United for Ukraine

Since the March 16 Crimean referendum, Ukrainians in the Bay Area are organizing in protest to make sure their country remains separate from Russia and retain the autonomous republic of Crimea. The organization, known as MaydanSF, works to support Ukraine in any way it can from its Bay Area location.
The referendum – conducted by the Crimean legislature and the local government of its capital, Sevastopol — resulted in margins upwards of 95 percent of votes in favor of joining the Russian Federation. Many Western countries, such as the United States and Canada, have called the results illegitimate. On March 24, seven nations officially suspended Russia’s membership in the G8.
Although some Ukrainians are pro-Russia, the majority of the country favors retaining Crimea.  Even the interim Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov condemned the referendum.
The referendum went against the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, in which Russia, the United States and United Kingdom agreed to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty and its existing borders.  Additionally, international law upholds the territorial integrity of countries, allowing a part of a country to secede only if the country’s government has denied rights to or otherwise violated the region. Therefore, according to international law, Crimean secession is technically illegal.
There have also been outcries against the manner in which the vote took place.  According to Iryna Bilokin, a member of MaydanSF, those who operated the voting used carousel voting — a method which allows people to vote multiple times — in order to ensure the annexation of Crimea.
“[Russia’s actions are] absolutely unacceptable in the modern world,” Bilokin said.  “All of Russia’s actions are illegal and immoral.”
Another member of MaydanSF, Lesya Pishchevskaya, also believes that the referendum was conducted illegally, given that Russia had too much influence on the voting process.  Pishchevskaya hopes that Russia does not get away with what she views as an illegal referendum.
“I hope that the new ruling party in Kiev and the international community keep putting pressure on Russia, since the referendum was not legitimate,” Pishchevskaya said.
MaydanSF is a regional branch of EuroMaidan, an international organization which calls for an increased European influence in Ukraine and helped pressure the former president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, into resigning. Now that the revolution that deposed the president is virtually over, EuroMaidan seeks to lessen the influence of Russia in Ukraine. MaydanSF is not affiliated with a political party or organization, but rather just seeks to improve Ukraine as a whole.
“[MaydanSF] cares about Ukraine deeply and [is] helping the Ukrainian EuroMaidan movement with protests, fundraising and lobbying for sanctions,” according to the organization’s website.
In viewing the current situation in Ukraine, both Pishchevskaya and Bilokin believe that the country has been unstable for the past few months. Many believe that the Russian Federation has been increasing the problems through military presence and international discussions by the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The situation hasn’t been stable for three or four months now,” Pishchevskaya said. “While the situation has become more stable in Kiev, now the country is experiencing a crisis in the Crimea Peninsula and [in the southeast] of Ukraine. People are mentally drained and want to see the country peaceful and within its border [as] defined by the Constitution of Ukraine.”
Many members of MaydanSF believe that Russia has broken international law multiple times in its interaction with Ukraine. The United Nations imposed sanctions against Russia after Putin signed off on the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, but MaydanSF believes that the these sanctions are insufficient.  The organization believes that the U.S., which has already frozen the assets of several high ranking Russian officials in western banks, should broaden its scope and freeze all assets of Russian politicians and oligarchs.
“[The United States should] enforce stricter sanctions, send weapons [and] potentially send troops to Ukraine to protect Ukrainians,” Pishchevskaya added.
In an open letter to President Barack Obama, MaydanSF states that it understands that the president does not want to risk a military interaction with the Russian Federation, but encourages the United States to carry out four specific actions so as to assist the Ukrainian people.
First, MaydanSF wants the U.S. to impose more meaningful economic sanctions on the Russian politicians that were singled out for participating in the situation in Ukraine.
“Work with our European allies to freeze the assets of Russian politicians and oligarchs held in Western banks,” the letter stated.
Second, the group wants the U.S. to financially support the state of Ukraine in order to prevent the influence of the Russian Federation.
“Due to the plunder of their state treasury by the previous administration, the country has resorted to having private donors buy supplies and gas for their military,” the letter states. “Strong engagement with the Ukrainian state will indicate to Mr. Putin that we are committed to their success… will discourage him from unilaterally attacking the country either directly or through his paid provocateurs or special forces.”
Thirdly, MaydanSF wants more NATO troops to be sent to the area in order to dissuade any Russian military advances.
“This will reassure our allies in the region that we are committed to protecting them,” the letter says.
Finally, MaydanSF wants the U.S. to respond to any further Russian interaction in Russia with harsh sanctions and other military reactions similar to what the U.S. has done in Iran.
The letter directs the U.S. to “deprive Russia with access to Western financial markets, industrial machinery, visa access, consumer goods, direct investment, or any sorts of partnerships with Western businesses or governments”
MaydanSF is encouraging its members to send a copy of this letter with their name signed at the bottom to President Obama in order to cause a chain reaction that will positively influence the situation in Ukraine.
The organization has already raised over $25,000 in donations.  It sends some of the money it raises to the families of dead protesters and uses the rest of it for humanitarian needs of protesters in Kiev and other Ukrainian cities.
According to Pishchevskaya, Russia violated international law by annexing Crimea and will most likely invade more of Ukraine. She believes that Russia should be justly punished for what it has done and prevented from taking more of Ukraine.
MaydanSF is doing all that it can to protect Ukraine from the grasp of Russia and residents of the Bay Area can contribute to the cause by donating to www.maydansf.com, sending letters to politicians demanding action, raising awareness of the situation and becoming more informed on the international issue.

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