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NEW YORK CITY – On August 14, 2014, American Russian-Speaking Association for Civil & Human Rights (ARA), General Petro Grigorenko Foundation, and Russian-Speaking Community Council of Manhattan and the Bronx (RCCMB) held the first-ever Ukrainian-Russian diaspora community dialogue. The event took place  at Columbia University, on the eve of two important dates – August 19, marked by Russian democrats and human rights defenders as The Free Russia Day; and August 24, the Day of Independence of Ukraine. These dates symbolize Russians’ and Ukrainians’ shared history: on August 19, 1991, following an attempted hardline coup in Moscow, thousands of Russians went into the streets in defense of their democratic institutions; their resistance was supported by democrats in Ukraine. On August 24, 1991, following the defeat of the coup, Ukraine’s legislature declared its independence. The event at Columbia was a tribute to this collaboration in the peaceful dismantling of the one-party rule and the Soviet empire. 

The event opened with a video greeting by Maryland State House Delegate Kirill Reznik, the only Ukraine-born and one of the only two Russian-speaking immigrant elected officials in the United States. ARA presented to the public a documentary show on the Russian-Ukrainian joint struggle of the late 1980s-early 1990s. This playlist was developed by the Association for the purpose of anti-war and anti-hate education in both communities. The show was followed by a discussion led by Andrew Grigorenko, President of General Petro Grigorenko Foundation, and Dr. Alexander Burakovsky, a Russian-Jewish community leader in Ukraine in the late 1980s-early 1990s and one of the leaders of Ukraine’s People’s Movement (‘Rukh’) in 1990-1993, currently professor at Bramson ORT college.  


“I want to congratulate the organizers on this incredible event,” said Kirill Reznik. “Discussions like the one you are engaging in today about the defeat of the 1991 putsch by the Russians and the emergence of independent Ukraine not only help us to analyze history, but help us as citizens and those in power we elect to lead us to learn from those events. Too often we seek the reaffirmation of our own ideas rather than to understand the different views of everyone involved. Meanwhile, it is the genuine dialogue that leads to progress.”


“I strongly object to the notion that a civil war is taking place in Eastern Ukraine,” saidAndrew Grigorenko. “In reality, it is a war of Russian Federation against Ukraine. And I want to stress that Ukraine is a victim of outright aggression of its former colonial master – Russia. Annexation of Crimea is a more than sufficient proof of Russian imperial policy. Therefore, we could unite in extending our moral and material support to Ukraine.”  

“I believe it is reckless to claim that current events in East Ukraine are nothing but the war waged by Russian Federation against Ukraine,” said Alexander Burakovsky. “I have no illusions regarding Russia’s interests vis-a-vis Ukraine or the interests of the European Union and other countries of the world. After several hundreds of years of struggle for freedom, Ukraine earned the right to be an independent nation. It won this independence not only due to the demise of the USSR, but also thanks to the actions of its intelligentsia when Ukrainians rallied around the Rukh Movement. This was their first and most successful ‘Maidan’ experience – 25 years ago. On the other hand, people in the West and in the East of Ukraine have had different historical, cultural, economic, social and other experience at least over the past 150 years, and hence different mindsets. To brush this off and to view one part of Ukraine as having the correct point of view, without a nationwide debate, would be most perilous for the entire nation. There is need for a dialogue without preconceived notions on either side.” 


“In this tragic time for both of our countries of origin, our organizations have decided that it is our responsibility to deal with the pain and the tension between, as well as within, our communities, by launching a dialogue, as our alternative to the rhetoric of warmongering and hate,” said Dmitri Glinski, the event organizer. “This dialogue draws upon the record of cooperation among Ukrainian and Russian democrats and human rights advocates in the peaceful transformation of the former Soviet Union and post-Soviet Eurasia. We in the diaspora should do all we can to help end the conflict and achieve lasting peace between the two nations.”


Event participants set up a task force on Ukrainian-Russian peace dialogue in the diaspora that will be planning future activities. Event organizers invite all other Ukrainian and Russian/Russian-speaking diaspora organizations that share our vision of peaceful, democratic, human rights-based future of Russia and Ukraine, respectful of each other’s independence and integrity, as well as of the rights and interests of their own minorities, to join this task force and the dialogue process. This can be done by writing to amrusrights@rccmb.org


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