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Q&A: Yulia Kurka, Ukrainian in Philadelphia, was driven to become an activist by turmoil at home

A Ukrainian activist in Philadelphia shares her views of the revolution in her homeland.

Yulia Kurka at a demonstration earlier this year in Philadelphia for democracy in Ukraine. Credit: providedYulia Kurka at a demonstration earlier this year in Philadelphia for democracy in Ukraine. Credit: provided Yulia Kurka at a demonstration earlier this year in Philadelphia for democracy in Ukraine. Credit: provided

Yulia Kurka, 25, who emigrated from Ukraine two years ago, is a permanent resident of the US who works as a web developer and lives in Manayunk with her husband. In November, when Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych announced that he would suspend plans for the country to join the European Union, Kurka began networking with friends and fellow Ukrainians to hold protests in Philadelphia, mostly on Independence Mall.

More than 100 protesters died during the Maidan Revolution, protesting at Maidan Square in Kiev. But today, Yanukovych has fled office and an interim president is overseeing the government. Meanwhile, Russia is seeking to annex Crimea, a region in eastern Ukraine, into the Russian Federation, despite the protests of President Obama and other Western countries.

Kurka, who had no prior experience as an activist, is now part of a new Ukrainian advocate's group known as Razom with members in New York, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia. She shared her thoughts on the revolution in her homeland and what she thinks will happen next as Ukrainian presidential elections set for May 25 draw near.

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What do you think about the course President Vladimir Putin is pursuing?

I think that people that stay in power too long lose their mind. I don’t think that most Russians support Putin interfering with Ukraine. I think he’s just out of his mind.

What do you think about Ukraine’s Right Sector party, and Dmytro Yarosh, their front-runner for president?

was made up of a bunch of Ukrainians that were ready to actually fight. The protest on Maidan was mostly peaceful and most of the people were not ready to fight the police. There was a lot of people thinking that they will be there as long as they need, but they will not fight. On the other hand, those guys were ready for it.

How does what's happening now relate to the Orange Revolution of 2004-5?

During the Orange Revolution, people were fighting against Yanukovych. That is why they were supporting the other party, just because it was in opposition to Yanukovych. But it turned out people didn’t really know what they were going for. So they got disappointed, and that’s how Yanukovych won the elections. They believed that the opposition would fight the corruption, set reforms, would change their lives in a better way. But it never happened, so that’s why this time people were not supporting any politician. They were there for themselves.

Is there a big split between people in Crimea and the rest of Ukraine?

Oh yeah. People in Crimea don’t think they are Ukrainian. A lot of them aren’t. There was a lot of Russians imported into Crimea after the natives were deported out of Crimea. It started in the 40s when Stalin started deporting Tartars from Crimea. A lot of them got killed, more than a third of them died in deportation, and only a small percentage came back. So now there’s only 12 percent Tartars in Crimea.

What do you think about former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko? Is she someone you think people would want to come to power?

I think that Tymoshenko is a dictator herself. But she is smarter than Yanukovich, because she's the one that tells you everything you want to hear. She knows how to deal with everyone, she knows how to deal with the west, she knows how to deal with Putin. She might find a good compromise. But I’m afraid of her, I don’t believe her, she’s corrupted as well. If I have no choice I will vote for her but I don’t want to.

What do you think about Russians who say they are being enclosed upon by the EU and the West and that's why they are trying to force Ukraine to stay out of it, to protect their economic interests?

Of course it’s a fight over money. But if I have to fight in the battle, I’ll chose the side that supports human rights and freedoms. Not the one that pushes people down.

What does having Ukraine join the EU mean to you?

To me, it's having a democracy in my country. That’s very important. I could never live in a dictatorship and I would never want my family to experience that.

Here in America we have democracy, but everything's still run by whoever has the most money.

But at least you can talk about it! Nobody’s going to kill you.

Do you think Putin will successfully annex Crimea?

Yeah, I think he will eventually get Crimea. But I just hope he will not get the rest. He doesn’t believe it’s a country, that’s the issue. He thinks it's like California for Obama....Ever since Ukraine was trying to get away from the Russian empire, there's been this issue of Ukraine wanting to be independent. So when the Soviets got in power, they had to create this myth that Ukraine was a little something, unimportant, just a piece of Russia. That Ukrainian language never existed, that Ukrainian language is just a dialect of Russian language. It’s a little bit offensive, it just makes me feel like I have no land, I have no country.

I really think that this whole situation, no matter how it ends, Ukraine will be the winner, because then we’ll be more united, we’ll be more independent from Russia, we’ll get out of this situation in a better state than we were before.Ukrainians are not used to being patriots. This revolution is the revolution of their minds.

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