As protests and military action continue to beleaguer Ukraine, the crisis is eliciting reactions - along with prayers and donations - from Wood County residents with ties to the country.
|Father George Mullonkal of St. Michaels Ukrainian Catholic Church in Rossford. (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
"They want, like everybody else, (to have) their independence," said Father George Mullonkal, priest at St. Michael's Ukrainian Catholic Church in Rossford.
The conflict began in November, when then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych announced Ukraine would not go forward with a plan to move the country closer to the European Union, seeking instead to align Ukraine more with Russia.
The move sparked protests and violent episodes throughout Ukraine, and late last month Yanukovych fled the capital, Kiev, for Russia. A new national government was formed in the wake of Yanukovych's departure.
Russian troops subsequently moved into Ukraine's Crimea region, an area with strong cultural ties to Russia.
Timothy Pogacar, a professor of Russian at Bowling Green State University, pointed out that the struggle between Russia and Ukraine is not a recent development.
"It's really ironic, coming on the heels of the Olympics," he said, "in particular the beautiful opening and closing ceremonies. The Olympics, the opening ceremony in particular, drew a direct connection between Russian history and the founding of Kiev in the 9th and 10th centuries. And that's how Russian children are taught at school, that Muscovy and the Russian Empire and today's Russia, their heritage are in the Kievan state."
Ukrainian children, he said, are taught much differently about how to trace their cultural heritage.
"So this notion of Russia... having a cultural claim to Kiev is questionable. Of course, if you talked to ordinary Russians, what I just said would be heresy, but if you talk to many Ukrainians, that's the way they see it."
Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union until the early 1990s, when the Communist state fell apart.
|Tim Pogacar, Russian professor at BGSU, holds a seventh grade Ukrainian text book in his office. (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
Arielle Beachy, a junior at BGSU majoring in Russian, studied abroad in Russia in 2011 and worked with Ukrainian orphans through the organization Youth With a Mission. She re-visited Ukraine last summer.
"I made a lot of great friends, they were very welcoming, very kind people," she said of the Ukrainians she met. "I walked through the streets of Kiev and it was very beautiful, very historic, kind of enchanting."
Beachy says she gets regular updates from her Ukrainian friends via Facebook.
"A lot of people are really frustrated with Russia," she said, noting that on Tuesday she saw "a lot of satirical remarks about (Russian President Vladimir) Putin."
"The Ukrainians really want to be 'Ukraine,'" she said, "they want to be an independent nation."
"With Russia invading and taking over, it's not allowing them to do that."
She did say the issue of Crimea is a special case and should be handled as such.
"I feel that Crimea is kind of Russian - not completely Russian, but it's something that needs to be handled differently."
Beachy said already-existing political processes should be followed if Crimea is to be separated from Ukraine, rather than having Russia try to take the region by force.
"For me, what I see is just Russia using it as a monetary gain, to get Crimea. And it's just Putin's power thing, in my opinion."
"The people there, they want their independence," said Mullonkal, "and they feel that Crimea, and all that area, belongs to Ukrainian people."
"And the people here, we pray for the independence of that area."
He termed what is happening now in Ukraine as "disturbing."
"They feel sad about what is happening there," Mullonkal said of his parishioners.
Indeed, he said that he has seen "more people coming into the church, attending and praying. Praying for peace there."
"It's a small congregation, we used to have 40 to 50 families, but a few more people (are) now coming."
"I think the people there, the Ukrainians, they have their own destiny, their own freedom," like any other nation.
Anna Wasylyshyn, the mother of Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn, is of Ukrainian descent and her husband was an immigrant from that country.
"We always felt Ukraine was suppressed and unable to rise, and they're trying very hard," she said, though stressing she is not an authority on the subject. She said more Ukrainians are educated in the West and "they see what life is like here, and they try to have the same lifestyle in their country. It's difficult to make changes because the corruption is so ingrained."
Wasylyshyn said she donated to the League of Ukrainian Women organization in Ann Arbor, Mich., to which she belongs, "and we sent humanitarian aid to them, money." Also active at St. Michaels, she said: "We pray, we pray every day. Most Ukrainians, we get it on email every day and we pray at church and we pray privately every day that they have success... without bloodshed.
"It is a turning point, it is actually a turning point. If they don't break from Russia now, they never will."