the ranking members of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's regime.

Kalyna said Ukrainian police snipers, firing rubber-coated steel slugs, "are targeting demonstrators' heads and eyes. . . . So many people have been blinded." Police also are dragging injured people out of state hospitals, she said, which is why the injured are seeking treatment at makeshift clinics inside churches.

About 30 Philadelphia demonstrators waved blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags, lit votive candles, and unfurled banners - "Putin: Take your paws out of Ukraine."

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who backs Ukraine's president, blames Western nations for supporting the protesters.

The Philadelphia activists demanded action by the United States and the United Nations to halt the bloodshed. "We know America is not the world's policeman," said Orysia Hewka of Norristown, "but we need help. Ukraine does not want a civil war."

Tuesday's clashes reportedly killed about nine riot police and 20 protesters. Hundreds more were seriously injured.

It was the deadliest day since the antigovernment demonstrations began in November. Late Wednesday, Yanukovych announced a truce with opposition leaders.

The rally in Philadelphia included members of the Polish American Cultural Center in Center City.

"We want these neighbors to be in the same situation as Poland. We want them in Europe," said Michael Blichasz, president of the Polish group. "We have to help each other."

Basil Panczak, 72, of Fairmount, was born in Ukraine and came to America with his parents in 1951. He said he hoped that demonstrators there would see these local rallies on the Internet and be encouraged.

Participants at Wednesday's rally staged a second one indoors at 5 p.m. at the Ukrainian Educational and Cultural Center in Jenkintown.


mmatza@phillynews.com

215-854-2541

@MichaelMatza1

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