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Ukrainians in Carnegie concerned about their homeland

| Tuesday, July 29, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

While the world watches the Ukraine with renewed interest after the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, Ukrainian-Americans who attend St. Peter and St. Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Carnegie have never stopped watching.

“They are all scared,” said Natalia Onufrey, 51, at a church social hour following Sunday services on July 27. “We are terrified. The people are terrified.”

The church, founded in 1903, has about 150 members. Some are newer immigrants from the Ukraine.

Onufrey's mother and twin brother still live in the Ukraine, and she said they remain worried and on edge.

“They don't know what is going to happen next,” she said.

The country has been embroiled in conflict and political crisis since late last year, compounded by the Russian military siege of Crimea, an autonomous republic within the Ukraine.

In June, pro-Russian Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to secede and join Russia, a move condemned by Western powers and the Ukraine but welcomed by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

The situation worsened on July 17 when the Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 was shot down near the villege of Grabove in an area of unrest in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian officials have since blamed pro-Russian forces while Putin and pro-Russian rebels have pointed the finger at the Ukraine.

“The (Ukrainian) people are just heartbroken,” Onufrey said. “I am stunned and shocked, but not surprised.”

She blamed Putin, saying his government is pulling the strings of the pro-Russian rebels in the Ukraine.

Tetyana Lysak, 42, returned from visiting family in June, and she said sentiments toward Russians have soured across the country.

“A hatred has been created by the conflict – people hate Russia now,” Lysak said through translation by Onufrey. “It's unbelievable, especially how young people have changed opinion.”

She said that prior to the conflict, Ukrainians lived in general harmony with Russia, but because of the conflict “hatred begets hatred.”

“I don't know if (Russians) can change that opinion back,” she said.

Onufrey said they are unsure what to expect next for their home country, but much frustration stems from what they consider inaction by Europe and the United States.

“If after Crimea, the other countries had stood up to Putin, (MH17) wouldn't have happened,” she said. “This was a consequence of inaction. I'm just sorry so many innocent people had to die for it.”

Megan Guza is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5810 or mguza@tribweb.com.

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