Ukraine native troubled by events there

By Tom Joyce

February 27, 2014

For Maria Skaskiw, a Ukraine native who now lives in Mount Airy after fleeing her homeland as a refugee decades ago, political turmoil is nothing new. But she is surprised by recent unrest there.

“It’s been an emotional roller-coaster,” said Skaskiw, now 74, whose son lives in Ukraine, where protests began in November after a controversial announcement by President Viktor Yanukovych’s government. It involved the former Soviet republic’s abandoning of an agreement to strengthen ties with the European Union and instead seek closer cooperation with Russia.

That led to protesters hitting the streets, and a brutal attack by police which fueled further demonstrations in the months afterward. More recently, on Feb. 18, clashes left at least 26 people dead, including 10 police officers, and hundreds injured. That violence broke out when protesters attacked police lines and set fires outside the Ukrainian parliament after it delayed action on a constitutional reform to limit presidential powers.

Then last Thursday, hours after a truce was announced, matters deteriorated and more clashes between protesters and police brought numerous casualties. During the three-month conflict, other events have included opposition activists occupying a city hall building and the jailing of hundreds of protesters.

Leader “A Thug”

President Yanukovych has become a fugitive during the ordeal and the present Ukrainian parliament, an interim government, voted on Wednesday to have him tried in an international criminal court for the violence last week which led to at least 82 deaths.

Maria Skaskiw said she in “no way” supports the president. “He’s a thug.”

Meanwhile, all the unrest has been surprising to Skaskiw, who has been monitoring activities in Ukraine from her computer and television set. She said she constantly worries about her son Roman, 36, being in Ukraine, where he mans a web site to regularly report on the situation there.

“I sure do,” she said, adding that this was the case “even before all this trouble.”

The local woman, who has lived in Mount Airy for nearly three years, seems somewhat stunned that such tragic events have erupted in her native country and brought it dubious attention worldwide.

“It’s very surprising to hear Ukraine mentioned in the news so much,” Skaskiw said, “because it seems like it’s been an unknown part of the world.”

Yet this does not mean she is a stranger to chaos there.

“My family came to the United States in 1949, and we were refugees from the war literally running for their lives,” Skaskiw said of her sister and their parents.

She was only about 9 years old at the time and Ukraine had been beset by heavy infrastructure damage from World War II, a situation worsened by a famine caused by the wartime destruction and a drought. Citizens also were plagued by post-war ethnic cleansing and forced deportations.

Bond Remains

Though long removed from those terrible times, the recent events have heightened the sense of kinship the local resident has for Ukraine, where several of her distant relatives yet reside as well as her son.

“I feel very close, given my family history,” said Skaskiw, who still speaks with an accent. “We went through an awful lot — we went through a very tumultuous period.”

Skaskiw has returned to Ukraine twice since leaving in the late 1940s. The first time was in the 1970s when the country was under the control of the Soviet Union. “Then in 2009, when we went there with my son,” she said. “And it was a big difference.”

It was during the latter visit that Roman Skaskiw fell in love with the land of his ancestry, which led to him moving to Ukraine two years ago. “I guess he went there to find his roots,” his mother said.

Roman lives in the western portion of Ukraine, not far from where his mother was born.

Through his web site at romaninukraine, he supplies regular reports of what is occurring there from the point of view of an average person. “(The) views expressed on this web site, they are my own and nobody’s but my own,” Roman states on the site.

A mother of two, Maria Skaskiw moved to Mount Airy in the spring of 2011, where her daughter and grandchildren — all U.S.-born — live.

She is hoping the worst is over for Ukraine and optimistic about the prospects that citizens will get from the new regime what those everywhere desire of their government: “One that is less corrupt and gives people a chance to live — with peace,” Skaskiw said.

“I would like for them to become free and independent and successful, and not depend on anybody but themselves.”

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-719-1924 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.