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Chicago’s Ukrainian community decries crackdown on Kiev protest

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Updated: January 3, 2014 6:24AM

More than 200 people chanted and sang Sunday afternoon outside the Ukrainian Consulate of Chicago in response to the Ukrainian government’s crackdown on protesters in Kiev.

The demonstrations in the Ukrainian capital, which included more than 100,000 people Sunday, began more than a week ago after the president refused to sign a trade agreement with the European Union. Police used tear gas, truncheons and flash grenades against protesters, the Associated Press reported.

In Chicago, members of the Ukrainian community spoke out against the backlash.

“We want to show that the use of force won’t be tolerated. And that in a democratic country, people should be free to protest,” said John Jaresko, 44, born and in Chicago after his parents came over from Ukraine.

Jaresko, a pharmaceutical representative, said his sister lives in Kiev.

In Chicago, people carried protest signs and dressed in blue and yellow — Ukraine’s national colors — outside the consulate at 10 E. Huron.

Drivers passing the rally honked their horns — some in support, others to get protesters to stop blocking traffic.

Ukrainian journalism student Juliia Buktoiorova, 22, was in Kiev three days ago. She came to the United States to work at the Ukrainian National Museum of Chicago.

“Ukraine is a European nation. We have to show we don’t belong to Russia,” she said.

A consulate spokesman had promised earlier in the week to address the crowd, said Marta Farion, a board member for the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, which organized the protest.

But when protesters knocked on the door, a consulate employee accepted a written statement and then went back inside. Consulate officials did not speak to the crowd.

A representative from the Ukrainian Consulate of Chicago was not available for comment Sunday.

Protesters took turns speaking and singing over a megaphone, switching between Ukrainian and English. They demanded that President Viktor Yanukovych and other Ukrainian lawmakers step down.

“He’s not a responsible leader. He’s a liar and needs to leave office,” said Khrystyna Bondarieva, 22, a student from Kiev. “At the protests [in Kiev] the other night, they were attacking students.”

Yanukovych condemned the use of force against protesters in Kiev, but demonstrators in Chicago were skeptical.

“We’re calling it a setup. You write one thing and do another and push it off on someone else,” Jaresko said. “We’ve seen it before.”

Nearly 50,000 Ukrainian Americans live in the Chicago area, according to census data.

Ultimately, protesters said their ire was directed at Yanukovych and his cabinet, not consulate employees.

“They’re good, reasonable people,” said Chicago resident Yuriy Figel, 29, an entrepreneur originally from Ukraine. “We don’t blame them. We blame the government they work for.”

Twitter: @Mmckinne17

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