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Originally published March 21, 2014 at 9:11 PM | Page modified March 22, 2014 at 5:44 PM

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Local Russians, Ukrainians split on Putin’s move in Crimea

As the Ukrainian conflict rages, Russians and Ukrainians now in the Northwest feel divided from people they’ve known for years after Putin’s claim on Crimea and President Obama’s support of the new Ukrainian government.


Seattle Times staff reporter

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Andrey Tokar bustles about the kitchen at Voshtok Dumpling House on Capitol Hill where he serves up food he considers both Ukrainian and Russian — no small irony given the conflict in Crimea and his anxiety about it.

“I’m worried,’’ Tokar said. With friends and family still in Ukraine, having Russian President Vladimir Putin officially annex Crimea from Ukraine this week “is definitely not something we want. Everybody is hoping for U.S. intervention.’’

Well, not everybody.

Valentina Kiselev, who left Russia in 1997 and now lives in Bellevue, supports Putin’s move to claim parts of Ukraine and thinks the United States should stay out of the conflict.

“I think one day America will be ashamed of the fact that its president shook the hands of the self-proclaimed ... leader in the Ukraine,’’ said Kiselev, who spent summers in Crimea and has relatives in Ukraine.

As the conflict rages, Russians and Ukrainians now in the Northwest feel divided from people they’ve known for years after Putin’s claim on Crimea and President Obama’s support of the new Ukrainian government.

At Ukrainian International Foods in Greenwood, owner Sam Shoykhim recently stacked the cold case with cheese and salami from a variety of Eastern European countries and grumbled about the recent events.

Until the new conflict, Russians and Ukrainians were all one family, said Shoykhim, who is from Chernobyl in Ukraine. “Now they don’t get along.’’

Washington state is home to 35,550 people who were born in Ukraine and nearly 22,000 from Russia, according to the 2012 U.S. Census. Those figures don’t include their American-born children and grandchildren, who may also have their own passionate Russian or Ukrainian views.

Historically, Russians have believed there is no meaningful division between that country and Ukraine, a former member of the Soviet Union, said Scott Radnitz, director of the University of Washington’s Ellison Center for Russian East European and Central Asian Studies.

Meanwhile, leaders of the new Ukrainian government, along with much of western Ukraine, want closer ties with the 28-nation European Union.

The unrest in Ukraine is upsetting to Yevgeniy Viknyanskiy, a Ukrainian Jew who says he was freed from a Nazi concentration camp to serve in the Soviet army at the end of World War II.

He follows Russian news reports that claim the protesters who helped depose former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych last month are neo-Nazi and anti-Russian, and his heart aches.

“My main concern is that the bloodshed is ... stopped. I am concerned alike for Russian people, for Ukrainian people, for the Crimean people,’’ said Viknyanskiy, who lives in Redmond after spending most of his life in Odessa, a southern Ukraine city on the Black Sea.

He and Kiselev are both convinced that Ukraine’s new leaders will be devastating to the country. Viknyanskiy said he’s heard that young people in western Ukraine are wearing shirts saying that Russians and Jews should be killed.

Both he and Kiselev say they get their information from friends in Ukraine and from reading Ukrainian and Russian news. Kiselev also gets reports from her more than 300 friends on Facebook, as well as YouTube.

A cold war, or worse, is what Kiselev and Viknyanskiy believe will be the result of U.S. or European involvement in support of the new Ukrainian government against Russia.

“Russia,’’ Kiselev said, “will not be brought to its knees.’’

With the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II as a backdrop, any reference to Nazis inflames fear among Russians and Ukrainians alike.

Two of the groups taking part in the recent protests that overthrew the Ukrainian government had “flirted with neo-Nazi’’ ideology, Radnitz said, and one of them was made up of right-wing “thuggish extremists.’’ But, he said, those two groups were a “very small part of the movement.’’

In Burien, attorney Oksana Bilobran is assisting the new Ukrainian government by reviewing documents for proposed legislation. With a law degree from the University of Washington and one obtained in Ukraine, she is happy to help.

“Many claim that this is the fascist right-wing party,’’ she said of the new government, adding that she opposes any right-wing ideology. While many right-wing party members joined the protests, she said, “they’ve never controlled the movement and never got the majority of the support.”

Bilobran came to the U.S. with her American husband 10 years ago. She has friends and family members who were involved in the protests and looks forward to May 25 when Ukrainians will go to the polls to elect a new president.

“What Putin is doing now is taking over where Stalin left off,’’ she said.

Oleg Pynda, executive director of the Ukrainian Community Center in Renton, agrees. The Russians living in Crimea have been there for decades without any clashes with other ethnicities, until now, Pynda said.

“We are quite disappointed at Russia’s action. This is absurd. This is terrorism,’’ Pynda said.

“This is just wrong.’’

Seattle Times staff researcher Gene Balk contributed to this story.

Nancy Bartley: nbartley@seattletimes.com or 206-464-8522



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