'We have to save Ukraine,' Metro Detroit supporters say

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

News Monday that Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the independence of separatist regions in eastern Ukraine and paved the way to provide them military support alarmed southeast Michigan residents with links to the region.

The move, they fear, could make an invasion a reality, triggering the need for immediate action from international allies.

With that in mind, members of the Ukrainian-American Crisis Response Committee of Michigan said they are planning to contact as many lawmakers as possible to drive home the message.

"We would like to bring one united message: 'We have to save Ukraine and we have to save Ukraine now,'" said Olena Danylyuk, who is active with the group as well as the Ukrainian American Civic Committee of Metropolitan Detroit.

The development came a day after hundreds gathered at the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Warren for a rally to highlight the swiftly changing situation overseas and its significance.

The Russian president's speech, which threatened new sanctions from the U.S. and Europe and further fueled fears that Russia could imminently invade Ukraine, was "unprecedented," said Eugene Bondarenko, who teaches Russian and Ukrainian language and culture at the University of Michigan.

He added that Ukraine's crisis could be seen as "a test case for the success of democracy."

Encroaching on what is considered sovereign territory, he said, "gives carte blanche to other dictators and ambitious, well-armed countries to proceed on their own campaigns of conquest."

Mykola Murskyj, who leads the Ukrainian-American Crisis Response Committee of Michigan, said the group has long been bracing for the worst while gearing up to gather aid. But the latest news "makes our work more urgent," he said.

"We're prepared for there to be a full-on invasion on Ukrainian territory," he said. "We’re accelerating our efforts to make sure we’re ready to give humanitarian aid should there be a refugee crisis."

Musicians Mykola Deychakivskiy, left, of Brighton and Marko Farion of Sterling Heights look on as 6-year-old Evelinka Maria Skochypets reads a poem titled “My Ukraine” during a rally at the Ukrainian Cultural Center on Sunday.

Danylyuk has had little sleep while awaiting word from friends and relatives there.

Some have frantically rushed to relocate to safer areas, and told her they are uncertain how long they'll be able to stay in touch.

"That’s life in Ukraine right now," she said. "People are devastated."

Late Monday, the White House announced an executive order to respond to Putin’s action to recognize the separatist states, which officials said "contradicts Russia’s commitments under the Minsk agreements, refutes Russia’s claimed commitment to diplomacy, and undermines Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity."

The order includes prohibiting investment in the region or importing its goods but "is distinct from the swift and severe economic measures we are prepared to issue with Allies and partners in response to a further Russian invasion of Ukraine," the White House said in a statement. "We are continuing to closely consult with Ukraine and with Allies and partners on next steps and urge Russia to immediately deescalate."

Murskyj said he hoped to hear more specifics on what sanctions the U.S. would impose if the situation escalates.

"They should have a mechanism in place if Russia further invades," he said. "The sanctions should automatically snap into place."

Those in Ukraine also look to stronger backing from allies, Danylyuk said. "If you don’t feel support, it’s hard."