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Chicago Ukrainians Say Thugs Spread Nails Outside Church, Took Down Flags

By Alisa Hauser | February 25, 2014 1:47pm
 Scenes from Ukrainian Village.
Ukrainian Village Community
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UKRAINIAN VILLAGE — Just days after the president of Ukraine was ousted, several members of a local tight-knit community with ties to the Eastern European nation are alleging that taunters are using petty vandalism tactics in Chicago to undermine their solidarity.

Around 1:15 p.m. Sunday, parishioners at Sts. Volodymyr and Olha, a Ukrainian Catholic church at 2245 W. Superior St., say they returned from Mass to find nails scattered all over the parking lot and under the tires of parked cars. Nails also were scattered in the parking lot at the adjacent Ukrainian Cultural Center at 2247 W. Chicago Ave., said Geri Abramiuk, manager of the center.

Many of the cars in both lots were decked out with yellow-and-blue flags and ribbons because the parishioners were headed to a vigil Downtown for dead protesters followed by a march along Michigan Avenue, said Iryna Dmytryshyn, 21.

Dmytryshyn said she and two elderly women picked up the nails in the church lot.

Between the church parking lot and the adjacent there were five pounds of nails collected, Abramiuk said.

"Everyone started picking up the nails around their cars and bringing them to me," Abramiuk said.

On Tuesday Abramiuk said she planned to file a police report and give the nails to the police.

Dmytryshyn said the nails were scattered at a difficult time.

"The Mass was hard itself. The whole time started people crying. They used the time we were in Mass to put the nails down. It was not random at all. I cannot believe it was not because of the situation in Ukraine," Dmytryshyn said.

Sunday's Mass was more crowded than usual due to a special service to honor the dead protesters in Kiev, said Roman Artymovych, a priest at Sts. Volodymyr and Olha Church.

Artymovych was inside the church during the nail incident but said he "heard about it."

"It could be a hate crime. There is a lot of odd stuff going on in our community and in our country," Artymovych said.

Dmytryshyn's boyfriend, Sebastian Migda, posted photos of one of the nails on a private Ukrainian Village neighborhood Facebook

"People are pathetic," Migda wrote.

After the nail incident, Ukrainian marchers along Michigan Avenue were taunted by two men who disrupted their march.

"They said they'll cut all of our throats and then spat on the Ukrainian flag," Maksim Monastyrskyy said in a comment on a video of a disturbance at the march.

Iouri Melnik, a local doctor who has an office at 2323 W. Chicago Ave., said, "It is absolutely true that these recent acts are not random."

Melnik, who was at the march on Sunday, also said the two taunters said they would cut the throats of protesters. Melnik said he witnessed the men spitting on the Ukrainian flag.

Until the disturbance, Melnik said it was "a peaceful march" and "never before something happened between us" during five or six previous marches. 

"Two people acting with so much hate toward Ukrainians. ... I've been here [in Chicago] for 20 years, we always have peace," Melnik said.

Chicago's Ukrainian community has been participating in protests since late November.

"We have to be cautious and on our guard and aware of the fifth column," said Paul Bandriwsky, vice president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of Illinois.

Bandriwsky was referring to a military tactic in which a clandestine group attempts to undermine another group's solidarity. 

About two weeks ago, red-and-black flags symbolizing the Ukrainian protesters were torn down at the Cultural Center, according to Natalie Acevedo, a local resident who was picking up her child at the center at 2247 W. Chicago Ave. on Monday.

Acevedo, whose parents are from Western Ukraine, called the flags "freedom flags" and believes they were torn down by thugs tied to Russia.

Ukraine "is a very fruitful country. Russia has had a hold on us for so long. We have been oppressed for years by Russian government and we come for a better life here instead, and to have this [happening] here it is a disgrace and hateful," Acevedo said.

A third alleged incident occurred in front of the Ukrainian Consulate at 10 E. Huron St. between 3 and 4 p.m. Friday.

Olesya Gerasymenko, 35, a Naperville resident, was holding what she described as "a personal protest" memorial for the dead protesters on the steps of the consulate when a man arrived with about five or six homeless people.

The man threw dollar bills onto the steps of the consulate so the homeless people would run after the money, she said.

"He gets his phone out and then put out a pile of $1 dollar bills. Definitely 60 or 70 $1 bills, quite the pile. He shouts to the [homeless people] they should come in and take their money, and he was recording everything on video," Gerasymenko said.

Gerasymenko said some consulate workers watched from the windows.  

"I could not think in this day of mourn, we have candles lighted, that someone would be able to do something like this," Gerasymenko said.

Gerasymenko said she thinks the man was "someone who was paid to make Ukrainian or America look very bad in the world." 

"I am sure this video is somewhere on the Internet with bad comments. He was paid or taught or  instructed what to do and how to do it. I would say it was planned and well thought and very fast and well developed. Not spontaneous. It was recorded right away," she said.

Melnik, who did not witness the consulate incident but was at the march, said he believed the disrupters were "youngsters and students" who were influenced by Russian mass media that had been depicting the Ukrainian demonstrators are "terrorists, extremists and bandits."

Melnik said that no official police reports were made for any of the three incidents, including the nails at the church or the flags torn down at the cultural center.

"This is small petty crime for the police department, but we have to identify those people somehow," he said of the alleged taunters.

Near West police declined to comment.