By Amanda Dyslin
---- — MANKATO — Marina Bortko doesn’t understand the points of view of Ukrainians who are proud of their home country at the moment. In fact, it upsets her.
“It’s a shame to be Ukrainian right now. It’s nothing to be proud of. It’s not a democratic process. It’s violence,” said the Mankato resident, who moved to the United States from Ukraine five years ago.
Looking at photos of Kiev before and after the turmoil is disheartening for her. The beautiful capital city, more than 1,000 years old, full of rich history and architecture, is almost unrecognizable.
“In two months, they just destroyed it,” Bortko said. “They destroyed the police stations. What for? This is your property. This is your people’s property. I just don’t understand people. It’s just childish.”
The crisis began when Ukraine's former president, Viktor Yanukovych, in November reversed course toward further integration with the European Union and instead sought closer ties to Russia. Protests began that grew in scope over time, and violence escalated in January when the government accepted anti-protest laws.
Demonstrators occupied buildings in Kiev and riots broke out, causing thousands of injuries and 98 deaths. On Feb. 20, government gunmen and snipers killed dozens of protesters. On Feb. 22, members of Parliament decided Yanukovych needed to go, and Ukraine’s acting president is now Oleksandr Turchynov.
“What is ‘acting president’? The president still exists. (Turchynov) is not president. Nobody elected him,” Bortko said.
Bortko’s parents, Nicolay and Svetlana Bortko, are from Rivne in western Ukraine, growing up there when Ukraine was part of he Soviet Union. Her father was sent at age 24 to serve in the military in Soviet Russia, where the family lived for 25 years. Bortko was born and raised there until the age of 15 in 1987, when they moved back to Ukraine. Four years later, the Soviet Union dissolved.
Bortko lived in the Dnipropetrovs'k area with her two children (now age 20 and 25) until five years ago, when they moved to the United States. Bortko had been introduced by friends to a Minnesota man whom she would marry. The two carried on a long-distance relationship until she and her children, Alina and Kirill, moved here.
“For years we communicated by letters,” Bortko said. “It’s a love story.”
Bortko’s parents, age 75, still live in Dnipropetrovs'k. Until recently, they had been visiting her in Mankato for six months, and during that time the turmoil in Ukraine began.
“When it started, it was a shock. They were afraid. The news was terrible,” Bortko said.
But the couple still returned to Ukraine on March 1. Bortko talks with her parents as often as she can. They don’t live downtown, and they don’t go into the squares, she said, which makes her worry less. They watch the news to stay aware of where the unsafe areas are.
One side effect of the unrest that has affected the couple is the skyrocketing prices of everyday living expenses in Ukraine. They have discussed moving to the United States, but at age 75, they wouldn’t be able to work to support themselves, so it likely isn’t financially feasible.
In the meantime, Bortko said she’s saddened to watch the events unfold in her home country, and she doesn’t understand the violence.
“They don’t have jobs. They don’t have income. They don’t have anything to do, so they come to the square,” she said.
“What I see and hear doesn’t cause any desire to go back, and I can’t change it,” she said. “People are really afraid.”