Hammonton native Reno Domenico may be “completely Italian,” but he has close ties to Ukraine and was in its capital of Kiev during some of the worst street violence in February.
He began traveling to the Eastern European country more than 20 years ago, he said, when he developed an exchange program through Sterling High School in Somerdale, Camden County.
After retiring as principal in 2006, he opened Sterling Business School in Kiev, in a cooperative venture with Rowan University.
Domenico sees the situation in Ukraine as much more complicated than the media portrays.
“The (European Union’s) initial offer was terrible. I wouldn’t have signed that agreement, as a businessman,” Domenico said of the trade deal the Ukrainian government rejected in favor of a better Russian offer, sparking protests in which about 100 people were killed.
Domenico plans to return to Kiev soon. He also hopes to become an election monitor in May, when the country will elect a new president to replace ousted leader Viktor Yanukovych.
He said he still is not sure what will be best for Ukraine, even though the EU has since made a much better
$15 billion loan and aid offer that matches the Russian offer.
“If the European Union had put $15 billion on the table in the first place, we wouldn’t have been in this position,” Domenico said.
If Ukraine takes the EU offer, it risks losing a huge amount of income from trade with Russia, which he said feels NATO has been encroaching on its borders.
“I don't think the story is over,” he said, adding much will depend on whether Western nations keep their word.
Domenico was in Ukraine during the peaceful 2004 Orange Revolution, he said. That was a successful protest against an allegedly fraudulent presidential runoff election between Viktor Yushchenko and Yanukovych, with allegations that authorities rigged the vote in favor of the latter. Voting was redone, and Yushchenko won.
Yanukovych was elected in 2010, and is in Russia after being driven out of the country by protesters. Russian authorities have said he recently had a heart attack.
Domenico, president of Democrats Abroad Ukraine, brought the international group’s annual conference to Kiev in October. He is married to Lynn Domenico, principal at St. Joseph High School in Hammonton, and recently gave a talk on Ukraine to students there. For more on Domenico’s Sterling Business School, visit sbs-ua.com.