By SHERRY VAN ARSDALL
---- — GOSHEN — James Stickel recently looked at a few photos he had taken in Ukraine when he visited family members two years ago.
“It was so peaceful there,” Stickel said. “I see some of those sites now with fireballs and machine guns. I have family over there and personally keep in contact with my cousins via Facebook and instant messaging services.”
Stickel is a member of the local community of Ukraine immigrants and their decedents.
The violence in Ukraine began in November when President Viktor Yanukovych backed out of a pending agreement for closer ties with the European Union, according to the Associated Press. That move sparked protests by pro-EU Ukrainians in the capital of Kiev and other cities.
Then Russia offered financial aid to Ukraine to replace the lost EU aid.
Protests continued and then those protests turned violent earlier this year when government snipers opened fire on the protesters in Kiev, resulting in 82 deaths and hundreds of people wounded.
In late February, Yanukovych was sacked by members of Parliament and his powers given to their speaker. Yanukovych fled to Russia and Parliament issued a warrant for his arrest for the killing of protesters.
Then pro-Russian protests broke out in eastern Ukraine and in the mostly ethnic-Russian Crimea, where Russian has a naval base. Over the weekend Russian forces invaded and surrounded a small garrison of Ukrainian infantry. In response, Ukraine mobilized its military and reserve forces, according to news services.
Stickel spoke to The News late last week before the invasion in the Crimea. He said Ukraine is “very divided” because the western half is ethnic Ukrainian, while the eastern half has a large ethnic Russian population.
“It depends on their ethnicity,” he said.
Stickel is a deacon at Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Goshen and an optometrist.
He is saddened by the outbreak of violence in such a beautiful and once-peaceful country. That violence has struck his family. Approximately three weeks ago, his Ukrainian cousin was beaten up and his arms badly injured by hired tough men during the protests.
“He has been a part of the protests and it’s disheartening to see the government do that to you,” Stickel said. “His attitude, and the attitude of many over there, is they aren’t going to let up until the elections. They are going to see it through May 25 when the new elections are held and hold everyone (interim government) accountable. There are factions of Ukraine not happy with current events and lean toward Russia.”
Stickel says his cousins have told him that many in the country have been in mourning since the bloodshed began and are holding memorial services for those killed.
“Those people died in protests and are being heralded as heroes. There is optimism, but fear that Russia is going to try and take Ukrainian territory,” he said. “The feeling is now or never and disassemble the power structure and get some legitimate democracy in there. It’s a beautiful country. It’s a peaceful country. It’s been a power struggle — Russia versus the west. People are pushed to the brink and the heroes have risen to the challenge and they are going to see it through.”