Five lawyers from Ukraine talked Monday about their countrymen’s resistance to a Russian-backed president and their hopes for a peaceful future.
They spoke at California State University, Stanislaus, as part of a visit arranged by Modesto Sister Cities International. They will have two public appearances in Modesto on Tuesday.
Although the visitors were not directly involved in the uprising that started in November, they praised the fighters in the capital of Kiev and denounced Russian President Vladmir Putin’s annexation of Crimea this month.
“This situation is just insane, and it’s hard to accept that it’s really happening,” said Olena Lysenko, a law professor at Lviv National University. “Ukraine does not want to be a part of Russia.”
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She and the other visitors spoke through interpreters Yevgen Bobyk of Kiev and Alexander Krainiy of Sacramento, first to reporters and then to a class on guerrilla revolutions taught by Marjorie Sanchez-Walker, an associate professor of history.
Khmelnitsky, in western Ukraine, is one of seven partners with Modesto in the sister city program, which promotes international cooperation.
The group is visiting the United States to learn about its legal system through the federal Open World program, but the Turlock appearance dealt mostly with the recent events in Ukraine.
It has been an independent republic since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union. The fall uprising ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, who angered citizens by rejecting close ties with the European Union in favor of Russia.
“It was their wish to go west, to join the European Union,” said Andriy Mostovyy, also a law professor at Lviv.
Attorney Iryna Royik, who is from Khmelnitsky, said the annexation of Crimea, about 500 miles away, has not affected her directly.
“However, it’s kind of hard emotionally because there’s uncertainty about what happens next and what territory they’re going to send troops to,” she said.
Lysenko said the situation is difficult also because her nation has many families with Ukrainian and Russian parents.
Tetyana Sivak, another attorney in Khmelnitsky, also spoke against the Crimea annexation.
“I do not support Putin’s policy in respect to the situation that’s going on,” she said. “I think it’s just wrong to invade someone else’s country.”
The history class is mainly studying revolutions in Cuba, Vietnam and Soviet-occupied Afghanistan. Sanchez-Walker said her students suggested Syria as a modern-day counterpart to study, but the Ukrainians’ visit provided a closer look at current events.
James Tuedio, dean of arts, humanities and social sciences at Stanislaus State, accompanied the group during the Turlock visit.
“I think they’re really in a difficult position, trying to determine how much territory to hold onto,” he said.