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Chicago’s Ukrainian Community Prays, Mourns Deaths Of Protesters

People leave flowers and mourn at a makeshift memorial in homage to anti-government protesters killed in the past weeks' clashes with riot police on Kiev's Independence Square on February 24, 2014. Ukraine issued an arrest warrant Monday for ousted president Viktor Yanukovych over the 'mass murder' of protesters and appealed for $35 billion in Western aid to pull the crisis-hit country from the brink of economic collapse. The dramatic announcements by the ex-Soviet nation's new Western-leaning team -- approved by parliament over a chaotic weekend that saw the pro-Russian leader go into hiding -- came as a top EU envoy arrived in Kiev to buttress its sudden tilt away from Moscow. (Photo credit : BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)

People leave flowers and mourn at a makeshift memorial in homage to anti-government protesters killed in the past weeks’ clashes with riot police on Kiev’s Independence Square on February 24, 2014. Ukraine issued an arrest warrant Monday for ousted president Viktor Yanukovych over the ‘mass murder’ of protesters and appealed for $35 billion in Western aid to pull the crisis-hit country from the brink of economic collapse. The dramatic announcements by the ex-Soviet nation’s new Western-leaning team — approved by parliament over a chaotic weekend that saw the pro-Russian leader go into hiding — came as a top EU envoy arrived in Kiev to buttress its sudden tilt away from Moscow. (Photo credit : BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)

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CHICAGO (STMW) – After Ukraine’s bloodiest week in decades, members of Chicago’s Ukrainian community prayed Sunday and pondered the uncertain future of a country in turmoil.

They grieved in church and in the streets of Chicago for hundreds of protesters killed or injured in clashes overseas between Ukrainian protesters and police.

A group of solemn beer drinkers leaned against the bar at the Ukrainian American Club, a tavern on Chicago Avenue in Ukrainian Village, and watched a flat-screen TV that showed the caskets of slain countrymen being carried through thousands of mourners gathered in Kiev’s Independence Square.

The names of the dead should be put on street signs, said Nataly Koulbanska, a bartender who grew up in Ukraine before moving to Chicago.

For Koulbanska, their sacrifice was personal.

“That’s for my life, for my parents’ life, for all Ukrainian people . . . These people, you should take your hat off and say just thank you, is hero. Hero 100 percent.”

At the Ukrainian National Museum, 2249 W. Superior, curator Maria Klimchak pondered the future of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

“He should go to jail and every day should have to look into the eyes of the parents who lost a child,” Klimchak said Sunday. She said she wishes she could substitute her life for the life of a dead protester.

“If someone is going to die, it’s better that it would be me,” she said. “They are young. They are the future of Ukraine and will build a democratic society.”

Tears flowed among many Ukrainian Americans in the Chicago area who have been glued to 24-hour news coverage of the anti-government protests in Kiev that left at least 82 people dead and forced Yanukovych to flee his opulent presidential palace in Kiev. With nearly 50,000 Ukrainian Americans, the Chicago area has one of the largest Ukrainian communities in the United States, according to census data.

Anya Maziak said she sat at her desk and cried last week at the Chicago Botanic Garden, where she works as a fundraiser. Her computer screen was filled with images of chaos and bloody violence that lead to a revolution in Ukraine, where she has roots.

“My heart was breaking while all of this was happening,” said Maziak, 31, who grew up in Chicago with a strong Ukrainian identity imbued by her parents, who emigrated during World War II.

“It’s hard to have that moment of celebration, because so many people were killed and there’s so much work to be done, and it’s such a slippery slope,” Maziak said Sunday at the museum, where she is a volunteer.

Outside the offices of Ukraine’s consulate general on Huron Street on Sunday afternoon, a large crowd gathered around a black casket for a 90-minute vigil honoring the dead.

Among them was Oksana Leseiko, of Chicago, who said the casualties include her cousin’s husband. She said a sniper’s bullet tore through 32-year-old Vitaliy Katsiuba’s helmet and into his head Thursday in Kiev. He left behind two small children, she said.

“It’s horrific the way they slaughtered those people that day,” Leseiko said.

Svetlana Kovtun, 30, of Schaumburg, has been communicating via Skype with family members in the Ukrainian capital. She immigrated to the United States with her parents in 1994 to escape corruption and religious persecution.

“They’ve tried not to go outside,” she said. “They live in the heart of Kiev and were hiding inside their homes.”

Kovtun, whose mother sold coal for the Ukrainian Army, remembers teachers demanding bribes and doctors giving her incorrect medication when she was sick.

“That’s why I’m so grateful to the people who stood up and gave their lives fighting for freedom,” she said.

At St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, 835 N. Oakley, on Sunday, the Rev. Bohdan Nalysnyk told worshippers not to forget the sacrifice made last week by the protesters.

“We must pray for our fallen heroes in Ukraine, for everything they’ve given to our great country,” Nalysnyk said after a service Sunday.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2014. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)