Kiev Protesters Find Backup In Philly

As another day of clashes unfold in Kiev, Americans with Ukrainian ancestry are looking on in concern. The large Ukrainian-American community in Philadelphia is holding rallies to support protesters.

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Russia's president is also being criticized by Ukrainian-Americans watching the violent confrontations going on in their home country. Ukrainians in the U.S. tend to side with those protesting in Kiev's Independence Square. They're angry that President Viktor Yanukovych chose a closer relationship with Russia over a deal with the EU.

The Philadelphia area is home to more than 55,000 people of Ukrainian ancestry. NPR's Jeff Brady reports the community is holding rallies, and lobbying their members of Congress.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Outside Philadelphia in front of an old elementary school that's been converted into a Ukrainian community center, about five dozen people waved blue and gold flags last night and sang Ukraine's national anthem.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing in foreign language)

BRADY: As the song ends, a man shouts, glory to Ukraine! And the crowd responds, glory to the heroes!

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking in foreign language)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Speaking in foreign language)

BRADY: Some at this rally were born in Ukraine. Others trace their ties through parents and grandparents. Christina Czorpita says her family left when she was a toddler, but she still visits Ukraine often.

CHRISTINA CZORPITA: I cannot stand what Yanukovych is doing to my country.

BRADY: Many here echo reports that political corruption has worsened under President Viktor Yanukovych. Osip Roshkau held the corner of a banner that read, simply, "Sanctions," asking for economic sanctions to be levied against Ukraine's leaders, including Yanukovych.

OSIP ROSHKAU: He is an anti-democratic tyrant who listens to the commands of Putin.

BRADY: Russian President Vladimir Putin is another name mentioned frequently at this rally. The protest in Kiev started in November, after Yanukovych rejected a pending treaty with the European Union in favor of deeper financial ties to Russia. The vast majority of Ukrainian-Americans want the country to move westward and be more independent of Russia, says Princeton University professor of politics Mark Beissinger.

MARK BEISSINGER: Many of them come from the western portion of Ukraine that is associated with the pro-EU position.

BRADY: Beissinger says Ukrainian-Americans also want the U.S. and Europe to take a stronger position on the conflict.

BEISSINGER: The immigrant community is interested in ensuring that we do something, and to do something soon.

BRADY: President Obama issued a statement yesterday during his trip to Mexico.

ULANA MAZURKEVICH: (Reading) The United States condemns, in the strongest terms, the violence that's taking place.

BRADY: Back at the Ukrainian community center, rally organizer Ulana Mazurkevich read the entire statement over a loudspeaker. People at this rally say they're calling their members of Congress, asking for things like sanctions. The president of the Ukrainian center, Sophia Koropeckyi, says her community is hopeful for change in Ukraine but for now, all they can do is keep up with the news and hold rallies.

SOPHIA KOROPECKYI: I think people just feel they need to do something. And it's not going to accomplish anything. It's just - you know, that we just want to show solidarity. We just want, you know, people driving by to just see what's going on.

BRADY: And she hopes some of those people in cars will get curious and learn more about what's happening now in Ukraine.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, Philadelphia.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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