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Volume 24 Number 2
Edited by Bradley Olson
Written by Myra Dutko, National Louis University and Tanya Dutko, Roosevelt University
Community psychologists who are interested in organizing and activism may find the Ukrainian-American community’s efforts to reach outside their tightly held cultural boundaries to gains support for their cause, an informative look at how activists mediate sense of community.
A small hand painted sign with the words Chicago is with you (Чикаґо з вами) in Ukrainian circulates through a crowd of Ukrainian American activists. A photographer-activist captures each of the 400-500 people gathered in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village as the sign is passed from one person to the next. Each picture will be sent to Ukraine through social media outlets later in the day. It is just one of the many ways in which messages of community and support are sent to the hundreds of thousands of protesters in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), in the heart of Kyiv where Ukrainians are participating in the largest protest since the Orange Revolution in 2004. At the podium, speakers and performers from Chicago’s Ukrainian community address the protesters in Kyiv via live streaming. “We must all support the fundamental human rights of the protesters in Ukraine”. The Chicago protest comes on the heels of an ongoing crisis in Ukraine. Speakers at the rally are encouraged to deliver their stories in both Ukrainian and English as they try to get the word out to all American across Chicago and the US. Ukraine is at a crossroad—faced with a challenge of falling back under an authoritarian Soviet style, Russian rule, or democratize and gain economic independence and entry into the European Union.
Ukrainian-American activists, too, are at a crossroad in that they must either continue organizing within the strongly nationalistic, close-knit community or try to organize broader support. Protesters seeking support in the U.S. have begun to explore their sense of community apart from their national identity. McMillan (1996) added to his theory of Sarason’s sense of community to include a broader definition of the boundaries that contribute to this sense of belonging. He suggested that unifying concepts such as the “spirit” of a community and the “spark of friendship” also constituted boundaries that create a fuller sense of community (p. 315). Global activism seems to rely on these concepts to unite geographically dispersed populations behind larger ideals that transcend location.
Despite the efforts of protestors in Ukraine who endured frigid temperatures and police brutality as they called on Ukrainian President Yanukovych to sign an association agreement with the European Union, Yanukovych rejected the agreement opting to further align with Russia by accepting a $15 billion loan and half price gasoline from President Vladimir Putin (McElroy, 2013). The EU agreement was viewed as the first step toward Ukraine becoming a member of the EU and as a symbol of the potential for a more participatory democratic process in Ukraine, free of Russian influence. The opposition in Ukraine is now fighting for the resignation of Russian-aligned President Viktor Yanukovych and is fighting for closer ties to the European Union. Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk stated that the country could be on the verge of a civil war (France 24, 2014).
In Chicago, Ukrainian American activists are banding together to offer support and to show their solidarity with the protesters in the movement which has now come to be known as Euromaidan. Euromaidan literally translated means EuropeSquare, but it has a much deeper meaning to Ukrainians. The concept represents the uniting of Europe and Ukraine in the heart of Kyiv’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) (Heintz, 2013). In an attempt to reach out to others outside of the Ukrainian community, Ukrainian-America activists in Chicago find themselves navigating sense of community outside of their tightly knit community. Sarason (1974) suggests that sense of community is a network of mutual support, and certainly the Ukrainian-American Community has found that in each other, but the task in front of them is to find a way to connect with the larger American population to gain support for their cause. Ukrainian-American activists find themselves navigating a sense of community, often in conflict, with what has kept them together in this country.
Today’s Ukrainian activists are a combination of immigrants from Ukraine who make their home in the United States to children and grandchildren and even great grandchildren of early immigrants who migrated here after the first and second World Wars. Their sense of community is tied to their heritage and their sense of belonging to a community with boundaries that include identification through shared language and common symbols of patriotism—the flag, the Ukrainian trident and the shared history of oppression under the Soviet Union. Among the activists in Chicago, some have experienced this oppression first hand before migrating to the United States, while the generations born in this country understand the effects of the Soviet occupation through the shared stories of oppression handed down from one generation to the next.
This strong Ukrainian identity and community in this country is born in part as a result of the post-World War II Russification of the country’s people. The Ukrainian language, traditions and religion were a target of the Soviet Union’s attempts to create a homogenous Russian identity. Ukrainian-Americans, as a result, have held tightly to the language and customs to keep these remnants of a pre-soviet Ukraine alive. While Ukrainian-Americans enjoy their American identities and participate in their respective American communities, their Ukrainian sense of community continues to remain uniquely separate. And now, as they organize to help those in Ukraine struggling for the right to participatory democracy, the dichotomy has begun to integrate. The recurring theme on both the social media outlets for the community and the demonstrations is how to reach the broader American audience and create this sense of community among those who do not share membership in this closely knit community. Some Ukrainian activists maintain that support for the growing movement can only grow when the sense of community and support for Ukraine’s right to self-determination grows.
On the Facebook page of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America-Illinois Division, the organizers of the Chicago Euromaidan Rally in Chicago, a Ukrainian-American writes “I would say this is open to everyone of every nationality and ethnicity. It is about a lot of universal rights everyone in the world should have in every country and is being violated in Ukraine right now. If people have contacts in the newspapers, radio, TV, forward this on to them. If you work for a company maybe pass along to your company or fellow employees.” At the Chicago Euromaidan, Ukrainian-American performers encourage those gathered to send the message in English, rather than speaking Ukrainian, recognizing that the message and the sense of community must extend to those outside the borders of the 100,000 Ukrainians in Chicago.
Ukrainian-Americans have been successful in reaching out to political officials in America, drawing on the existing Congressional Ukrainian Caucus, which seeks to further develop a relationship with Ukraine and aid in their democratization process (Congressional Ukrainian Caucus, n.d.). The members of the caucus have voiced their support for the Euromaidan protesters in Chicago and throughout the United States and Ukraine by releasing statements on behalf of the caucus and by speaking at the rallies. Across the US, countless politicians have come out in support of the movement including Senators Christopher S. Murphy (D-CT) and John McCain (R-AZ) who spoke at Euromaidan in Ukraine (Kramer, 2013). Other Ukrainian-American communities across the United States including New York, Ohio, and California are working, like Chicago, to bring attention to the protests in Ukraine.
Shared emotional connection is one of the four components of sense of community (McMillan & Chavis, 1986). Digital activism has offered opportunities for sharing narratives (stories) that connect people together in a kind of digital town square allowing individuals to experience events in real time (Rappaport, 1977). These shared narratives as well as spread of photos and videos offer internet activists a way to build sense of community via shared ideas and interests that promote a shared emotional connection. For Euromaidan, live streaming and live blogging have been two of the most powerful tools to draw people from around the world into the heart of the Ukrainian experience. There is connection in sharing lived experiences. And while things like language and borders shape a community, ideas like self-determination, liberty and right to self-expression create a different kind of community. Ukrainian-American activists are beginning to tap into this virtual community construct both at the heart of the protest in Ukraine and in the satellite rallies across the United States.
European Commission. (2013, November 19). Countries and regions: Ukraine. Retrieved from http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/countries-and-regions/countries/ukraine/
Heintz, J. (2013, December 3). “Euromaidan”: A name arises for Ukraine uprising’s identity. Denver Post. Retrieved from http://www.denverpost.com/nationworld/ci_24641447/euromaidan-name-arises-ukraine-uprisings-identity
Kramer, A. E. (2013). European Union suspends trade talks with Ukraine. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/16/world/europe/ukraine-protests.html?_r=1&
McElroy, D. (2013). Ukraine received half price gas and $15 billion to stick with Russia. The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/ukraine/10523225/Ukraine-receives-half-price-gas-and-15-billion-to-stick-with-Russia.html
McMillan, D. W. (1996). Sense of community. Journal of Community Psychology, 24(4), 315-325.
McMillan, D. W. & Chavis, D. M. (1986). Sense of community: A definition and theory. American Journal of Community Psychology, 14(1), 6-23.
Rappaport, J. (1977). Community psychology: Values, research, and action. New York, NY: Rhinehart and Winston.
Sarason, S.B. (1974) The psychological sense of community: Prospects for community psychology. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (n.d.) Congressional Ukrainian Caucus. Retrieved from http://ucca.org/index.phpoption=com_content&view=article&id=50&Itemid=33&lang=en