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February 28. 2014 10:41PM

NH Ukranians fear Putin's ego motives


A man hold a Soviet era military flag during a pro-Russian rally in Crimea on Friday. Armed men took control of two airports in the Crimea region on Friday in what Ukraine's government described as an invasion and occupation by Russian forces, raising tension between Moscow and the West. (REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili)

MANCHESTER — Members of the local Ukrainian community are casting a worried eye toward their ancestral homeland, concerned that a brutal Russian response could be coming to the uprising that displaced the country's pro-Moscow president.

"The feeling is that the president of the Ukraine, now that the Olympics are over, is in the waiting room of Putin's office, looking for help to squelch the uprising," said the Rev. Robert Smolley, pastor of Protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish. The Manchester church is part of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, which follows the authority of the Roman Catholic Pope.

Smolley said the freedom that people in the Ukraine have enjoyed since the collapse of the former Soviet Union means they will not readily accept a return to domination by a regime in Moscow.

"In the 20 years that the Ukraine has been free, the educational system has been revitalized, the church has a been revitalized, people are more aware of what is going on in the world," Smolley said. "When the Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, news was filtered by the government and people were not aware of world situations as they are now."

The Ukrainian community in Manchester has become increasingly Americanized over the past few decades, as direct immigration from the Ukraine has dwindled with the closing of city mills and the decline in farming as a vocation in New Hampshire.

But Smolley sees deep concern his parishioners of Ukrainian heritage over the increasingly strident battle for the Ukraine.

"The fear would be that if there is a realignment with Moscow that especially the Ukrainian Catholic Church would come under gross attack just as it did before the Ukraine received freedom and the church was re-established."

Ukrainians in the United States fear that Putin will decide to crush their country's independence, as a first step toward re-establishing control over other, weaker former Soviet republics.

"Putin is an egotist and he would just be sticking another feather in his cap if he said 'I can take back the Ukraine, the biggest of the Soviet bloc countries that received their independence,'" Smolley said. "It would show how easy it would be to go back and annex Georgia and some of those other countries; there is a great deal at stake."

wsmith@unionleader.com


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