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February 22, 2014

Ukrainian turmoil felt in Salem

North Shore residents with connections to the Ukraine seem cautiously optimistic about reports of an agreement to end the violence in that East European nation.

“I’m glad they did this,” said Ukrainian immigrant Serge Sacharuk, who attends St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church in Salem.

Looking back on the clashes that have so far taken scores of lives, he lamented, “This is awful. This is absolutely terrible. The people aren’t violent. They’re just fed up. ... The Russians don’t want to let Ukraine go.”

The Rev. James Morris is Sacharuk’s pastor, and while he’s not Ukrainian himself, he is a keen student of the country who has made frequent trips there, the most recent in 2009. “We were all very shocked when this started a couple of months ago,” he said. “The Ukraine has been independent for 20 years. Things were getting better.”

His congregation feels deeply about the trouble, he said, though few have any direct connections. While a number of Ukrainians have immigrated to America in recent years, most live in the Boston area. The Salem flock consists of second- and third-generation Ukrainians and a few who came here many years ago.

Still, he said, “They are very saddened. They want to pray.” They prayed at first for a solution, but “now we have the dead to pray for.”

The Ukraine has had a tragic history, and some of that past plays a part in the current turmoil, according to both Morris and Sacharuk. Westward-looking Ukrainians, who mostly live in the western part of the country, find themselves battling the current government, which is more sympathetic to Russia. The Soviet legacy in the Ukraine, however, includes the Holodomor, the famine engineered by the government of Joseph Stalin in 1932-33 that was designed to starve out restive Ukrainians. Estimates place the death toll in the millions.

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