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Chicago's Ukrainian Community Weighs In On Impeachment Inquiry

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now let's ask how President Trump's involvement in Ukraine looks to Ukrainian Americans. The president faces an impeachment inquiry. It centers on the president's request to have a political rival investigated in Ukraine. In addition to his phone call with Ukraine's leader, President Trump's personal lawyer campaign for that investigation, and text messages reveal numerous U.S. diplomats were drawn in, despite their misgivings. Julian Hayda from member station WBEZ asked how all this news looks from one of the nation's biggest Ukrainian communities.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHURCH BELLS RINGING)

JULIAN HAYDA, BYLINE: I'm standing in the heart of Chicago's Ukrainian Village neighborhood. On this stretch, three Ukrainian churches are letting out of their Sunday services. And it seems like one thing is on their minds.

TEODOR KURTASH: Impeachment.

HAYDA: That's Teodor Kurtash, a retiree who also says he feels like nothing good can come out of America withholding aid from Ukraine. Two whistleblower reports now alleged that President Trump might have held up $400 million of military assistance to Ukraine in exchange for dirt on his potential rival in the 2020 elections, former Vice President Joe Biden.

KURTASH: I wish America help Ukraine with real action, not too much talking.

HAYDA: Ever since Russian-backed forces occupied large portions of Ukraine in 2014, the Ukrainian community in Chicago has tried to rally support for their homeland. One church here even raised a half million dollars for humanitarian assistance in the conflict. According to the U.N., the war has left 13,000 people dead and as many as 2 million people displaced. There's no question that the community here would like to see the war end. But opinions vary on whether presidents Trump and Zelinskiy can forge peace with Russia on Ukraine's terms.

Marta Farion lives nearby. She's a board member of the World Congress of Ukrainians, which represents the interests of Ukraine's 20-million-strong diaspora. Most of that diaspora voted against Zelinskiy in presidential elections earlier this year. He only got 1 in 10 votes in Chicago, where people say they're concerned about his ability to stand up to Russia.

MARTA FARION: People in the community are very worried about the talk of a deal now with Moscow. They don't want to see the president of Ukraine pushed into a situation where he's giving up too much.

HAYDA: Zelinskiy controversially agreed to pull military equipment out of Ukraine's occupied eastern regions last week, leading many like Farion to believe that Zelenskiy gave in to Trump. Trump had encouraged Zelenskiy to end the war quickly by negotiating directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin. At another church, I met Maria Kryzhanovska, who voted for Zelinskiy and says she's ambivalent about Trump.

MARIA KRYZHANOVSKA: (Foreign language spoken).

HAYDA: She tells me that she hopes peace will come to Ukraine because the conflict has led to economic collapse. And millions have been forced to live and work low-wage jobs in places like France, England and America. She told me that she'd rather live and work in Ukraine if it weren't for the corruption and poverty that makes it very difficult. Earlier this year, Ukraine surpassed Moldova to become the poorest country in Europe, according to the IMF. And Marta Farion of the World Congress of Ukrainians worries that Trump's emphasis on corruption in Ukraine is just playing into Russia's hands.

FARION: We are all shocked that Mr. Trump is painting Ukraine as a totally corrupt country when that is not the case. Ukraine made great strides.

HAYDA: The impeachment inquiry including those allegations of Ukrainian corruption continues this week. For NPR News, I'm Julian Hayda in Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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