PITTSBURGH — As Ukrainians in Crimea prepare to vote on a hastily prepared referendum on secession, Ukrainian Americans are publicly voicing their concerns to members of the U.S. Congress. Support in one large Ukrainian American community in western Pennsylvania is mostly limited to financial and diplomatic assistance to their home country.
At a town hall meeting in the basement of St. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Carnegie, Pennsylvania, there is no shortage of outrage at Russia's intervention in Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.
Hanna Chumachenko Lassansky moved to the area from Ukraine about 15 years ago, and has watched with anxiety as Russian forces move closer to where her family still lives.
“My family is too close to Crimea, and everybody understands that Crimea is just the first step," she said. "After that will be eastern Ukraine and southern Ukraine.”
Lassansky joined about 50 other concerned Ukrainian Americans, many second or third generation family members of immigrants, to send a message to their U.S. congressman, Tim Murphy, saying they reject Russian military intervention in their homeland.
“The American politicians should understand that all these so-called cultural and historical backgrounds Putin tries to bring up, they don’t matter,” she said.
It is a message Murphy says he hears loud and clear from the large Ukrainian American population that lives and works in his western Pennsylvania congressional district.
“These are not people making up stories. These are not people simply reading it in newspapers," he said. "These are people who are in contact now with folks there. And certainly hoping for the best and hoping that the United States will support Ukraine’s right to its own future determination, which I support.”
But in a country weary of more than a decade of war in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, many in Murphy’s congressional district draw the line at the use of U.S. military force.
"As an American citizen, I would not want to see the United States military send troops to Ukraine," said Father Timothy Tomson, who leads St. Mary’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church in nearby McKees Rocks. “I think that if we give them the moral support and they realize that they are not standing alone, that can give them the strength to continue on their journey, on their battle.”
"The Congress can vote to provide funding to help Ukraine," said Rep. Murphy. "The Congress can also vote in referendums to resolutions to support actions by our president with regard to any other resolutions that are putting sanctions on Russia. Certainly standing up to Russia, and a vote of support for Ukraine is also very, very important for people to see the U.S. government supports the government of Ukraine.
But that support has so far not persuaded Russian President Vladimir Putin to recall forces he reportedly sent recently to Crimea, and a planned vote on Crimean separation from Ukraine could prolong the crisis, and the anxiety of Ukrainian Americans in western Pennsylvania.