BRAMA, Nov 29, 2004, 12:00 am ET|
Chicago Ukrainian Community Supports "President Yuschenko"
By Pavlo T. Bandriwsky
On the heels of the Ukrainian Presidential runoff election (November 21) where 3,807 people voted at Chicago's Ukrainian Consulate (casting over 99% of their votes for Viktor Yuschenko) a call went out to the community that a rally would be held on Tuesday, November 23, at noon in response to the announced election results. The mid-west is Yuschenko Country, as evidenced both by the paltry voting for Viktor Yanukovych, who received a mere 29 votes in the first round and 28 in the second out of a total of over 6,300 cast, and the highly visible sea of orange hats, coats, scarves and flags at every public gathering.
When the Central Election Committee (CEC) declared Yanukovych the winner, Chicago Ukrainians quickly responded to the call with a massive turnout. The three objectives of the rally were: to demonstrate support for our brothers and sisters in Ukraine who voted in the majority for Viktor Yuschenko; to call on the administration of President George Bush and the United States government not to recognize the illegitimate results announced by the CEC; and to send a message to Vladimir Putin that the Ukrainian Diaspora wants Russia to stop interfering with Ukraine's internal affairs.
The rally was held at the open plaza adjacent to the Dirksen Federal Center. Chicago police estimated the orderly, yet highly energized crowd at nearly 1,200 participants. New immigrants comprised about 70% of the marchers and everyone from babies to seniors contributed to the atmosphere, as chants of "Victory for Ukraine," "Russia: Stay out of Ukraine" and "President Yuschenko" filled the crisp November air. Emotions were greatly charged as expressions of support for Yuschenko echoed off the tall skyscrapers surrounding the plaza.
Orest Baranyk, President of the Illinois Branch of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, began with a speech declaring outrage with the CEC and the falsified election results. He stated "The situation in Ukraine has gone beyond the point of return and the people of Ukraine know that we in the Diaspora stand with them in support of a democratically elected president: Viktor Yuschenko."
Yuri Melnyk, chairman of the Chicago committee "Presidential Elections 2004" said that "We are united and there is no need to fear because we are together and we will prevail." Julian Kulas drew on the point that the rally is taking place in front of the United States federal government building which houses hundreds of employees of the U.S. Federal Court, FBI and other departments. These employees were watching with interest and became aware of Ukrainian American's concerns about a fair and democratic presidential election in their homeland. Kulas also reported that Senator Durbin's office received 70 telephone calls this morning from constituents asking for the Senator's assistance that the U.S. not recognize the illegitimately elected president and asked that the Senator support Viktor Yuschenko.
Eight Catholic and Orthodox priests lead the crowd in prayer and song. A march to the offices of the Chicago Tribune was led by a color guard carrying the Ukrainian and American flags, followed by hundreds of marchers carrying vibrant signs including: "America: Recognize President Yuschenko" and "President Bush: It is time to stand up for democracy, not just in Iraq."
As the crowd stretching over 5 city blocks marched on through downtown, people reciting "USA support Ukraine" often were joined in the chant by on- lookers. Finally the march led over the Chicago River to the plaza in front of the Chicago Tribune Building. There the group gathered to express their solidarity with Yuschenko's supporters in Ukraine. In light of the Tribune's front page coverage of the protests in Ukraine that morning, a delegation met with a Tribune reporter who expressed keen interest in writing about the Chicago community's rally. The event was also covered by three television stations, several radio stations and the full local Ukrainian media complement.
Singing of the Ukrainian national anthem marked the end of the rally. Each participant left the plaza with the understanding that the struggle was only beginning in Ukraine. Our prayers are with those who will bear the heavy burden in the days to come as they champion a democratic Ukraine.