By David Kirichenko
There is a disconnect among the Ukrainian-American community in Washington State, as they maintain unwavering support for Trump even while berating Russia for its aggression in Ukraine. Across social media, many Ukrainian-Americans in the wider Seattle community engage with pro-Trump material and rallies. I know of this firsthand because I belong to the Ukrainian diaspora; their widespread support of Trump is something I struggle with. To support him, they ignore his tacit support of Russia and thus Russia’s history of atrocities against Ukrainians, including Russia’s war against Ukraine in Donbas – the same Russia that shot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH1 and killed 298 people.
Considering all this, it is morally wrong for the Ukrainian diaspora to support a president who supports Putin. America has always been a staunch proponent of freedom and democracy abroad, and at a time when the European Union lacks a backbone, Ukraine needs strong American leadership more than ever. Given what we know about Trump’s fondness for Russian President Vladimir Putin, it is mind-boggling that Ukrainians would support a president who has, in effect, worked against them.
Trump has been known to disparage the Ukrainian people, saying, “They are terrible people.” Trump also tried to force Ukraine into investigating Joe Biden by withholding critical aid for defense against Russian aggression. In his new book “The Room Where It Happened,” former White House national security advisor John Bolton portrays how Trump sided with Russia at every turn against Ukraine, and that Trump viewed Ukraine as an obstacle to building stronger ties with Russia.
Trump has also been spinning dangerous conspiracy theories that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 U.S. election. This tale has no basis in reality; a Republican-led Senate report supports CIA intelligence findings that Russia attempted to interfere in American elections in 2016. In fact, Trump’s first Homeland Security adviser, Tom Bossert, said he worked hard to convince the president of this.
The Seattle-Tacoma area is home to a booming Ukrainian population – the fifth largest Ukrainian community in the country, and one of the fastest-growing. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Washington is home to 53,445 people of Ukrainian ancestry, and more than half the population lives in the Seattle metro area.
This population of Ukrainians holds religion very close; it is the primary influence on how Ukrainian-Americans vote in Washington State. In 1987, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev announced that all victims of religious persecution could apply to emigrate as part of his greater campaign of glasnost – meaning openness and transparency – which allowed various Jewish and Christian groups to immigrate to the United States. Evangelical Christians, like my family, who could demonstrate “well-established histories of persecution” under the Soviet regime, were also able to immigrate to the U.S. over the following decades. These evangelicals blended aspects of their culture and lifestyle in a doctrine that easily led to support for Trump, as they believe Trump is a champion of their principles.
Ukrainian evangelicals will often remark that Trump was the lesser of two evils when it came to the choice between Trump and Clinton in 2016. However, for those living in Ukraine, a vote for Trump means tacit approval of his friendship with the brutish president of Russia and, by implication, endorsement of Putin’s treatment of Ukraine.
As former Sen. John McCain said of Putin, “He is an ‘evil man’ who is ‘intent on evil deeds’”. While there is little we Ukrainians of the diaspora can do to directly combat Putin’s aggression, we can make our voices heard and make sure that we do not vote for a president who stands against all the values that brought Ukrainians to this country: love for the American Constitution, freedom, virtue, and dedication to protecting liberty.
David Kirichenko is a Ukrainian-American civic activist and an editor at Euromaidan Press, an online English language newspaper in Ukraine. He is also a Global Shaper with the World Economic Forum. David frequently publishes articles and his work can be read at the Taipei Times, Kyiv Post, Euronews among others.