The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

March 1, 2014

At heart of Ukraine drama, a tale of two countries

(Continued)

Andriy Sadovyi has been a powerful symbol of resistance to Yanukovych, as well as regional powerbroker who cut ties to the central government even before the president was forced from power. Sadovyi, who insists he only wants regional autonomy in Ukraine, has called repeatedly for unity.

"Ukraine is strong only if it is united," he said a couple days after Yanukovych fled the presidential compound. "Any division would destroy Ukraine."

Modern Lviv sees itself at the core of Ukrainian hopes for a more open, democratic government. But the area, once part of neighboring Poland and long a wealthy agricultural region, also saw the rise of a series of nationalist movements in the 1930s. When Germany invaded Ukraine during World War II, some residents cooperated with the Nazi occupiers, who were seen as liberators from the hated Soviets. Tens of thousands of the region's Jews disappeared into Nazi camps or were gunned down in their homes by death squads.

When the war ended, Moscow exacted its revenge: nationalist fighters who fought Red Army soldiers were purged and sent to prison gulags, along with Roman Catholic and nationalist leaders who could challenge Russian authority. The city was transformed from a cosmopolitan center into a decaying backwater. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, political groups from Lviv were key in fighting for Ukraine's independence.

For two decades, anti-Russian feelings quietly burned across the region, along with anger at Yanukovych.

Even today, thousands of people in western Ukraine, a handful even wearing Nazi-themed uniforms, hold rallies every year honoring men who fought Stalin's forces during World War II.

Fierce historical loyalties helped drive the support that has poured from Lviv into Kiev and the capital's Independence Square, epicenter of the anti-Yanukovych protests, which began late last year. For months, Lviv residents have donated food, medicine and clothing for the protesters, and many have joined them. The city's churches serve as warehouses for aid for the demonstrators, who continue to occupy the square, fearing the return of the former president or his supporters.

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