UKRAINIAN VILLAGE — Clutching signs in Ukrainian and English while waving Ukrainian, American and European Union flags, the message was clear at rally Sunday: "Russia, hands off Ukraine."
"We are hoping the president [of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych] will open his eyes, see what the people want," said, Lisa Bakun, a Glenview resident who was among over 500 area Ukrainians to brave the cold weather to participate in a "Chicago EuroMaidan” rally Sunday.
Held in front of the Ukrainian Cultural Center at 2247 W. Chicago Ave., the two-and-a half hour long rally was organized by the Illinois division of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, which streamed live footage of the peaceful protest to Ukraine's capital city of Kiev.
In Kiev, crowds of up to one million protesters have been occupying a square, or "maidan," where they are calling upon their country's government to sign a pact to become part of the European Union and reject a closer economic alliance with Russia.
Analysts say that the decision marks a crossroad for Ukraine: aligning with the EU would move it closer to the rest of Europe; agreements with Russia would make its future tied to Russia.
Putin is seeking to add more nations to a nascent, Russian-led economic group called the ECU in order to better compete against the European Union, China and the United States.
The protests in Kiev come after two years of negotiations and assurances from the Ukraine government that ended last month when officials, led by Yanukovych, abruptly suspended preparations for signing an agreement with the European Union that would have given the country free trade opportunities.
Ukraine is a country of 45 million people that serves as a key transit region for Russian gas going to Western Europe.
The protest have turned violent and, according to CNN report, created a standstill in Kiev as anti-government protesters there continue to put pressure on their president to sign a pact with the European Union.
Bakun, whose originally from Lviv, a city in Western Ukraine, said she came to the United States 10 years ago to "support a better life and have a better education" for her children.
"All the freedom we have here, they deserve. We are ready to be free, go with Europe," Bakun said.
Standing near Bakun, Lena Haiduk, a 25-year-old student and Lincoln Park resident, was talking with a group of elderly men she'd just met.
Translating the mens' two-sided banner into English, Haiduk said it means,"Moscow, stay away. Take hands off Ukraine. Shame and death to those who attack Ukraine and glory to those who protect."
Haiduk, whose been studying in the United States for the past few years, said Sunday's rally was the third protest she's attended along with her family, who are also joining protestors in Haiduk's home city of Lutsk in Western Ukraine.
"I really want to be there [with protestors], I can't stay home [here in Chicago]," Haiduk said,
Sunday's rally also included a visit from U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D- 5th) and performances by several Ukrainian musicians.
Chicago's rallying efforts, attended by an estimated 4-5,000 Ukrainian-Americans over the past few weeks, join similar protests in several other cities across the world including Vancouver and Madrid.
There are an estimated 50,000 Ukrainian-American citizens in Chicagoland, said the committee's social media manager Katya Mischenko-Mycyk. For more photos from the rally, visit the Ukrainian Congress Committee's Facebook page.