Foreign Supporters of Ukraine: Interview with Ukrainian Activist Abroad

29.07
10:27

Kyiv, July 29, 2014. Following the tragic downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine, allegedly by Moscow-supported fighters, pro-Ukrainian activists around the world have increased their pressure on the international community to counter Russia’s proxy war against Ukraine. Protests, often organized by Ukrainian émigré communities, were held in several European and North American cities over the past several days–including Vienna, London, New York, and Berlin.

Protesters denounced Russia’s support for terrorism in Ukraine, calling Vladimir Putin an autocrat and aggressive dictator. Many activists worldwide, particularly those of Ukrainian descent, have supported Ukraine in some capacity since the start of the Euromaidan protests last November. Following the annexation of Crimea and the start of hostilities in eastern Ukraine, activists have continued to spread the truth about the nature of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, raising awareness among the populaces of foreign countries and countering highly-coordinated Russian propaganda.

Émigré Ukrainians in the United States and Canada, home to the largest Ukrainian immigrant communities besides Russia, have become particularly active in drumming up support for the homeland of their parents, grandparents, and more distant relatives. Just as Maidan activists used social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to challenge former president Viktor Yanukovych, activists abroad have used these same tools to stay connected to Ukraine, organize public events abroad, and disseminate information about Ukraine’s struggle.

Ukrainian Crisis Media Center interviewed Ed Skibicki, founder of the Facebook group “1,000,000 people around the world in support of Ukraine’s fight for freedom,” in order to get a sense of the motivations and tactics of activists abroad:

What motivated you to get involved in Ukrainian activism in the United States and on Facebook?

I am a Ukrainian-American and the first in my family born in the United States. My father’s parents are both Ukrainian. My family was forced to move to Poland from Ukraine prior to WWII – my father and my two uncles and two aunts were all born in Poland. I have tremendous pride in my heritage and have always been a student of Ukraine in all ways possible. I jumped for joy when Ukraine got her independence in the early 1990s, but then realized when I got older that true freedom had not yet been won. As I got older and more mature, I started paying even more attention to the political situation in Ukraine, especially after the Orange Revolution. I wasn’t sure what I could really do from afar to help.

Maidan was an inspiration to me – I had heard that the spark for it was Facebook. I joined Twitter in late January and followed all the horrible events live on the internet including the shootings in late February where over a hundred people died in Kyiv. I saw what the Russians were doing in Crimea and on the night of March 7 th I decided that somebody had to do something – enough was enough – and I started this Facebook group. We have almost 21,000 members now and I spend 4 hours plus per day maintaining it. It is difficult, as I am the sole earner in my family and have a wife and three young children – but it is a labor of love and I will not stop. Soon I will need substantial additional help to keep going.

Your group on Facebook is currently the largest foreign group in support of Ukraine. Are most members part of the Ukrainian diaspora, or are there many non-Ukrainians engaged in the events in Ukraine?

I would say about 70 percent of the members are Ukrainian or have Ukrainian heritage. The number of non-Ukrainians is growing significantly every day. This was the main goal when I established the group. I believe that the story of Ukraine is a righteous one and needs to be told to the entire world, not just to our people. So far I think my theory is being proved correct, although we have just begun to scratch the surface of the group’s potential. For example, there are approximately a million people each in both Canada and the USA with Ukrainian heritage. This does not even taken into account Ukrainian diaspora in the rest of the world. We have had members join from almost every nation you can imagine so I have been pleased with that.

How have Ukrainian-Americans reacted to the current crisis, starting with Maidan and continuing to the present? Has the diaspora taken an active role in supporting their compatriots in Ukraine?

Ukrainian-Americans whom I have met have conducted fundraisers, both online and off. Ukrainian communities have been buying Celox, a medication which controls blood loss, and can help save lives when soldiers are injured. Many of us have written letters to our local Congressmen. We have held protests. There have been many different activities, including showings of Babylon13 (a Ukrainian documentary project) to raise money all across Canada and the USA, concerts held in support of Ukraine’s struggle for freedom, and yard sales and other merchandise sales to support Ukraine. Overall the response has been very positive. I am trying to gather everybody in our group in one place so we can be more coordinated and efficient when organizing events and also to raise attendance and participation.

How do Ukrainians abroad and people of Ukrainian descent inform and engage non-Ukrainians about the situation?

As previously stated there have been protests, fundraisers, movie showings, and letter writing campaigns among other activities. We need to do a better job reaching out to non-Ukrainians – have been having some success with this online but there are still many who are hesitant to introduce the topic to non-Ukrainians for fear of them “not caring.” I address this topic every day in our group. Recent events are helping to tear down this wall of fear.

Moving forward, how do you see foreign activism supporting Ukraine through both the current crisis in the Donbas, and Ukraine’s future reforms and transition?

I hope to help bridge the gap of communication between Ukraine and the diaspora. I visited Ukraine in early April and was able to go on both Maidan stages in Lviv and Kyiv. I continue to believe that many people outside of Ukraine need access to information in order to become supporters of Ukraine. I believe with the former will come the latter. Ukraine has tremendous potential and once the right leadership is put in place, which I believe has already started, the economy will take off. The people need to be confident that Ukraine is moving in the right direction first – then the world will follow. Foreign investment will be required – but that will happen once the western world perceives opportunity. I think the groundwork has been formed for a free and independent Ukraine. I hope that our group can help provide some guidance once the situation in Donbas has been properly addressed.

Before the MH17 tragedy, many Ukrainians believed that there was not sufficient international media attention to the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine. What role do you think that the Ukrainian diaspora can play in continuing to bring attention to the conflict?

The diaspora can continue to show public support for all the victims of the crash of the MH17. This will show the world that Ukrainians are a peace-loving people and that this war with Russia is not simply a Ukrainian issue but a worldwide conflict. Reaching out to various embassies around the world is a great place to start. The possibilities are endless – of course social media is a vital component. There is still a tremendous lack of awareness in general about Ukraine and this is one of the major reasons that I formed the group.

How can non-Ukrainians best support Ukraine in the current crisis?

There are many ways that non-Ukrainians can help. I continue to believe that awareness is the first place to start. I believe one of the best ways is for non-Ukrainians to join our group and to invite all their friends to do so as well. We are a tremendous resource of information, but of course I am slightly biased in this regard.

You can join Ed Skibicki’s group on Facebook .

By Chris Dunnett for Ukraine Crisis Media Center

Source:
wnu-ukraine.com
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