Locals with ties to Ukraine watched closely as news spread Saturday that protesters had taken the capital city of Kiev.
Most were still reeling from the violence that had erupted in recent days, worrying about what the ouster of President Viktor Yanu-kovych could mean for family and friends still in the eastern European nation.
“This just happened so fast,” said Woodbine Mayor William Pikolycky, whose family migrated to the United States after World War II.
In the years after Ukraine declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Pikolycky said both his father and son traveled there to see family near Lviv in the western half of the country. That fact alone would align them with the opposition, he said.
Pikolycky’s father, now deceased, said at the time much of the country looked the same as it did 60 years ago, with aging infrastructure and limited electricity.
“All of my family is out in the farm areas, in the country, so they produce their own food and everything,” he said. Hopefully, that means they won’t be seriously impacted by Satur-day’s events.
Both of Pikolycky’s parents were “displaced people” from the war who were allowed to come to the United States in 1950. They both worked at factories in Woodbine, which was home to many Russian Jews.
“They wanted a safe haven to start a new life,” he said.
Liliya Kovch, 36, of Vineland, emigrated to the area from western Ukraine almost seven years ago. Today, she works at a day care while her husband goes to school.
Her family, including two children, watches the news and talks about the situation every day.
“Now, I don’t know what’s going to happen next,” she said. “It’s a serious situation. My parents live far away from the capital, but still a lot of people from my city went to Kiev.”
Kovch said she’s removed from the political realities of Ukraine, and she’s only concerned about her family.
“Life is different,” she said. “Every year, it’s changing. Even if my family lives there, I can’t know the whole picture because now I live here.”
But she does remember what it was like before she left, although it’s hard to describe. Corruption was a fact of life, she said.
“Whenever you want to go somewhere, you have to pay,” she said. “You don’t really have to pay, but you have to.”
A lot of speculation has circulated about what will happen to Ukraine, including the possibility that Russia may intervene.
Pikolycky said that’s another concern, since Russia, led by President Vladimir Putin, relies on trade with the former Soviet republic. The opposition is more closely aligned with Euro-pean interests.
“Ukraine is the breadbasket and supplies a lot of food and wheat to Russia,” he said. “Putin certainly is pushed in a corner here because (the opposition) is occupying the government right now.”
Anatoli Sienczenko, of Buena Vista Township, grew up both in Russia and what is now Ukraine before coming to New Jersey in 1962. He said he fears the worst violence is yet to come for the people of Ukraine.
“The whole thing is sponsored by Putin,” he said. “They’ve been trying to push Ukraine back into the Russian fold.”
Sienczenko attends St. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Mill-ville. He said he would be thinking of people in Ukraine when he goes to church today.
“I don’t think this is the end of it. I hope the Ukrainians get some support. Otherwise, they’re going to get slaughtered by the thousands,” he said.
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